Meeting Ereshkigal - The Descent
“The feminine journey is about going down deep into soul, healing and reclaiming, while the masculine journey is up and out, to spirit.” Maureen Murdock
I would be lying if I said I feel brave and certain to enter the realms of Ereshkigal, I’ve made this descent a few times before and for all of my knowing that there is a way out, or more aptly a way through, that this death results in rebirth, that in all truth it is merely the shedding of another skin on the journey deep into my Sacred Feminine Soul. I know this is where I heal, where I reclaim and remember, but I would be lying if I said I was not bloody terrified and feeling lost as fuck every time.
The dark night of the soul or the Descent as I prefer to call it is not easy, it’s not supposed to be. It is meant to strip us bare, peel back our layers, and leave us raw, vulnerable, and alone. Or at least feeling that way.
When we are activated onto a path of descent or drawn into a dark night of the soul, the invitation seldom comes when we feel ready and prepped to make the journey. Nope. It takes us by surprise, and for myself, I have found it usually takes me at least a few months of vehement resistance before I acquiesce and begin to surrender. My wounded masculine is strong, and I like a fight - feed that part of me something to resist, and I am as tenacious as a trojan army. My husband calls it my “tooth & nail” identity, and he usually spots that it’s been activated well before I do.
So I write these words to make sense of yet another journey of descent. I write them as much for myself as I do for anyone who may benefit from reading them; if these words can make you feel slightly less alone and confused, if they can be a gentle balm or bring some nourishment to you, then my work is done.
I have always made sense of the world around, and within me, through myth and story, I often forget or perhaps it’s simply unimaginable to me, that not all humans work this way. What some would call “magical thinking” is simply thinking to me. So when I finally relented this week and acknowledged that the constriction, disconnection, frustration and utter sense of loss and confusion I’ve been feeling for the last 6 months is simply a side effect of my resistance to this once again necessary descent into my own underworld, I immediately knew where to turn for comfort and of course, I immediately knew who I had to turn to for answers and the way through - Ereshkigal and Inanna.
Queen Inanna feels the pain of her grieving sister and wants to visit her and attend the funeral of her recently departed brother-in-law, Nergal, the Bull of Heaven. Before Inanna leaves, she entrusts her kingdom to the male gods while she undertakes the journey to her sister in the underworld.
Accompanied by Ninshubar, her second in command, Inanna makes the descent into the realms of her sister Queen Ereshkigal.
To reach the depths of the underworld and her sister, Inanna must pass through seven gates. At each gate, Ereshkigal’s gatekeeper strips away an aspect of Inanna, beginning with her crown, sceptre and jewels and continuing until there is nothing left to identify her. This stripping away of every aspect that makes us who we think we are or who we want or have been taught the world should see us as or believe we are is the first step into our own Descent or dark night.
When Inanna finally arrives, she is naked and fully human. There she comes face-to-face with her sister Ereshkigal who is utterly enraged and infuriated at the audacity of Inanna, who has intruded on her kingdom. To teach her a lesson, she turns Inanna into a corpse and hangs her from a hook on the wall. Ereshkigal represents the repressed dark embodiment of the Feminine.
In Inanna’s absence, her kingdom suffers, prosperity wanes, and crops fail. After three days and nights, Ninshubar returns from the underworld to seek help from all the male gods who Inanna trusted with her kingdom. They decline Ninshubars request for help, stating that Inanna got what she deserved. Finally, Ninshubar beseeches Enki, Inanna’s father god, who hears her, Enki is unlike the other male gods and has mastered both his masculine and feminine aspects. He crafts two sexless beings or “Galla” from the dirt about his feet to aid Nishubar in her quest to save Inanna.
“The Galla,” the Galla are careful not to demand the body of Inanna. They don’t ask Ereshkigal questions. They don’t try to take Inanna. They simply sit with Ereshkigal while she rages. And when she rages, they rage with her. And when she cries in sorrow, they cry in sorrow with her. And when she moans in pain and agony, they moan with her. This goes on for days until she is spent. Finally, Ereshkigal feels better, her rage and sorrow lighter, simply for being heard, witnessed and acknowledged, she thanks the Galla and asks what she can do for them?
The Galla answer that they would like to take the body of Inanna. Ereshkigal grants their wish, and so Inanna’s body is returned home, where she is revived by the Water of Life only to discover her consort Dumuzi has usurped her throne.
When Inanna recovers her strength, she promptly sends Dumudzi to the Underworld to balance the scales as payment to Ereshkigal for her release. Through the process of journeying to visit her sister in her moment of grief, Inanna has managed not only to have helped heal her sister, but she has also become whole, and the land is returned to prosperity.
Dismemberment and renewal is a key feature of this ancient Sumerian myth, Inanna journeys to the Underworld to be with her sister Ereshkigal, to assist her through her grief and bear witness to her suffering even though she knows it may cost her her own life. Inanna sacrifices herself for the earth’s need for life and renewal.
This myth serves as a reminder, or a road map, when I am confronting another little death within my own being when I am once more guided into my own underworld to meet the forgotten, repressed, grieving, frighting, shadow aspects of myself. I have to be willing to shed all my armour, jewels, and identities that make me think I am something or someone. All must be surrendered so that I can stand naked before the dark Feminine within me and be hung out to die by her. I’ve learned by making this journey a few times that it is not me that gets hung up on that hook; it’s all the identities, personalities, and bullshit that I have misguidedly assumed. It’s all the baggage and beliefs that do nothing more than weigh down my sacred soul.
This is a kind of cold comfort, it doesn’t really make the descent any easier, nor does it cure me of my resistance, it does, however, bring me some clarity and the knowing that I’ve been here before - We have been here before, collectively, and we can make this journey, we can bear witness to each others breaking hearts and the sorrow we carry within our wombs, and we can return to life, and yes things may not be quite as we’d left them and there may be some tough choices to make and hard truths to face, but every time we descend, every time we navigate that dark night of the soul, we come back a little stronger, a little more fully-formed a little more whole and integrated. I have by no means perfected this descent, and I am quite sure I have many more of them ahead of me, but I feel better knowing that I have Inanna and Ereshkigal by my side to guide the way.