V1I1: Descent to Ereshkigal

Photo Series: the intersection of mythology, photography, and the underworld.

Shrouded in full regalia, she prepares to go through the first gate.

About six months ago I did a death-themed photoshoot with my family friend, who is an amazing artist and a therapist. I was telling her about my early photographic exploration of #thebenefitsofcontemplatingdeath, and she immediately told me about this book she was reading. The book was Descent to the Goddess by Sylvia Brinton Perera. It is about a Sumerian myth that is one of the oldest myths about the underworld. In the book Perera discusses the value of confronting death and assimilating our shadow selves. Well, I had been looking for a way to deepen the death photoshoots for awhile and this myth seemed like a perfect structure.

Here is a (very) simplified version of the myth: Inanna, the goddess of heaven and earth, decides to go visit her sister Ereshkigal, the goddess of the underworld. To get to her sister, Inanna has to pass through 7 gates. She has to remove one piece of her divine regalia at each gate, until she reaches Ereshkigal naked — without any markers of her identity. Here, naked and vulnerable, Inanna dies. It’s ok though, because some trusted minions appeal to the better nature of some other gods, and one of them revives Inanna. When Inanna comes back from the underworld it’s as though she’s gained a new aspect of herself.

I turned this myth into the basis of my descent shoots. During this experience, the model removes one layer of regalia every few minutes. At the end she is either nude or wearing a nude slip. This simulates the model losing her identity and becoming as vulnerable as one can be. Can you be more vulnerable then when you are facing death?

A few months after our initial conversation, I was able to do a descent shoot with my family friend. Check out the rest of the photos below:

Her first piece of regalia was removed as she passed through the first gate of the underworld. She has started the process of shedding her identity and becoming more vulnerable.
Through the second gate, and forces begin to pull apart your you-ness.
Through the third gate. If death strips you of everything does it make you one with everything too?
Through the fourth gate. Death is the ultimate letting go.
Through the fifth gate. One piece of regalia has been removed at each gate, destroying any indicators of identity.
Through the sixth gate. Almost at the foot of Ereshkigal’s throne.
Through the seventh gate. Bowing to death. Confronting our shadow.

Thank you for looking at this descent series. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be making descent shoots available by appointment late June or early July. Stay tuned! 🌚

For more photographs visit @hannahsuzanna and @TheBCD on Instagram.