(Book Excerpt) Fierce Feminine Divinities of Eurasia and Latin America by Malgorzata Oleszkiewicz-Peralba

book-cover-jpgFierce Feminine Divinities of Eurasia and Latin America: Baba Yaga, Kālī Pombagira, and Santa Muerte by Malgorzata Oleszkiewicz-Peralba, PhD (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

Below from Conclusion, pp. 140-142:

Although Baba Yaga, Pombagira, Santa Muerte, and Kālī originated in different parts of the world—Eastern Europe, India, Brazil, and Mexico—and their current portrayals are very diverse, they are reminiscent of the goddess of life, death, and regeneration, Queen of the Universe, that encompasses the life cycle, especially the aspects of this cycle omitted in current official devotions, such as death and putrefaction of the body, rage, fury, destruction, and sexuality. Despite the fact that they have been judged as evil or demonic, they are not constituted in terms of binary opposites, such as good and evil, but encompass the whole of life experience. Therefore, these unofficial holy figures 6 are closely linked to the Asian and American female shamans substituted by males, as well as to the persecuted European and African witches. Moreover, in contemporary Latin America, devotions to Pombagira and Santa Muerte reflect the uncertain circumstances of millions of subaltern and transient individuals that strongly identify with liminal divinities. Although the devotion to K ā l ī in India is very widespread, especially in West Bengal, she is most revered by individuals who are excluded, voiceless, and living on the fringes of society. In addition, the devotion to Kālī in Trinidad and Guyana has many similarities with that of Pombagira in Brazil. Baba Yaga, on the other hand, was totally disallowed from any possible remnants of devotion and is currently used as a grotesque folkloric figure to laugh at and to scare children. It is interesting to note that many popular worship personae that are the most ancestral and contain traits such as anger, sexuality, and an explicit connection to blood, death, and the periphery have been domesticated in different cultures, in an attempt to incorporate them in the dominant system of values and beliefs. Some examples are the orixá Iemanjá in Brazil, the unofficial saint Santa Muerte in Mexico, the witch Baba Yaga in Slavic Europe, and even the goddess Kālī in India. This may be due to social pressure to conform to “civilized” forces, usually forces of control imposed by the power hierarchy. Because of their inferior status, polyvalence, ambiguity, independence, of being the representation of the rejected, the undesirable, and the forbidden, these untamed divinities equipped with supernatural powers are able to transcend the accepted aspects of society and to confront the devotee with the ultimate reality—that of chaos, impermanence, and death. Their frightening aspects and behaviors threaten the stability and order of society and put us face to face with primordial unpredictability and wildness—the hidden dimensions of reality. They teach us many uncomfortable lessons about human existence and can be very empowering. Consequently, they are often rejected and fought against by official institutions and by large sectors of the population. Like independent and fierce women healers and seers who did not conform to the established patriarchal order in the past, and as a consequence were persecuted and punished with banishment or death, today these fierce feminine divinities are often subjected to censorship through dismissal, demonization, dulcification, ridicule, or relegation to children’s games and tales. Although these uncomfortable figures have been so marginalized, they have been able to transform and adapt, and they continue to be extremely attractive and powerful, reflecting the great need as well as the extraordinary resilience, resourcefulness, creativity, and ability of survival of their devotees.

(Meet Mago Contributor) Malgorzata Oleszkiewicz-Peralba, Ph.D.