Inanna: myth of descent

In the month of December Mindfunda will publish a series of blogs about the descent. The first one is a guest blog about the Journey to the Underworld.

Inanna
Jean Raffa

Today’s Guest author is Dr. Jean Raffa, a former television producer and college professor who -with the help of Jungian psychology- began following her passions for self-discovery and writing during mid-life. Jean has written several books: “The Bridge to Wholeness”, “Dream Theatres of the Soul” that got her invited to make a keynote speech at the International Associations for the Study of Dreams. You can see her videos about this book at her own YouTube channel. Her newest Wilbur Award-winning book is called “Healing the Sacred Divide“. Next week, Elaine Mansfield will write about the darkness of the descent.

Myth of Inanna: 3 kinds of Descent

A psychological descent can take many forms. Sometimes it shows up in strategies to escape painful present realities by regressing into past memories. We’re consumed by a bittersweet yearning for the “good old days” when we were young and innocent. Life was easy and we were on top of the world.

 

Inanna
Picture: viewsfromtheroof.com

 

We were a handsome Apollo, a confident football star and president of the high school student body who is trying to recapture our youth by driving a sporty new car or finding a younger wife. We were a beautiful, innocent Persephone, an entitled daughter and gifted student who has been pulled into the dark realms of obsessive binge eating, shopping sprees and plastic surgery.

A second kind of descent is forced on us by circumstances beyond our control: an accident, illness, divorce, loss of a home or job, death of a parent, child, or spouse. These can plunge us into the depths of a depression where grief and sorrow are constant companions.

 

Inanna
Picture: huffingtsonpost

 

Then there’s the existential descent into meaninglessness which appears uninvited at mid-life. Suddenly the beliefs and ideals that served so well in the first half of life no longer work, yet questioning them feels dangerous. Worse, we’ve met our shadow in feelings and urges we can no longer ignore and our naively positive self-image is irretrievably damaged.

Captivated by the archetypal Hero’s widely publicized and deeply satisfying rise to success, we are rarely prepared for our conflicts and losses. To an ego that has prided itself on being in control and doing everything right, it can feel as if we are adrift in a chaotic sea. Kris Kristofferson described this painful experience in his song, “Shipwrecked in the 80’s.” For some, the metaphor of falling into an abyss and plunging into what St. John of the Cross called a “dark night of the soul” is more apt.

Inanna

 

From the age of 17 I derived all the meaning I needed from my religion. Then at 37, I experienced an existential descent. On the outside it was business as usual, but inside I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Nine years later I was rescued by Jungian psychology. After committing to a regular practice of study, reading, self-reflection and dreamwork I finally began to understand what had happened. My ego had been brutally assaulted by unconscious instinctual forces in my psyche. Brutal? So it felt to me. Nonetheless my ordeal was life-serving. Without it, I would never have willingly explored my unconscious and been rewarded with the elixir of a revitalized life-force and the gold of affirming self-knowledge.

Inanna and the Descent Myth

Myths from every culture and religion are allegories of psychological and spiritual truths. In them, we can find guidance and healing meaning for our lives. Seeing the similarities between my story and the Sumerian descent myth of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, brought me great comfort.

 

Inanna
Inanna Queen of Heaven
unkown artist on easy.com

 

The first half of Inanna’s life was, like mine, fairly predictable. We both struggled to create a comfortable home, affirm our individuality, and establish our authority. Inanna accomplishes this by having a bed and a throne made for her. Then she cleverly tricks Enki, the God of Wisdom, into giving her the gifts of civilization, which she shares with the city she rules. She tops it all off (she assumes) by courting, seduction, bearing children, and fulfilling her Queenly duties.

I, too, gained knowledge through my cleverness:  enough, at least, to get a college scholarship. I earned two degrees, met, courted and married my husband, established a home, and birthed a daughter and a son. Eventually I earned a doctoral degree and a college teaching position. I’ve done it all, I thought with a measure of self-satisfaction. That’s when I learned that cleverness, knowledge, possessions and physical comfort do not define success or insure fulfillment.

My descent from Inanna’s “Great Above” to the “Great Below” began when my shadow broke into my awareness with a moral conflict between two intolerable choices.  I was profoundly tempted to break a rule that had always been sacrosanct to me, and appalled at myself for considering it. I spent sleepless nights praying to the God I had been taught to believe in, challenging beliefs that felt outdated and meaningless while fearing retribution for my audacity. I found little joy in living. My stomach hurt much of the time. I lost 20 pounds. At times I knew there was meaning in my ordeal, but my knowing provided scant relief. Mostly I felt alone and miserable. Like Inanna and Persephone, I was introduced to the dark underbelly of the unconscious beneath my naive “good girl” self-image. The shock was devastating.

Inanna is a “good girl” too:  a loving wife to Dumuzi, a mother, and a sister to Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. At mid-life Inanna descends into the underworld to, by some accounts, attend the funeral of Ereshkigal’s husband. Or was her call, “Let him come. Come, man, come!” an invitation to her animus, her unconscious masculine side?

 

Inanna
Inanna courting Dumuzi
Image: Beyondpottery.blogspot.com

 

On the way down she is humiliated by being stripped of all her earthly possessions: symbols of her beauty, success, femininity and the power she has worked so hard to attain. Humiliation is a crucial element of descent myths because crisis and suffering are the only powers that can destroy an ego’s belief in its invincibility.

