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Descent into the Underworld

There are numerous well-known myths from ancient times which describe a heroine or hero’s descent into the underworld.  One of the more significant is the story of Inanna, the Sumerian Goddess, who hearing the call, made her own eventful journey and return.  

Inanna’s story is also known as the Babylonian Ishtar’s Descent, but whereas Ishtar’s tale is told with only 145 lines, the original story from which it was copied, Inanna’s Descent, is told with 415 lines.  The difference is attributed to the patriarchy, as it steadily eroded the power and significance of the Goddess during the second millenium BC.  

Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld is both a fascinating story and a prime archetype of spiritual initiation.  Both are provided in the article entitled “Initiation -- Descent into Hades”, which is included below.  A fictional account of the basics of Inanna’s myth is recounted in a television script, Descent into Hades, originally written for the series, Star Trek; The Next Generation, and based on its characters.


 Initiation -- The Descent into Hades

Dan Sewell Ward

Copyright 1992 Dan Sewell Ward  


The ancient Sumerian myth of Inanna and her descent into the Underworld reveals a series of profound psychological and contemporary messages.  This paper discusses the fundamental psychological interpretations of the diverse ingredients of the myth, including the concept of a higher self, the abandoning of old values and artifacts, and the ultimate empowerment of voluntarily making the descent.  Also considered are the implications of modern day individuals making their own descent into Hades as a form of spiritual initiation: a seeking of wisdom and growth and the shedding of illusions (a twentieth century Dance of the Seven Veils).  Finally, the paper presents the results of research into the idea that our world and society may be in the process of making its own descent, releasing traditional paradigms in preparation for a period of “accelerated growth”.  

Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth  

The myths of Inanna could have been created anytime between 1900 BC and 3500 BC, although they may have been created even earlier [1].  In their original inception they were pre-patriarchal myths.  But by the time they were written down, the myths showed the incursions of the patriarchy, Inanna’s gradual dispossession, and eventual loss of status.  

Inanna, nevertheless, provides a many-faceted symbolic image, a wholeness pattern, of the feminine beyond the merely maternal.  She was the goddess of grains, fertility, order, war, love, heaven and earth, healing, emotions, the “Lady of Myriad Offices”.  As goddess of war, she was more powerful than Athena and Artemis combined, and as goddess of sexual love, more extroverted than Aphrodite.  She was ultimately known by many names (Ishtar, Isis, Neith, Metis, Astarte, et al), but each of the goddesses in later times were invariably described as having much less power or were less all-encompassing in their many attributes.  Most of the powers once held by her:  “the embodied, playful, passionately erotic feminine; the powerful, independent, self-willed feminine; the ambitious, regal, many-sided feminine” [2] were being eroded by the patriarchy even in Sumerian times.  

Of the many stories and hymns about Inanna, four are particularly noteworthy.  The first, for example, deals with her acquiring her throne and bed, symbolic of her queenship and womanhood, her sovereignty and sexuality.  In the process she lets go of the primitive, grasping, human aspects; her unacknowledged, unexpressed fears and desires, in order to be deserving of the throne and bed.  In a second myth, Inanna acquires from the god, Enki, the attributes of civilization, which she, in turn, bestows upon her city of Uruk and ultimately, humankind.  In this way, she demonstrates her power and abilities and becomes Protectoress in deed as well as name.   In the third myth, Inanna takes Dumuzi the shepherd as her consort and makes him king.  Ultimately, she becomes mother as well, giving birth to his two sons.            

These three myths collectively represent three of the four stages of human development: the establishment of individuality, interaction with others on an intimate, one-on-one basis, and one's involvement in the outer, mundane world.  (These three stages also correspond to the first three quadrants of a Taurus-rising astrological chart -- as in the Astrology According to the Goddess).  The fourth stage or quadrant, however, takes each of us into the mystical and metaphysical realm, where we encounter our ultimate understanding of self and identity and its universal connections.           

It is in the fourth myth, the Descent into the Underworld, that the goddess goes beyond the mundane and voluntarily undertakes the ultimate journey.  

The Descent of Inanna           

Inanna’s most important myth begins with the great goddess opening “her ear to the Great Below”.  She abandons her temples in the seven cities of her worship, abandons, in fact, all of the glories of heaven and earth, and prepares to make the journey “from which no traveler returns”.  She gathers together seven attributes of civilization, which she transforms into such feminine allure as her crown, gold jewelry, and royal robe to serve as her protection.  She also instructs her faithful servant, Ninshubur, what to do in case of her return -- to seek out her fathers, urging them not to let their daughter die.           

