Descent Of Inanna
Return To Your Soul
This blog post aims to guide you to heal your deepest wounds – and reconnect with your soul.
We’ll enlist the help of a powerful myth, The Descent of Inanna. It’s over 5,000+ years old – but still absolutely relevant.
Then, as a gift to you, I have recorded a guided ritual, tagged below, that you can follow to complete your own descent in the footsteps of Inanna. This has the potential to be transformational. It was a critical turning point in my life. Let’s jump in!
The Nagging Voice
I wholeheartedly believe in the power of positivity, but I’d hate to do you the disservice of only sharing that side of the story.
Things aren’t rosy all the time – and if it seems that way, something is amiss.
In my healing journey, I tried a range of ways to feel better. I tried to be happier. To release my pain. To ‘let it go’. And cover it all up with affirmations.
But it didn’t do the trick. There was still a nagging voice. Reminding me, “something is off“, “something doesn’t feel right.” It wanted me to REALLY look in the mirror. Of course, I didn’t want to look. Have you been here?
If you’re like me, you’ll avoid the nagging voice because it’s scary and inconvenient. It’s easier to medicate and deny. You can drown it out with wine, shopping, chocolate, a false smile.
You know something is wrong. But you don’t want to confront the truth.
That voice is desperate to get unstuck. It wants to clear stagnant energy and force you to face the red flags. It’s telling you that a part of your life isn’t working. Your inner flame is flickering out. You’re starting to get ill.
It’s not trying to depress you. Ultimately, it wants you to be happy. That nagging voice is a part of you.
The problem is, you can only shut her out for a while. She’ll always come back. She’s persistent! Like a stubborn headache.
And if you ignore her for too long, you’ll be forced to descend unwillingly. Everything will fall apart, and you’ll have to face it. You might be stripped of your health, your relationships, your career, status, beliefs or emotional stability. And it will hurt.
I wouldn’t listen, and instead, the ground cracked beneath me, and I was plunged headfirst into the depths of a crisis. My version was a divorce. Yours might be something different.
Either way, this painful initiation will be worthwhile. Because often the most profound grief, distress and turmoil can spark the greatest inspiration. Through the dark, you can find the most robust determination to improve your life.
Times of Fallow
It’s natural to face times like this, over and over again. Jane Meredith describes it perfectly;
“We all enter into fallow periods in our lives, times of questioning, of crisis, of not-knowing; times of depression, stagnation, terror and loss. We return from them; changed. Later we enter them again. There is no ceasing of this pattern. And it is by attempting to halt the pattern – to avoid the pain/fear/loss part of it – that we cause the greatest damage to ourselves.”
So before you can begin a new chapter, you must descend to the dark goddess. Honour the wounds. Face up to the ways you have been deceiving yourself. Grieve and heal.
And you can decide to enter into the natural cycle of descent willingly.
You can choose to take time underground so that your seeds can unfurl and bloom. Because, if you wish for tall, wide branches, you must have deep, strong roots.
To ascend, you must descend.
Who Is The Dark Goddess?
The Archetypal Dark Goddess has had many names throughout history and across cultures. You might recognise her as Kali, Cerridwyn, Lillith, The Fates, Persephone, Medusa, Hecate, The Black Madonna.
You’ll know her from fairy tales – she’s the evil witch, the ice queen, the wicked stepmother or the old hag.
She’s usually scary and hidden in a cave or dark castle. But also;
- Unflinchingly honest
- Exceptionally strong
- A bringer of transformation
She’s within all of us. She’s the shadow side to our whole- self. And to put it another way, she’s the lessons that you need to learn.
My first encounter with The Goddess was through that 5000-year-old myth from Mesopotamia, The Descent Of Inanna. In this tale, we meet the Goddess of The Underworld, Ereshkigal.
The Descent Of Inanna
Allow me to introduce Inanna, probably the first recorded named goddess in history. She governed love, sexuality, fertility and war. In Babylon, she called Ishtar, Queen of All Heaven and Earth.
The Descent Of Inanna is recorded on a stone tablet. She was described as the young and powerful ruler of all of the gods of Ancient Mesopotamia.
“She is brave and beautiful, mistress of both the battlefield and the bedroom…Inanna is adored by all.” Jane Meredith
Despite knowing that none have ever returned, Inanna decides to descend to the underworld. She wants to reunite with her sister, Ereshkigal (goddess of the underworld).
The reason for her descent is debatable. Perhaps she wanted to take part in the funeral rites of her sister’s recently deceased husband. Some believe she intended to take the throne of the underworld for herself. But maybe, she’s merely answering an inner calling.
Inanna prepares for her journey by instructing her loyal servant, Ninshubar to seek help from the gods if she fails to return in 3 days. She then proceeds to dress (somewhat brazenly for a funeral) in 7 items, each symbolising an aspect of her Divine power.
