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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Presto-Chango—Cosmic Illusion and Confusion


Hindu mythology is sometimes confusing, because the Divine has many aliases reflecting different aspects of itself. Everything is a manifestation of the Divine, which is Brahman, although the names and genders change, it all goes back to the godhead. Avens (1980) notes that “On the mythological level where rational inconsistencies are appreciated rather than shunned, Brahman is also Maya-Shakti, the divine play (lila) of the universe with all its innumerable gods, goddesses and demons” (p. 7). Zimmer (1989) provides more background on this cosmic switcheroo:


The Primordial Power is ever at play. She is creating, preserving, destroying in play, as it were. This power is called Kali. Kali is verily Brahman, and Brahman is verily Kali. It is one and the same Reality. When we think of It as inactive, that is to say, not engaged in the acts of creation, preservation and destruction, then we call It Brahman, but when It engages in these activities, then we call It Kali, or Sakti. The reality is one and the same; the difference is in name and form. (p. 564)

As Mahamaya, the Goddess personifies the World Illusion, within the bounds and thralldom of which exist all forms whatsoever. . . . she is the primary embodiment of the transcendent principle, and as such the mother of all names and forms. “God Himself,” states Ramakrishna, “is Mahamaya, who deludes the world with Her illusion and conjures up the magic of creation, preservation, and destruction. She has spread this veil of ignorance before our eyes. We can go into the inner chamber only when She lets us pass through the door.” (p. 569)

Avens (1980) remarks that Maya-Shakti is the poetic basis for the consciousness of Brahman, who is a “mirror play of mutually interpenetrating events, persons and things.” (p. 83). Zimmer (1989) describes Brahman as equivalent to the unconscious:


that through which we live and act, the fundamental spontaneity of our nature. Proteus-like, capable of assuming the form of any emotion, vision, impulse or thought. It moves our conscious personality by premonitions, flashes of advice, and bursts of desire, but its source is hidden in the depth, outside the pale of sense experience and the mind-process. Brahman transcends these, hence is “transcendental” (what in modern psychology we term “unconscious”). (p. 79)


This poetic basis of consciousness, which Shakti represents is in keeping with Flournoy’s idea of the ludic or mythopoetic function of the unconscious (Ellenberger, 1970; Flournoy, 1900/1994). Thus, both Jung and Hillman fittingly draw parallels between the anima and Maya-Shakti (Avens, 1980). According to Hillman (1985):


anima refers to the reflexive instinct which Jung associates with the basis of consciousness; and he defines her as archetype of life as the personification which unconsciously involves us with larger collectivities of both inner and outer worlds. In this sense, Jung frequently speaks of anima as the projection-making factor, the Shakti and the Maya that give life to a person. (p. 105)

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