Mother’s Day, a day to honor all mothers around the world. Including the ones that did not bear children. I n this blog I will tell you about how I became captured by the archetype of the mother. And how it influenced my own relationship with my mother.
This last Guest blog, written by Elaine Mansfield, will talk about Redeeming the dark.
Elaine Mansfield’s memoir Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief (2014) won the 2015 Gold Medal IPPY Award (Independent Publisher’s Book Awards) in the category Aging, Death, and Dying. Elaine has been a student of Carl Jung since 1970 and has studied mythology for thirty years. She writes for hospice, facilitates bereavement support groups, and gives workshops and presentations. She gave a TEDx talk called “Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss.” She also writes a weekly blog about the adventures and lessons of life and loss. To learn more about Elaine’s work, please visit her website. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
LECTURE AND WORKSHOP JUNG SOCIETY
You’ll enjoy reading Jean Raffa’s “Myths of Descent”, another Mindfunda article about the Descent of Inanna. Jean Raffa and I will co-lead a Friday night lecture and Saturday workshop about dreams, mythology, and descent at the C.G. Jung Society of Sarasota, FL, March 11-12, 2016. I hope you can join us.
Listening in the dark
“From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below.” 1
The descent of the Goddess begins with listening. Inanna, the Listener, is the Great Goddess of Heaven and Earth (~3500 – 2500 BC, Sumeria/Mesopotamia). Her story is the oldest written goddess myth, and what a goddess she is: Erotic, wise, powerful, conniving, loving, fierce, courageous, and ruthless.
In the Sumerian language, the word for ear also means wisdom. Inanna is called to listen to the Great Below because, despite her many powers, she lacks something. Without knowledge of mortality and unconscious realms, she is not whole. Without some relationship with inner depths and darkness, we are helpless when faced with forces beyond our ego’s control.
When my husband Vic was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2006, I knew I had to listen. I bought a new notebook and recorded our experiences from medical to psychological, from hope to anguish, from spiritual peaks to deep despair. As Vic neared the threshold, I wrote and reflected at his bedside. I wanted to remember. I wanted meaning. It was my job to remain in the Day World or the Great Above. Vic needed me to be conscious and competent, just as Inanna needed her trusted female advisor Ninshubur to witness her descent and call for help.
After Vic’s death, exhausted and filled with disbelief, I faced a new descent. Grief, Death’s companion, became my new teacher.
In the descent myth, Inanna tells the gatekeeper to the Great Below or Underworld that she wishes to attend the funeral of the Great Bull of Heaven, Ereshkigal’s husband. Ereshkigal is the Underworld Death Goddess and Inanna’s Dark Sister. Inanna intends to witness a death, not face her own. That was my plan, too…
Inanna arrives in full queenly regalia at the gates of the Great Below. I had arrived in the oncologist’s office with my notebook, my numbered list of questions, my suggestions, and my fierce resolve. My mission to save my husband succeeded—until it failed. When Death won, my personal descent began.
As Inanna passes through each of the seven gates on her way to the Great Below, she is stripped of a garment symbolic of her power. For example:
When she (Inanna) entered the first gate,
From her head, … the crown of the steppe, was removed.
Inanna asked: “What is this?”
She was told: “Be quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.” 2
Hadn’t I given up enough? I thought when the stripping began. Apparently not. As long as my husband lived, I retained position in the world and community. I had a job to do.
With his death, I lost my role as wife and partner in a deeply satisfying relationship. I was demoted to widow, a social label for the scorned and abandoned feminine. I had been a women’s health counselor, but lost my own motivation. My erotic life disappeared—not only sexual, but daily intimacy with someone I loved. I lost my sense of proportion and could no longer measure where I was in life. My notebook felt useless. My ego and persona crumbled. I was stuck in grief. Like Inanna, I was “naked and laid low.”
When Inanna reaches the Great Below, she steps toward her sister’s throne. For this last remnant of pride, she is condemned by the Eye of Death and Eye of Wrath. She is pronounced guilty for refusing to honor a power greater than her own. Then, Inanna is hung on a hook. Dead. In this startling image, day world abilities are useless in the face of the Destructive Dark.
So there they are, stuck in the Great Below. Ereshkigal cries out in rage and pain. Inanna hangs on her hook. All is dark depression and stasis. Nothing moves. There is no hope.
Is there a divine force that can save Inanna and us? Ninshubur, Inanna’s trusted and grieving advisor, sends for help. Enki, the God of Wisdom creates two small mourners from the dirt under his fingernails. These seemingly insignificant mourners have one skill: empathy. They see the suffering of Ereshkigal and mirror her cries.
“Oh! Oh! My inside!”
“Oh! Oh! Your inside!”
“Oh! Oh! My outside!”
“Oh! Oh! Your outside!….” 3
The mourners provide compassionate witnessing in a long call and response. As it does in therapy or close friendship, empathy creates a miracle of transformation. Ask the Dalai Lama what power is equal to Wisdom. He’ll say Compassion.
Ereshkigal, the neglected, unloved, and shunned, grieves for her husband, but we now learn that she is also crying out from the pain of giving birth. Within the deep darkness, something new is being born. Perhaps Inanna. Perhaps you and me.
Ereshkigal asked (the mourners):
Who are you,
Moaning—groaning—sighing with me?
If you are gods, I will bless you.
If you are mortals, I will give you a gift. 4
They don’t want all the riches and resources of the world. They want the corpse which they sprinkle with the water and food of life.
A sliver of light has penetrated the Dark and released new energy. Birth will follow darkness. Seeds quicken after Winter Solstice. Light returns. The Goddess of Heaven and Earth rises and the cycle continues.
As Inanna ascends, there are complications. Aren’t there always? Demons cling to her and demand more sacrifice to appease the judges of the Great Below. We learn that another cyclic round is always waiting in Feminine Realms. There is no end to death and trauma, but there is also no end to compassion and rebirth.
I returned to life, wild and humbled, displaced and dismantled. I wept uncontrollably about my fate, even though I knew loss was everyone’s destiny. My forest, the kind mirroring of those who witnessed me, and a search for meaning were my water and food of life. I bowed to Inanna’s wisdom and Ereshkigal’s necessity knowing that death and destruction fuel a new cycle of life.
We descend, not because we want to, but because we must. Descent is an integral part of the Great Feminine Round of Life and Death. We are mortal. We are vulnerable. We live in a world of catastrophe and chaos, personal loss and social threat. We are thrown down. We are helped up. Miraculously, we find our way to life again.
Mindfunda invites you for a Christmas celebration you will remember. For just 10 dollars you get exclusive access to a restricted private area on Mindfunda during the Holy Nights. Each night between December 25th and January 6th, I will share a dream incubation. We will talk about and reflect on our dreams. Ancient belief says that during these nights the veil between the worlds is thin. Register now as Mindfunda More Member, to experience the depth of your dreams.
In the second Guest blog, Jean Raffa explored Inanna’s descent as a personal myth.
This third blog will focus on the common themes found the Descent Myth of Inanna and Sleeping Beauty.
The last blog, written by Elaine Mansfield, will talk about Redeeming the dark.
Sleeping Beauty and Inanna
“The story of Inanna was the greatest and most influential of Bronze Age myths, apart from the Epic of Gilgamesh” say Anne Baring and Jules Cashford in their “The Myth of the Goddess”, still one of the best handbooks around when it comes to Goddesses.
Anne Baring and Jules Cashford write in their chapter about The Descent of Inanna: “While Inanna is in the Underworld, during the three days of darkness, it is as though a spell has been cast in the upper world. Fertility is suspended; everything falls asleep. The imagery of the Sleeping Beauty comes irresistibly to mind. Was the story the origin of the fairy tale whose lunar princess, together with the parents and the court, falls asleep on her fifteenth birthday and who is awakened by the prince, who restores her and the whole court to live?”
The sleep was the result of a spell of one of the wise thirteen women who was not invited to the party, celebrating the miraculous birth of the couple that had been infertile for years. To conceive a child, the couple gets help from a frog. But this kind of dark side magic comes with a price.
