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Inanna (and our) descent into the Underworld...

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

In these trying times, especially now in the context of the Crown virus, I cannot but help to want to harvest the meaning of and make sense of what is going on, and for that I always turn to mythology: myth is universal, and we all partake in these ancient stories, as they play out over and over again on both personal and collective stages.

Here follows a brief description of the descent of Innana, followed by a personal example as to how this story can play out in our everyday lives, especially now:

🖤 The Myth:

Inanna, the ancient Sumerian Goddess learned that her sister Erishkigal was grieving for the death of her husband, and subsequently set out on a journey into the underworld to attend the funeral rites. Upon arrival at the first of seven gates leading down into the underworld, the gatekeeper took her crown. When she protested, he replied: “Quiet Inanna, the ways of the Underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.” At the other six gates, every time she heard those words, as she had to let go of her lapis earrings and her royal staff; her double-stranded, lapis beaded necklace; her breastplate; her ring of power and the golden hip girdle from her waist; her ankle bracelets; and her royal robe. Completely naked, she entered the throne room, where the jealous Erishkigal cursed Inanna to turn into a corpse, after which she was hung on a hook, on the wall. Instead of witnessing the funeral of another, Inananna bore witness to her own funeral…. An act permitted on Erishkigal’s account, as Inanna was glorified and exalted as queen of Heaven and Earth, at Erishkigal’s expense, who instead was condemned to the horrid conditions of the underworld, thus incurring Erishkigal’s hatred for her sister and all relationships for that matter. After many pleas for help to restore the Goddess to the upper world, by Inanna’s faithful maid servant, Enki, the God of wisdom heeded and produced two androgynous creatures, which were sent into the underworld. These creatures acknowledged Erishkigal’s pain, as she suffered a desperate loneliness, and because she felt that they sympathised with her loss, when nobody else would, she granted them a wish. Their request was for Inanna’s corpse to be released from the hook. They then sprinkled the food and water of life on it, and Inanna arose! Inanna was about to ascend to the upperworld, when the judges of the Underworld seized her and said: “No one ascends from the underworld unmarked. If Inanna wishes to return from the underworld, she must provide someone in her place”. And so it came to be her husband Dumuzi’s lot to take her place. On her way back up, she passed through the seven gates again, retrieving the items of her regalia.

🖤 My and our underworld journey as Inanna:

About three weeks ago, I, somewhat unwillingly embarked on my own underworld journey. Deep down in the core of my being, I knew things needed to change in my life, yet I did not know how, and so my being chose this journey. Some women embrace this underworld journey willingly each month during their pre-menstrual phase, when their hormones are most conducive for doing shadow work. Others take on this journey unwillingly, when they are being triggered by intimate relationships, much like Persephone who was abducted by Hades to be his unwilling bride. Regardless of the incentive of going on this treacherous journey, in many traditional societies, initiatory tribal rites often involved a symbolic descent into and ascent from the labyrinthian Earth Mother, gifting women and men with the experience of being reborn in a spiritual context. These rites tend to follow a universal pattern: a) separation from the family, b) regression to a prenatal state c) death, dismemberment, suffering, d) rebirth and e) killing of another. Those who do manage to return from the underworld, carry with them the knowledge of rebirth and bring to their cultures a new world view. When this descent occurs willingly, it involves a compelling yet understandable pull to visit the underworld, as was the case for Inanna. When one is ready to face those wounded parts that were shoved into the underworld, especially during childhood, circumstances will arrive at our doorstep, ushering us into the darkest corners of our unconscious minds, in honour of this quest.

Inanna had to abandon not only her items of adornment, but also her seven cities and temples, as well as heaven and earth: determinately and heroically surrendering her roles as queen, holy priestess and woman. Just like Inanna had to give up some item of her regalia at each gate, I, too had to “give up “, firstly

🖤 Gate one: my attachment to my appearance, when a hair dresser suggested that we cut off more of my hair than what I asked him to do. My hair ended up being so short around my face that I could not even style it in any which way, and every time I looked in the mirror it was like an unattractive stranger looking back at me. And the gatekeeper said: “Quiet Monet, the ways of the Underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.”

