by Katie Ness who participated in the Be Laksmi and Be Durga Training. She wrote a beautiful post about her experience during the Be Laksmi Training 2018.
Katie is a Yoga teacher (Hatha, Ayu-Yog, Teens & Kids), Women’s Circle Facilitator, Reiki Teacher, Belly Dancer & Artist. She is also an initiated Pagan Priestess & practicing Hedge-Witch. Travel, the Arts, Culture, Creativity, Body Movement & Magic are all part of Katie’s lifestyle. She can usually be found working on an illustrated poetry book, crafting dream-catchers & nature journaling in her free time.
“Its dark out there, she thought. As the rain water called to her, its a perfect night for adventure. Her time here is up. The young woman took one last look at the cabinets, the bed frame, the kettle, the fridge and all other things that made a house, that became her house for over 7 years. A small tear journeyed down her face as she stepped outside barefoot. Out into the garden, she breathed in the jasmine fragrant air and plunged into the soil like a wild cat. It’s somewhere here she thought, clawing at the sodden earth. The Lavender and Rosemary growing nearby were curious as to what is going on and maneuvered towards the woman to get a better look.
Finally the young woman let out a joyous cry as she tugged at something grey and mottled deep within the flower bed pulsating like a heart, it was her sealskin. The roots of the palm tree had coiled over her pelt like a gnarled crooked hand. This house, this life did not want to let her go but with a great primal howl the young woman clawed away at the roots to free what had once belonged to her.
Cradling her seal skin like a baby, the lavender wept with the rain and the rosemary cried out “Please don’t leave us!” The young woman with cascading hair as dark as soot and eyes creature wild, smiled a seductive smile, said goodbye to her herb garden and to the civilized life she had lived for loves sake and ran into the night, back to the sea, back to her soul, back to the feral divine.”- © Katie Ness
This is my truth. This path started with an unexpected break-up that turned my world upside down and took me right out of my comfort zone.
Looking back and reflecting on the past few years just gone, I now see how stuck in the mud and submissive I became, largely because of the lifestyle I was living with my partner, it was his lifestyle, his rules and his house and I felt out of balance, I felt unable to fully express myself. The flame in my heart was dimming. Eventually we grew apart.
Sometimes when you fall in love and enter the world of your loved one, you end up changing to fit them. And that’s what I did, thus eventually I began to feel depressed, lonely and desperate to grow wings. I had itchy feet, a desire for real connection and a mind swimming with ideas and potential that didn’t include mind numbingly eating curry whilst watching terrible game shows every evening and listen to my partner arrogantly talk about himself and his accomplishments like a dutiful wifey wife I was expected to be. And I hated with a passion being told that that is how life is and that’s how I should be, for a woman should apparently submit to her husband or partner and follow him in every aspect of life. That essentially a woman should nourish and nurture the man in every possible way and forfeit her own freedom to grow? These words of advice were actually said to me by a woman!
This relationship after eight years was coming to an end and I was praying to the universe to help me see a door, I could not see a path past the pain of heartbreak and past the comfort a relationship brings, even an unhappy one- what was I going to do? Where will I live? How can anyone help me? Will they help me? Can I trust people to help me? How can I do the things I want to do on such low wages? How will I afford rent and food? How will I leave Plymouth? Do I move back up North, do I stay in Devon? Why is all this happening to me? What is all this karma? What am I learning? Well I knew that last answer already-I was learning to find my freedom again. The universe has an ability of taking away what’s no longer needed in your life and sometimes that can feel absolutely soul destroying but like the goddess Kali, the universe is simply allowing things to crumble to make space for new beginnings, for everything is in cycles. My cycle in this 8 year relationship had come full circle and had served its purpose, lessons had been learned, class dismissed. Also 8 is an auspicious number, it is the number of the goddess. It was time for me to live like one since my life is now in flux.
So what now? I thought. With a few basic qualifications in mental health, a kids and teens yoga teaching certificate, some study of yoga philosophy and my initiation as a Pagan Priestess; where do I go from here and how do I bring all this knowledge together so that I may grow? I knew I couldn’t stay in Plymouth, I’m not going to find “success” in this industrious, grimy city and if I stay I’ll end up working odd jobs to pay my rent forever. That is not the life I want for myself. Like the Little Mermaid, I wanted more. I was at a crossroads and needed a sign, something to help me choose what my next path would be.
