I am consistently drawn to one story that continues to hold great power within my own spiritual landscape- that of the ancient Sumerian goddess Inanna.
In considering descent and resurrection as themes for death and transformation, I am deeply grateful for feminine-centered myths to give both voice and insight into my own woman's soul.
Inanna moves downward into death toward her dark sister, Erishkegal, but not before crossing seven thresholds- gates- that require her to remove the articles of clothing and jewelry she wears- the layers that comprise her external self- her above-ground self.
In Descent to the Goddess- A Way of Initiation for Women, Sylvia Brinton Perera writes ~
All descents provide entry into different levels of consciousness and can enhance life creatively. All of them imply suffering. All of them can serve as initiations. Meditation and dreaming and active imagination are modes of descent.
So, too, are depression, anxiety attacks...
The imagery and metaphor within this myth is so rich, so multi-layered, I return to it again and again for insight, comfort and encouragement and always come away with fresh meaning relevant to my current season.
At the writing of this, I am meditating on Inanna's return. Inanna does not remain underground.
After three days hanging, rotting, and serving as witness to her own decomposition, she revives and returns to life.
There is much, much more in the way of details, but I am particularly interested in the post-descent, transformed goddess.
Before descent and death, Inanna is the maiden aspect in all her self sustaining glory- wildly independent, some might even say careless, in her cravings and pursuits of pleasure.
She is not evil, just untouched by darkness, by the inevitable endings that apprehend us all. After resurrection, however, she brings the shadow back up with her, charged with the duty to send another in her place to satisfy death's requirement.
She is no longer the innocent, blithely unaware Morning Star. She is now also the Evening Star, the One who has tasted both the dawn and dusk of life, and the deep dark that lies in between.
She is substantial, earthy in the most potent sense, smelling of tangy soil and the moist dark of the cool underbelly where sunlight cannot reach. She gains a new depth and empathy that endears her to her worshipers, especially women, who were previously separated from her sky-persona as Queen of Heaven.
She has become one with the Dark Mother- the Black Madonna, her predecessor even, whose image we see emerging soon enough in various cultures around the globe.
Her story and traits are absorbed by the Akkadian Ishtar, the Egyptian Isis, and so many others too numerous to count.
This is vitally important for us as women to understand- when the body dies (in whatever representation), it is gone forever.
It is never the same flesh that is resurrected.
We revive, yes- but it is a new being, a new flesh, with new garments.
We left our old ornaments below, at each of the seven gates.
Sylvia Brinton Perera reminds us~
This, the myth tells us, is part of the law of the underworld: those who descend must disrobe...Inanna sheds her old identities, is reduced to primal matter, and then is reborn. Similarly, individuals undergoing initiations in a sacred process shed their old identities and enter new ones. The unveiling is part of the initiation process.
Inanna returns with destruction and grief woven into her being forever.
We become wise to the darker side, the finality of our own deaths- all of them.
We bear witness to our own endings, and return wiser.
The beauty of our experience is found within the finite nature we inhabit.
To take on new forms and new ways of being, descent needs to be honored and attended.
Once present in the darkened passageways of our own interior, we develop a keener sense of smell, and every nerve ending just under the surface prickles to take it all in.
Until faced with that inevitable ending, we truly live only half-lives.
To resurrect and emerge transformed, approach the gates, one by one by one.