Lessons from Dhumavati, the Tantric Goddess of Despair


Lessons from Dhumavati, the Tantric Goddess of Despair

Getty/Leonora Oates

The Tantric goddess Dhumavati is a dark aspect of the Great Goddess and offers great teachings about rejection, disappointment, and despair. Explore what we can learn from her story.

Before psychology, there was spirituality. People turned to god and goddess archetypes to help them get through the most difficult parts of their lives long before there were therapists. Goddesses are feminine archetypes that have existed in almost every culture throughout the world, and they can provide inspiration that can help us with our everyday heartaches.

Who Is Dhumavati?

Dhumavati is the goddess to know when you are experiencing despair and disappointment. She is one of the Mahavidyas, the 10 great Wisdom Goddesses of the Shakta Tantra tradition, a goddess-worshiping sect of Hindu Tantrism. Dhumavati is said to be incredibly ugly, an old, widowed crone, who carries around an empty cart; sometimes she rides a crow and often hangs out in cremation grounds. Her name means “The Smoky One,” and she is said to represent the smoke that rises from traditional funeral pyres.

Dhumavati’s Story

She first appeared in the story of another goddess named Sati. The Great Goddess, the energy that is everything, agreed to take the more concrete form of the goddess Sati in order to be a consort for the god Shiva. Shiva is the Lord of Death, responsible for endings, and can get so lost in his meditations he forgets to do his cosmic work. As Sati, the Great Goddess could help balance Shiva’s energies to make sure the work of the universe was getting done.

Sati’s father, Daksa, was strictly religious and didn’t like Shiva—Daksa liked his religion pretty and clean, while Shiva was half naked, dreadlocked, and covered in ashes from the funeral grounds. Daksa made the mistake of not inviting Sati or Shiva to a great fire sacrifice, indicating that he had entirely forgotten who Sati was: the Great Goddess, much bigger and more meaningful than Daksa and his religious rituals.

Part of this story is a critique of religious rules and rituals that forget the heart of what religion is about—that great mysterious power that underlies all of existence. In protest, Sati threw herself onto the ritual fire, returning to her true form as the ineffable Great Goddess. Dhumavati was born of the smoke from this fire of despair, disappointment, and rejection.

What Dhumavati Can Teach Us

When you are suffering—when you are going through terrible moments of death, loss, loneliness, confusion, separation, and disappointment—Dhumavati is there for you. She consumes the smoke that rises from your fire of rage and loss.

When working with the energies of despair and disappointment, we may not want to go looking for Dhumavati. In traditional circles, she is both abhorred and adored. We don’t necessarily want to call her energy in, but we can know that if we’re already covered in the ashes of the funeral grounds of our hearts, she’ll be with us every step of the way. We’ll never be alone there.

Even if you don’t view her story literally (or religiously), the fact that Dhumavati exists as an archetype tells us that the experience of loss and despair is truly universal. Even if we feel alone in the shadows, we must know that we are not. Dhumavati has plenty to consume as we move through the cycles of life. Sometimes things are good, and sometimes they are terrible. We can be with goddesses of luck and beauty when the wheel turns in our favor, but when it inevitably turns the other way, Dhumavati will be with us, connecting us to everyone else who has ever been in despair today and throughout history.

While she is often spoken about as an inauspicious presence, Dhumavati is also understood to be powerful, a great teacher and giver of gifts. She provides the ultimate knowledge of the universe: Her ugly face forces us to see past superficial realities, to see what can be learned when we are struggling with the shadow side of human existence. She teaches us the value of allowing ourselves to be transformed in the sacrificial fire, to learn something from this time of despair and disappointment so that we can become a new version of ourselves on the other side when the wheel turns again. We cannot return to that brighter side of life exactly the same as we were, but we may come out even better because we spent some time with the great goddess Dhumavati.

Learn more about how the goddess Dhumavati can help us embrace our own ugliness.


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Lessons from Dhumavati the Tantric Goddess of Despair

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