The “Descent of Inanna” is one of the oldest myths of journeying to the underworld where, through death, an initiation takes place and, ultimately a rebirth.
Inanna was an ancient Mesopotamian goddess of love, beauty, sex, war, justice, and political power. She was originally worshiped in Sumer and later in Babylon as Ishtar. Inanna/Isthar was the ‘Queen of Heaven and Earth’. Inanna’s possession of the divine powers of ‘me,’ which encompass all aspects of human civilization, made her very powerful. Through shrewd trickery she was given these by Enki, keeper of the ‘me’ and god of creation, water, wisdom, magic and mischief. Enki helped her to return from the underworld, bringing her back to life.
This myth of Inanna’s decent concerns the meeting of the Queen of Heaven with the Queen of the Underworld - Inanna’s sister, the Dark Goddess Ereshkigal. Individually the sisters symbolize the goddess’s dual aspects and jointly they represent the primordial polarity and full spectrum of the feminine. The underworld is symbolic of the unconscious. This can be seen as a story about an encounter with one’s shadow, necessary in the growth towards wholeness and consciousness. Jung’s journey of individuation involves an integration of the conscious, upper world aspects with the unconscious, shadowy underworld aspects. Being from the ‘Great Above’, Inanna’s has only partial awareness and “Until her ear opens to the Great Below, her understanding is necessarily limited.” Wolkstein (1983) wrote that those who return from the Great Below “carry within them the knowledge of rebirth and often return bringing to their culture a new world view.”
However this is a perilous journey. Inanna was a queen in the Upper World. Instead of being treated as such she was stripped of her royal garments and jewels, her outward symbols of power, beauty, and success. Suffering, humiliation and loss are the only powers able to affect the ego’s belief in its invincibility. Stripped of her persona and naked, Inanna is confronted by her shadow, the dark goddesses, and is turned into a corpse, ‘a piece of rotting meat’, hanging on a hook. Sounds like a familiar feeling?
Image credit: "Queen of the Night" Relief (left) and color reconstruction (right),
1800-1750 B.C.E., Old Babylonian, baked straw-tempered clay,
49 x 37 x 4.8 cm, Southern Iraq and reconstruction
© Trustees of the British Museum
A social media post I wrote for @jungsouthernafrica
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