Arriving at the outer gates of the Underworld, she announces herself as “Inanna, Queen of Heaven, on my way to the East.”  Neti, the chief gatekeeper of the underworld, is skeptical and questions her further.  Whereupon, Inanna replies that she wished to descend because of her older sister, Ereshkigal, and to witness the funeral rites of Ereshkigal’s husband, Gugalanna.  Neti is still uncertain and tells Inanna to wait, while he delivers her message to his queen.           

When Neti tells his queen, Ereshkigal, of the glorious Inanna at the palace gates, robed in the seven attributes of her feminine allure, Ereshkigal is enraged.  After dwelling on the news, she tells Neti to bolt the seven gates of the underworld, and then, one by one, open each gate a crack, let Inanna enter, and as she does, remove her royal garments, one by one.  Ereshkigal also tells Neti to “Let the holy priestess of heaven enter bowed low.”           

Neti does as he is told, bolting the seven gates of the underworld and then allowing Inanna to enter through each gate.  As she does, he removes one of her garments, beginning with her crown, then her earrings of small lapis beads, the double strand of beads about her neck, her breastplate called, “Come, man, come”, her golden hip girdle, the lapis measuring rod and line in her hand, and finally her royal breechcloth.  Each time, when Inanna asks, “What is this?”, Neti answers:  “Quiet Inanna, the ways of the Underworld are perfect.  They may not be questioned.”           

Then, naked and bowed low, Inanna enters the throne room.  Ereshkigal rises from her throne, as Inanna starts toward her.  The Annuna, the judges of the underworld, surround Inanna and pass judgment against her.  Ereshkigal fastens on Inanna the eyes of death, speaks against her the word of wrath, utters against her the cry of guilt, and strikes her.  Inanna is turned into a corpse, a piece of rotting meat, and hung from a hook on the wall.           

After three days and nights, when Inanna has not returned, Ninshubur begins to lament and beat the drum for Inanna.  She goes to Inanna’s paternal grandfather, Enlil, and then to Inanna's father, pleading with each of them not to let their daughter be put to death in the underworld.  But both are angry at Inanna for her actions and refuse to help.

Then Ninshubur goes to Enki, Inanna's mother’s father, begging for help.  Enki, however, is troubled and grieved for Inanna.  To save her, Enki creates two creatures, the kurgarra and the galatur, to whom he gives the food and water of life, and instructs them to enter the underworld like flies.  He tells them that Ereshkigal will be moaning with the cries of a woman about to give birth, complaining of her inside and her outside, and that they are to echo her cries.  This would please her, and she would offer them gifts.  They were to ask her only for the corpse hanging on the wall.  Then when they had sprinkled the food and water of life on Innana, she would rise.  

The kurgarra and the galatur heed Enki’s words and enter the underworld like flies.  Ereshkigal is moaning as if about to give birth.  She complains of her inside and outside, her back, heart and liver; and each time the kurgarra and the galatur echo her pain.  When Ereshkigal stops to look at them, she asks who they were and why they are moaning with her.  She offers her blessings: first the water gift, the river in its fullness, and then the grain-gift, the fields in harvest; but each time the kurgarra and the galatur decline the gift.  When Ereshkigal asks them what they do want, they ask for the corpse hanging on the hook.  Ereshkigal gives them the corpse, whereupon they sprinkle the food and water of life on Inanna, and she rises.           

Inanna is about to ascend from the underworld when the Annuna seize her and tell her she must provide someone in her place.  They send with Inanna, the galla, the demons of the underworld, who cling to her side until she chooses the person who will take her place.           

As Inanna exits the palace gates, with the galla, Ninshubur, dressed in soiled sackcloth, throws herself at Inanna’s feet.  The galla are willing to take Ninshubur, but Inanna refuses, well aware of Ninshubur’s support and her part in rescuing her.  Inanna also refuses to send her sons, who had also mourned her death.  But when Inanna arrives in Uruk and finds her husband, Dumuzi sitting on his throne, dressed in his finest, and seemingly oblivious to her absence, Inanna tells the galla to take Dumuzi away.           

Dumuzi tries to escape by having the god, Utu, change him into a snake, and then into a gazelle.  But each time, the galla find him.  Dumuzi’s sister, Geshtinanna, tries to protect her brother, even under torture by the galla, but to no avail.  Eventually, Dumuzi is betrayed by a friend, whom the galla bribe with the water-gift and the grain-gift.           

