©Copyright 1995, by Phil Servedio
In various cultures and spiritual traditions, there appears a very common motif or symbol that is a most insighful representation of the nature of the Divine. This is most often depicted in the form of a beautiful (or sometimes awesome and frightful) woman riding on the back of some creature. In the Eastern traditions this woman is usually the Goddess Kali or some other representation of the Goddess, the feminine aspect of the Divine. She is depicted riding on some kind of animal, very often a male lion or tiger. I recently learned that the matriarchal island culture of Crete that the Goddess rides on a bull. In other more esoteric representations, She may be riding or sitting on a coffin, a corpse, or a pile of skulls.
I feel that many of the interpretations that I have heard are missing some esoteric core of this image of male and female forms. They are meant to express the superiority of matriarchal cultures and viewpoints over patriarchal ones, or vice versa. However I see it as a perfect example of the arrangement and relationship of both the male and female aspects of the universe. Shakti, the "feminine" force, arises out of, and is supported by the "male" nature of the Divine, which has numerous names in various traditions: Emptiness, the Void, Shunyata, the Dharmakaya ("the body of dharma"). Without shakti, there is no manifestation, and without the emptiness of pure being, nothing could arise. They go hand in hand. Shakti is movement, spiritual force, wildness, unbridled creative, preserving, nurturing, and destructive energy. It is this very unbridled force of energy that women represent that brings forth the unconscious fear in men of women. The male force is represented by a powerful yet somehow quiet animal or a corpse, representing the empty nature of all phenomena.
Additionally, the symbol of the woman is seen standing up, representing the dynamic of vertical spiritual ascent and descent, the pole of energy that is known in various traditions as kundalini, the central channel, the "microcosmic orbit", ascending and descending force, etc. She is the bearor of bliss, light, spiritual energies and radiance. In more conventional terms, she is the source of creativity, movement and production. The male or animal is horizontal in position and points to another form of the spiritual process, which is less known, and less sexy or glamorous than powerful kundalini experiences, simply what some call the horizontal process.
What occurs in the spiritual process is that shakti, the femine force, leads an individual to the male aspect of Divinity, which is known as the Ground of Being, Background Consciousness, Consciousness itself, unqualified Being, etc. This movement from female to male is representative of more advanced stages of the process, ascribed to be the "horizontal process", where no movement and no-arising occurs in the body-mind. In this part of the spiritual process, individual consciousness begins to tire of all experience, and begins the process of death of the assumption of individuality and separative psychology and existence. The individual then begins to enquire into the nature of its own existence, until the flash of awakening shows the individual his or her true self-nature, unqualified "sat-chit" or Being-Consciousness. This can be depicted as a transition similar to death (and hence the figures of the corpse or skulls), to reveal the ultimate nature of all phenonema and existence, unqualified consciousness/being, which has no location, no movement, and is truly the mother and father of time and space.
Ultimately we must see that the rambunctious Goddess and silent God are simply aspects of our own nature and that we are not separate from them. Indeed, we need to see that we are intrinsically Divine Being, and that all forms are simply reflections or modifcations of our own Self-Nature. The Goddess and God are Divine projections in the collective unconscious in the atmosphere of unenlightenment and mis-understanding. These projections are reeled back and reclaimed into one's own being naturally, as part of the more mature stages of the spiritual process.