“Archetypes are inner images that embody universal characteristics and experiences. They are responsible for the persistent themes we see surfacing in our own lives. Myths and fairy tales, many artistic images, and many of the characters we encounter in our dreams are expressions of these archetypes. As inner guides that exist in your personality, the goddess archetypes influence how you behave, how you think and feel, and how you relate to others. Since the goddess stories that are passed on in the mythology of human cultures embody the expression of female character, they provide us with a rich and fascinating way to gain access to the personal archetypes that are active in our lives.” (Sharon Turnbull, Ph.D.)
This was the first paragraph of the results of a Goddess Quiz that I took back in mid December 2011 out of curiosity and a search for who I was; to somehow understand who I was “right now”, in that very moment – to give me some sort of direction in which to proceed out of my feeling of depression, self loathing, loneliness, and emptiness. After reading the 23 page results describing the Inanna archetype that I had, I felt a mixed bag of emotions – happiness, pain, acceptance, isolation and relief. This document describing my Goddess archetype has led me onto a journey, a journey with Inanna as my guide. I felt Her, in every fiber of my being, I knew I was Her and She was me. I felt as we were one in the same. Shortly thereafter, I started seeing Her 8 pointed star all over the place – in patterns, on plates, on TV. The number 7 has also recently showing up in various places. I started coming across Her name in articles I was reading, pictures and depictions of Her popping up when I was online, even receiving emails from women who had Inanna quotes in their signature blocks. Could it be these symbols were all around me all the time and that I just never paid attention to them? Probably. But, She had definitely had my attention now.
So, I did what every good Pagan does when they are tapped on the shoulder or hear the whisperings of the Goddess calling them forth. I hopped on the Internet finding all I could on Her and Her stories and myths. I came upon probably one of Her most famous stories, Her descent into the underworld to meet Her sister Ereshkigal. There are many myths and fairy tales that describe the descent to the underworld by different Goddesses, many of which that have common themes and such. Stories about being lost in the forest, or falling asleep often for 7 years, Persephone being dragged into the underworld, but this, The Descent of Inanna is the oldest. This Sumerian myth was written on clay tablets in the third millennium B.C.E. and there are a number of different versions of the story. I went to Amazon, Half.com and Paperbackswap.com to find books on Her stories and myths. The first book that really called to me was “Descent to the Goddess” by Sylvia Brinton Perera. It’s only just about 100 pages long, so I thought I’d finish it in a few days. No, it took me about a week. I had to take my time with it because 1.) the language (I had to look words up every now and again to grasp the full meaning of what Perera was trying to portray) and 2.) There was some really intense information to really soak in and think about.
With each passing chapter, I felt myself waking up, having so many of those great “Aha!” moments. But what surprised me was not only was I getting to know Inanna, but also Her sister Ereshkigal. This was a total unexpected surprise. It was just before New Years in finishing this book that the Dark Goddess was revealed to me in all her primordial greatness and femininity. It was truly the first time in my life that I came to know and really internalize what She was all about and the type of wisdom she possessed to impart to those who were brave enough to enter Her realm and withstand ALL she has to provide.
As I read through the pages, I could see and feel Her raging, hair everywhere, wild with Her grief and pain. She slaps Her thigh and bites Her lip. Her perimeter had been breached, Her defenses defeated. She eyes the intruder, Inanna, with the eye of death. She is all that is primal of the body: giving birth, howling with grief or rage. But most importantly for me She is in and of Her body not separate from it, which is how all too often many of us live our lives. She’s a cold hard raging bitch not to be taken lightly or disrespected and she offers no apologies. She represents pure Yin energy – that dark, cold, isolated, primal, earthy, static, grounded energy – everything that is uniquely feminine. She is the embodiment of Deep Feminine Wisdom; that deep wisdom that understands destruction and renewal, decay and gestation, the balance and interconnectedness of life and death.
She seems uncaring, irrational, greedy and all devouring. Indeed, She is all that…and more. You see, Ereshkigal does not want to be worshipped in the usual way, on hands and knees groveling before Her. No, She demands something entirely different. She demands sacrifice, destruction and death. She welcomes it – and She reminds us that all that lives dies and that suffering and sacrifice is part of the primal feminine way; less we forget how intimately childbirth and death are interconnected. She represents everything that the patriarchy fears. She demands that we show strength before Her in order to learn and accept these things or it will be a long and agonizing stay in Her realm.
Most of us do not choose to voluntarily enter the underworld territory as Inanna had. Most of us resist as hard as we can. For some of us it is a depression that takes us there, a relationship ending, illness, a death of someone close. I came to realize that I have made many visits to the underworld myself; early in childhood, adolescence, spending my 21st Birthday at Ground Zero during 9/11 with my National Guard unit and the PTSD that followed, a miscarriage, going through 2 deployments back here while my husband was in Iraq, and the latest and longest descent involving a long move from my “chosen family” in Texas to the great unknown in Alaska with 2 back to back pregnancies. The later being the most life altering and hardest to ascend from for me.
