Inanna was the paramount Sumerian goddess, queen of Heaven and Earth, goddess of love, fertility and war and played a significant role within the lives of those who lived in Sumer. What she is perhaps most known for in modern spiritual practices in her link with the notion of descending into oneself.
Throughout the literature of Sumer there are works that describe the descent of Inanna into the underworld. It is said that Inanna quested into the underworld – the realm of her sister Ereshkigal – in order to challenge herself – although the myth talks of her coming to offer funerary rites for Ereshkigal’s husband. That she had already descended from Heaven to Earth in a desire for knowledge and that to complete this journey she felt she must take the further step by descending into the darkness of death and the underworld is hinted at in her mythology.
At the gates of the underworld Inanna is challenged by Neti and is told that in order to enter she must give up all her earthly trappings. She must pass through seven stations in order to reach her sister –the number of the natural world – 7 plays an important role within many different spiritual traditions. By the end of her journey Inanna is stripped bare, she is exposed as her true self, vulnerable but she must accept this vulnerability. Through her journey she discovers the need for sacrifice and the cycles of life that must be fulfilled.
Other aspects of this myth also hold interest. Her reliance on her faithful servant Ninshubur to seek assistance should she not return within three days can be seen as Inanna leaving a part of herself behind on the earthly plain as she descends within the Underworld. This is similar to people having someone act as a tether during deep journey work.
Ereshkigal is also an interesting aspect that reflects the importance of the Inanna descent myth. She is Inanna’s sister and as such is linked with her, she is a part of her, the primal power that exists deep within, that sleeps at the root of our core. Her reaction to the threat of Inanna’s presence is very primal, it shows the defensive rage that our inner primal being can greet any intrusion upon our power core. In the end Ereshkigal is grateful for Inanna’s journey to her realm but it takes a process of working through, to get to that point.
What does Inanna teach us?
Myth is an amazing teacher – that is its purpose. Inanna and her descent are great lessons on the importance of letting go of one’s ‘self’ in order to find true enlightenment. It teaches us of the cycles of life much like the myth of Demeter, Persephone and Hades. It demonstrates the different levels of our consciousness that can be attained through methods of descent.
Inanna: Journey to the Dark Center - http://inanna.virtualave.net/inannanew.html
Library of Alexandria (Interpretation of Inanna’s Descent Myth) - http://www.halexandria.org/dward387.htm
Inanna’s descent to the nether world: translation - http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr141.htm