In the Sumerian pantheon, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld is Inanna’s older sister. Inanna is the Queen of Heaven and Earth but she does not know the underworld. Without this knowledge she remains immature. “From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below”. Thus begins Inanna’s journey into a deeper life with the knowledge of death and rebirth.
Ereshkigal was given the Underworld for her domain. Here she eats clay and drinks dirty water. She has no loving mother, father, brother or sister. She has no friends or companions. She longs only for her own sexual satisfaction. She is unloving, unloved, abandoned, instinctual and full of rage and loneliness.
Ereshkigal can be seen as the other neglected side of Inanna, the side which feels all those feelings of worthlessness and abandonment.
She becomes enraged when she hears that Inanna, clothed in light and glory, wants to enter the underworld. Ereshkigal commands her gatekeeper to remove her royal garmets as she passes through the seven gates in route to her Underworld Kingdom. She wishes for Inanna to experience the rejection and loneliness which she lives with daily.
Inanna enters the underworld “naked and bowed low”. The Annuna perceived her neglected parts, her shadow side.
“The Annuna, the judges of the underworld, surrounded her,
They passed judgment against her.”
“Ereshkigal fastened the eye of death on Inanna.
“Inanna was turned into a corpse,
A piece of rotting meat,
And was hung from a hook on the wall.” *
Ultimately, with the help of her spiritual servent, Ninshubur and her mother’s father, Enki, God of Wisdom, Inanna is rescued. Though Ereshkigal ordered Inanna’s death she now moans in anguish, as she has killed the other part of herself. Creatures created by Enki sympathize with Ereshkigal’s pain.
Now that Ereshkigal is comforted by others, she has released part of her pain. As she grows spiritually, she is now able to release Inanna.
Inanna is reborn. But no one leaves the underworld unmarked. Inanna must
choose someone to replace her in the Underworld. The connection between Ereshkigal of the Great Below, the unconscious, and Inanna, of the Great Above, the conscious, has been established and must be maintained. Inanna must never again forget that part of herself which is Ereshkigal.
The ancient Sumerian story of Ereshkigal and Inanna illustrates the importance of owning all sides of ourselves – the light and the dark. On this day of the winter solstice when the hours of light are the shortest and the hours of dark the longest, reflection and meditation on this story may help us integrate and understand our own inner pain and feelings of abandonment. Here, in the dark of winter, lay the seeds of our transformation into greater depth and understanding.
* Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer.