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.
For the excerpt of this text from Inanna, Queen of heaven and Earth by Diane Wokstein and Samuel Noah Kramer click here.
To read of Her return click here.
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 and a practicing Druid. 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.
9 thoughts on “The Descent of Inanna to the Underworld by Deanne Quarrie”
Dianne Wolkstein’s retelling of the Inanna myths has been powerful for many women–myself included. Thanks for sharing it with FAR.
Rereading it a year or so ago with a class, we discovered that Wolkstein conflates myths from earlier and later periods and does not use any sort of a historical critical method to separate the earlier versions of the myths (all of which in written form come from patriarchal warlike societies in any case) from the later versions (which may be even more influenced by patriarchy and war).
My students were much more critical of elements of the myth they did not find affirming of their notion of female power than I and my students had been 20 years ago. The point being that we should always put a question mark over texts that come to us from patriarchy and not assume that “because it is myth it must be true.”
The conflict between Erishkegal and Inanna for example may tell us something “archetypal” or it may not; ditto for the image of the meat hook. This part of the story could derive from the splitting of the powers of birth, death, and regeneration for the purposes of patriarchal control.
That said the story is powerful. I just think we need to place that question mark over all texts and traditions of patriarchy. For me the images of Inanna and Ishtar as warrior Goddesses should be attributed to patriarchal tradition. I do not affirm them as embodying the kind of power I choose to affirm for women, myself, in our time. Obviously not all women would agree with me on that, but we need at least to recognize that we do not have to “baptize” all the images that come down to us from history. The choice really is ours.
I found the story powerful too, but as I read your comments, I think it may be a question of emphasis. I somewhat “glided over” the warrior bits and instead focused on the themes of silence/quiet/listening as receptivity and strength in perseverance (yes, she is hanging on that meat hook- but she DOES make it out in the end). There is a very hard but potentially valuable lesson in “I survived that, and if I can survive that then I can…”
I agree, there is that lesson as well, but for now she is still on that hook …perhaps I will look again when it is her time for return for other lessons! For we do know she is not “dead” forever.
I must confess at this point I find myself confused. I am not aware that at any point in this story I was focusing on warrior aspects of Inanna. And yet, there are two comments reflecting that I did. Personally, my own gut tells me that this was more about Ereskigal’s jealousy or perhaps her insecurities (one and the same). Using the story now, however, is about Inanna entering the deep as we are – entering bare, so that self-reflection and what we have gathered in our growing season’s harvest might be more fully absorbed without all the external, preconceived ideas we might have of getting in the way. I agree. There are so many ways to interpret this myth. Seasonally, this is how I view it.
I think the two comments focussing on the warrior aspects of Inanna are referring to your introductory sentence where you state that Inanna is a goddess of, among other things, warfare. As soon as I read that sentence, I was ready to respond as well, because from my perspective — as well as Carol’s (above) — Inanna’s warrior aspects were probably added by the warrior patriarchal culture that inherited Her from earlier pre-patriarchal people.
I have less sense that the “splitting” of Inanna and Ereshkigal is a patriarchal mechanism, although that is a frequent way that patriarchy disempowers indigenous deities that it encounters. Inanna and Ereshkigal are still sisters, demonstrating their interconnecton. There’s no direct intervention in the myth by a patriarchal force. And Ereshkigal and Inanna still have the powers of death and life (as opposed to Persephone, whose powers have been stolen by Hades), and Inanna needs to die in order to attain the totality of Her wisdom. Maybe it’s just that this part of the myth speaks strongly to me, being someone who tends to try to control my life with knowledge. Inanna wants to know “why” at every step of Her journey to the Underworld. She is never answered. As the Upper World Queen, she controls with the “me,” all the knowledge and power of Her culture. But to go to the Underworld She needs to let go of Her need to know. She has to die to the need to control in order to be wise.
Brava! Thanks for writing this blog. Just read newspaper headlines or listen to Eyewitless News–does it seem like the whole world is in the Great Below? Maybe Inanna can help us get back up.
therein lie the powers of the bread and water of life brought to her by creatures neither male nor female! Perhaps we need to examine what that means!
Once again, as fall begins – I turn to to Diane Woklsteins and Samual Kramers book INANNA. Can someone please explain more clearly to me, the meaning of the “me’, or “mes”. Does this have to do with initiations connected to the 7 chakras ? If this is the case,- I wonder ( and fear) – do you think one has to endure the lifelessness of the underworld whilst completing 7 wisdom lessons, before one will have a rebirth ?
The me were universal decrees of divine authority. They are the invocations that spread arts, crafts, and civilization. The me were assembled by Enlil in Ekur and given to Enki to guard and impart to the world, beginning with Eridu, his center of worship. From there, he guards the me and imparts them on the people. Inanna comes to Enki and complains at having been given too little power from his decrees. In a different text, she gets Enki drunk and he grants her more powers, arts, crafts, and attributes – a total of ninety-four me.
The removal of Inanna’s crown, the first of her protective Me — symbolically deprives her of her godhood, her connection with heaven. The small lapis beads from her ears — her sense of magic and ability to manifest. The double strand of beads about her neck — her rapture of illumination. Her golden breastplate called “Come, man, come!” — her emotional heart. Her ringed hip girdle — her ego. From her hand the lapis measuring rod and line — her will. Her garment of ladyship (breechcloth) — her sex role. Inanna is thus forced to give up her earthly attributes, her roles as queen, holy priestess, and woman. Her royal power, her priestly office, her sexual powers are of no avail in the underworld.
To me this represents the lessons in life that come to us – that strip us bare – bringing us to the soul essence of who we are – it is only when we let go of who we thihnk we are – how we adorn ourselves in the world – who we think we are – that we can face who we really are!