Worship of Saraswati Devi dates back to the early Vedic period in India (1500 BCE), where she was the presiding spirit of a sacred and possibly mythical river. The name of the river is believed to be derived from the proto-Indo-Iranian *sáras-vat-ī, which supposedly means “marshy” or “full of pools”. Another proposed etymology derives her name from the root *sar, which means “flow”. Though this latter theory has been widely repeated, it was apparently not favored by Manfred Mayrhofer, a linguist specializing in Sanskrit and Indo-Iranian languages.(1)
In modern worship, Saraswati’s origins as a river deity have been obscured. She is a deity of wisdom, and a patroness of learning and the arts. Modern commenters sometimes derive her name from Sanskrit Sāra and Sva, meaning of “essence of self-knowledge”. While not a historically valid etymology, it certainly captures Lady Saraswati’s character.
(1) Information taken from Wikipedia entry “Sarasvati River“
I put my favorite deck (the Shadowscapes) aside some time ago, with no intention of picking it up again. My readings with it had become frustrating and stressful, to the point where I would have a visceral reaction of displeasure to most of the images. As much as I loved the artwork, I didn’t think I should use it any longer.
After that, I switched deck styles completely, using various “historical” decks, like the LoScarabeo reproduction of the Visconti-Sforza. (It’s very shiny). Learning to read the simple pips is a fun and ongoing adventure. Recently though, I felt drawn back to my Shadowscapes. It was strong enough that I actually did take the deck out despite my misgivings, and pull a few cards. I felt the old connection with it come sparkling back.
Later, I messaged a friend wondering why I felt so strongly drawn to this old deck again. She simply replied that it probably had something to teach me. I wondered what on earth that could be, so I took the cards out one more time and shuffled them. Then I pulled one; It was the Heirophant.
Not very subtle.
One of the founders of the Western Buddhist Order, now known as Triratna, posed a question to readers in his book, Meeting the Buddhas: if your life was a mandala, what would be at the center? Is it your family, your job, your faith…what?
The three years since I began a formal relationship with My Lady Saraswati have gone by very quickly. Yet I feel as though She has always been in my life. I’m fairly certain she actually has, but I’m honestly also convinced that these feelings have more to do with how She has radically reordered my priorities and claimed her place in the center of my life’s mandala.
So. You’re godbothered. What do you do?
- Are you godbothered? I mean, really. Use your discernment and common sense. Is it a god who’s come to call, or is something else going on? These are the main possibilities to consider:
- It is a god. More on this below.
- It’s not a god, but it is some sort of entity that is not-you
- Gods are not the only thing out there, and one can have very intense encounters with entities as seemingly humble as a tree spirit. (I have)
- It’s not not-you
- This one is very tricky. Only you know the inside of your head well enough to make this call. Is that numinous feeling a god’s presence, or is it the side effect of a new medication? (I’ve been there). Keep in mind the Delphic maxim and know thyself.
- So, it is a god. What next?
- Did you ask for this?
- No, I mean literally. Did you ask for a god in your life? If you didn’t and one drops on you like a ton of bricks, you’ve already had your boundaries disrespected.
- Do you want this?
- If you didn’t ask for a divine presence in your life and suddenly find yourself with one, that is an even bigger red flag that the entity in question (god or not) has boundary issues, and possibly other issues as well.
- Are you enjoying this?
- This last question is actually pretty important. It’s not wrong or impious to end a relationship with a deity if it’s making you miserable.
My Lady is called upon as a goddess of wisdom and a patroness of learning by traditions across the world, from India to Japan. She is known not just as Saraswati, but as Yangchenma and Benzaiten-sama. She is a goddess of sense-finding and pattern making, of narrative construction and storytelling. She forces chaos into coherence, and brings meaning to human existence by forcing sound into shapes called words, and carving lines into things called writing. My Lady is a cosmic goddess.
I’ve been stashing ideas in various places for a few months now, trying to assemble them into my own path. It’s been slow going, and messy, because I’m honestly not well-organized by nature. I’m much more comfortable in chaos. Yet oddly, I do love the process of organization. I seek patterns in things, and tend to find them – even in the chaos.
So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me that the most promising sources for my path-building have not been religious texts or magical primers, but my library science textbooks. This semester’s course on cataloging has stirred me more than anything else to find order within my chaos.
I’ve shared this picture before, and called it my personal Saraswati, without much other explanation. It’s a Sino-Tibetan silkscreen that I got off EBay; I have it hanging over my altar. I’ve become very fond of it. Look at that smile! My Lady’s got everything in this picture: the moon in her hair, little geese at her feet, and of course…the dragon.
While the smile was what sold me on this particular image, the dragon sheltering My Lady with a flower is a wonderful touch. It may not be the heart of the painting, but to borrow an expression from a mentor, it is the pupils in the eyes.
I associate My Lady Saraswati with dragons, serpents, nagas, snakes…all those ophidian creatures that both fascinate and frighten me. They are guardians of treasure and bringers of rain and storm. According to Buddhist lore, it was the nagas who hid the Mahayana sutras until the time came for them to be revealed. And of course one can’t forget Benzaiten-sama’s serpentine associations in Japan…