🖤 At my second gate, I had to give up my good health, as I contracted a stomach virus, the day before I had to deliver a big workshop at a conference…again the gatekeeper replied “The ways of the Underworld are perfect, and may not be questioned…”. Little did I know at the time how big a role a virus would come to play in all of our lives, just three weeks later…

🖤 At the third gate it was my sanctuary that I was called to let go of, as, I work from home, and anybody who has been to our house before can attest, our home looks and feels like a small retreat center. They started a long-term construction work project next door to our complex, involving a tall pulley system which releases a huge weight, falling down to the earth with an enormous and earth shaking bang, every 5 seconds, every day, from 8am till 6pm, Monday to Friday!

🖤 My fourth attachment which I was called to surrender (which is an ongoing theme as I am also in my 7-year astrological Saturn return period) was my financial security: February was an extremely slow month and in general, running a small healing business in Cape Town, is no joke. Again, I did not foresee at the time that this theme could be even more exacerbated by the Corona virus repercussions…

🖤 My fifth gate involved my car breaking down with much damage to the gear box and clutch, where we had to try and source second-hand parts to lower the costs. It has been two weeks now and my car has still not been fixed, rendering me largely house bound and isolated. Again, little did I know at the time, that living like a hermit could potentially become a reality for all of us…

🖤 My sixth gate signified a giving up on my sanity, so to speak. I have stared anxiety in the face, multiple times in my life before, but I did not know what a depressive episode was, until last week. Everything just got too much for my psyche to deal with, and I just broke down and became a mess. Yes, healers and life coaches are not immune to life getting to us. Addiction impulses which I thought I have “beaten” many years ago, reared their heads. Fortunately, I now have a support network and the tools to nip them in the bud, from the get-go.

🖤 Finally, the seventh gate arrived: The Corona virus-induced fear and panic, which I am in no need of to elaborate on, as we are globally passing through this gate as we speak. I know that what I “have lost” at each of these gates, will be restored again, eventually, when I make my way back up again.

After passing through all these gates, I arrived in the underworld, to face Erishkigal. She is Inanna’s (and our) Shadow self, the instinctual, wounded, neglected part of herself. Erishkigal shares qualities with Lilith - both are connected to the night time as aspects of the feminine, the powerful raging sexuality, and the deep wounds accumulated form life’s rejections, which seek solace in physical union only. Lilith usually flees from rejections, Erishkigal withdraws underground. And so when Inanna was turned into a corpse by her shadow self, she was at the mercy of her faithful hand maiden in the upperworld, her spiritual self. Erishkigal was reborn when those two creatures appeased her anguish by the echo in their concerns, but only after she gave what is most difficult for her to grant: to release part of her personal anguish, her despair and anger, which is embodied in the glorious Goddess of Love (Inanna/ Ishtar /Venus/Aphrodite), only possible with the creatures’ rapport. Only when I allowed myself to cry and break down and be a mess, and learned to console and love myself as well as all of the neglected parts to my personality, could I allow for the rebirth of my shadow self, which ultimate resulted in my rebirth too. This is then a call for all of us to go within, to sit with, and hold all of ourselves in these trying times.

During Inanna’s ordeal in the Underworld, once shepherd and now king, Dumuzi clinged to his new role of kinship and refused to acknowledge the ties of feeling and love that once bound him to his wife, and so he was appointed by Inanna as the one to take her place in the underworld. This sacrificial exchange, signifies a part of Inanna (us) which must return to the underworld: the passageway to the unconscious mind which has been created, must be kept open for future visits – we must not forget our neglected abandoned “older sister”. Thus, only with the aid of Inanna’s maid servant (spiritual self), the God of Wisdom (the part inside of us which knows what medicine we need), the two creatures (the parts inside of ourselves which offers consoling to our shadow self and nourishment to our psyches), and somebody to take Inanna’s place (our masculine side which is called to also love our wild, neglected, isolated, uninhibited feminine side), can we be restored to the upperworld again, where we can be much wiser and more competent kings and queens than before….

If you would like to receive therapy sessions based on mythology, and experience various holistic healing modalities, from the comfort of your home, I offer a six-session shadow work package, via skype. For more information, please see Package 2 at sessions-for-women.

And they all lived consciously ever after….

Much love always and ever, Monet

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