Mātṛkā means unknown, unrealized mother. So long as the mystery of Mātṛkā is not realized, she is a source of bondage or limitation. When her mystery is realized, she becomes the source of liberation. – Jaideva Singh, Siva Sutras, p. xxxii
They’re sound syllables, little bits of words and thoughts.1
The Mātṛkās (mothers) were originally believed to be a personification of the seven stars of the the Pleiades cluster/constellation, which resides in the Nakṣatra of Kṛttikā, one of the two Nakṣatras that, according to myth, were said to have helped raise Budha, the son of Candra (the Moon) and Tara (“star”). The reason they are said to have been “unrealized” is because of the hidden truth behind their stories that must be shone. I refer to truth to my sons as the “river of truth,” and when the Truth fails to live, darkness and resistance to the flow of life is created.
Swaha impersonated six of the seven stars, who were once wives of great sages. She did this in an attempt to unite with Agni, whom she desired. Because of his infatuation with the seven stars, he rejected her. But as them, she was at last able to lure and sexually unite with him. She then suppressed his seed so not to allow these wives to be accused of infidelity. The stars, then, were basically unconsenting sperm collectors. This power to withhold, the resulting life of their unions, was too great to suppress. It then spontaneously erupted into a powerful boy named Skanda. With his birth also erupted rumors that he was the son of these wives. Unrealized mothers, as they themselves were unaware of the existence of the child since none of them actually bore Agni’s seed.
Swaha was only able to take the form of six of the seven sages, so the seventh remained free from this dramatic tale. Despite her husband, Vishvamitra, and his attempt to free the Truth and banishment of the other wives, the other rishis did not listen to reason, were not open to consider Truth, and divorced their wives. These mothers, who had lost control of their chastity to the great Swaha, were in such torment from the ensuing drama and their divorces that they asked child Skanda to elevate them to the celestial, where they remained forever as the six Pleiades.
After this kerfuffle, and Agni’s desires fulfilled, Swaha eventually married Agni. So, although these Mātṛkās (mothers) appear as victims, it’s as if they had been imprisoned by their own ability to feel pleasure, to lose control of the Self and get caught up in the illusion. Emotion, desire, and will are such strong forces here. Passions of the Maya are a powerful way to bring things into this world. When you realize this mystery and understand the truth, you are liberated from its bondage. Although these Mātṛkās were not the true mothers of Skanda, the forms of Swaha that they allowed to form inside them were. Although that’s okay, it did result in their bondage. Perhaps when they realize this they will free themselves, these Mātṛkās.
Indra (masculine consort of Indrani, one of the Saptamātṝkāh), feared what resulted from succumbing to desire (perhaps it it responsible for chaos, which expands, complicates, and leaves too much room for disorder in his web), so he prompted the Mātṛkāh to destroy their creation. Resistant, the mothers were overwhelmed by their love for Skanda that they began to product milk, filling the Milky Way and feeding Skanda. It was then that Kali took Skanda as her own son son. There may be something to be said about the tear between order/restriction and chaos/play and embracing the Maya and the gifts it produces that distinguishes strictness and the accepting nature of Tantra. Through acceptance of emotion, passion, action, will in this world, realization of what the illusion is and then realizing how to act appropriately you free yourself from the bondage of the illusion and experience an enlightened state.
according to Sally Kempton’s Mantra lecture at 50 minutes 30 seconds ↩