Article by Madrona Holden ~ Should living in the Light be our highest spiritual goal? Be Careful, the ancient myths warn us: there are perhaps just as many ways to be lost in the Light as their are in the dark. From Sumeria, we have a story that exposes the dangers of scorning darkness and the wisdom of balancing both…. The people of the city of Uruk take Inanna, Queen of Light, for their monarch, accepting her gifts of agriculture, irrigation, astrology, and architecture and Inanna revels in her glory.
She proclaims her power, wisdom and sexuality and establishes Dumuzi as her consort of Uruk. Her people banish Inanna’s elder sister Ereshkigal, the Earth goddess, responsible for fertility of the emotional and soul life, the fertility of the grain, the rain and thunderstorms, intuition and wisdom and of the shadows of the humans when they roam out of body. But Ereshkigal is banished to the unmentionable Underworld, the Dark City. (the great powers and gifts of the emotional body and its souls).
In time, Innana’s soldiers also capture and kill Ereshkigal’s consort, the Bull of Heaven, who was responsible for lightening that brings rain then fertility to the grain feeding the people of Sumeria. Ereshkigals cries of mourning at the death of her mate reaches Inanna, who resolves to travel to the underworld to attend the wake of the Bull of Heaven and to be reunited with her sister once again. Before her journey, however, she asks her trusted companion, Ninshubur to seek help for her if she does not return in three days.
At each of the Gate of the Underworld, Inanna must divest herself of some aspect of her glory in this world. Finally after passing the seventh gate, she is taken into Ereshkigals inner chamber, but Ereshkigal is driven by fury, rage and grief at her abandonment and is maddened by Inanna’s glory in Heaven. She wreaks her revenge by slaying Inanna and hanging her corpse on a peg in the underworld. Hearing no word for three days, Ninshubur travels to the sacred temple to plead Inanna’s case.
He is rebuffed twice and told that no one returns from Ereshkigal’s Dark City. Finally Ninshubur supplicates the God of Wisdom, Enki, who fashioned tiny spirits to slip under the doors of the Underworld. The wisdom spirits meet Ereshkigal and expresses their compassion for her anger, her agony and her rage, crying with her instead of judging her.
When Ereshkigal finds she is not “alone in her suffering” her heart softens and she offers a boon to those who cried with her. They request the release of Inanna, the Queen of Heaven. She grants them this boon according to the Laws of the Underworld, which balances the living and the dead, the light and the dark, by claiming a death in return for those it releases to life.
Then Inanna is reborn and the sisters of light and dark, are re-united once again. Inanna takes to herself the dark, powerful and knowing eye of Ereshkigal. And the once-reviled Ereshkigal receives her rightful homage with the title: “Holy Ereshkigal, Great is your Renown”
Ms. Madrone’s Comments:
“The Archetypal interdependence of light and dark, expressed in the sisterhood of Inanna and Ereshkigal, finds echoes throughout the world. The rainbow, a perennial symbol of hope and renewal, is light that shows its glory by being reflected on the dark dust of the world.
In the Taoist symbol of yin and yang, white contains a seed of black and black a seed of white, and these two essences alternate with each other over time, just as day becomes night and night becomes day. Since day and night contain the seeds of one another, there is no darkness unrelieved by the coming dawn, and no stark, sun ridden day without her stash of mystery.
In the physicist universe, as in Inanna’s tale, darkness is the elder, birthing force. According to contemporary cosmology the original source of the universe is dense great darkness that created light from within itself as it expanded. In our daily life, as in the immensity of the cosmos, each seed that grows towards the light begins in darkness.
On the mythic Tree of Life, Inanna represents the leaves that reach for the light of heaven, while Ereshkigal represents the roots that lie concealed within the earth. Carl Jungs notion of the shadow provides another way for us to understand the interdependence of dark and light. The light of consciousness inevitably casts a shadow, as does sunlight in the natural world. For every thing that consciousness enlightens, it darkens something else.
The dualistic tendency in thought temps us to see light as good and dark as bad, or separate in action, as we play out our thoughts with others, and the psychological shadow as the repository of human darkness. But the light and shadow of consciousness are not good and bad, and they cannot be separated, they simply are reality and aspects of the visible and the invisible. Our shadow has tremendous potential for change as well as our light has tremendous potential to hide evil.
In the wisdom of many indigenous traditions, it is understood that every vision contains mystery as well as revelation. According to aboriginal people of the pacific northwest, it often takes a lifetime to learn, bit by bit, what our visions mean. It serves us little to hail the brilliant flash of inspiration but neglect the unfolding of its mysterious dark roots. In such neglect, as in the banishment of dark Ereshkigal, we throw away both our own creative sources and our safe ground.
