These Powerful Female Deities Kick Butt

The election is over, and I’ve found myself alternating between fury and funk. Needing a major reboot to my shakti, I heard that the Rubin Museum was offering a

Female Empowerment Thematic Tour, and so I decided to jump in.

I met with longtime docent Antoinette Maclachlan, who is passionate about her topic of ancient female power, and leads the tours, which look at its roots in the Indic (both Hindu and Buddhist) tradition.

Maclachlan both shows and tells how, in Hindu more than Buddhist mythology, we find the mother-protector and furious warrior all in one. The Seven Divine Mothers (Sapta Matrika)—awesome, fierce, blood-drinking early goddesses—depict the wild side of women as they help the supreme Mother Goddess Durga battle demons.

I take in the fantastical banner painting of the Matrika Varahi, with her boar head

(symbolizing her god counterpart Varaha’s avatar of the great god Vishnu), and scrutinize her various accessories: a tantric fish icon, a dagger, as well as ribbons and trinkets of what look like tiny dangling skulls. I certainly would want her on my side!

As fascinating as these goddesses are, I want to connect with real women. For that, we have the four female mahasiddhas, or yogic adepts, of the Buddhist “84 Mahasiddhas” tradition (the other eighty are men), who achieved within their lifetime direct realization of the Buddha’s teaching to become fully enlightened beings.