What is Shakti?
Śakti (often transcribed as shakti) means “power” and is the divine feminine force personified in all expressions of the Hindu goddess. She is the dynamic, primordial creative energy that supports life.
In the śaiva traditions, śakti is considered non-separate from śiva, or that Absolute Consciousness that is the ground of Being. This union is historically depicted in images of Ardhanāṛīśvara, the androgynous form of god who is half man, half woman. Here, śiva and śakti are consciousness and energy in an eternal dance of creation, sustainment, and dissolution.
In the śakta traditions, śakti is considered the Absolute Principle, and all other deity forms are subordinate to her. Here, she is the very source and destination of all beings – be they deities or demons, heroes or villains.
In both śakta and śaiva traditions, śakti doesn’t only give birth to the universe. She is the universe, from the minutest particle to the densest cosmic body. She veils herself in each of us where we fail to see our divine nature. As the potential for recognizing our true identity, she is kuṇḍalinī (the “coiled one”), which remains dormant but awakens in the context of deep yogic insight. Kuṇḍalinī is often depicted as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine, where she lies asleep until one experiences śaktipāta, which literally means the “descent of śakti,” a bestowal of divine grace.
While considered feminine, śakti, is non-binary, being present in all beings, all genders, and all objects as their true nature. In other words, all attributes of reality are but the face of śakti. She is the source, the expression and the ultimate dissolution of anything and everything in existence.
Since Śakti is everything in existence, she is invoked in all modes of spiritual practice. While it is common to offer adoration to her as the divine feminine, she is the power and source of mantra or sacred sound, yantra or sacred art, ritual worship, contemplative practices, and meditation. She is easily invoked in Nature and in relationships, and in every context of our daily life.
The Lord Who is Half Woman: Ardhanāṛīśvara in Indian and Feminist Perspective, Ellen Goldberg, 2002.