The sign came via The Be Woman Project. I had had this idea for years to live a mystical life, full of wonder and magic and without fear of the societal conditioning to be “normal” but also learn to teach that to others- to be the bridge between worlds, to be the lighthouse that guides people through the rough waters, to show them you can live a beautiful and worthy life without materialism and consumerism. I knew I wanted to specialize in supporting women and as a priestess I have a passion for learning about nature magic and the different archetypes of the goddess around the world. I also wanted to find a way to bring all my skills in art, dance and yoga together as one, to be able to teach these tools as part of one beautiful, magical thing.
The Be Woman Project entered my life about a year ago through my teacher Sharada, whom I learned about a few years back when I stumbled up on her ethereal singing and mantras dedicated to Hindu goddesses. Back then I knew even then I needed to meet her, I knew one day, somehow I would and I’d learn so much from her. I didn’t realize that day would come about so fast and hit me like a bolt of lightening.
The Be Woman Project is Sharada’s creation and is an initiative to inspire women. Women from all backgrounds, different nations, culture and languages. This project has come about because of many Devi Women’s Circles that Sharada has been facilitating over the last few years. The project itself is very expansive, it includes trainings to be certified to run your own Devi circles, you can share your own stories and sacred art work on the main website and there is also an education section and a volunteer section. The whole website is geared towards encouraging women to empower and support each other in what ever way the individual can.
Her vision is the wish we find healing, support, growth, the courage and confidence to share our story, lay down the weapons of jealousy, competition and rivalry, give up insecurities and the sense of unworthiness and find solace in truth, sacred beauty and sisterhood, ceremonies and prayers, with “the goddess” within and around us and finally discovering the true meaning of Love.
As women we hold so many wounds and trauma not only from our own lives but passed down through generations of hurt and abuse in many forms within our own families and on a global scale, this also includes such atrocities like the witch trials that spread across Europe and America in 1692- so many innocent women were condemned to death for their knowledge in herb medicine, midwifery and for even their beauty. Many young girls are forced into genital mutilation in this present day and even modern 21st century women are manipulated by the media to believe they are unworthy unless they succumb to the power of consumerism which breeds jealousy, competition and low self esteem. We need to be raising each other up, not tearing each other down! There needs to be a great healing on a massive scale because when women come together in love, its such a powerful medicine for themselves and each other. And when our sons grow up seeing this and learning that their mother and sister are physical manifestations of the goddess he will grow up treating his life partner and his daughters with the same love and respect. Its a beautiful circle that heals all men and women. Healing the mother wound on a global scale could potentially bring about world peace.
I’ve been obsessed with ancient practices like the red tent gatherings, the Pythia priestesses of Delphi, the ancient devadasi, and Celtic covens for years. All have two things in common; the first is that they are all a group or circle of women usually living together and supporting each other and the second is their devotion to the goddess from within and around. All these circles have similarities, they are matriarchal, they respect the earth and see mother earth as sacred, knowledge of being a woman from maiden, to mother to crone is celebrated and ceremonies are held. Songs, craft, skills in food, medicine and childbirth are taught and passed down. Stories are told on dark nights and burned away with the fire. Menstruation is not taboo and neither is the vagina, the naked body or sex and eroticism. Such freedom! Such power! Such honour and respect for being a woman! We have been losing this sacred wisdom and this is why I love the Be Woman Project and why I feel pulled to be a part of it. This is not wishy washy hippie fluff this is real and honest and grounded in the earth, in our bodies, in the flow of our blood and in our hearts.
Science is proving that when people come together in a room, their hearts begin to beat as one and a great sense of calm and feelings of safety wash through the body and around the environment. No wonder the heart breaks and individuals become depressed when isolated from others for too long for we are social creatures!
