Chinnamastā: the negative sides of the mother archetype

Chinnamasta and Shiva, late 18th century. US public Domain via wikimedia
Chinnamasta and Shiva, late 18th century. US public Domain via wikimedia

In the above image, we see Chinnamastā. She copulates with Shiva as she severs her head with her fingernail. Three streams of blood flow from her head. The streams flow to feed the goddesses on her left and right, as well as her own head.

Carl Jung speaks of the “negative side the mother archetype” (CW 9i, para. 158) For many this image of Chinnamastā would certainly be a dark, foreboding, negative image. Yet, taking in its own context this image reveals the very nature of the ecstatic non-dual. There are many ways in which the image reveals such truth, most readily in the symbolic severing of the head. The severing of the head may represent moksha (liberation), as an image of non-dual ecstasy associated with the release of our individual identity.

The image is also cosmogonic: the flow of blood expresses the splendor of being surging forth as Shakti; these great currents emerge from the meditative abode of Shiva (as base or ground), flowing into form (the goddess on the left and right) and into the ecstatic non-dual (the severed head).

On still another level, the image is psychic, expressing the possibility and potential of kundalini awakening. The three flows of blood represent nadis (channels) through which Shakti rises [fn 1].

At still another level, it expresses the duality in the goddess. A story from the Prdnatosim tantra tells a story in which Parvati goes to bathe in Mandakini River with her attendants, Jaya and Vijaya…

 After some time, her two attendants asked her, “Give us some food. We are hungry.” She replied, “I shall give you food but please wait.” After awhile, again they asked her. She replied, “Please wait, I am thinking about some matters.” Waiting awhile, they implored her, “You are the mother of the universe. A child asks everything from her mother. The mother gives her children not only food but also coverings for the body. So that is why we are praying to you for food. You are known for your mercy; please give us food…. But again her two attendants, Dakini and Varninl, begged her, “We are overpowered with hunger, O Mother of the Universe. Give us food so we may be satisfied, O Merciful One, Bestower of Boons and Fulfiller of Desires.” Hearing this true statement, the merciful goddess smiled and severed her head with her fingernails. As soon as she severed her head, her head fell on the palm of her left hand. Three bloodstreams emerged from her throat; the left and right fell respectively into the mouths of her flanking attendants and the center fell into her mouth. After performing this, all were satisfied and later returned home. Parvati became known as Chinnamasta” (Prdnatosim-tantra, sited in David Kinsley).

This story illustrates the dual nature of the mother Goddess, as both nurturing and fierce motherThese two poles of the mother are coincident with the two poles of nature; life is both nurturing of our grown and fierce in its truth.

 

References:

  1. An Introduction to Tantric Philosophy: The Paramarthasara of Abhinavagupta with the Commentary of Yogaraja by Lyne Bansat-Boudon
  2. Tantric visions of the divine feminine: the ten mahāvidyās by David Kinsley, p.189

Footnote:

  1. Varaha Upanishad: “The nāḍis penetrate the body from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head. In them is prāṇa, the breath of life and in that life abides Ātman, which is the abode of Shakti, creatrix of the animate and inanimate worlds.”