So here is the Dark Mother Goddess. A spinning Goddess, who spins out life, giving form to new ideas, new creations. The fifteenth day of the cycle of the moon is the day the moon begins to wane. So the Goddess not invited has to be the Goddess of the Dark Moon. To quote Anne Baring and Jules Cashford in The Myth of the Goddess: “The Mother Goddess begins to loosen the threads of the cloth she has woven”.
Sleeping beauty and number 13
Thirteen is the exact number of full moon’s in a year. And it was Apollo 13 who got into trouble in 1970: “Houston, we got a problem”. It is an unlucky number. Friday the 13th is the day that, according to legend, Jesus got crucified. That sacrifice, giving up his consciousness for his belief in an afterlife, is exactly the same as the sacrifice in the Quest that Inanna undertakes in her journey to the Underworld. The Mother Goddess Inanna, travels to the realm of her Sister Queen Ereshkigal. The Earth becomes infertile. Like the Kingdom of the parents of Sleeping Beauty became infertile, when the curse casted by the uninvited Fairy was completed.
The Sleeping Beauty and the Waste Land
So here we have a theme of a King and Queen, and their daughter sleeping. The Kingdom goes to waste. Every sign of growth is put on hold. The land has become a waste land. We have seen this theme in the Grail Story. Like Sleeping Beauty, the Grail story is a story of enchantment and disenchantment. Like the Wounded King, Sleeping Beauty gets stung. The King by a lance, Sleeping beauty by a spindle. Both are unable to fertilize anything. The wounded King is wounded in his thighs, suggesting that this is the reason for his infertility. The father of Sleeping Beauty has this same fertility issue. And now, at the onset of her own menarche, the wounded princes falls asleep. Postponing her entrance on the marriage market for a staggering 100 years.
We have all been there. We have all been so hurt by a stinging remark of somebody that we fell sleep. Our light, vividness, sense of humor was gone. Trapped in an infertile land. New thoughts, new creative ideas did not have a chance to reach maturity, just like Sleeping Beauty.
I remember the hurt and humiliation I felt when an older Dutch person who works with dreams said when he read one of my books: “You need to go out and get some life experience”. I have never tried to write a book again, feeling quite sure that it could not be good enough. In that way I am Sleeping Beauty, who needs to be kissed awake.
Innana’s myth of the descent is a tale about life after death. Inanna visits the Kingdom of her sister who hangs her on a meat hook. Like Sleeping Beauty she is paralyzed for a short while. Striped down, hung out ty dry, with all the creative juices dripping out of her flesh. Like Sleeping Beauty, who is rescued by the prince, Inanna receives help from her animus as well. The King of Gods, Enki, creates beings from the dirt underhis finger nails.
The integration of the animus in a woman is in both stories the way to turn the tables. Getting out of the helpless stage, embracing your own masculine side is an important step before one can enter any marriage market. Theater you want to propose to your boyfriend, or if you want to court a new idea for a book, a play or a writing.
REMEMBER: the CHRISTMAS period IS a VERY SPECIAL TIME FOR DREAMING, SO JOIN MINDFUNDA FOR THE HOLY NIGHT DREAM INCUBATIONS.
Mindfunda invites you for a Christmas celebration you will remember. For just 10 dollars you get exclusive access to a restricted private area on Mindfunda during the Holy Nights. Each night between December 24rd and January 6th, I will share a dream incubation. We will talk about and reflect on our dreams. Ancient belief says that during these nights the veil between the worlds is thin. Register now as Mindfunda More Member, to experience the depth of your dreams.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Remember: Christmas is a very special time for dreaming, so join Mindfunda for the Holy Night Dream Incubations.
Mindfunda invites you for a Christmas celebration you will remember. For just 10 dollars you get exclusive access to a restricted private area on Mindfunda during the Holy Nights. Each night between December 24 and January 6 I will share a dream incubation. We will talk about and reflect on our dreams. Ancient belief says that during these nights the veil between the worlds is thin. Register now as Mindfunda More Member, to experience the depth of your dreams.