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INANNA: Journey to the Dark Center

by Mary Scarlett Moon and Callista Deep River

INANNA

Journey to the Dark Center

I am the daughter of the Ancient Mother,
I am the child
of the Mother of the World.
I am your daughter
O Ancient Mother,
I am your child
O Mother of the World.
O Inanna! O Inanna!
O Inanna!
It is you who teaches us
to die, be reborn and rise again.
Die, be reborn, and rise!
Herstory/Lore
Queen of Heaven and Earth


The Goddess Inanna ruled the people of Sumer, and under Her rule the people and their communities prospered and thrived. The urban culture, though agriculturally dependent, centered upon the reverence of the Goddess -- a cella, or shrine, in her honour was the centerpiece of the cities. Inanna was the queen of seven temples throughout Sumer. Probably the most important Sumerian contribution to civilization was the invention and creation of a standard writing and literature; the Sumerians even had libraries. Their literary works reveal religious beliefs, ethical ideas, and the spiritual aspirations of the Sumerians. Among these works are the hymns and stories of Inanna -- important here because they were recorded at a time when the patriarchy was beginning to take hold, and the position of the Goddess, although strong, was changing.

My Lady looks
in sweet wonder from heaven.
The people of Sumer parade
before the holy Inanna.
Inanna, the Lady of the Morning,
is radiant.
I sing your praises, Holy Inanna.
The Lady of the Morning
is radiant on the horizon.

Inanna's Descent


The hymns to Inanna are beautiful, poetic, and a testament both to Her power and to Her humanity. She outwitted Enki, the God of Wisdom and her grandfather, and she endowed the people of Sumer with the seven me - wisdoms and gifts that inspired and insured their growth sensuous lover in The Courtship of Inanna and Damuzi. Indeed, Inanna is herself the Goddess of Love, and it is this aspect and power -- creativity, procreativity, raw sexual energy and passion -- that generates the energy of the universe. In the Courtship, Inanna is both the shy virgin and the sensuous mistress. Her coupling with Damuzi is one of the mo st erotic and passionate passages in literature. The marriage is one of body and spirit, and Inanna's passion and expectations link her to women all over the world. After their lovemaking, when Damuzi asks for his freedom, Inanna's poignant lament is "How sweet was your allure..." The Descent of Inanna plays a key role in the Sumerian literature.

The Goddess Inanna descended twice: first from Heaven to Earth to rule her people; second, to the realm of the underworld, the domain of her sister Ereshkigal. It is the second descent of Inanna that is the focus here. Inanna was Queen of Heaven and Earth, but she knew nothing of the underworld. Her quest for clarity and knowledge, as well as her sense of duty as Queen and Goddess, led her to the Earthly realm in the first place. She was a powerful ruler, and yet she felt a strong desire to challenge herself further. "My daughter craved the great below," was the response of her father upon learning of her descent and death in the other realm. In her naivete, she wrapped herself in the me, transformed into garments and jewels, and began her descent. Her sister Ereshkigal, upon hearing Inanna at the gates of the underworld, demands that Inanna must give up all of her earthly trappings before she can complete her journey. There are seven stations through which Inanna must pass before she meets Ereshkigal, her sister and rival. At the seventh and last, she meets Ereshkigal, who seizes Inanna and hangs her on a peg to die.

