Shiva: Explore and Use the Hindu God's Magick in Your Practice
Shiva, also spelled Śiva and Śiwa, means "Auspicious One" in Sanskrit. He is one of the main deities of Hinduism, whom the Shaivites worship as the supreme God.
Shiva is the third God in the Hindu triumvirate. The triumvirate consists of three Gods who are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world. The other two Gods are Brahma and Vishnu. Brahma creates the universe, Vishnu preserves the universe, and Shiva destroys the universe—in order to re-create it.
Hindus believe Shiva's powers of destruction and recreation are still used today to destroy the illusions and imperfections of this world, allowing beneficial change to take place. According to Hindu belief, this destruction is not negative, but constructive.
Shiva combines many contradictory elements. He is both a Destroyer and Creator God. He is also known to have an untamed passion, which leads to extreme behavior. Sometimes he is an ascetic, abstaining from all worldly pleasures. At other times, he is a hedonist.
What About You?
Which Gods of the triumvirate do you connect with most?
The Four Arms of Shiva
Shiva is typically shown with two or four arms. His four arms represent the four cardinal directions.
- His back-right hand holds an hourglass-shaped drum called the damru. The drum is a symbol of creation. It refers to Shiva’s connection to primal sound Om or Aum, the creation of alphabets, languages, grammar and music. According to Hindu tradition, sound was the first of the five elements to manifest.
- His front right hand is held in the abhaya mudra or gesture of protection and reassurance. Abhaya is the mudra of no fear and means “My devotee! Fear not. I am here to protect you!”
- His back-left hand holds His weapon, the trident. The trident represents the three gunas (or fundamental forces). They are sattva (constructive), rajas (active) and tamas (destructive). Sometimes his back-left hand is shown with a bowl of flames. The flame symbolizes the destruction that leads back to creation.
- His front left hand is held in the varada mudra or boon-giving gesture. This mudra fulfills our desires for bhoga (or material enjoyment) while living on Earth. It means “Don’t worry, I will give you material enjoyment!”. It offers prosperity and material comfort. It also implies the all-giving, magnanimous nature of the Divine.
The Third Eye of Shiva
Shiva has three eyes. His third eye is vertical and located in the middle of His forehead, between his brow. This area is also known as ajna or third eye chakra.
The three horizontal lines of ash or Vibhootion on His forehead represent:
- Shiva as a triumvirate (consisting of three Gods)
- The three gunas (rajas, tamas and sattva)
- Shiva as the trikala darshi (He who knows past, present and future)
- The three karmas: Sanchitta (accumulated karmas of the past), prarabdha (portion of the past karma which is responsible for the present body), and agami (karma which is being made for the future). This shows that Shiva is beyond the three karmas. It is believed that devotees who pray in earnest to Shiva will also be relieved from the three karmas, and thus attain moksha (liberation).
His right and left eyes represent His activities in the physical world while His third eye symbolizes spiritual wisdom, occult knowledge, and power. It is sometimes known as the Eye of Wisdom. His three eyes also represent the three worlds, the sun, the moon and the earth, the three paths of liberation and the triple nature of creation (creation, life, destruction).
Through his third eye, Shiva can see beyond the illusion of Maya (or the illusion of the world as reality) and destroy all evil.
Shiva’s third eye can shoot flames that turn everything to ash. By opening it, He destroys fierce demons, our false selves, our fears, and illusions.
The Ra and Horus Connection
The concept of a God Eye is not isolated to Shiva alone. The Egyptian Gods Ra and Horus also have lore attached to the powers of their eye. According to Egyptian mythology, the right eye is connected to the Sun and is therefore called The Eye of Ra. The left eye is connected to the Moon and is therefore called The Eye of Horus. So again we see this connection between the Sun and the Moon as eyes of the God. And not unlike the Eye of Shiva, both the Eye of Ra and the Eye of Horus have a destructive component. They are able to destroy all evil.
The Durga–Kali Connection
The avatar of Shakti known as Durga also has a third eye capable of destroying evil. Instead of flames, what comes out of Durga's third eye is the Goddess Kali. Unlike any other deity in the Hindu pantheon, Kali is able to destroy all demons and evil. Again we see repeatedly this concept of the eye of the Divine as able to destroy all false illusions, greed, and fear.
Pashupati: Lord of the Animals
Shiva is sometimes referred to as Pashupati, or Lord of the Animals.
- Animal Skins: In most images He is shown in a yogic posture, sitting cross-legged on a tiger skin. Tiger and elephant skins are His only clothes. The tiger and the elephant skin signify His ability to control and transform His animal nature.
- Snakes: He also wears a garland of snakes around his neck. Sometimes He also has a snake across his body like a sacred thread. And two snakes acting as bracelets around his hands. The snakes represent His ability to control His desires and His sensuality.
- Nandi the Bull: The bull Nandi is the vahana (mount or vehicle—means of travel for the Hindu deities) of Shiva. Many deities exalt their vahana to the level of protector or disciple. Shiva is said to have exulted the bull Nandi to the position of ganapati (leader of the ganas or followers). Nandi is Shiva’s main companion and is often worshiped alongside Him. He is described as a white bull with a large hump and tall horns. Nandi is also known as the gatekeeper of Shiva.To this day a temple of Siva is not without a statue of Nandi illustrating the importance of the gatekeeper.
The Cernunnos Connection
There are some who believe there is a connection between Cernunnos and Shiva in his Pashupati form or avatar. The main evidence cited for this is the image of Cernunnos on the Gundestrup cauldron and the image of Shiva as Pashupati. They share a similar yogic pose, both are surrounded by animals, both have a snake torque or garland, and both are adorned with horns.
