Cutting Through Illusion with Kali Ma

Photography || by Polly C Photography
Creative Direction ||
Amanda Boleman
Makeup & Body Paint ||
Kinnaree Designs
Costumes || Iman Ture and Noam Beck
Model ||
Iman Ture

I got to know Kali Ma intimately in early 2018 while studying Tantra and the Divine Feminine mysteries under Monika Nataraj ~ a mystical dancing shakti and women’s empowerment leader. That six-week journey in the jungle of Koh Phangan, Thailand was one of the most magical experiences of my life, revealing the life-death-life cycle of nature and the goddess in real time. 

It was here that the great goddess of time, change, power, and destruction brought me face-to-face with death.


My heart exploded when I woke up one morning to two little puppies on the doorstep of my jungle home. So imagine my surprise when I came back from dance later that day to find they had multiplied! A sweet mama dog and her five puppies had officially made my yard their home. 


Needless to say, I was instantly in love. I took them under my wing, feeding them and making sure they had water. Coming home was the best part of my day, as they’d usually be there waiting to play. I especially bonded with the runt of the litter. 

But no matter what I did, I could tell the dogs were struggling. Mama was looking very sickly and the pups were sucking the life out of her when they fought over her teats to get milk. They looked like they were just barely surviving when they showed up. 

Island dogs are often treated poorly in Southeast Asia. The number of strays can be overwhelming for the small number of animal welfare organizations, and Thai authorities have been known to poison the animals as a form of population control. I felt extremely under prepared in helping them against these odds, particularly considering I had a trip scheduled on the other side of the island a few days after they arrived. I snuggled them goodbye and left them with food and water, hoping they would still be there when I got back. 


After a tumultuous boat ride to the Had Tien side of the island, my girlfriends and I prepared for the Kali Ma photoshoot you see here. We invoked the goddess by transforming Iman into a spitting image of her likeness. We called on her with great honor and asked for her guidance in the creation of these images. There was an air of fear in summoning this powerful, wrathful goddess, though we aligned our intentions with deep reverence. We shot until the sun was well and up, finally joining the rest of the partygoers in celebration. 

It was nighttime by the time we got back to the house on a rainy Sunday evening. My sweet baby bean — the puppy I’d bonded with from the beginning — was the only one who greeted us, shaking in fear from what I thought was her reaction to the stormy weather. I noticed the rest of the puppies sleeping and spent some time with the little one before heading off to get some much-needed sleep.


In the morning, it instantly became clear that the dogs weren’t just sleeping. In the daylight, I could see the flies hovering above their bodies. The vomit spewed on the ground. The trauma and fear emanating from the baby as she realized her brothers and sisters were no longer here.


I was so worried I’d offended the Great Mother. That I’d brought the death of these puppies upon myself by not respecting her properly. I thought I’d somehow brought out the wrathful, bloodthirsty aspect of this complex, multifaceted goddess, resulting in innocent creatures dying. 

After all, this is the goddess who was born from the sweat off Durga’s brow while in battle with the demon Mahishasura. Out for blood, Kali destroyed the forces of evil before her but didn’t know when to stop. Her rampaging quickly got out of control and she sought to destroy everything in her path. Did I somehow awaken this destructive part of her nature? 

Monika gave me solace when she explained that Kali happens through us, not to us. Her righteous anger and wrath are typically reserved for the forces of injustice and evil, not to kill the innocent. 

Those puppies were already sentenced to death by the person who poisoned them — not at the hands of a vengeful goddess. In fact, it was Kali Ma who held me through the stagnant, suffocating pain of their death. She mourned with me as I learned of the mother dog’s passing a few days later. She gave me the strength to find the baby a safe home on a neighboring island, and I honored the goddess in return by naming her Kali.  


Through this, I came to face the inevitability of death and reached the understanding that it must be accepted as a part of life if we ever hope to find true liberation and freedom.


Represented as the consort of Lord Shiva, Kali is the destroyer aspect of the great Triple Goddess. She is the equivalent of the Tibetan Black Dakini and Hebrew Lilith in the form of the “Flame of the Revolving Sword.” She is often associated with the powerful fire of transformation. In some Tantric traditions, she was thought to be the Supreme Divinity and was known as the Devourer of Time. 

With scythe and severed head in hand, Kali cuts through the ego’s belief in a separate self and the attachments we cling to out of fear. Each skull around her neck represents an ego death. Her dark blue-black complexion signifies infinite time and space, showing us the meaning of impermanence. Her wisdom teaches us to release attachment to the events of our lives in order to gain mastery over time itself, granting us ultimate freedom. 

With her protruding tongue and wild cackle, she invites us into the cosmic joke that lies beyond enlightenment. Here lies the truth that despite our best efforts, we will all return back to the void. You can find Kali in the energy of an orgasm as time stands still and the world falls away. She is present in the dark, waning moon and flows through our menstrual blood as we shed our uterine lining each month. 

Because she is most often present in our darkest moments and times of crisis, we have painted the picture of her as negative and evil. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Through whatever means necessary, she destroys the old and forces us to change, urging us into a new way of living. If we keep grasping too tightly, we close the space for new energy to flow. 

She pulls everything out from under our feet, so that we can come home to our inherent wholeness. She cuts away the falsities that keep us comfortable, ruthlessly destroying all that is not our true individuality. She does not hold our hand down a clearly laid out path, but rather eliminates everything that takes us away from the truth of our oneness. 


To center into Kali Ma’s presence, you can concentrate on her image as a visual meditation tool. Focusing on the image, breathe slowly and naturally. You can then start to chant her name: Kali Ma, Om Kali, Kali Ma. Repeat this until you start to attune to her frequency and you arrive at a place where you can look at your life objectively to see what needs to be released. In this sense, you are inviting darkness to the party. You are asking for all illusion to be stripped away to find what is keeping you stuck. Reflect on what arises without judgement.

When you’ve reached a state of clarity about the blockages you face, write down everything you want to release on a tiny scrap of paper so you are forced to continue writing over what you’ve already written. This symbolizes detachment and impermanence. It is practice in letting go of your words and mental constructs. 

In a safe place, light a fire in a pot or bowl and watch your piece of paper burn. You can also cut off a small lock of your hair to burn as well, representing total detachment from the mental and physical plane. Visualize all that you want to release rising up with the smoke. 

For good measure, allow yourself to let out a throaty Kali cackle, acknowledging the cosmic joke that underlies our existence here on earth. Remember to take it all a little less seriously and trust that your release will bring with it a newfound freedom. 

To close, simply thank the Great Mother for her truth and clarity. For cutting you free from the illusion of separation. And so it is.