What Inanna discovers about herself and about life itself as she makes her descent is not implicit in the texts. However, by the time she relinquishes her final garment, she is no longer the commanding Queen. She is open, exposed, vulnerable. This knowledge, and acceptance of her vulnerability, as well as her first-hand discovery of the necessity of sacrifice and death for the cycles of life to continue, increased her power, her understanding, her beauty. Her sister learns a lesson as well: she has her heart opened to compassion. When Enki sent two creatures, galla, below to rescue Inanna, Ereshkigal was struggling to five birth, even though she was barren. The creatures moaned in sympathy with her -- for the first time in her life, Ereshkigal felt a connection to another. As a reward for their compassion, the galla were permitted to take the corpse of the Goddess Inanna away with them, and revive her. But Inanna was not free to leave unless she insured that there would be someone to take her place. When she returned to earth, she found that her husband Damuzi did not mourn her; in fact, he had taken on even more power in her absence. Inanna allowed the galla to take Damuzi to rule in her place in the underworld. For love of her brother, Damuzi's sister Geshtinanna volunteered to take that place half of each year so he could return to his Queen. This six-month cycle insured that the lands would maintain their abundance and fertility, and also served to humble the imprudent King.

Inanna Today

In the Inanna cycle, she is maiden, mother and crone. Her encounter with Ereshkigal can be seen as a meeting of the creator and the destroyer - the light and dark aspects of the Goddess. For modern women, Inanna is a powerful role model. She indeed has it all: she is Goddess, protectress, sensuous, a politician par excellence, intelligent, beautiful, powerful. She is aware of Her position in the world, of Her great responsibility.

We, like Inanna, challenge ourselves, often taking ourselves to task to know more, learn more, be more. This is not necessarily good or bad. But in the doing, in living this life, we too must know the power of the underworld and its mysteries, as well as know the power of compassion. Our personal growth, suffering and pain can be likened to physical death; our psyches journey to the underworld again and again. Old ideas, old visions, identities die; myths are shattered, and are created anew. We rise up, like Inanna, aware of our vulnerabilities, and the strength created from them.

Dark Moon Ritual: Inanna's Journey

Things you will need:

The altar can be directional, Inanna-ular, whatever is your preference. All altars are perfect in their beauty. Each participant needs a necklace, a shawl, and one tarot card.

Preparation for the Journey:

Like the Goddess Inanna, you are choosing to travel to the underworld. Before you go, you clothe yourself, like Inanna did with the me, protecting, wrapping yourself in your Earthly powers and attributes. In this case, the seven me are symbolized by the necklace, the shawl, and the tarot card. The tarot cards are shuffled; as this is done, you ask the spirits to bring you a shield, a symbol of protection. Chose one, study it, hear your inner voice telling you what it symbolizes to you. As you put on the necklace and the shawl, take time with each item, endowing them with the power you think you will need in the underworld.

Creation of Sacred Space:

Athame delineates the circle/invocation of the East Wand stirs up and charges the circle's energy/invocation of the South Water purifies the space/invocation of the West Pentagram is drawn for protection/invocation of the North Casting of the circle, the calling forth of the directions.

The powers of Inanna include those of the dark moon, of High Priestess, Regulator of Divine Order, Judgement, the planet Venus, the control of the law of Heaven and Earth, the Lioness. Invocation to Inanna Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte -- Goddess powerful, wise. From the Great Above She opened Her ear to the Great Below. Inanna abandoned heaven and earth to descend to the underworld. O Great Queen, wrapped in wisdom and beauty; she who fixes destinies at the time of each new moon! Guide our journey, strengthen us, as we open our ear to the Great Below. Praise to Inanna! Queen of Heaven and Earth! Blessed Be. The circle is cast.

The participants are seated in a circle around the altar. Each is dressed for her journey, the tarot card that is her shield/talisman is before her, in her hand. The black candles have been lit and are glowing softly, ; the power of their energy fills the circle. It is time to begin. The participants can act as co-priestesses here, or a High Priestess can guide the journey. But like Inanna, each shall travel alone.

The Ritual Begins: (spoken)

The Goddess Inanna, powerful Priestess, beloved Queen of her people, descended two times: she descended from Heaven to Earth to rule Her people, where she made the sacred marriage to insure the fertility of the lands so that Her people would not know hunger; and she made another descent, this time into the underworld, a journey of great danger and fear - a personal journey for spiritual growth. As Priestess and Witch, we too must be willing to learn, to descend into the underworld, not as a place of no return or dread, but as a place of magic and mystery - a vital force in life and in our training. All we need do is be open, to feel the power of the dark moon within us. To listen. The Goddess Inanna gained her insight in the underworld as a corpse hanging on a peg -- if she can gain wisdom in that fashion, think of what we can do!