Shiva Nataraja: Lord of the Dance
Nata means dance or performance and raja means king or lord. Images of Shiva as Nataraja or Lord of Dance were created during the Chola Period (9th–13th centuries C.E.).
As Nataraja, Shiva is the Cosmic Dancer. He performs the dance of bliss, which destroys and creates the cosmic world in an endless cycle of regeneration. It is thought that the cycle of destruction and regeneration moves in rhythm with both His steps and His drum beat. The purpose of the dance is to release people from Maya or the illusion of the "self" and of the physical world.
In his far-right hand, He holds the darum, symbol of creation. In his far-left hand, he holds Agni (fire) symbolizing destruction that leads back to creation. The prabha mandala ( or halo of fire) that surrounds Shiva represents the Universe as well as cosmic time and space. He has one foot on the dwarf apasmara purusha who represents the ignorance and illusion that leads people away from truth.
The gestures of the dance represent Shiva’s five activities panchakritya or creation (symbolized by the drum), protection (symbolized by the “fear-not” pose of the hand), destruction (symbolized by the fire), embodiment (symbolized by the foot planted on the ground), and release (symbolized by the foot held in the air).
Other dances by Shiva found in sculptures and paintings are the wild tandava, which he performs on cremation grounds with his consort. And the graceful lasya, an evening dance performed on Mount Kailas before the assembly of gods, some of whom accompany him on various instruments.
In Sanskrit, linga means mark, symbol, or sign. The Shiva Linga is the symbol of Lord Shiva. The Shiva Linga is seen as the body of Shiva. In nearly all Shiva temples, the worship is to the Shivalingas only. The image of Shiva is very rarely shown inside the temples as He is a formless being, not unlike Shakti.
With the exception of the Om symbol, the Shivalinga is possibly the most sacred, powerful and popular symbol in Hinduism. It is worshiped, meditated upon and worn by many Hindu devotees.
A Shivalinga is usually a round or cylindrical protruding object. The cylindrical part is held firmly by a circular base (see photo above). The Shiva Linga is also symbolic of the “Supreme Self”. In this aspect, it has three parts.
- The part that touches the ground is called Brahma-Pitha and represents the creation of the universe.
- The middle part is octagonal and represents Vishnu-Pitha and preserves creation.
- The upper part is cylindrical and represents Shiva-Pitha and symbolizes destruction or absorption. It is also called Pujabhaga, since it receives the actual offerings of milk and other substances. The horizontal markings sometimes found on the cylindrical part represent the triple lines found on Shiva's forehead.
Another interpretation of the Shiva Linga is that it represents the divine union of Shakti and Shiva. The base representing the yoni or female reproductive energy while the protruding cylinder is seen as the phallus of Shiva. There is some debate as to whether or not this is an accurate representation of the Shivalinga or merely an oversimplification of a multi-layered concept.
Shiva Lingam Stone
Although it draws on Hindu beliefs, the Shiva Lingam stone used by metaphysical practitioners is not the same as the Shiva Linga used for worship in Shiva Temples. It refers to a specific stone found in the Narmada River in the sacred Mardhata mountains in the central-western part of India.
The Shiva Lingam stone is egg-shaped with reddish, brown, tan, and grey shades and designs. Polished to a high sheen, locals sell these stones to spiritual seekers all over the world. You can also find them for sale online. They vary in size from less than half an inch in length to several feet tall.
Also called a Narmada stone, it is mainly used for fertility and sexual potency as well as overall healing, health, power, and energy. They are used in meditation, carried with the person throughout the day, or used in healing ceremonies and rituals.
Shakti and Shiva: The Divine Couple
Shiva is the consort of Shakti in all three of her forms (Parvati, Durga, and Kali). She is his inseparable other half. While Vishnu is shown as the Lord served by Lakshmi sitting at his feet, Shiva and Parvati share the same seat as equals. Parvati and Shiva share half of everything he has, including his body. This is how he got the name Ardhanarisvara (half female half lord). Symbolically, Shiva is the Purusha or cosmic masculine and Shakti is Prakriti or primal nature. Creation is possible only when they are together, as one inseparable reality.
Shiva has two children Skanda or Kumara and Lord Ganesha or Vinayaka.
Working With Shiva
Ideas on how to incorporate the magick of Shiva into your daily life and rituals:
- Develop a mantra and/or meditation practice.
- Awaken, align, heal, and balance your chakras.
- Explore yoga.
- Spend time in nature.
- Quiet your mind and unplug.
- Be fully present in everything you do.
- Face and release fears.
- Let go of what is no longer needed in your life.
- Allow yourself to end one phase of your life or path in order to create anew.
- Build an altar dedicated to Shiva.
- Lead or attend a ritual dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Symbols, Magical Associations, and Offerings
Use these items with intention on your altar or in your daily practices to welcome the energy of Shiva:
- Drum, music, dance
- Trident, flame, crescent moon, skulls, ash
- Nandi or bull, tigers & tiger skin, elephants and elephant skins. snakes, antelope
- Offerings: milk, curd, honey, ghee (clarified butter), flowers
- Colors: white and blue
- Stones: round shiva lingam stones found in the Narmada river, shiva eye shell cabochon, third eye agate
Shiva is a complex God. He is the pure essence and energy of the cosmic masculine force. He is a wonderful introduction or continuation into the diverse Hindu pantheon of deities. As you can see He has similarities and connections to other pagan Gods as well. I hope you are inspired by the ideas here to further enrich your practice by connecting to Lord Shiva in a deeper way.
References and Resources
© 2019 Jennifer Jorgenson