Great Mother, as an Aspect of Loba

by Satoko Ogawa


Diane di Prima (1934- ) is surely one of the rare female figures of the Beat Generation: an artistic bohemian, a revolutionary activist, and a visionary poet for all her life. In 1971, the apparition of a wolf in her dream led her to write a long epic, Loba, which was first published in 1978. The expanded edition including Part II came out in 1998, and she is still working on this epic adventure.

Loba is an ambitious attempt to embody the various manifestations of female power. It is important to note that this work is truly a series of visionary poems. Di Prima writes Loba when She “visits” her, and often she actually hears these words. Therefore the entire poem is a journey, to which di Prima herself doesn’t have a map.

Di Prima states that “Loba is a “truth” –a series of poems that burst out of me, when they will, and I am just the instrument for the book as a whole.”1

           The whole of the poem--almost 500 pages by now, is like a
           “finally bursting out”, of a truth that I—but ALL women—
           know and have known forever, a complex truth, all the unspoken
           things in their lives, and it’s not anger or anger only, or dark or
           dark only, it’s love finally but a love filled with rays that are dark
           and rays that are speckled and rays the are unbelievably bright

    Each single poem is a new voice   A new Being
    Even in a “series” such as "The Loba As Eve" each Eve poem
           speaks from a slightly different place.

           That’s why I write Loba only when “she” comes to me
    “she comes” when I feel / see /hear inwardly / recognize
    A NEW ASPECT of this unspoken (universally there) truth of woman’s life
           / of femaleness

           It’s not that it’s been suppressed by the patriarchy, not just that,
           so much as that women colluded in its suppression
           in exchange for the dubious goodies of “civilization” as defined
           for the past 10,000 years, women have said “hush” to what they know—
           to their deep knowing 2

Most of her writings are very personal, coming out of her own life and Loba is a reflection of her own experience as a woman. Di Prima is a mother of five children with different fathers. She has avoided a strong father figure throughout her life: in a way, she has practiced matriarchy in her own life. The “femaleness” that she presents in Loba is very unique.

Loba comes in various ways with myriad personalities. She is a shape-shifter, a medium of constant change on the poetic field. She is a wolf, a wolf woman, a goddess, a beautiful young girl, an ample old lady, a merciless destroyer, a life-giver. She is also silly and humorous, such a charming character.

Loba transforms into various female archetypes and seeks the deepest source. Sharing the process of transformation with Her, we begin to identify the various personalities that lie dormant in ourselves. Here in this essay, I would like to pick up one aspect of Loba, and would discuss Her as part of the Magna Marta, or the Great Mother.

When di Prima was facing some personal conflict, which confined her in bed for a month, she had a dream of a wolf. Without having studied any myths about wolves, she recognized or remembered this huge wolf as a deity whom she was familiar with, but had forgotten for a long time. She set down the whole dream in Part Four as a poem entitled: “Dream: The Loba Reveals Herself.”
            I turned to confront
                    to face
                              ring of fur, setting off
            the purity of her head.
            stood, strong patient
            great mythic beast of European forest.
            green warrior woman, towering.
                                          kind watchdog I cd
            leave the children with.
                             Mother & sister.
                             Myself.  (L 68)


Di Prima named this wolf Loba, which means “she-wolf” in Old Provençal and also in Spanish. This first confrontation with Loba became a solution to her personal conflict, and also initiated her journey to search for the archetype of the Feminine.

            If he did not come apart in her hands, he fell
            like flint on her ribs, there was no
            middle way   (L 11)

First, the wolf appears with a male figure. He stands for the mortal who is devoured by Loba, the immortal presence. Loba reveals her vulgar, barbaric aspect. She is an insatiable cannibal. “Her hand / shakes a gourd rattle, she laughs, her fangs / flash white & red, they are set with rubies”
(L 14).

Then, the Loba comes to hunt. This time the reader becomes the prey: “Know the skull in her hand your own, she eats / your eyes & then your brain. . . .” (L 14 ). Returning to the opening image, the reader can no longer be an observer.

            If you do not come apart like bread
            in her hands, she falls
            like steel on your heart. The flesh
            knows better than the spirit what the soul
            has eyes for. Has she sunk
            root in yr watering place, does she look
            w/ her wolf’s eyes out of your head?   (L 15)

Di Prima asks us if we could allow this wolf woman into our body. She insists that we experience the poetry sensually with our body to share an ecstatic experience with this wolf woman. Within the poetic ecstasy, we also live the myth as a wolf.

The wolves are surely one of the most feared predators hunted throughout the world to near extinction.  In his Divine Comedy, Dante feared the she-wolf most among the three animals which he encountered at the foot of a hill. “This last beast brought my spirit down so low / with fear that seized me at the sight of her, / I lost all hope of going up the hill” (Dante 69). She-wolf is “by nature so perverse and vicious, her craving belly is never satisfied, / still hungering food the more she eats” (Dante 70).

However, it was a wolf that sent di Prima to her journey. It embodies the hidden, excluded nature of females in the patriarchal history.
Di Prima herself stated that Loba is about “a feminine energy that is not sweet and nice, a semi-wrathful energy, a primordial feminine energy.”3 This indicates the violent aspect of the female power which is signified by the Hindu Goddesses like Kali or Durga.

In part II, the whole section of Part 15 is dedicated to Kali-Ma. This is her own translation, or "version," of the devotional songs for Kali by the Bengali Yogi, Ramprasad. He was a devotee of Kali and he wrote many songs for Her.

