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The Making of a Diety

by Constance Nieburgs

Sandhini drawing The older I get, the more interesting life becomes. It is sobering to come to the realization that life is about what one wishes to make of it. So sobering, in fact, it is sometimes petrifying. I wonder about the choices I have made; some brought horrible ramifications; others brought wonderful results. As I see my life trailing behind me, I am sruck by the wonder of it all. I realize that each one of us is a story; a wondrous story, no matter how traumatic the abu;se, no matter how great the sums of money. In 1968, when I was nineteen years old, I joined the Hare Krishna Movement. I believe it was a reaction to the bomb shelters being dug into the basements of the homes in my neighborhoood. It was the white, midwestern, upper middle class, split level suburbia of "Father Knows Best". I knew something was wrong with a society that thought itself perfect, but lived in fear of a nuclear holocaust by preparing to live underground. I was disillusioned in Disneyland, and thought I might find spirituality in the eastern philosophy of the Hare Krishna Movement. For twenty years, I studied Sanskrit, chanted Vedic mantras, married, raised two children and cooked vegetarian feasts for hundreds of people. The food was fantastic, the ceremonies were great and the deity worship was unrivaled in any religion. I also enjoyed sewing clothes for the Radha and Krishna deities that were on the altars in the temples. Some of the deities were as large as three feet high and as small as eight inches. We dressed them in silks, brocades, and crowned them with beads and jewels. The Indian deities were very beautiful and the Hindus had definitely perfected the art of deity worship. There were strict religious practices that are institued to purify the mind, body and spirit. These were supposed to keep the practictioner focused on the goal of self-realization. In the Hindu tradition, as in all patriarchal religions, the concept of cleanliness is extremely important. Water, food, flowers, incense, everything must be clean, pure and untouched by anyone unclean. But the Hindu regulations of deity worship were discriminatory against women. Women having their menses were considered unclean and untouchable and not allowed to offer anything to the deity . . . even though one of those deities was Radha, a woman. Women were considered twelve times more lusty than men and they could tempt men from their lofty spiritual position and pursuits. So I also learned to cover my head and be a good little wife. Twenty years later, I divorced my husband and the Hare Krishna Movement; both were too oppressive. I grieved for the loss of my life, knowing I could never go back, and uncertain of the future.

Then I read Merlin Stone's book When God Was a Woman, and similar works by authors Maria Gimbutas and Barbara Walker. I thought I had stumbled upon a secret cult, only this one had no guru. I devoured every book I could get my hands on about women's spirituality. Those ideas nurtured me and gave me knowledge. I realized that fundamentalism and patriarchy were as strong an influence in Eastern religions as they were in Western religions, and that it was my won spirituality I was looking for. But I missed the spiritual community, and especially the deity worship. This inspired me to take the ceremonies, change the rules, and reclaim them for the Goddess. Thus my method of worship would be different. In worshipping female deities, the rules relax. The rules and regulations of my Goddess ceremonies would not be taken too seriously. There must be an element of irreverence and frivolity. After all, the deities were just representations. People are the real "worshipable objects". The divinity is in all of us. No one should be restricted from honoring the Goddess because they are unclean. The Goddess is the dirt, the Earth, the Mud, the Blood. We all come from Her. I began to make peace with my past, and reclaimed the Hindu practices for Goddess worship. Except, I needed a deity. It is said that women shaped the concept of the deity. The first sculptures of human form were mostly of women, like the Venus of Willendorf. I wanted to create a deity of the goddesses that embodied powerful symbols of women. Patriarchal religions seem to view the symbols of women as detrimental to spirituality. Women need to take back the symbols, claim them and honor them. This is how we will empower ourselves.

I began making deities of goddesses and worshipping them with my revised Hindu rituals. The first deity I made was called Sandhini. That was my given name in the Hare Krishna Movement. It means the energy in and around the spiritual world. She was a goddess for the twenty-first century. She was my personalized deity. I took symbols of goddesses and women from different cultures and religions. Although many of these symbols have been used to denigrate women, I have used them to celebrate the sacred feminine. The deity I sculpted represents the unification of these symbols from around the world. This deity is sculpted out of low fire clay, fired in a kiln, gessoed, oil painted, and mounted on a pedestal. Sculpting Her was particularly hard, as I had to hollow out the figure and make some of the arms separately and attach them later. Her clothes are made of yellow, purple and blue chiffon embroidered with gold sequins. She has different clothes for different occasions. The jewelry adorning Her head, neck, ankles and hands are fashioned from gold findings, gemstones and pearls. There is a crescent moon on Her crown. This drawing was the preliminary I made before I began constructing Her.