Priestess, (name), do you seek to journey, to explore the inner womb of the Earth, your innermost self? Why do you decide to travel, to journey deep within? Is there an answer you seek? A mystery you must explore? A desire you must fulfill? Ask for the power of the dark moon, and for the wisdom of Inanna to guide you on your journey. (Priestess gives her answer. She may elaborate aloud, or silently align herself and decide her path.)

The journey begins. (During the meditation, music can underscore the journey, or perhaps a drumbeat. In solitary work, you can pre-record the meditation.) Travelling afoot, toward the setting sun. You feel the gravel road beneath your feet, the warmth of the sun, the breeze in your hair, you drink in the surroundings. Yes, this is the path. There is nothing discernable in the distance, yet you are drawn forward, onward toward the unknown that is the underworld. You have chosen to make this journey.

As you walk, you are aware of the boundaries of your physical body -experience it in its earthly incarnation. You become aware of the garments about you -- necklace, shawl, tarot card -- that which you have empowered with protection, identity, magic; earthly gifts and trappings that you have taken with you.

The sun disappears just as your path begins to curve; your descent has begun. Darkness surrounds you. There is no moonlight; the dark canopy overhead is like soft black velvet. You are frightened, but all the same you know that you must continue. No sooner do you restate your resolve than you reach an obstacle -- it is a gate that impedes your progress. There is no key. You try to force it open, but it is no use. The iron bars are too close together for you to squeeze through. They are too high to climb over. Standing on the path, facing the gate, you call the Goddess. What should you do? Her message becomes to clear to you: you are no longer in the Earthly realm, and you must make an offering if you are to continue your journey. But what?

You are wrapped in your glamours -- your talismans and shields. Remove one if you are to travel further. This offering is not an easy one to make. You are aware as you relinquish this what powers this item possesses, what it means to you, what it says about you. But the offering must be made. Once the token is removed and you have laid it at the foot of the gateway, the gate opens wide. You may go forward on your journey... The surroundings are vastly different on this leg of the journey. Be mindful of the sights, sounds, and smells you encounter. Listen to Inanna as she guides your way. You feel the weight of your offering lifted from you - you travel with greater ease -- you are different, changed. Feel what it is like. Remember the sensations.

The spiral path pulls you along. Your initial fears have been replaced by anxious curiosity. Your pace quickens, as does your breathing and heartbeat. Your eyes are opened wide in the darkness as you strain to memorize all that you are experiencing. Just ahead you see a light-colored object. As you draw closer you see that it is a huge stone, so large that it blocks the entire path. Again, you are thwarted -- the path to the underworld is indeed an arduous one. Again you listen to the voice of the Goddess. The stone is too large and smooth to climb over, there are no tools or sticks to pry it loose from this spot -- if you are to continue your journey, you must make a sacrifice, an offering of one of your earthly garments. This offering is more difficult than the first one, for this protection is more important to you. You look behind you at the path you have walked thus far, and you know that there is no question about continuing this journey.

The second offering is made, and as you remove it from you, you are reminded again of what this token means to you, says about you, how you need it to protect you, define you. The stone crumbles to dust right before your eyes. Your journey continues.

As you walk, the spiral path beckons you, you feel the lightness of your being without the lost token. Your step is easier, your load is lighter - that which you have needed on the earthly plane becomes expendable here. Again, the surroundings have changed. The decline of the path has steepened, your feet cannot walk fast enough, your physical body can barely keep up with your racing, curious spirit. Be mindful of all that you see in this part of the journey, what you are learning, seeing, experiencing.