In the late 50s and early 60s, di Prima was a student of Hinduism as well as Buddhism. She was to some extent a devotee of Kali and other Hindu deities. She was interested in the hymns of Ramprasad very much and looked for the translations and tried to translate them by herself. She didn’t finish them and they were found again unexpectedly in the 80s and she knew they were to be the section of Loba.

Kali is the Goddess of Time and Change, but often related to death and destruction.
            Because you love the burning grounds
            I have made a burning ground of my heart, O Kali,
            That you, Beloved, may dance there unceasingly.  (L 285)

He prepares the “burning grounds” for Kali. Within this ritual of fire and blood, he gradually loses sanity.

            Make me mad, O Mother!
            What’s the use of knowledge?
            Make me drunk with the wine of your love.
            In this madhouse of yours some laugh, some weep, some dance
            Jesus, Moses, Chaitanya    all crazy with ecstasy.   (L 288)

He is trying to feel Mother beyond understanding or reasoning. Knowledge is not useful. Only passion, love, and madness will take him to Kali.

            What woman dances on this battleground?
            Naked Kali stands on naked Shiva.
            Streams of blood pour from her black lips
            ropes of blood cover her breasts and her wide hips
            like red flowers on black river waters.
            Her face is the full moon,
            All the world’s sweetness begins with her laugh.
            Mountain of darkness dance together in her flesh.
            My freedom is the fierce rhythm of her feet.   (L 291)

The name “Kali” means “black” and “time.” She is a “black Woman scattering darkness in the Dark”(L 288). Kali is the consort of god Shiva, and she is often seen standing on the body of Shiva. There are many interpretations and beliefs about this and here is one of these: Kali often gets too wild and uncontrollable, and only Shiva is able to tame her. He is protecting the earth because she dances so fiercely. The Tantric interpretation about this is that Shiva, Divine Consciousness, is inactive and Kali, Divine Energy, is active. They are interdependent.

At the last part of this poem, the man, probably Ramprasad himself, is imagining his death. The sun is setting and he wishes to go back. He wants to take a boat, but he doesn’t have money and shouts: “O stony-hearted Woman! Pay my way!” ( L 296).
            The boat has left; the sun is going down.
            I begin to swim in the ocean,
                   chanting your name.   (L 296)

He misses the boat which takes him to the other shore, often an image of some kind of realization or understanding in both Hinduism and Buddhism. He is left in the vastness, “the ocean”, with nothing to hold on to but Kali’s name. But in death, he is embraced in the arms of Mother Kali, because She is the death itself.

Same as Kali, Loba seems to share many characteristics with the Archetype of the Feminine, the Magna Mater, or the Great Mother. The Great Mother is a kind of Earth Mother, who can be found in myths of almost all cultures. The Great Mother often reveals her terrifying aspect, therefore she is often called the Terrible Mother. A Jungian psychologist, Erich Neumann, understands that the image of the Terrible Mother comes out of our deepest source.

             The symbolism of the Terrible Mother draws its images
             predominantly from the “inside”; that is to say, the
             negative elementary character of the Feminine expresses
             itself in fantastic and chimerical images that do not
             originate in the outside world. The reason for this is
             that the Terrible Female is a symbol of unconscious.
             And the dark side of the Terrible Mother takes the form of
             monsters, whether in Egypt or India, Mexico or Etruria,
             Bali or Rome.   (Newman 148-49)

This Terrible Mother is “Great,” because “in a profound way life and birth are always bound up with death and destruction” (Newman 153). Loba is a merciless destroyer, but her power is to create something new. She is also a life-giver. Loba embodies the power within us and it came to di Prima in the guise of a wolf. It signifies whatever it is that we most fear or resist. In other words, it represents the wilderness of our soul. This wolf comes to hunt us. We need to be eaten by this wolf and become a wolf ourselves, and then we will get down to the bottom of our mind and see our deepest source.

Di Prima herself mentioned about this terrifying power of the female like this;

“Old goddess has both a beautiful and a terrible form, because the female is ruthless to protect the life principle, ruthless in her devotion to ongoingness.” 4 Also she defines the power of the female this way: “Constantly creating life; she is wrathful in the protection of life. Her real motivation comes from the womb. From her constant renewal of the world through in the creation of life. She is the ongoingness of the life principle. Her power is renewal, constant readapting, readapting of energy. I trust this ongoingness.”5 This energy is the primal force of the Loba and her poetics.

When I asked di Prima if she thinks that Loba is part of the Great Mother, she smiled and said; “Well, you can say it that way, but don’t you think that every woman is part of the Great Mother, and all men and women are part of the Divine?” 6

Loba is a clear manifestation of the reincarnation of the power of the Great Mother in our own living flesh.




1. E-mail from di Prima to Ogawa, December 28, 2009

2. E-mail from di Prima to Ogawa, December 28, 2009

3. From an interview with Bill Scheffel conducted in San Francisco on November 18, 1993, quoted by Michelle Lynne Parantoin in her Master’s thesis The Writing Of Female Archetypes in Diane Di Prima’s Loba, San Diego State University, 1994.

4. Interview with Satoko Ogawa conducted in Boulder, Colorado on July 12, 1996.

5. Interview with Satoko Ogawa conducted in Boulder, Colorado on July 12, 1996.

6. Interview with Satoko Ogawa conducted in Boulder, Colorado on July 12, 1996.


                                                 Works cited

Agrieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. Trans. Mark Musa. New York: Penguin Books, 1984.

Di Prima, Diane. LOBA. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

Newman, Eric. The Great Mother. Trans. Ralph Mnheim. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955.