Inanna’s tale shows the danger of technology that is not balanced with conscious respect for our dark sources of the natural world. Inanna brings with her to Uruk marvelous technological gifts that convince the people to crown her as Queen. But then the citizens of Uruk attempt to assume power over the whole of nature, casting out the Queen of Darkness and capturing and killing her mate.
It is an ironic triumph, since the Bull of Heaven brings rain that grants fertility and life to its people. Like the Sumerians, societies have chosen a rule of light, of knowledge, of power and technological control. But we subdue the chaotic, the uncontrollable emotions, the elements of the natural world – at the devistating price of its fertility, just as we cast out the darkness in ourselves at the price of our own wholeness.
Vision must have its humility, its dark ‘humus” in order to be complete. This is nature. Vision that lifts us away from this root or darkness and brings us too close to the sun is liable to blind us and we are doomed to crash into the sun. After banishing Ereshkigal and killing the Bull of Heaven, the Sumerians are a people in Crisis. But first no one but Ereshkigal knows this, for everyone else including Inanna is mute on her relationship to her abandoned sister, just as each of us may neglect our own shadow or our own self that we see as bad. Inner self absorption, Inanna concurs with the social consensus that sets herself high and her sister low.
Basking in the glory of light, may cause us to lose sight of those who dwell in the Dark City of our society, our consciousness and even ourselves. Thus traditions such as Buddhism wisely link Enlightenment with Compassion. Compassion calls upon us to see the world as whole. To ally ourselves with the lowly, the hidden and the dark, which could be the violent, the angry, the judgment.
The greatest saints according to Buddhism, are not those who leave this world for Nirvana, but the Bodhisattva who leave Nirvana to help alleviate the suffering of this world. Inanna finally hears the cries of her sister and leaves the heavenly realm to go to her. However the journey to remembrance of the darkness is fraught with danger. The Dark City is a place of mystery and unknowing and Inanna can ravel there only by surrendering her former self at each gate.
The Queen of Light must give up one of her royal attributes at each of the seven gates to the underworld. As each gate demands yet another surrender, of ego, and Inanna cannot resist asking: “What is this?” She is met with the only answer the Dark City will give any of us: “Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the Underworld are perfect, they may not be questioned”.
Finally Inanna is taken into Ereshkigals inner chamber, but the woman that she had known as a sister has become the vengeful Queen of Darkness, and Inanna is trapped in the Underworld. Ereshkigal both suffers in agony and rages with fury at her abandonment, while Inanna’s body hangs on a peg in her chamber, a testament to both Ereshkigals anguish and to her own.
This is the most dangerous part of the story and the place where its teachings are most profound. In her journey to the Underworld, Inanna has become totally emptied, as paths to enlightenment instruct us to be. At last, she hangs in Ereshkigals chamber as well as a vessel of total emptiness – a corpse. If we are tempted to think of enlightenment as a means of escape, either from our own shadow or from the conditions of our world, the image of Inanna hanging on a peg in the Underworld gives us cause to reconsider. Indeed, Inanna’s final emptying takes her to that place from which there IS NO ESCAPE.
Now we should make an important distinction: the surrender of one’s ego must never be mistaken for the surrender of one’s presence. In fact, in her emptied condition, totally devoid of anything we could call ego, Inanna can be nothing BUT present. She is inescapably present to her mortality – to the fact that she is, in the words of their story “rotting meat”.
But Inanna’s vulnerable presence in the chamber of Ereshkigal has another meaning. At each successive gate, Inanna has chosen to be present, paying the price of facing what lies ahead rather than abandoning her journey. Once in the chambers of Ereshkigal, she continues her gift of presence. For three days she hangs in silence and unmoving before Ereshkigals terrible grief and rage.
If isolation and abandonment lead to an impasse at this bleakest of moments, it is compassion that may resolve it. After three days, Ninshubur pleads with the Goddess of Wisdom who shapes spirits to go into Ereshkigals side and cry with her. It is noteworthy that the spirits of wisdom, emerge from dark, earthy, unexpected, and seemingly inconsequential places. Their tears soften Ereshkigals heart and cause the seeds of light within her to emerge.
Thus the Queen of Darkness releases the
Queen of Light and allows her to be reborn.
Inanna’s journey reminds us the light that emerges from the earths own season of darkness. As with Inanna, it is our journey into the Darkness that may grant rebirth to the vital light within us. But that journey demands our full personal presence, lest we be marooned in the dark underworld of the psyche or be blinded by the light that shows us only the heights of our consciousness but not its depth.
That journey also demands our compassion. Inanna hears her sisters cries not as a distant strange language but as the cries of a sister who has the claim of blood and roots of shadow and mystery within her own Psyche.