The Descent of Inanna to the Underworld

Inanna provides a many-faceted image of the feminine. She is a goddess of order, fertility, grains, love, war, heaven and earth, healing, and emotion. She is called the “Lady of Myriad Offices”. Most of the powers once held by her, “the embodied, playful, passionately erotic feminine; the powerful, independent, self-willed feminine; the ambitious, regal, many-sided feminine” were eroded by the patriarchy throughout time.

Her descent to the Underworld is a valuable story at any time of the year but even more so here as the wheel turns fully into the dark of the year. During the dark of the year, we are to turn inward, our most introspective work is to be accomplished at this time. It is vital that we enter the darkness as did Inanna, bare and bowed low.

Inanna’s most important myth begins with the great goddess opening “her ear to the Great Below”.

“From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below.
From the Great Above the goddess opened her ear to the Great Below.
From the Great Above Inanna opened her ear to the Great Below.”

In the Sumerian language, the word for ear and wisdom are the same. Enki, who is the God of Wisdom, is said to have his ear “wide open” indicative of being fully receptive. The message here is that Inanna’s primary reason for traveling to the Underworld was to seek wisdom and understanding.

What this meant was that Inanna had to abandon everything she knew, everything she possessed, all of her powers in heaven and on earth to gain this wisdom and understanding.

“My Lady abandoned heaven and earth to descend to the underworld.
Inanna abandoned heaven and earth to descend to the underworld.
She abandoned her office of holy priestess to descend to the underworld.

She gathered together the seven me.
She took them into her hands
With the me in her possession, she prepared herself:

She placed the shugurra, the crown of the steppe, on her head.
She arranged the dark locks of hair across her forehead.
She tied the small lapis beads around her neck,
Let the double strand of beads fall to her breast,
And wrapped the royal robe around her body.

She daubed her eyes with ointment called “Let him come,
Let him come,”
Bound the breastplate called “Come, man, come!” around her chest,
Slipped the gold ring over her wrist,
And took the lapis measuring rod and line in her hand.”

She gathered all of these things as a means to protect herself. Each of these adornments is worn at one of each of the seven chakras. She traveled to the Underworld and when she arrived she met with Neti and demanded to speak with her Sister Ereshkigal.

Ereshkigal is the place where potential life lies motionless. When Neti described Inanna and how she looked as she waited at the outer gate, Ereshkigal was not pleased.

She sent Neti to defend her. Ereshkigal wanted Inanna to experience what it is to be rejected, to enter only when she is “bowed low”.

At each gate, Inanna is asked to remove one item and when she asks why, she is told,

“Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.”

She is deprived of her godhood, her connection with heaven, her ability to manifest, her feelings of ecstasy and rapture, her emotional being, her will and her sexual role in life. All of these represent who she was, as a queen, a holy priestess and as a woman.

Naked and bowed low, Inanna entered the throne room.

“Ereshkigal rose from her throne.
Inanna started toward the throne.
The Annuna, the judges of the underworld, surrounded her.
They passed judgment against her.
Then Ereshkigal fastened on Inanna the eye of death.
She spoke against her the word of wrath.
She uttered against her the cry of guilt.

She struck her.

Inanna was turned into a corpse,
A piece of rotting meat,
And was hung from a hook on the wall.”

It is here, at this point that we end this part of the story, for Inanna must remain in the Underworld until it is time for Her Return. Her transformation as a result is not something that happens quickly.

And so it is that we too, as we enter the dark time of the year, must shed what we hold too close. We must step out of ego, let loose all of the things we think we know or understand. We must present ourselves to the dark, laid bare and bowed low. For it is in this state that we open to wisdom and great knowledge. We too, must turn our ear to the Great Below.

Wolkstein, Diane and Kramer, Samuel Noah, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1983

Deanne Quarrie. D. Min. is a Priestess of The Goddess. She is the author of five books. She is the founder of the Apple Branch and Beyond the Ninth Wave where she teaches courses in Druidism, Celtic Shamanism, and Feminist Dianic Wicca and mentors those who wish to serve others in their communities. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Ocean Seminary College and is the founder of Global Goddess, a worldwide organization open to all women who honor some form of the divine feminine.

Inanna’s Return and Bread and Waters of Life

Most of us know the story of Inanna’s descent into the Underworld to visit with her sister Erishkigal. The reason for her visit is that Erishkigal’s husband has died and Inanna was a childhood friend of his and she will visit to pay her respects.  As she travels to meet her sister, Inanna must pass through seven gates at which she is asked to remove and part with aspects of herself so that when she approaches Erishkigal she is basically “laid bare.”

Upon arrival, her sister, who is angry because she believes that her husband loved Inanna, hangs Inanna from a meat hook to die.

While Inanna was in the Underworld, Ninshubur waited three days for Her to return, and when she did not, because she thought all was lost, Ninshubur began to mourn for her. She visited the temple of Enki who agreed to help her. Enki knows the nature of the underworld and its rule by a jealous, anguished Erishkigal.  As a god he has the power to create and facilitate. From the dirt under his fingernails, he creates the kurgarra and galatur, instinctual, asexual creatures endowed with the artistic and empathic talent of being professional mourners, capable of mirroring the lonely queen’s emotions.  These little asexual creatures represent the attitude necessary to draw a blessing from the dark goddess. They were commanded to go to the Underworld where they found Erishkigal in the throes of agony and reeling from the misery she has caused. When she moans, they moan with her, appeasing her anguish by the echo of their concern, affirming her in her suffering.  Enki has understood that complaining is one voice of the dark goddess, a way of expressing life, valid and deep in the feminine soul.

When she observes their sympathy she will offer them a gift. They are to ask only for the corpse of Inanna and, having received it, are to resurrect her with the bread and water of life.  They perform the task of bringing Inanna back to life, reviving Her with the gift of the bread and water of life. But as they prepare to leave they are stopped by Anunna who tells them she may not leave unless someone comes in her place.  Inanna agrees to find someone and is allowed to leave.

She returns to Demuzi, her new husband, only to find him enjoying himself, drinking, feasting and making music while she was suffering. She was so enraged that she decides Dumuzi should be the one to take her place in the Underworld.  She directs the Anunna to seize him, which they do. Dumuzi desperately pleads with Inanna to relent, but she turns her back on him. He then appeals to Utu, but he too forsakes him. Dumuzi is carried away.

Inanna’s descent into the Underworld is the Sumerian mythology to explain the Dark Times and the seeming absence of the Goddess.  It is at Imbolc (the beginning of Spring – our Ground Hog Day) that Inanna is given the bread and water of life.  This is the promise of returning life, the first stirring of the Bright Goddess’s return to us. She has not yet returned to her Temple, nor has she chosen Demuzi to be Her replacement.   She is alive – and returning.  It will be at the coming Spring Equinox that Demuzi will be taken to the Underworld.

Hail Inanna!  Blessed Be the Gift of the Bread and Waters of Life!

Retrieved at Inanna, An Opera of Ancient Sumer http://www.craton.net/inanna/main.php?action=synopsis

Retrieved at Library of Halexandria http://www.halexandria.org/dward385.htm

Perera, Sylvia Brinton, Descent to the Goddess, Inner City Books, Toronto, Canada 1981