The gatekeeper, Neti, meets Inanna at the first gate to the underworld. He is surprised to see here there. He rushes to consult with the dark goddess herself. Ereshkigal is shocked by her sister’s insensitive appearance and feels hurt and betrayed. She instructs Neti to lock all 7 gates against her sister. Ereshkigal commands him to remove one item of Inanna’s power at each entrance before allowing her to proceed.
Inanna is surprised that Neti asks for her most precious possession, her crown. She protests he tells her that the ways of the underworld are perfect and she should not question them. Reluctantly, she hands over her crown and is allowed to pass.
Gates 2 & 3
She is forced to hand over her jewels, her lapis necklet and her beads – no material pretence is tolerated.
It is her breastplate, symbolising her defencess.
She hands over her gold armband, perhaps symbolising her status.
He removes her measuring rod – a symbol of Inanna’s authority.
Neti takes is her royal robe. The final dignity, removing the symbol of her status.
Each item takes with it a measure of Inanna’s power. As she enters the final gate, the heart of the underworld and Ereshkigal’s chamber, she is naked and bowed low. Inanna is exposed, confused and afraid. Perhaps aware of her insignificance in this place.
But then, looking up, Inanna sees her sister’s empty throne and makes a step towards it, perhaps to claim it for herself. Ereshkigal’s eye of death and greets her and kills Inanna straight away. Her corpse is left to hang on a meat hook.
The Turning Point
Like all good myths, The Descent Of Inanna doesn’t end at the bad bit. Phew!
Faithful Ninshubur waits 3 days and 3 nights before seeking help from the god Enki. Enki creates two small creatures from the dirt underneath his nails, the galatur and the kurgurra. He gives them the task of bringing Inanna back from the underworld.
One creature is given a drop of the water of life, and the other, a crumb of the bread of life. They are tiny and slip unnoticed beneath the seven gates. Once they reach Ereshkigal’s chamber, galatur and the kurgurra listen to Ereshkigal’s suffering with genuine empathy. They feel her pain and echo it back.
Ereshkigal is comforted and eventually offers them a gift in thanks. Of course, the creatures ask for the corpse on the hook, and she grants their wish. They sprinkle the water and bread onto the body and Inanna is revived. She immediately leaves the underworld, regaining her powers at each gate.
Why You Must Follow
I genuinely believe that you must descend to become healed and whole. Only in facing your darkness can you fully know your light. Let’s look back at the myth through a psychological lens – with the understanding that all characters represent an aspect of yourself.
Inanna, therefore, represents your conscious self and Erishkigal is your unconscious and shadow side. By deciding to descend to the underworld, you’re entering your psyche, knowing that you will leave a different person.
Like Inanna, you are forced to remove all external aspects of yourself to access the darkest parts of your unconscious. You must strip all ego, material and spiritual masks.
Inanna’s descent demonstrates what could happen if you try to gain dominion over your shadow. She was killed for taking a step towards her sister’s empty throne.
Enki represents your highest self, who knows that empathy and compassion are required to allow you to be redeemed and restored. He knows you need to be very tender with Erishkegal. She needs Inanna to witness her suffering and feel fully embraced as a part of you.
Don’t overlook the fact that it is Erishkegal alone who has the power to release you back into the world, whole once more.
Guided Ritual – The Descent Of Inanna
I was dragged into my descent during my divorce – and it was Inanna’s journey to the underworld that helped me to heal. I had never performed a ritual before. But I knew I needed to do something, anything to help me move forward. The experience was a pivotal moment for me.
And so I have created a guided ritual, for you to use in your journey of healing. Inspired by Jane Meredith’s book, Journey to The Dark Goddess, this is the tool that I used initially to guide my retreat.
In her book, you can find a series of detailed rituals, designed to be completed over several days. I have condensed the descent into a 40-minute ‘meditation’. But I highly recommend Jane’s book if you would like to explore your descent more thoroughly.
Please note, if you are currently taking mood-altering drugs, are receiving psychiatric treatment or have been diagnosed with mental illness, you should not undertake this ritual.
Before you start, it’s advisable to choose a friend to check in with, as Inanna did with Ninshubur. Let them know what you are about to do and ask them to check on you after an agreed number of hours perhaps.
You will need:
- Privacy/A safe space
- Journal/paper and pen
- Handheld mirror
- Seven objects (you can choose objects that hold meaning, e.g. your wedding ring, baby shoes. But this isn’t essential, they can be symbolic or visualised.)
- Bread and water
- An open mind
You can access the guided ritual, inspired by The Descent Of Inanna here.
These are the key messages that I hope you take away from this post, the Descent Of Inanna (whether you choose to complete the ritual or not):
- Learn to embrace all of who you are.
- Treat yourself with tenderness.
- You can’t ignore your nagging truth forever
And don’t forget how the two tiny creatures created by Enki, could change everything. It’s often the smallest things, which slip by unnoticed, that carry immense power. So don’t overlook them!
What tiny things can you do to take care of yourself when you’re feeling stressed or sad? What small things can you do to improve your relationships?
Let me know in the comments!
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You can find me @itslisawelsh.