Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld

Inanna and Erishigal: Meeting the Shadow of Oneself
Inanna and Erishigal: Meeting the Shadow of Oneself

Inanna Queen of Heaven

There are many myths about the descent of the goddess. This is the story of Inanna, the ancient  myth that predates the male gods, such as Zeus. This is when the Goddess ruled the Heavens, the Earth and the Underworld.

The oldest known myth is Babylonianand was written on clay tablets in the third millennium B.C. It is usually known as “The Descent of Inanna” the Sumerian Queen of Heaven and Earth.

  • This myth is about the meeting of the Queen of Heaven with her sister, Queen of the Underworld. It is a story about meeting the dark, shadow side of oneself.
  • This is a story of the original duality, the Gemini story of our ‘other half’.

Inanna is Queen of Heaven, having received her spiritual heritage from her father, in the form of qualities needed to fulfill her role. She has to stand firm against him, as he tries to take back his gifts.

Inanna marries a humble young shepherd called Dumuzi who becomes a god-king. They have an ecstatic union but after the honeymoon, Dumuzi exhorts Inanna ‘Let me go sister, let me go …..’

Inanna decides to visit her sister in the Underworld whose husband has just died. However, she isn’t on good terms with her, so, as a precaution, she instructs Ninshubur, her trusted female servant, to get help if she does not return within three days.

7 Gates-the 7 Chakras

At the first gate to the Underworld, Inanna is stopped and asked to declare herself. The gatekeeper informs Ereshkigal, Queen of the Great Below, that Inanna, “Queen of Heaven, of the place where the sun rises,” asks for admission to the “land of no return” to witness the funeral of Gugalanna, husband of Ereshkigal.

Ereskigal’s anger

Ereskigal becomes furious, and insists that the upper-world goddess be treated according to the laws and rites for anyone entering her kingdom that she be brought “naked and bowed low.”

The gatekeeper follows orders. He removes one piece of Inanna’s magnificent regalia at each of the seven gates.

(This is symbolic of the descending order of the chakras, from the crown to the root in a process of purification.)

Inanna is killed by her sister

Ereskigal kills Inanna. Her corpse is hung on a hook, where it turns into a side of green, rotting meat. After three days, when Inanna fails to return, Ninshubur sets in motion her instructions to get help for her release.

Ninshubur goes to Enlil, the highest god of sky and earth, and to Nanna, the moon god and Inanna’s father. Both refuse to meddle in the exacting ways of the underworld.

Empathy and Release

Finally Enki, the god of waters and wisdom, hears Ninshubur’s plea and rescues Inanna, using two little mourners he creates from the dirt under his fingernail.

They slip unnoticed into the Netherworld, carrying the food and water of life with which Enki provides them, and they secure Inanna’s release by commiserating with Ereshkigal, who is now groaning—over the dead, or with her own birth pangs.

Ereskigal is grateful

She is so grateful for empathy that she finally hands over Inanna’s corpse. Restored to life, Inanna is reminded that she will need to send a substitute to take her place.


Inanna does not hand over anyone who mourned for her. But finally she comes upon her primary consort, Dumuzi, who sits enjoying himself on his throne. So he becomes her substitute and descends into the underworld.

Loss and Grief

Although she has revenge, Inanna mourns the loss of her husband. In feeling great pain, she can now fully understand Ereshkigal’s grief. She sees Dumuzi’s sister’s grief so she decrees that although Dumuzi will spend half the year in the Underworld, he may return to Earth for the remaining half.

From ‘Descent of the Goddess’ by Sylvia Brinton Perera

The Shamanic Cycle of Venus

This myth is an analogy of the cycle of Venus in the sky from Morning Star to Evening Star.  Venus disappears from view as it moves toward a conjunction with the Sun. This is a shamanic journey.

“The ancients always began observing the Venus/Inanna cycle after her conjunction with the Sun when she was first visible (10 degrees distant from the sun) in the eastern morning sky.

This is called the heliacal rising of Venus and corresponds to her interior conjunction with the sun when she is closest to the earth, brightest, and retrograde. She then spends approximately 260 days, or seven lunar cycles in the east before descending beneath the horizon for approximately 60 days where she forms an exterior conjunction with the sun.

This 60-day period when Venus is too close to the sun to be observed is likened to her being in the underworld.

She then rises in the west for another approximate 260 days or 7 lunar cycles before returning to the underworld for a short 0-20 days.

Shamanic Astrology tracks the zodiacal position of Venus at each of her heliacal risings creating an overtone for the entire cycle”

The Feminine Journey

Astrologer and author Melanie Reinhart writes:-
“Inanna’s descent represents the supreme wisdom of the feminine journey – she goes down to the place of grief, accepting the mourning that inevitably goes with the loss of our illusions about someone, or indeed about ourselves.”

Goddesses in your birth chart

The Goddesses have much to show us about our strongest female archetypes and ‘inner woman’. They can be identified in your astrological birth chart.

Goddess of the Underworld

The goddesses of the underworld are powerfully insightful and understand the deep waters of the unconscious, the complexity of feelings, the power of mystery and magic and the uncertainty of life.

These goddesses may reveal themselves through a healing crisis, the psychic senses, loss, betrayal or a myriad of other mysteries that arise in our lives. Hygieia, Cassandra, Hecate and Medea are the four goddesses who plunge the depths of the unconscious realm.

To discover these Goddesses in your birth chart you can buy your personal Goddess Report.