Shadow work with Inanna & Ereskigal

Innana and Ereskigal are two of the oldest Sumarian Goddesses (and two of the oldest Goddesses, period). Sisters who grew up together in heaven, Inanna was chosen to be the Goddess of Heaven, and Ereskigal was chosen to be the wife of Nergal, the God of the Underworld. Ereskigal was sent from the only home she ever knew (Heaven, which I imagine is not a bad place to grow up) to a dark, unfamiliar and scary world filled with strangers and customs she didn’t understand.

Thousands of years pass (which is like 30 years in God / dess time) and Ereskigal’s husband, Nergal dies. Ereskigal, having just lost the only friendly face she had, became distraught; her cries loud enough to reach her sister Inanna — all the way up in heaven.

Wanting to be with her sister in her time of need, Inanna told her handmaidens she was headed to the Underworld, and instructed them to look for her if she wasn’t back in three days.

But before Inanna could reach the underworld, she had to pass through seven gates, and at each one remove something she carried with her. At one gate she removes her armor, at the next her jewelry, at the next her crown, at the next her clothes, at the next her shield, then her shoes, until she found herself at the open gates of the Underworld – naked and defenseless.

From the shadows Ereskigal emerges, looking nothing like Inanna remembered. Ereskigal was transformed by the darkness of the Underworld, her once human features turned animalistic and feral.

Before Inanna could get out a “hey sis, I came to comfort you, how you holding up?” Ereskigal lashed out and with one fell swoop of her claws, struck Inanna dead.

*****

Ereskigal had been in the Underworld for eons, coupled in an arranged marriage, living in an unfamiliar, dark and scary world. Meanwhile, Inanna had been chilling in Heaven, living the good life, doing everything within her power to forget about the pain and trauma that came from being separated from her beloved sister.

Meanwhile, the separation is all Ereskigal can think about. Her feelings of abandonment, betrayal, anger, and pain grew rampant in the dark.

That abandonment, betrayal, anger and pain is amplified by the death of her husband who had become her only ally.

When Inanna showed up unannounced and uninvited at the gates of the Underworld, Ereskigal was unable to control her rage and every emotion she repressed came barreling out.

Ereskigal had been in the Underworld for thousands of years, and never once did any member of her family call to check up on her. When Inanna waltzes in (uninvited) for the first time in thousands of years, acting like it’s a normal, every day family funeral, Ereskigal lost it. She too remembered the trauma of their separation, but instead of having the Kingdom of Heaven to be distracted by, she was reminded daily that her family forgot about her.

So she killed Inanna.

*****

Three days pass and Inanna’s handmaidens knew something was up. Not wanting to mess with the seven gateways, they disguise themselves as flies and enter the Underworld.

When they get there, they’re met by Ereskigal’s wails — doubled. Still mourning her husband, she’s also dealing with the ripping of bandaid that covered her unresolved childhood trauma, the loss of her sister AND being the cause of her sisters death.

Not knowing what else to do, the handmaidens take Ereskigal in their arms. They hold her. They wipe the tears from her face. They comfort her. They mourn with her. They share her grief.

Eventually, the worst of Ereskigal’s sadness passes and she allows the handmaidens to take Inanna’s body back up to Heaven (wherein the handmaidens are able to revive Inanna).

******

Like Inanna, we humans are very good at hiding from our shadows (i.e. everything that is too painful to see). The trauma of being ripped from her sister was too much to bear, so rather than process it, Inanna stuffed her trauma (and Ereskigal) in the dark.

When Ereskigal’s pain became too much to bear, Inanna wanted nothing more than to soothe her sisters cries. And while that came from a genuine and honest place of love, Inanna had some serious apologizing / owning up to do for leaving Ereskigal in the literal dark.

******

We cannot heal the trauma that lies in the shadow if we refuse to acknowledge the why and the what of we send to the dark. Like Inanna, we must strip ourselves of all that makes us comfortable (and protected) to stand naked at the gates of our personal Underworld.

We must meet the Monsters of our own creation in the dark and greet them with love and compassion, for they (like Ereskigal) did not ask to be banished to the shadows. We sent them there. And the only way to get out alive is to own up to the pain and suffering we’ve caused — both to ourselves and others.

******

The foundation of the United States was laid on stolen land from its native people, and built by slaves stolen from their native lands. Our constitution is literally based off the idea white men were superior to every other being on the face of the earth.

Our true history was tweaked to make us White folks look like the benevolent leaders; painted red, white and blue and marketed to the masses. And that marketing worked. That Kool Aid was so tasty, even in 2017 we have people (white nationalists, aka Nazis) refusing to stop drinking it.

We as a nation have a 250 + year old collective shadow that is demanding to be acknowledged and acknowledged NOW. We are being asked to own up to our true history — a nation built on stolen lands by stolen people, for the benefit of everyone with a white swinging dick.

Whatever we shove in the dark will eventually seek the light. When we refuse to acknowledge it, it festers. It grows stronger, angrier and more feral, until it buys tiki torches and marches in the streets — demanding to be seen and dealt with.

******

Shadow work isn’t fun. It isn’t pleasant, it isn’t uplifting, it doesn’t make you feel great. It’s slogging through the most unloved parts of yourself (and our collective history) and owning up to what you’re responsible for and loving it enough to do better.

Now, I’m not suggesting we all go out and start hugging Nazis. Let me make this clear: FUCK NAZIS.

What I am suggesting is that you get comfortable being uncomfortable. Make the commitment to really look at the story you tell yourself about you and the world you live in. Commit to looking at the deep, dark parts of you where you might be hiding some internalized racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc. and love yourself and others enough to commit to trying love instead.

We can’t heal what we hate / refuse to see. We have to look at the worst parts of us and be brave enough to try to be better. And it’s always harder before it gets easier. There’s nothing worse than being uncomfortable. But lack of comfort always gives way to growth, and ultimately that is exactly what shadow work is. Growth.

To never being afraid of the dark,

xoxo Em

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