Mesmerized by a soft glow in the distance, your feet and body guide you toward it. You come upon its source: a wall of flames. Inanna is in you, you know now what you must do -- you must make a third and final offering. The last vestige of earthly power, safety, identity, must be given up. Hold the object in your hands; remember what it means to you, what it signifies. Throw it into the fire, release it. You do not need it here. There is again a lightness, a freedom that rains down upon you as the fire slowly subsides. Feel the weight of the glamours three as they are lifted from you. How are you changed?

When Inanna descended into the Underworld, she removed all of her garments, eschewed the me that enshrouded and protected her. And you have done the same. Remember, in leaving these belongings behind, you cast off not your power, for that is deep within and always with you. You are deep within the underworld now, and you are conscious of all that is around you - that the underworld is not a place of dread, but a place of mystery, magic, and transformation. It has no destination, but is infinite. As is the wisdom of the Goddess Inanna. Once Inanna shed and discarded her garments, she was no longer the commanding queen. She could accept her own vulnerability. In this acceptance, she can also own her sorrow, her suffering, her pain. (Each participant is handed a small mirror.) Look deep within, look into Inanna's mirror and see yourself, unadorned, and feel your vulnerability. See it in your face, in your eyes; feel it in your body, your pain, how and where you have suffered. The dark moon rains down in the darkness that is within you. Feel it now. In your vulnerability is power. The power of the Goddess, of Inanna. You are Inanna. Listen to the voiceof the Goddess: mysteries will be revealed, desires fulfilled. See these things manifesting now; your yours to change. (To celebrate this change, light your candle here. Tend the flame well to bring these things to pass.)

It is time to return to the circle, to leave the underworld now. (Take as much time as you need; some take the elevator, some need to retrace their steps). As you reach the gate, you find your glamours, garments, and talismans. (Each may end up with a different card or shawl, indicating the changes wrought by their journey. Or you may choose to draw a new card.) Rededicate them and yourself, swear alliegance to your inner and higher powers, to the path that you have chosen.

A necklace was presented as a gift to remind Inanna's people of the powers of the cycle of life, death, and life again. (Necklaces are returned here. Each should receive her own.) Rededicate your necklace now - remembering the wisdom and vulnerability of Inanna, and the message that she has made manifest to you this night. (Pass about a bowl of water.) It is said that Inanna sent forth healing after a great flood, and indeed that the cleansing waters themselves refreshed the entire earth. Refresh yourselves now with Inanna's clear waters. Be born anew, the dark moon waxing to fullness now -- your new destiny fixed. (Thurible is set alight here, a symbol of the power of change.)

The wisdom of the ME; The Gifts of Inanna to Her People (say or chant together) The rights, the privileges and duties of Priestess, The arts of warfare and statesmanship, The arts of lovemaking, creation, family, The arts of prostitution, sacred and profane, of the temple and the tavern, The arts of music and the artisan, The power of judgement and wisdom. (Add to these the powers of Inanna that are yours, the power to change, etc.) Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte Goddess powerful, wise To my Queen, wrapped in wisdom and beauty; She who fixes destinies at the time of each new moon! Our vulnerabilities are our power! Praise to Inanna! Blessed BE! Sing the praises of Inanna in Her song! Close the circle. Blessed Be.

Sources, Information, Inspiration:

Eleanor W. Gadon, "The Once and Future Goddess", Harper & Row Janet & Stewart Farrar, "The Witches' Goddess" Phoenix Publishing Co. Merlin Stone, "Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood", Beacon Press Wolkstein and Kramer, "Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Harper & Row Special thanks: to the women of the Eighth Web and the Famous Priestess School for serving as sacred guinea pigs. Both MaryScarlett Moon and Callista Deep River live in California, teach college, serve their community as witch and priestess, alternately delight and drive-crazy their families, and enjoy a good glass of wine.

This article was transcribed from SageWoman Magazine, Issue #17, Samhain 1991 (or Autumn 1991).