The Descent of Inanna’s Descendants

“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.”

About 5000 years ago in Sumeria, more stories were told about Inanna, the Goddess of Heaven and Earth, than any other deity. Among other things, she was famous for her beauty, love, passion, desire for justice, and her quest for control. Inanna may have believed that being desired by men and envied by women was the source of her true power. She may have been the archetypal female celebrity. In her most famous myth, she ends up in the underworld and dies for her hubris.

Before she reaches her final judgment, she passes through seven gates, sacrificing something precious at each one. It also happens that the Goddess of the Underworld is Inanna’s ‘dark’ and rejected sister, Ereshkigal, who takes no mercy on her. With one look, she kills Inanna and hangs her from a meat hook. While Inanna is left to rot, Ereshkigal’s painful grief destroys her from the inside.

The story ends well for our heroines. Three days later, medicine comes that heals both Ereshkigal’s pain and revives Inanna, which makes this the first-known written resurrection story.

A critical key in this story is that the medicine of compassion is first delivered to the rejected and wild Ereshkigal before Inanna can be restored. Jungians often interpret this to mean that we need to deliver the medicine of compassion to the wild, dark and exiled aspects of ourselves before we can be whole.

Approximately two hundred and fifty generations later, this myth survives and is told, studied and acted out in the modern world. Whether we know it or not, westerners live in the consequence of the world-view and choices of our ancient ancestors. Many of us may even be survivors of these devastated lines and carry their DNA in our bodies.

There is little left of Sumerians except for the signs that they were here. Like us, they were heavily invested in warfare and their ceaseless attacks on one another played a strong role in taking them down. Also familiar is that their technical knowledge surpassed their understanding of nature. The irrigation systems they channeled into farmlands gave rise to the possibility of civilization but salinized the soil which eventually killed all their crops. This was followed by a drought of biblical proportions which ultimately destroyed all they had built.

Unlike us, they couldn’t predict the abrupt climate change that would take their livelihood away, but the story of Inanna’s descent into the underworld suggests that maybe the women knew something wasn’t right in the state of Sumer.

Long before Inanna goes into the underworld, she delivered the tools of civilization to mankind. She took on a mortal lover and made him King. She loved all things male and they loved her. Her mother doesn’t appear to play much of a role in her life. She may have been an Earth goddess, but was also reared by Sky Gods. I think of her as the first goddess of patriarchy/kyriarchy.

Inanna wasn’t sent to hell, rather she was called to the underworld upon hearing of the death of her sister’s husband. She claimed to want to support Ereshkigal with the funeral arrangements, though some speculate it was a power grab for her territory. As part of the ascending patriarchal conditioning, Inanna’s appetite for power may have been encouraged.

Regardless of her motives, the great below summoned and the Sky Gods forbade it, saying ‘no one should crave such things’. In their minds, the underworld was a wild, chaotic and unpredictable compost bin for mortal bodies and souls — far from the intellectual, controlled and calculated environment they prized. But, Inanna undertook the journey without her fathers’ blessings.

She went through seven gates. At each one she sacrificed something of her identity. Her crown, her chest plate, her ego, her armor, her fanciful ideas about who and what she was. When she finally met her sister, Inanna was naked and humiliated. But it wasn’t enough. She needed to be destroyed so she could live anew.

Students of the myth contemplate whether Inanna’s descent is a map into our subconscious, a dire warning of the emergence of patriarchy and Earth dominance, or both.

Since the time of the Sumerians, there have been several profound collapses yet global civilization has obviously been on the rise. Ascension has been the name of the game for thousands of years. The church fathers demanded that we keep our eyes on the sky and devote our souls to the one God in heaven above. And where the church lost ground, the fathers of capitalism stepped in and demanded we keep our eyes on the profits and the GDP. All growth, all the time, convincing most of us that Earth was the backdrop for the play of human life.

In the modern world, there is little Earth consciousness left at all, even though we live here. It’s hard to imagine “A Star is Born” surviving hundreds of generations when today’s youth may be the last to walk the Earth. We live with a growing awareness that the unthinkable may be upon us. Humans have caused the sixth mass extinction and we’re the lucky ones who may be alive to see it all go down. It may have taken hundreds of generations to get here but we’ve got one generation to turn it around.

We may be witnessing the death of our planet, or at the very least, the extinction of thousands of species and the end of status quo. Our current trajectory is leading us off a cliff and every day, we all know it a little more. Like popcorn popping, one by one, we are becoming more conscious of what is at stake. The shock, grief, regret, panic, rage, guilt, despair and confusion are beyond what any one of us can handle. At a time when we need the very best of us to emerge, we are spiraling down.

The only possibility for us not to slide into extinction (which I don’t imagine will be gentle) is to willingly sacrifice our well-cultivated hubris and get with the Earth program. But as our culture and personal identities are deeply rooted in consumption and self-importance, it may still feel a lot like death.

Since we’re heading there anyway, shall we take the ‘easy’ road and descend into the underworld with a possibility of renewal; or the hard one, extinction as a consequence of our unyielding arrogance?

I vote for door number one. Let’s follow Inanna down deep into the inferno and sacrifice the hubris that has led us to this state of profound disconnection. For the future’s sake, let’s at least try to make ourselves whole.

We can begin by sacrificing the destructive idea that we are the most superior creature alive. And the equally devastating notion that white ones are the most superior of all. Let’s abandon the conceit that we can be happy at the expense of others. Let’s sacrifice the idea that love and belonging must be earned and that ‘success’ means the manifestation of our personal desires. Let’s release the impossible pressure of ‘figuring life out’. Let’s surrender the whole concept of ‘progress’.

Some of us must sacrifice our entitlement, knowledge, and comfort. Some need to sacrifice victimhood and fear of rocking the boat. Some need to relinquish self-righteousness and a demand for justice above all. We may need to forfeit our belief in our smallness, in the belief that one person can’t make a difference. Or stop telling the story that hard work pays off, or that if we ‘do what we love the money will follow’. We may need to let go of the idea that everything happens for a reason. Or that climate change is a ‘problem’ that can be ‘solved’. Or that we can ‘own’ land.

Let’s examine and relinquish our desire to consume and ‘improve’ ourselves. Why do we travel to exotic locations to take photos of those who stay home? Why do we want to be ‘cool’ - to have perfect lawns, perfect hair and chef’s kitchens? Let’s look at our relationship with youth and celebrity culture. Let’s lay down our devotion to fame, self-importance, and recognition. Let’s shake off the illusion that we are separate from one another and from Life herself.

Whatever thread contributes to the killing of our world — lay it down.

Lay it all down.

And rest.

In the dark.

In the void.

Listen for the heartbeat of the world.

Let’s allow the worms to gobble up our decaying ideas until there is nothing left of us but the fertile soil of imagination. And from there, let’s dream a new village. Let it be one without the soul-sucking drudgery that we want to run from. One where we know our neighbors, we know our land, we know our history and we make amends. Let’s move within the delicate beauty of it all.