Let me tell you the story of Inanna, the Queen of the Heavens. But this is not the old story.
No, this is the new story. It is about a woman of power, who realises that her sister – her inner self, the keeper of her Underworld – is grieving & lost & sad. And it is about Inanna’s journey to meet that sister-self, and to understand & to help & to heal.
It begins in the deserts of ancient Sumer. Here, Inanna, Great Queen of the Heavens, has heard a whisper in her sleep. A whisper that is a cry of loss, of pain, of sadness. Inanna rises from her bed, and searches her temple for this voice – but it cannot be found.
The next night she is awoken by this painful voice again, and again, she searches, and again she cannot find it.
When the voice awakens her on the third night,Inanna goes still and quiet. So still, that she can see the flow of the soft night breezes about her bed. So quiet that she can hear the movement of grains of sand in the desert outside her window.
And so still & quiet is she, that she follows the path of the voice, down to the Underworld. And then she realises – it is her sister-self, Ereshkigal, who is in pain. Ereshkigal who is calling out to her.
And Inanna says to herself: “I have always been the powerful sister. I have always looked after Ereshkigal. She is my responsibility & only I can help her. Only I can fix her. Only I can save her.”
Immediately, Inanna pulls on her queenly robes & jewels & objects of office & power. She leaves her temple & goes to the side of the highest mountain, where the path to the Underworld begins.
Like all Underworlds, there are guardians who keep things out. And Ereshkigal has placed guardians at each of the seven gateways to her Underworld. When word reaches Ereshkigal that her sister stands in all her glory, demanding entrance to the Underworld, she is angry & scared, thinking that maybe, Inanna seeks to come & rule her kingdom too. She fears that her sister is is not happy enough with just the Upperworld any longer – Inanna comes to take over the Underworld too.
So Ereshkigal devices a plan. She decides that Inanna may come down to the Underworld, but she must leave her Upperworld powers behind. Her robes & jewels & objects of office – all of it. She says, “Let the holy priestess of heaven enter bowed low.”
As Inanna comes to that first gateway, on the side of the mountain, she is tall & straight in her bearing. Her jewels shine in the moonlight, and her garments glow white. She is the Queen of Heaven come to save her sister.
However, the guardian is not impressed, nor does he let her by so easily. The guardian demands that she leave her crown behind – her connection with Heaven. Inanna is frustrated, but thinking herself very, very powerful regardless, she removes her crown and with her head held high, moves through the first gateway & gains entry onto the path to the Underworld.
After a time Inanna comes to the second gate, where another guardian bars her way. This guardian says if she wants to go further, she must leave behind the small lapis beads that adorn her ears – her sense of magick & ability to manifest. Inanna is now angry & almost grinding her teeth, but she plucks the beads from her ears, and pushes her way through the second gateway.
A little further on, and the third gate appears, with third guardian. Inanna has begun to see the pattern to these gates, and is almost beyond furious when the guardian demands the double strand of beads from around her neck – her rapture of illumination. She practically rips the strand from her throat and barely stops herself from throwing them at the guardian. Her temper frayed, Inanna stalks through the third gate.
And then she is upon the fourth gate so quickly, she is that full of fury. When this next guardian demands her golden breastplate – which represents her emotional heart – Inanna loses control. Unfortunately, she has given up so much already, that her fury is just harsh words and flashing eyes – not the lightning, nor earthquakes it may have been in the Upperworld. In shock, the breastplate is removed, and she is gently lead through the gate.
As Inanna walks down the path, her mind a whirlwind of disbelief, she comes to the fifth gate. Here, the guardian demands her ringed hip girdle – her ego & sense of self. Her shock gives way to tears, and Inanna is begging to be allowed to keep the girdle. Words that may have turned another’s will aside do not work here. Gently, the girdle is removed, and weeping, she passed through the gate.
As Inanna walks, she thinks on what she has lost on this journey – such deep parts of herself. Titles and roles that she has loved & enjoyed. And she understands that there are two more gates to go – two more opportunities to farewell important parts of herself.
The sixth gate and its guardian rise before her, and she flinches at the sight. Her steps are hesitant as she approaches. This guardian requires that she give over her lapis measuring rod & line – objects that represent her will. Her eyes are like hollow caves as she offers up the rod and line. As they are taken from her grasp, the guardian gently moves her through the sixth gate.
Inanna is beyond regretting that she has taken this journey. There is no will, no fire within her. She can only walk. There is only the next step. Only the movement of her body as it continues forward.
A light touch to her arm stops her, and dazedly, she sees she has reached the seventh & final gate. She wants to wail. She wants to curl up into a ball and sleep and never awaken. She looks down at herself, and it only her garment of ladyship, her breechcloth that remains. This garment that represents her role as a goddess of love & sexuality in the Upperworld – her ultimate purpose.
There are no more tears to cry as her fingers slowly unknot the garment. No shame as she pulls it from around herself. And no breath even to wail as it is taken from her hands.
There is nothing left.
The guardian steers her through that final gateway, and leads her into the throne room of the Underworld. Here, Ereshkigal awaits, her pain & loss & sadness like a mist throughout the room. And there lies Ereshkigal, curled on the floor. And Inanna, with nothing left inside, falls down beside her sister-self, stripped bare of all she is. And in seeing her sister, Inanna realises that she truly has nothing to give, so she gathers Ereshkigal into her arms & holds her through the night.
When the morning’s sun rises in the Upperworld, the light finds a way to filter down to where the two sisters are. Each lays quietly, looking deeply into the heart of the other, offering no advice – just the simple act of their presence, given to the other.
Ereshkigal sits up & drawing Inanna with her says, “Thankyou for coming to me. Your holding me has healed me, and your silence has helped to ease my pain.” She draws Inanna into a fierce hug and whispers, “Return to the Upperworld, sister, and reclaim yourself.”
And so Inanna goes. From one gate to the next, she takes back her purpose & her will, her ego & emotional heart, her illumination & magick. And finally, as she reaches the surface and the final gate, she places the crown – her connection to heaven – back upon her head.
But this time, her gaze is steady but humble. And with a prayer of thanks, Inanna, the Queen of Heaven, returns to her temple, renewed.