The story of Inanna in body and soul

If we look for it, we will find that every detail of a myth can have psychological and spiritual meaning. For example, the number three in myths and fairy tales heralds the arrival of Mystery. Receiving three wishes, asking for help three times, or being the third and youngest child to attempt a difficult task signals our readiness for an initiation that will force us out of childhood innocence into mature responsibility and consciousness.

 

Inanna
I Tjing hexagram 3: Difficulty at the Beginning

 

Sure enough, three shows up in Inanna’s story too. At the bottom of her descent she is met by Ereshkigal who, perhaps jealous of her sister’s charmed life in the world above, has her hung naked on a meat hook where she suffers for three long days. I hung on my metaphorical meat hook for three years, plus another six during which my suffering gradually diminished.

Like Inanna’s descent, mine was a painful physical, emotional and spiritual experience. But, unwilling to give up or make a terrible mistake, I persevered in my outer life and stirred the contents of my inner world over a low, reflective fire. Ever so slowly, this alchemical opus brought about lasting changes.

My body awakened to instinctual energies I had long repressed. My ears heeded my soul’s cries of pain. My heart felt compassion. My ego’s center of gravity shifted from a place of control and resistance to a place of surrender and acceptance of forces far more powerful than my puny will. My eyes were opened to my sovereignty over my own life and my childish dependence on others dissolved. I began to make my own choices and take responsibility for them. Death took up its abode on my left shoulder and Choice on my right, each whispering daily reminders to savor every moment.

Hero myths have healing meaning too, but “happily ever after” does not tell the whole story.  Descent myths do.

On the third day, Inanna is rescued by her loyal priestess, Ninshubur, and Enki, the God of Culture, and she returns to life in the world above. There she faces new problems, but now she has the awareness to handle them with wisdom and balance. With Inanna’s help, I’m getting better at that too.


THIS CONTENT IS A Guest blog CREATED For SUSANNE VAN DOORN, AUTHOR AND OWNER OF MINDFUNDA; MAKING THE FUNDAMENTALS OF PSYCHOLOGY, MYTHOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY EASY TO USE IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE!

What is Mindfunda about?

My name is Susanne van Doorn, I am a Dutch psychologist, blogger and author. I have been working with psychology, dreams and mythology ever since I finished my study in psychology at Tilburg University. I made this independant site to share insights, and recent scientific articles about the brain, dreams, and mythology for use in your personal life.

This posting is categorised as Mythofunda:
“Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths” Joseph Campbell used to say. This part of Mindfunda shows you how your personal mythology can create peace in your life.

Read more about Mindfunda here, or visit our Courses Page.


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12 thoughts on “Inanna: myth of descent”

  1. Wonderful article, Jeanie. Thank you. And thank you for posting this, Susanne. Jean, I especially love how you remind us of those common everyday descents in life. They don't have to be spectacular to move us forward or down. When I feel that deep belly drop from a small disappointment, fear or from a physical struggle, I remember times of big loss. The descent energy is right there, always with me if I watch for it. Because we are mortal, we descend and ascend.

  2. Thank you Deborah. The quote is from a letter Jung wrote to an unknown patient suffering from depression, 9 March 1959. It was published in a book called “Selected Letters of Carl Jung” by Princeton University Press.

  3. Oh what a joy it has been to discover this wonderful, rich article today courtesy of Elaine’s blog. Another superb (as always) post by Jeanie! I have just finished re-reading the book ‘The Descent to the Goddess’ so can relate deeply to all that you have written. I too understand the inevitability of having to sit in that descent until ready to rise, Maya Angelou poem ‘Still I Rise’ comes to mind. I loved reading all the insightful, perceptive replies. Yours is an awesome blog Suzanne, this is a truly excellent post and I agree with Elaine, a great quote by Jung I haven’t heard before either. Warm winter wishes, Deborah

  4. Thanks for this insightful article, Jeanie. We try to avoid or delay descent, but no matter how much we twist, turn, and avoid, we can’t escape those times when our ego is not in charge and we are humbled in the face of life. Since we all receive these initiations, often many times over, it helps to have a few guideposts and the idea that we will learn something on the way. Thanks for sharing your experience and your wisdom about this.

    1. Thank you Elaine. I enjoy the wisdom of Jean so much. I am glad I “discoverd” her as a guide in my own journey.
      Most of the time in hindsight we can see the treasures we have found in those periods of darkness. Like Carl Jung once said about visiting the Underworld: “When the darkness grows denser, I would penetrate to its very core and ground, and would not rest until amid the pain a light appeared to me.”

  5. Thank you Susanne for this excellent post. It’s so important that we can sit or rather, move with the descent and allow it to come into our conscious awareness, painful though it is. Somehow we have to resist jumping out of the fire and remain in it until we can rise again, purified. Thank you very much indeed!

    1. Thank you Susanne, for publishing this post, and thank you Susan, for underlining the importance of moving with the descent and remaining in it until we can rise again, purified! The world desperately needs to understand that spiritual transformation is not achieved by literally believing and defending the stories and words of the founders of religions. It is earned by experiencing and patiently enduring one’s own transforming inner initiation into the depths!

      1. Jean, Thank you so much for your guest blog. How I wish I would be able to join your workshop with Elaine. We need wise women like you. I really hope a new book of yours will be published soon.

    2. Thank you Susan Scott. Jean Raffa has a way with words that matches her analytical qualities. In her blog she has painted the journey into the dark underworld as a road we all have traveld throughout our lives, many times. I was deeply touched by the blog, because I feel I have traveled the same path too. To be able to put your pain in a new perspective helps you gain renewed trust in your inner Self.

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