Unorthodox; Embracing Kali on the Eve of Rosh Hashanah; ‘May you be be inscribed in the Book of Life’ by Joyce Zonana

Sri Swami Satchidananda

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from one of my spiritual teachers, a senior disciple of Sri Swami Satchidananda, whom I had immediately recognized and accepted as my guru when I first encountered him in the Summer of 1965. I was initiated by him in 2001 and received a mantra that I repeated daily for all these years. Yet here was Sary telling me I needed to adopt a new mantra, a prayer or praise and veneration for the fierce Hindu Goddess Kali. Here is exactly who I need these days, brandishing her ten arms, beheading demons and absorbing their blood, in a sari made from the skin of a Bengal tiger. She wears a belt of skulls and manifests her fierceness with a red tongue hanging from her lips. Creator and Destroyer, she is impeccable she catches their blood so that they don’t proliferate. Precisely who I need know after my diagnosis, six months ago of glioblastoma.

Of course of you may know that already in March I was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiform, an incurable, lethal brain cancer that claimed the lives of Beau Biden and John McCain among others. For what are those cancer cells proliferating in my brain but demons that Kali might attend to.  I am more than happy to invoke and emulate her.

Kali is also an apt Goddess for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New YEAR, when we invited to cleanse ourselves of our “sins” (let’s call them simply problems) so that we may begin a new year refreshed and open to its renewal and sweetness.  All this is represented by round challah, pomegranate, black eyes peas, dates and new fruit of the season.  

And as I in invoke Kali today, I recall my own long history on the outskirts of their coalition that fought so hard to banish the Goddess.

As a young girl, I developed my own Rosh Hashanah ritual with my best friend, Deborah Salltz. Dressed in brand-new outfits (my only one for the year), we would set out on day-long walks, starting in our Brooklyn neighborhood by the waters of Gravesend Bay and ending on the grand leafy boulevard of Ocean Parkway. We walked to from our working class, largely Catholic neighborhood to a more middle-class, Jewish neighborhood where we would encounter whole families, also finely dressed, out walking.

Deb and Joyce walking by the bay in their new outfits (digital image by Deborah Amerling)

Rosh Hashanah was our day of adventure and freedom, something we looked forward to every year and which we still fondly recall. I like to think that even then we were inspired by the Goddess., for although we occasionally stopped into synagogues, that was never the point. Judaism and the other Abrahamic religions and the cultures they spawned have paid dearly for their banishment of the Goddess. But it is not too late to reclaim the Goddesses in ALL THEIR GLORY.

It’s also worth noting that Kali’s nine-day festival, Navratri, falls at the same time as “The Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “May we be inscribed in the Book of Life!” Never have those words meant so much to me.

BIO: Joyce Zonana is a writer and literary translator. Her most recent translation, Tobie Nathan’s A Land Like You, a novel about Egypt’s Jews, is available from Seagull Books. Her memoir,  Dream Homes: From Cairo to Katrina, an Exile’s Journey was published by the Feminist Press. She is currently at work on a translation of Edmond Amran El Maleh’s Mille Ans, Un Jour, a novel about Arab-Jewish life in Morocco.

9 thoughts on “Unorthodox; Embracing Kali on the Eve of Rosh Hashanah; ‘May you be be inscribed in the Book of Life’ by Joyce Zonana”

  1. Thank you for this beautiful meditation and view of Kali that I had not thought about before. May you be surrounded by the blessings of the Goddess and know that you are encircled with love and support by all here at FAR.


  2. Thank you for the lovely image in both words and pictures of your Rosh Hashanah day. What a sweet memory and so evocative of the way all the pieces intertwine, circle round and connect to make us who we are.

    Kali is one of our oldest goddess images how appropriate she should reach out to embrace you now. I am so grateful for your generosity in confiding the details of your physical and spiritual health for the well-being of us all. My take-away is a realization of the deep compassion that lies beneath the act of being gracious. Somehow it makes the giving and receiving of grace easier and more accessible to me. I am sure that your words and beautiful presence have touched many others in multiple ways.

    Love the image of Kali licking up the demon drops. I never put the beheading together with the long tongue, whose meaning I have pondered many times. It speaks to the necessity of maintaining a close watch once we “fix” or behead some unpleasant trait or habit of our own. -words like impeccable & integrity come to mind as well as that phrase about constant vigilance being necessary to maintain freedom. Those are rather stern precepts, but somehow that licking tongue, so reminiscent of cats and dogs, softens this necessity into the joy inherent in being fully aware and fully present to each moment.

    Lots of wisdom for us embedded in your words, thank you so much. Blessed be dear woman.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for your message bringing Kali. Thank you for the video. May she hold you in her fierce loving arms in healing. I was able to visit the Temple of Kali when I traveled through India some years ago. The temple was full of people honouring her.


  4. Blessings of Narvratri and Rosh Hashanah to you, Joyce! Thank you for this beautiful, profound, inspiring, and touching post. May your new mantra prove to be just the healing image of Kali that you have described, your powerful, invincible protector, destroying any demons that would harm you. May it be so.


  5. Well there’s no such thing as a coincidence. My friend the Miami Magus linked to this blog and that’s how just now on the New Moon I read it not even an hour after finally getting my blog post uploaded.
    Have you ever heard of Mata Baglamukhi?
    The divine feminine is apparently screaming to be heard this weekend as the shofar is being blown.
    Many blessings in your health battle! Remember who is the fiercest of warriors and keep close to her!


  6. Such a rare and precious example of the reflection we’re called to do at this time of year. I particularly appreciate your phrasing about our cleansing in prep for being open for the renewal and sweetness of the new year. Thank you, thank you, thank you. May you be inscribed for a year of creativity, harmony and peace. Lisa :)


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