Ambivalent goddesses in patriarchies : a comparative study of Hekate in ancient Greek and Roman religion, and Kali in contemporary Hinduism.
The objective of this dissertation is to demonstrate that the ancient Greek and Roman goddess Hekate, and the goddess Kali in contemporary Hinduism, as revealed in literature from the respective cultures, removed from each other by time and geography, are constructs of the male imagination, resulting in the reinforcing of stereotypes about the dangers of women in power, and demonstrating that women are irrational, lustful, deceitful, close to nature, and inherently lawless. This dissertation aims to show that Hekate and Kali can be re-envisioned as challenging these stereotypes, and can be re-interpreted as positive role-models for women in their respective cultures. To situate this research within a scholarly tradition, the dissertation begins with an overview of research into the supposed existence of prehistoric matriarchal cultures, where the supreme mother goddess who gave birth to the universe was apparently venerated. This is based largely on prehistoric art and interpretations of symbols with the help of secondary source material. Then this dissertation aims to trace the evolution of Hekate from her origins in Greek literature as a generous and benign, yet potent goddess to a dangerous, chthonic deity of the Roman world associated with black magic, the crossroads, demons and the restless dead. This will be done by a thorough examination of selected ancient Greek and Latin sources in chronological order. Kali’s character and function in Hinduism will be determined through an in-depth analysis of Hindu scriptures written in Sanskrit, as well as by investigating devotional hymns written to her by poets during the 18th and 19th centuries CE. These Sanskrit and Hindi sources highlight Kali as a terrible and unruly manifestation of Durga or Parvati’s wrath while also emphasising her maternal qualities. Artistic representations of Hekate and Kali will also be examined. A comparison between the two goddesses and their roles within their respective cultural and religious systems will be undertaken in order to deduce why such goddesses were deemed necessary within patriarchal cultures. Special reference will be made to the reclamation of Hekate and Kali by feminists today as religious role-models for women over traditional role-models such as Sita, and the Virgin Mary. This dissertation seeks to show that whereas goddesses have been alive and well in Hinduism for thousands of years, Classical deities are far from dead, and are at present experiencing a revival and reinterpretation so as to cater for new forms of spirituality. It seeks to examine whether goddesses who have been rebellious in their patriarchal cultural systems are stereotypic representations or whether they can actually empower and make a difference to women.