When we descend into Ereshkigal’s realm of the Underworld, we meet all the grief of our lives that we have buried or ignored. Here we face into our suffering, the pain of betrayal, loss, death of someone or parts of ourselves, our childish naiveté, our insecurities. Here we are like Inanna, nailed to the wall. There is no escape from this pain. In this territory we have the chance to face and reconnect with shadow parts of ourselves that we were told by the patriarchy were unacceptable. Like our rage and our capacity to hate, our deep grief about all our woundedness. But also with those strengths we have that have also been relegated to the shadow, pushed back into the unconscious because to be strong or assertive, or clever or creative in our families was for some reason unacceptable. It is here, stuck in the Underworld that the healing begins to take place, of being able to name and acknowledge what we are truly feeling, to ourselves. So instead of sitting on feelings of being hurt, for example, or angry or whatever, and telling ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling this, just to name it as anger or hurt or jealousy or whatever it is that we are truly feeling, can be enormously freeing and lets us ascend back up to the world above; but only if we truly learn and internalize these lessons that Ereshkigal demands we learn.
Like Inanna, we have to shed our layers at each of the 7 gates in order to reach Ereshkigal. We have to shed our will, our ego, our mind, or sex role, our “illumination”, our “magic” and our “godhood”. Then, and only then, when we are stripped bare naked of all barriers, defenses and are at our most vulnerable can we enter into Erishkigal’s realm to face the rage, to sacrifice what must be sacrificed, become that rotting piece of flesh impaled on the wall to be healed, reborn stronger than what we were before and made whole.
Once we’ve come to terms with and taken ownership of all of those “bad” feelings and empathize with Ereshkigal, and realize it’s OK to feel these feelings can begin our journey of ascent.
I’ve tried in the past to come to know The Dark Goddess. I’ve tried to connect with Her energies (well, to be honest, just once…the ritual seemed empty to me though, not like my Full Moon rituals). Now that I think back, I can say with certainty that I had some fear and reservations about the wisdom She had to share and connecting to the feminine – the good, the bad and the ugly. Sadly, I like many women, had at some level accepted the patriarchy’s verdict on all things feminine and our bodies, that it is unacceptable, worthless, something to be ashamed of, that feeling is not as valuable as thinking, being logical etc. For women so much of the stuff of our lives is determined by our bodies: our menstruating, our hormonal ups and downs, our gestating and giving birth and our dealing with the chaotic rhythms of the body, our own and our children’s and often our parents’ as we deal with their aging and dying. In coming to really know the Dark Goddess, we reconnect with our bodies and our instinctual ways of knowing and our full power as women. In coming to know and understand Ereshkigal, I came to realize that Inanna and Ereshkigal represent the bi-polar nature of women. Perera broke down Inanna’s and Ereshkigal’s myth in such a way that I could see that I (and every woman for that matter) could reclaim my power and understanding of the Deep Feminine that resides deep in the womb of the Underworld. The first step was understanding my “dark” emotions – acknowledging them, respecting them and transforming them, not hating or demonizing them as the patriarchy has taught us to do.
When a woman emerges from this kind of experience those around her may not welcome her return. She is not as nice as she used to be, not as amenable as we see in Inanna’s ascent and her showdown with Dumuzi. But she is more textured and complex and interesting. She says ‘No’ when she means no, and ‘Yes’ when she means yes. She may appear cold or uncaring as she struggles to integrate what she has learned about what she needs to do to look after her true self. And almost always when we are practicing new ways of being we can be clumsy. We need to be patient and compassionate with ourselves. No more apologizing or making excuses, just simply “No, can’t do that.” No more apologizing for being alive. We learn it’s OK to speak our truth, to trust our feelings and to really see what’s there. We no longer see putting ourselves first as being ‘selfish’; we learn to value ourselves – become our real selves, and realize that that’s more important than being “likeable”. In becoming conscious of our feminine, we become whole, we realize, “This is who I am. I am not asking for your approval, I do not have to justify my existence. I want to know and be known for who I am.”
Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who died at Auschwitz aged 25, said the following, “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
I believe one of the ways to a peaceful heart is to make the journey to try to uncover who we truly are and to try and live from that place. To make peace with all our own warring parts: the inner critic that keeps telling us we’re not good enough and the wise kind part that can say, yes you are good enough. A journey I believe that takes a lifetime. And if we can come to some kind of peaceful acceptance of ourselves, however intermittently that might be, then hopefully we are not then projecting our ‘stuff’ onto others. Then there is more space for empathy and compassion for those around us and for our poor beleaguered planet. We’ve known suffering and we can feel for the suffering of others. These are the lessons of the Dark Goddess. So look out world, the bitch is coming back!