So this was the door I needed to clear my path. I very nearly opted not to go on this training being held in Ibiza because in my saddest times over the summer of 2018 and over the 8 years of my long term relationship I felt unworthy to do such a big life changing thing. Why did I deserve to do something so exotic? I had nothing to prove I was special, I was just a girl who worked in retail folding underwear for consumers and cleaning the kitchen for my partner on my days off whilst wishing to be free to run with the wolves. I was a nobody. I wasn’t a goddess I said to myself. I felt undeserving to be involved on such a retreat/training.
It was a close friend who reminded me “Yes but this is you Katie. You were so happy being initiated as a Priestess, this is your path and it will give you some alone time after your break up plus confidence to travel alone again.”
She was right and since this training was so close to my birthday my mother paid for my flights as a birthday present and I plucked up the courage to organize everything else. I still heard that negative voice telling me I was unworthy of a “holiday”, that I was too stupid to book my flights let alone travel by myself and who did I think I was? I believed I was allowed to heal and to rest? Ha! I believed I deserved to be loved and to study things I love? Go back to working in retail you silly girl! Grow up, life isn’t nice, be practical! All these voices haunting me right up until I made it to the house that was going to be a temple to 14 women. I sighed with relief and said “I’m home, lets begin this journey that my soul has been crying for.”
Upon arriving in Ibiza to the huge white house situated on a cliff and overlooking rolling hills and velvet blue seas in the distance, I was in awe that I actually made it and a soft spoken, beautiful dark haired woman greeted me. She moved with grace like a fairy, she was my teacher Sharada. She was the main teacher and founder of the entire project and at first I was star struck by her and to be honest I was probably nervous around her for a few days, but then I calmed down and reminded myself she’s a human too. Sharada took me to my room and introduced me to the chef Elena whom I’d be helping through out the week as part of my work placement duties alongside some social media work too. These were my Sevas (selfless service) in exchange for a place on the training. It was hard work juggling all my learning with kitchen and social media duties too.
I was exhausted since I was getting up earlier than the other women and throughout the day during breaks when everyone was relaxing and reflecting on classes I was either helping prepare meals or cleaning the kitchen, in the evenings when everyone was going to sleep I was posting to instagram and every spare minute I had I would film and publish to the Be Woman Project’s instagram stories. Would I change a thing though? Absolutely not! In many ways, keeping busy and being in a new environment prevented my mind from over thinking or dipping into extreme sadness about my breakup and the upheavals attached to it. I continue to manage the social media accounts for them, now I am back in the UK as I not only want to be a part of the team but I want to continue giving back because I am so thankful to be given such a beautiful life changing opportunity.
Sharada offers three women’s circle facilitator trainings each year. The first one was in Sweden, the second in Ibiza and the third in Bali. You only need to go to one to qualify but you are also free to go to the others too if you like. Each one is based around a particular Hindu goddess, her characteristics and how to access them within ourselves as women and then how to apply that to our own women’s circles. The one is Sweden focused on Sarasvati the goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and nature. The training in Ibiza centred on Laksmi- goddess of abundance and self worth and another goddess called Lalita- goddess of sacred beauty and eroticism. The last one in Bali works with Durga and Kali- the great mother goddesses of courage, warrior spirit and death. These courses are a type of yoga teacher training because they focus heavily on yoga philosophy, mantras, sanskrit, Puja ceremony and Vedanta but woven together to teach about the sacred feminine within a yogic context. These are great courses for women yoga teachers and therapists who want to specialize in running their own women’s circles! And because I am a teen yoga teacher and practicing pagan witch with a love of goddess work, I thought it would be a beautiful training to do so I can create circles for teen girls that would include yoga, flower ceremonies, Devi sharing circles and more.
The week of learning was very intensive but so beautiful and nourishing too. It filled my heart with joy every morning and I’d smile whilst snuggled in my bed before getting up for breakfast because I was so grateful and in shock to be there, to wake up hearing rustling, laughter and the patter of women’s feet. It reminded me of chapters about the Bennett sisters in Pride & Prejudice.
On this course we will learned about Laksmi & Lalita, the goddesses of abundance and sacred beauty. We learned a traditional 16 Step Puja that helps us to embrace our body as a temple. Laksmi is about seeing life as an offering and all relationships as a tool for growth.