The Symbols in Sandhini's Hands

The Mirror In Egyptian hieroglyphics, the word Ankh meant both `life" and "hand mirror". The mirror has been found in many tombs of powerful women. The mirror is also used in Pagan cermonies to see the divinity within ourselves.

Raised Hand This denotes a blessing or a "curse". Actually I like to think of a curse as a boundary, as if to tell someone to stop. The hand of women has been many places. "The Hand of Fatima" is an Islamic symbol. At cave sites from Australia to Lascaux, the hand has been there. Since those sites are connected with the Goddess, I would like to think that maybe they are the hands of women. Sadly, in India, when women were expected to join the funeral pyre of their dead husbands, they dipped their hand in red Kum-Kum and printed it on the wall before they entered the fire. This was called Suttee.

The Spiral Most prominent Indian Gods had a Sudarsana Chakra. This was a discus weapon that could be released and cut off the head of an enemy. I put the Spiral in its place. "Both single and double spirals were among the most sacred signs of Neolithic Europe. They appeared on megalithic monuments and temples all over the continent and the British Isles, the threshold stones at New Grange in Ireland, and the temple of Malta. The Spiral was connected with the ideas of death and rebirth: entering the mysterious earth womb, penetrating to its core, and passing out again by the same route. (Walker, Barbara. The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.)

Apple "Hidden in the apple's core is the magic pentacle, or the sign of Kore. Just as Kore the Virgin was hidden in the heart of Mother Earth (Demeter) and represented the World Soul, so her pentacle was hidden in the apple".(Ibid.) The "Tree of Life" was originally a Goddess symbol. The once powerful snake image of the Goddess was turned into the malevolent serpent, and Eve became responsible for the downfall of all mankind. I wanted to show a positive aspect to the apple and the tree.

Honey Pot "Pandora's vessel was not a box but a honey-vase, pithos, from which she poured out blessings, a womb-symbol like the Cornucopia, anciently used as a vessel of death and rebirth. Pandora's Box [appears] only in the late medieval period, when Erasmus mistakenly translated pithos as pyxis"

Labyris The double-bladed ax wielded as a scepter by the Minoan goddess. I like to think of the Labyris as the double edged sword of Karma.

Reclamation of Hindu Goddess Worship

Most Indian deities and altar paraphernalia are made of brass. It is polished to a shine, looks very opulent and gives the appearance of gold. Of course, you can use any kind of altar paraphernalia you choose and any deity you prefer. The Paleolithic people used clay. I like using brass in my artik ceremonies. Artik means welcoming the dieties. During artik, the pujaris (priestess) stands to the side of the deity, ringing a bell with her left hand and offering items with her right. Offerings are presented by waving them in a circular motion to the deity's head, chest and feet. Put some music on while you perform artik, or have peple sing Goddess songs, play drums or cymbals. Food is the first thing that is offered. The Goddess likes to eat. If you are making a special meal, or are having like-minded friends over, make a plate for the deity and set it on the altar. My deity likes chocolate. Next offer incense. Then fire. The traditional way of offering fire is with a ghee lamp. Handmade cotton wicks are soaked in clarified butter or ghee. These ghee wicks are then placed in a special lamp that can be easily lifted and offered to the deities. Of course, if you don't have a ghee lamp hanging around substitute candles. Next the deity is ceremonially bathed. Water from a small container is poured into an upright conch shell and offered. Again substitute or go to any Indian store, they may have these items. If you bathe Her, you must dry Her, so offer a handkerchief. Next offer Her a flower to smell, and last, fan Her with a fan made of peacock feathers. After artik, take the plate off the altar and distribute the food. I always put extra special treats on her plate make sure everyone gets some. I hope this has given you some insight into another kind of Goddess worship. Give this picture to your kids and have them color it, or contact me, and I'll make you a deity. Or . . . in a full lenght mirror worship the Goddess. Do the ceremony to yourself in the mirror. But the most important -- have a sense of humor, improvise, and follow your instincts!

Jaya Jaya Sri Sri Sandhini

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This work is copyright 1996 The Witches Trine and by the author. All rights reserved.

Constance Nieburgs can be reached at 225 S. Linwood, Visalia, CA 93291. Email]

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