The mythology which informs the history of yoga involves many deities including several Goddesses. So what do they all represent and how can we manifest their powers into our lives?
What is shakti?
Shakti is the female form of divine energy, which is often represented as a deity (like a goddess) in mythologies, particularly in Hinduism. Shakti is the universal principle of energy, power and creativity. This energy has no beginning and no end but moves through periods of motion and rest, and with this rhythm, order is re-established. With this then, it is clear why this energy is aligned with the female.
Meet the Goddesses
There are 10 wisdom Goddesses (or Mahavidyas), which can be used to understand and guide us through life, bringing us back to a sense of knowing and loving your own natural rhythms and inner wisdom, particularly as women. Uma Dinsmore-Tuli famously describes how we can harness the knowledge symbolised by these goddesses in her book Yoni Shakti (meaning Womb Energy, which flows within all of us each day). Uma reorders the Wisdom Goddesses in a feminist reworking of their understanding. The Goddesses are linked to female siddhis (this can be a lot to take in, I know!)
*It’s important to note here that womb yoga can be practiced and honoured by everyone, whether you have a womb or not, whether you menstruate or not, or whatever form motherhood takes for you (it does not necessarily mean procreation).
What are siddhis?
The siddhis are supernatural, almost magical powers and abilities that can be attained through yogic advancement using yoga and meditation. Uma aligns the siddhis with processes that many women’s bodies go through, with the biological functions of a female body being elevated through the signaling of female siddhis. These include menstruation, pregnancy, miscarriage and abortion, birth and menopause- all of which are states one moves through as interconnected cycles.
Why it's beneficial to know
Everyone in this modern world has been alienated for our bodies and sense of self, and we each need to reconnect to ourselves- and this is especially true for women. In a patriarchal society we have been shamed for the natural rhythms and processes of our body, and have been taught to suppress and hide them. Many of us don’t know simple truths about how our bodies work, and so we need to come home to ourselves. With this, we will reconnect with our inner wisdom and have our experiences validated, empathised with and supported (e.g. shifts in the physical and emotional body during menstruation or the menopause).
Get to know the Goddesses
The way in which Uma orders the Goddesses reimagines their hierarchy in order to align them consciously with the stages of women’s lives, here's how she represents them:
She forms the centre of the cycle of the Goddesses if they are envisaged in a wheel or cyclical diagram. She is the greatest of all the powers and her energies of destruction, transformation and liberation permeate and radiate out to all of the other life stages and Goddesses in the cycle. The literal meaning of her name is ‘time’-meaning she has the capacity to change all of the forces and beings. Through her we must recognise the inevitability of change to which we must form acceptance, and with this we can grow.
Is the Goddess who ‘guides through troubles’. Here she represents the siddhi of the menstrual cycle, and serves as an overarching figure much like Kali does and forms the preparation for all of the other siddhis.
The sixteen-year-old Goddess represents innocence and unknown power. She embodies the menarche or first period. She is highly perceptive, wither understanding and clarity coming from understanding rather than experience, representing the power and wisdom of trust and innocence.
Is the lotus Goddess of delight, and is associated with abundance, which in this context is linked to the spectrum of feminine sexuality. This sexuality can be a force of self-realisation, spiritual growth, and transformation, as well as being a means to deepen intimate relationships and as an aid for procreation.
The outcaste poet embodies creative expression, which is the other side to feminine sexuality. She stands at the edges of conventional society and is visionary, wild and free. In a world where women’s creativity has been suppressed, it is this Goddess who we must reawaken to experience a rich inner and outer life full of expression and emotion.
Her body is the world and is linked to the powers of conception, pregnancy, birth and pregnancy loss. This siddhi possesses the generosity of unconditional love and has the capacity to sustain life. The capacity for death in the womb is also recognised as much as life as a force and agency.
Is the self-decapitating Goddess whose own blood feeds her devotees and herself. She is linked to the postnatal stage of life and represents healing, thanksgiving, grieving, nourishment and lactation.
She has the capacity to stop a person in their tracks by acting as the paralyser. She is linked to perimenopause- which is the transitional state into the period of menopause. Embodying the step into the unknown and a turning-inward of the consciousness.
Is the warrior Goddess, who is the guardian over the menopause and gifts the qualities of clarity and fearlessness in a time of re-evaluation.
She is the grandmother Goddess who represents the widow. She stands over the final period of postmenopausal experience at the crowing wisdom of life. She teaches the art of being free from external attachments and how to recognise and accept the impermanence of life so we can focus on what truly matters.
By understanding the Goddesses we can awaken them within ourselves so we can manifest their teachings into our lives. All of the descriptions of the Goddesses here were taken from the book Yoni Shakti- if you’d like to know more head to Uma Dinsmore-Tuli’s website: https://umadinsmoretuli.com/