Every morning at 6:30am we’d quietly meet out on the balcony or in the living room with our alters to be set up as we sat meditatively on the floor ready for Sankalpa during sunrise. A Sankalpa is an intention formed by the heart and mind as a solemn vow, determination, or will. In practical terms a Sankalpa means a one-pointed resolve to focus both psychologically and philosophically on a specific goal. A sankalpa is a tool meant to harness the will, and to focus and harmonize mind and body. Essentially our Sankalpa helped set group and individual intentions for the day. Listening to Sharada’s morning message centred upon self worth, sisterhood and love started the day with a warm, lovely feeling of support, integrity and friendship. Teaching us to set up our own alters of trinkets and meaningful objects also taught us to take time to think about all the things in life we cherish. So often we rush out the door most mornings without giving thanks for another day alive in this world and appreciating our blessings. Taking a moment with your alter, reminds you to slow down, set intentions and just be in the moment.
Soon after, at around 8am until 9:30am a physical class would be taught by two yoga teachers on alternating days, womb yoga was taught by Kay Balnaves and Spiral Yin yoga was taught by Beta Lisboa, both forms of yoga asana are created especially with women’s bodies in mind. These classes woke me up and enabled my body to gently stretch and gather energy ready for brunch.
Right after brunch the rest of the day would be hectic and the whole week would have multiple classes, no day would be the same. In general though these are the lessons we were given:
We attended Devi Circles facilitated by Sharada. These were largely sharing circles about discovering who Laksmi & Lalita are, what they represent and finding these qualities in ourselves. Sharada created a beautiful tray of flower offerings, anointing oil and kumkum powder so that when each Devi had finished talking she would put a flower in her hair, and then place oil and a red kumkum dot on her forehead as the group chanted sanskrit verses dedicated to Laksmi and Lalita. The small, beautiful details Sharada included in these circles literally made every woman feel special in that moment. These circles teach of patience, the practice of no judgement and of holding space for your sister as she discovers the sacred feminine in and around herself.
The 16 step Puja class of Unveiling the goddess was utter magic to me, I loved it so much. Ever since I was a little girl I’d collect objects from nature and create alters, not really understanding the full meaning but it came naturally to me. Learning what Puja really is from Sharada has inspired me to learn more and I will continue this journey. Puja is a Vedic ritual. It is a prayer with offerings. In a Puja we sit in front of an altar. It can be an established altar where we deliberately and consciously superimpose the universal power onto an object of our preference. It can also be somewhere in nature, near the ocean, in the woods or on top of a mountain where we use the elements as our object of worship.
In a Puja, the individual, relates to the total, the whole. The whole represents all knowledge, all power. It is the giver of all fruits of action, the cause of the whole universe. In other words, it is the infallible order. In the Puja ceremonies taught by Sharada we recited mantras as we treated Laksmi as if she was “real”. We gave her water to drink, we washed her feet, offered her flowers and sweets and so on. Practicing these lessons reflects back onto us to remind ourselves we should also be treated with such love and kindness as well as treat others with the same respect. It was a beautiful fusion of actions and words forming such powerful energies. The lesson we learned here was later utilized in the beginning of the fire ceremony, where we were paired up and as we recited the mantras we offered our love and devotion to our sister as though she is the goddess. There was plentiful giggling to be had as we washed each others feet and fed each other chocolate!
Breath-work and trauma release classes were also included to help us let go of emotions within the body. It guided us to be with what is, release the unknown and feel alive in our bodies.
The Devi pampering session was a surprise to say the least! Some cacao body scrub and avocado hair wash was created for us to use and we all danced naked under the glorious sun as we applied the scrubs. In many ways I’m a bit of a prude but by this point (mid week) my nerves began to thaw because I was around 14 women so comfortable in their bodies, some from day one already walking around topless so I plucked up the courage to join them and I loved every moment of it! There was something so playful and innocent about this session, my inner child just wanted to smear the scrub all over me, she also wanted to eat it! Sharada found it hilarious we looked like animals in the shrubs so photos were taken as memories. What was also beautiful about this moment was feelings of safety- there were no indecent men leering at us, we were free from any sexual advances, we were like the goddess Artemis- naked and wild, we were women who run with the wolves!
