- Absent Mother God of the West: A Kali Lover's Journey into Christianity and Judaism by Neela Bhattacharya Saxena
Cross-cultural encounters often happen through cross-border journeys. Neela Bhattacharya Saxena, an English professor, takes the reader through such travel in Absent Mother God of the West. This is a work that stands at the intersection of many disciplines, such as women's and gender studies, anthropology, religious studies, cultural history, and environmental studies. Best of all, it is an engaging read. In the author's words, in "this book a personal journey takes the shape of a public discourse" (p. vii). This volume is a reflection of the understanding of the echoes of personal devotion to the Divine Feminine in some of the world's major religions.
Saxena brings to mind the multi-layered deeply philosophical movie Mother! (2017) by Darren Aronofsky, where Mother Earth is shown, in a high and sometimes difficult to understand symbology, to be plundered and destroyed by human beings. Saxena shows that the Divine Feminine has also been relegated to a safe cavern in the lost woods of Western civilization and stresses the urgency to bring Her to the fore of the human present. Saxena explores the causes of why Western religions of Christianity and Judaism "had banished the Mother God from its theological spaces" (p. xii). She finds to her dismay that not only is the Mother God not present in theological discourses of Christianity and Judaism, She is also not absent, since it is only the male God that is denied by the atheists and secularists. Ironically, that is the exact position of the Mother God that Saxena adores, the Hindu Kali, who is beyond existence and non-existence.
Saxena does not come out as one who seeks to imitate and don the cultural masks of an alien culture. She is clear that hers is "the perspective of a woman from India whose psyche is saturated with the Divine Feminine" (p. xiii). In that respect, this book is in many ways the voice of a woman who grew "up with powerful goddesses" (p. xiv). Saxena struggles with the Western public imagination of a male sagacious God and a sinning Eve as the female figure. She is saddened how the word "goddess" has all the wrong connotations in the West. Saxena is equally disturbed by the unidimensional way the nudity of a goddess figure is looked at by the West. Through this book and her classes in the course "The Goddess in World Religions," under the Women Studies Project at Nassau Community College, New York, Saxena seeks to free the Divine Feminine from the concept of the seductive female body and at the same time make the female body the locus of the worship of the Divine Feminine.
Saxena is certain that psychological or intellectual engagements with the Divine Feminine would not lead to understanding the Mother God, but only a meditative, yogic, or spiritual absorption can lead to an acceptance of the Mother God. Presenting a brief sketch of the growth of the images of Divine Feminine in Hinduism and Buddhism, Saxena argues that the Mother God represents the spirit of multiplicity that Indian faith-traditions possess. She presents her work as an attempt to "insert the contested 'third world' element into a high 'western' discourse" and also "a psycho-spiritual decolonizing effort" (p. xxiv). She cautions that without the idea of "a Divine Feminine … a culture is in danger of becoming unbalanced in its orientation" (ibid.).
Saxena invokes Goldmund's last words to Narcissus from Herman Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund to emphasize the importance of the Mother God in both death and life. She also refers to the film Black Swan (2010) to explore the body image problems that women across the world encounter. Saxena begins chapter 1, titled "Carving Kali," with a poem on Kali by her guru Kulavadhuta Satpurananda. She calls Kali "pregnant nothingness" from her "Gynocentric" perspective...