Tag Archives: death and rebirth

Cerridwen, White Lady of Inspiration and Death

Having just celebrated Halloween, also called Samhain, and the Day of the Dead we are truly in the time when the veil between the world of the manifest and the world of the unmanifest is the thinnest.  We remember our ancestors, we reflect on losses and we look forward to positive transformation as we enter the quiet, meditative time of year.

Cerridwen, Celtic Goddess, painting by Judith ShawCerridwen, Dark Goddess of Transformation, Inspiration and Knowledge is a perfect goddess to remember during this time. She  is best known as the mother of Taliesen, the greatest of all the Welsh poets.   But Her story is much older and Her powers run deep.

Cerridwen (“White Sow”, or “White Crafty One”) has many other names:  Dark Moon Goddess, Great Mother, White Lady of Inspiration and Death, Goddess of Nature, and Grain Goddess. She rules the realms of death, fertility, regeneration, inspiration, magic, enchantment and knowledge. Her ritual pursuit of Gwion Bach symbolizes the changing of the seasons, nature’s yearly cycle of death and rebirth.

Cerridwen, as a powerful Underworld Goddess, is the keeper of the cauldron of knowledge, inspiration and rebirth.  She and Her cauldron most likely appear in the Welsh legend of Bran the Blessed. She came from Ireland to the Land of the Mighty disguised as a giantess named Kymideu Kymeinvoll with her husband Llassar.

Read more about Cerridwen and Her wisdom on my recent blog post on the Feminism and Religion blog site.  Click here

The Story of Ereshkigal, Inanna’s Older Sister

ereshkigal drawing by judith shaw

Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld

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.

Inanna's Descent, painting by Judith jShaw

Inanna’s Descent

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.

Naked and Bowed Low, drawing by Judith Shaw

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

Inanna's Return, painting by Judith Shaw

Inanna’s Return

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.