We also immersed ourselves in the ancient Taoist healing techniques of Chi Nei Tsang (Belly Massage) and Karsai Nei Tsang (Yoni Massage) tailored to our female anatomy, to reconnect, to honour and align with our innate intelligence as a woman. I really enjoyed these classes because they are lessons reminiscent of the old ways of when “wise women” would pass such intelligence down to other women within temples and red tents like a lineage. I also learned so much more about female anatomy in both western and eastern medicine, that isn’t discussed in generic anatomy books but should be.
An essential part of the training involved the writing of our sexual history, which we did as “homework” over a few evenings in preparation for a fire a ceremony so that we can offer our story to goddess, to heal and sanctify what has happened before and learn new healthy habits and to honour our sexuality. As each of us told our story and burned it in the flames, Sharada smeared the ashes on our foreheads as a marking of what we had overcome.
One very interesting session involved a photoshoot with the photographer Jean Manuel- one of two men allowed to be of support for this women’s circle training. This was a very vulnerable experience for me, as it was for other women in the group but I had just gone through a break up with my long term partner. I had a deep emotional wound that was broken open. To add salt to the wound, I used to model in my younger years and my ex is a professional photographer who throughout the majority of the relationship refused to photograph me or if I wanted professional photos to promote my skills he’d treat my request for help like it was a huge burden he had no time for, I’d beg and pleaded like a nagging house wife just to get new photos. It made me feel undeserving of his attention and even support, yet I’d see him swan off to photograph beautiful women in sports gear or lingerie for his job? I learned over the course of that relationship that I wasn’t somehow good enough, I wasn’t photogenic or worthy of his time and skill. A relationship of any kind should (for the most part) be effortless, it shouldn’t be hard work to want basic love, attention and support.
The whole photographic experience with Jean Manuel was all about having a pure connection, the photographer’s “ego” had to fall away and allow the subject to just “be”- this is what makes Jean a brilliant photographer, I call him a photographic wizard because he simply is magic, another aspect to Jean that I love is his gentleness and air of mysticism. The thought behind this process is: You wouldn’t direct a mountain or a flower into a perfect pose, so why would you do that to a woman? From the subjects point of view, it encouraged a sense of freedom to be vulnerable, let the masks crumble and to just see what naturally occurs. This was hard for me for reasons stated above: the ex-model in me kept awkwardly saying “What do you want me to do? Is this angle ok?” But Jean Manuel barely spoke and just observed like a lion in the grass. Memories of my ex partnership then flooded to the surface and I began to shy away, believing I was wasting Jean’s time, I’m not beautiful enough for this experience but he’d quietly came closer until the lens, like a great eye was staring deep into me, like a lover or at least how a lover should look at a woman and that made me angry “Why couldn’t my ex look at me this way? Why couldn’t he love me?! Wasn’t I good enough just as I am!?” I didn’t just feel anger for that relationship, I felt all my previous relationships shiver through my bones like a raging tidal wave! I felt ferocious! Until I said “Stop”, Jean replied “What’s wrong?” I said “My spirit animal is coming out, she’s a Leopard”, Jean replied “Good, let it come out, its what you need.”
Here was a man with no agenda other than to support and to listen, his words “Let it come out, its what you need” released the animal in me from some kind of bondage and I began to stare down into the lens and play in the wildflowers. For years I’ve felt corseted and here I was being photographed in a stunning summer dress feeling incredibly sensual as though I’m making love to the earth. I was also photographed with another sister called Julie. She is a gorgeous, Parisian woman who is unabashedly wild and vulnerable. She came to lie with me in the grass and put her hand on my heart, I’d never been this close to another woman before- not even my best friend, and I was starved of any real intimacy because of the lack of it from my ex-partnership. The whole experience was a challenge but it ignited something in my heart that thawed my entire body-mind and I softened and I began to ache for real connection and authentic love with others and with myself. (I will write a separate blog post about the shoot with the final images soon).
On the last days of this intensive journey Sharada organized a Puja fire ceremony and a final Devi circle. In the final Devi circle as a symbol of initiation we all wore a red dress-red for Laksmi, red for the womb, red for love and eroticism, red for the Priestess path- red for the journey of the goddess and the discovery of the sacred feminine.
The Fire ceremony was invoked in the courtyard garden temple. Large white sofa beds and cushions were arranged around the garden, white and red veils were draped over the trees, rose petals decorated the floor and the main alter was displayed in the middle with an assortment of tea-light candles- it was beautiful! After the Puja dedication to each other as the goddess we took it in turn over two days to share our very personal stories of our sexual history. We had an hour each. Many tears were cried as trauma was released by each individual and the rest of us held space to comfort the person sharing her story. Each woman took it in turns to burn the pages of her notes in the fire as we chanted mantras as a form of prayer, to set an intention to release ourselves from the bondage of guilt, shame and trauma. The whole experience was very cathartic.
During the final Devi ceremony in our red dresses, our last words were shared about our experiences and each sister took in turn to sit on a “throne” by the alter to be given her certificate and be blessed. I asked during my fire ceremony if the group as a collective would like to choose a new name for me to mark this new journey. One of the women in the group named Eloise Lakshya messaged me the night before and said “When I saw you belly dancing, the name Kalyaani came to mind, she is another name for the goddess Parvati, she is the goddess of the mountains.” I felt that this suited me and it felt special coming from this woman. So as I sat by the alter to receive my certificate I was anointed as “Kalyaani Devi”, this is my Hindu/spiritual name that I will use as I walk the goddess and yogic path.
I say words can not describe this incredible life changing experience but I’ve just written so much to describe it!
I can not begin to fathom how loving and supportive all the women (and 2 men helping) were. After years of being around too many spiteful and hurtful people I found refuge and a sort of release. I felt I could breathe and I learned to relax. These women accepted me for me, they raised me up and reminded me of my strength, my beauty and of how much love I have to give. So much tension fell from my body. I haven’t felt this much peace in a very long time. Sharada taught me so much about Vedanta, Puja and the Hindu goddesses, Beta about spiral yoga (which is similar to the movements of belly dance) and Kay about self massage and womb yoga. The only two men allowed to be involved have taught me to trust that there are good men out there, and to trust in love again, that I’ll meet someone who stands by my side and loves me truly one day (but I’m in no rush). Each teacher different but ultimately with the same love- all teaching about sacred beauty, womanhood and self worth, all teaching the message of Laksmi and Lalita.
Things are changing. I’m making BIG changes to truly set myself free. Before I went on this training I dreamed I was standing in the middle of a quiet road with meadows of wildflowers either side. I stood looking down that road as soft, mottled wings grew from my back. I opened up these wings with a smile and began to practice flying but my wings were new and were not ready to fully fly away. But I am almost at the point of taking off and finally being the free spirit that I am. There is no holding me back now.
I am truly grateful for this incredible opportunity, my heart is full, my cup overflows. I see myself now so clearly facilitating my own women’s circles including circles fo Teen girls. Bringing all my knowledge of yoga, belly dance, art as therapy and mental health into the mix too Alongside even Celtic/Pagan rituals like moon blessings, working with the pagan goddesses and much more. Being a women’s circle facilitator brings everything I know and everything I am into one basket, holding all the fruits together in order to share.
I am now a member of the Be Woman team currently co-managing their social media and I’m working on a few creative projects inspired by and for this project too- Including a short story! This week intensive training has made my creative side explode like a thousand stars, with so many ideas that I can not wait to play with! I also intend on attending the next training called “Be Durga” which is in Bali next year so watch this space!
Om hrim srim paramalaksmyai namah!
If you enjoyed my story and feel called to be involved with the Be Woman project whether attending a training or other activities, visit the links below to gain more information.
Websites & links to visit:
The Be Woman Project website
The Be Woman Project Instagram
The Be Woman Project Facebook
Sharada Vaidika website
Jean Manuel photography website
Beta Lisboa Spiral Yin Yoga website
Kay Balnaves womb yoga Instagram
Sharada’s Vedic chanting Soundcloud
Buy Sharada’s Be Woman song here: Be Woman at Bandcamp
Our “Temple” Accommodation: Casa Rural Ses Caletes