I've been fascinated by Kali since I first saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when my dad told me, "That's not really how they used to sacrifice people to Kali you know". I've read a few books, but this is definitely not an area I feel that informed about. So this was a good introduction to the myths, history and practice of Kali and her followers. The articles in this book go quite a long way to debunking some of the myths around the goddess and looking at her place in main stream Hindu society.
To me the most interesting essay was Lawrence's essay "Kali in the context of terror" which looked at how Tamil's in Sri Lanka were increasingly turning to Kali worship. How this worship frequently involved some form of ritual bodily sacrifice such as fire-walking, inserting hooks into the bank, and suspension. A lot of the people who'd made pledges to perform these rituals for the goddess had done so in prison while being tortured. Kali took away their pain, and gave them back control over their body's suffering. Lawrence also looked at the way mediums' were asked about relatives who'd disappeared to find out if people were alive or dead. The descriptions of the mediums trances were also quite violent, giving voice to people's torture, and being physically sick.
The opposite end of this was an essay by Urban that looked at the ways westerners looked at Kali. Nearly everything he discussed seemed to be discounted as "orientalism" whether the Western authors were writing about the same things as Indian authors or not. The worst offence in this essay was when he looked at prominent Victorian writers writing about Kali, one of he talked about writing in 1927! Now the late 20s hardly count as Victorian!!!! (To be fair he did seem to get this misconception from an article by two other authors who were discussing "Victorian novels between 1880 and 1930". Now I've heard of the "long Victorian era" but surely this is taking things a little too far! Society and culture was totally different and looking at different issues then, we'd had the "Great war"... He also seemed to be upset that these "Victorians" were writing about evil Kali cults acting politically and how this was a terrible bit of Orientalism focused on the "other". When 2 pages later he discusses how the exact same plot was used 50 years earlier in the 1880s by an Indian author, writing about a politically motivated Kali cult!
The rest of the articles were all interesting and informative. I was particularly interested in the way Kali's religious practice has changed over time. In the second to last essay Caldwell discusses how earlier mediums and people acting in religious possession rituals had all been women, now they were all men. Likewise another essay discussed how the tantric image of Kali had changed from representing anger to representing shame for having stepped on her husband.
This was a very interesting set of articles and I feel like I learned a lot. Definitely recommended for those interested in the history of religions, goddesses and possession....Continua