I wrote this a couple of hours before learning about Roe vs. Wade decision. I’m stunned (which I’m learning is a different sensation than surprised) and sad and I’m wondering how you’re doing.

As I discussed with a client today, all the feelings are appropriate, from rage to grief to numbness. No matter how you feel right now, please know that I’m sending you my love and prayers of solidarity.

We heal—and create change—through a combination of honoring our emotions and taking action. I hope to someday meet you in the streets.

Now, for what I’d planned to send you today:

This week, I’m super busy with lots of things (including preparing to go to Ireland with my sister in a few days – so I’ll be taking the next two weeks off from letter-writing).

So instead of writing you something brand new, I’m sending you something old.

I want to share a story with you, an excerpt from my manuscript (which I recently renamed Radical Discernment: Making Choices We Trust in Times of Uncertainty).

I hope you’ll find medicine here as we navigate many collective underworld moments—and perhaps you navigate some underworld moments of your own.

Here we go:

This is one of the oldest stories that humanity has a written record of.

It’s the story of Inanna—Sumerian goddess of love, sensuality, fertility, procreation, and war—and her descent to the underworld.

I first learned Inanna’s story from Pam England as part of my Birthing From Within training.

At the time, my son was two and a half years old, and I felt very much like I was in the midst of my own descent to the underworld.

This story became like a map for my life. It helped me to make sense of everything I’d experienced in the previous four years, and I relied on it to orient myself to where I was and what I needed over the next several years to come.

I’ve hesitated to share this story because I am not Sumerian or Iraqi (Ancient Sumer was located in modern-day Iraq). At the same time, as you will see, this story profoundly instructs the map I share in this book (the call, the gates, the allies), and I believe that I have a responsibility to acknowledge this lineage. So I’ve decided to share part of Inanna’s story, drawn from Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer’s translation of the ancient tablets, which date back to circa 2000 BCE.[1]

Notice where this resonates for you, and allow it to percolate on the backburner of your mind.

Although you might long for more analysis from me about the story, I prefer to invite you to listen to what arises within you in response. As mythologist Martin Shaw instructs, “Don’t worry about the whole of the story. Look for the moment  that speaks directly to you. Because like an acupuncture point, that is your entry point into the great stream of the story.”[2]

Let’s begin:

Inanna opens her ear to the great below. She hears the call to descend to the underworld and attend the funeral of the husband of her long-forgotten sister, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. She sets out on her journey.

Along the way to the underworld, Inanna encounters Ninshubur, her advisor and friend.

Inanna asks Ninshubur for help: If I do not return after three days and three nights, Inanna says, please travel to the temples of the three fathers—Father Enlil, Father Nanna, and Father Enki—and request their support.

Inanna continues along her journey and eventually arrives at the gates of the underworld. She knocks loudly. Neti, the chief gatekeeper of the underworld asks: “Who are you?”

Inanna answers: “I am Inanna, Queen of Heaven.”

Neti asks Inanna to wait at the gate and goes to Queen Ereshkigal’s throne room to deliver the message. Ereshkigal instructs Neti:

Heed my words: Bolt the seven gates of the underworld, then, one by one, open each gate a crack. Let Inanna enter. As she enters, remove her royal garments. Let the holy priestess of heaven enter bowed low.

Neti returns to Inanna, invites her to enter the first gate, and removes from her head the crown of the steppe. When Inanna asks, What is this?, Neti replies: Quiet Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.

At each of the seven gates, Neti takes one of Inanna’s royal garments. Finally, naked and bowed low, Inanna enters the throne room.

Ereshkigal rises from her throne… fastens on Inanna the eye of death… and strikes her. Inanna is turned into a corpse, a piece of rotting meat, and is hung from a hook on the wall.

When, after three days and three nights, Inanna has not returned, Ninshubur sets out for the temple of Father Enlil. Father Enlil refuses to help. He says:

My daughter craved the Great Above. Inanna craved the Great Below. She who receives the me of the underworld does not return.[3] She who goes to the Dark City stays there.

So Ninshubur goes to the temple of Father Nanna and pleads for his help. But Father Nanna refuses.

Finally, Ninshubur sets out for the temple of Father Enki. Father Enki, who himself has made the descent to the underworld, responds with concern.

Father Enki digs the dirt from under his fingernails and fashions it into a kurgarra and a galatur, creatures neither male nor female. He gives them the food of life and the water of life, and he instructs them to travel to the underworld and pass through the gates like flies. He tells them:

“Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, is moaning with the cries of a woman about to give birth… When she cries, ‘Oh! Oh! My inside!’ Cry also, ‘Oh! Oh! Your inside!’ When she cries, ‘Oh! Oh! My outside!’ Cry also ‘Oh! Oh! Your outside!’

The queen will be pleased. She will offer you a gift. Ask her only for the corpse that hangs from the hook on the wall. One of you will sprinkle the food of life on it. The other will sprinkle the water of life. Inanna will arise.”

The kurgarra and the galatur heed Enki’s words. After moaning and groaning with Ereshkigal,

Ereshkigal stops. She looks at them. She asks:

Who are you, moaning—groaning—sighing with me? If you are gods, I will bless you. If you are mortals, I will give you a gift…

After turning down Ereshkigal’s offers to give them the rivers in their fullness and the fields in harvest, the kurgarra and galatur tell Ereshkigal that they only wish for the corpse that hangs on the wall. Ereshkigal gives it to them.

The kurgarra sprinkles the food of life on the corpse. The galatur sprinkles the water of life on the corpse.

Inanna arises.

I will be taking the next two weeks off as I’ll be traveling in Ireland (fingers crossed that covid doesn’t disrupt our plans!). I look forward to reconnecting on July 16!

 

[1] Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer (translators). Inanna: Queen of Heaven & Earth, Her Stories & Hymns from Sumer. (New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1983).

[2] https://www.dailygood.org/pdf/dg.php?sid=1979

[3] Wolkstein and Kramer translate me as “that set of universal and immutable rules and limits which had to be observed by god and man alike.” Page 123

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