Geshtinanna, mourning for her brother, cries out that she would share his fate.  Inanna, moved by such grief and self-sacrifice, intervenes and decrees that Dumuzi and Geshtianna will each go to the underworld for half the year, and that each will spend half the year in the world above.  Both of them, Inanna places in the hands of the eternal, making them immortal.  The myth ends with praises being sung to Holy Ereshkigal.  


Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld is a particularly profound myth, taking her far beyond the symbolism of the mythological Genesis of the world, explaining the seasons (Dumuzi and Geshtianna alternating in their half-year sojourns in the underworld), or the establishment of kingship.  For this myth describes her evolvement after she has become queen, wife, mother, and accomplished great heroic feats.  Her descent is, in fact, a description of her spiritual initiation.           

In the myth, for example, she abandons her office of holy priestess and her temples in the seven principles cities where she is worshipped, thereby giving up her status and power in the mundane world.  She literally abandons heaven and earth, giving up her earthly possessions and everything that might be considered of value in ordinary life.  This willingness to voluntarily let go of the mundane values of the world is an essential requirement of any soul undertaking such a journey, and for anyone who expects to follow such a path of initiation.            

At the same time, she recognizes the need to protect herself, to not “go quietly into that dark night” without preparing herself first.  She adorns herself with those attributes of civilization that will serve her best.  And when they are taken from her at the seven gates of the underworld (see below), their removal is all the more significant.  She also instructs her faithful servant on what to do in case she does not return.           

Her “faithful servant”, Ninshubur, is a critical component in the myth.  She was considered as handmaid or vizier to Inanna.  In Inanna and the God of Wisdom (Enki), Ninshubur comes to the rescue of Inanna, warding off the fierce emissaries sent to prevent Inanna from bringing the attributes of civilization to humanity.  Inanna describes her as:  “Once Queen of the East, now faithful servant of the holy shrine of Uruk, water has not touched your hand, water has not touched your foot.  My sukkal who gives me wise advice, my warrior who fights by my side.”           

Ninshubur seems to have no life of her own, no specificity beyond her capacity to serve.  No ego, she simply carries out precisely and competently whatever Inanna asks of her.  Perera [2] describes her as a “model of woman’s deepest reflective-of-the-Self, priestess function, one which operates as simple executrix of the Self’s commands, often when the soul is most threatened.”  “She seems to embody that small part of us that stays above ground while the soul descends, the still conscious and functioning aspect of the psyche which can witness the events below and above and feel concern for the fate of the soul.”              

Ninshubur’s name means “Queen of the East”.  In this regard, it is noteworthy that Inanna proclaimed at the gates of the underworld that she was “on her way to the East”.  This phrase survives into modern day Freemasonry, where a candidate for initiation first proclaims that he is on his way to the East, before being warned that he will never return from his quest.  After this, he passes inward to the Ordeal, which is the real initiation.  Clearly, Inanna is on a similar quest.  

But Ninshubur, as advisor and warrior, as one whose hands and feet have not been touched by water (symbolically, emotion), and as once Queen of the East, Inanna’s faithful servant takes on all the characteristics of Inanna’s Higher Self.  And from Inanna’s viewpoint, what better protection on an initiation’s ordeal, the descent into the underworld, than one’s Higher Self!  As it turns out, it is Inanna’s Higher Self that intercedes and ultimately saves her life.           

Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, can be thought of as the neglected, dark side of Inanna, that part of the Queen of Heaven that was unloving, unloved, abandoned, instinctual, and full of rage, greed, and desperate loneliness.  Ereshkigal’s one great craving was for her own sexual satisfaction, a craving which was not being fulfilled.  Perera [2] describes her as “paradoxical: both the vessel and the stake.  She is the [kundalini] root of all, where energy is inert and consciousness coiled asleep.  She is the place where potential life lies motionless -- but in the pangs of birth; beneath all language and its distinction, yet judging and acting.”  “There is a quality of primal rage about her.  She is full of fury, greed, the fear of loss, and even of self spite.”           

Ereshkigal’s reaction to Inanna is understandable inasmuch as Inanna’s light, glory, and movement have been, to some extent, achieved at Ereshkigal’s expense.  Thus her reaction is one of initial rage, followed by active destruction, suffering, and finally as gratitude and generosity.  Initially, her reaction is the chaotic defensive of the unconsciousness reacting to an unwelcome visitation.  In many respects, Ereshkigal is the black aspect of Lilith, ruthlessly destroying “all that is not our true individuality or appropriate life path.” [3]           

The seven stages of Inanna’s descent, the seven gates of the underworld, can be thought of as an early “Dance of the Seven Veils”, wherein we give up our fundamental illusions about life.  In Inanna’s case, the removal of each of her royal garments constitutes a symbolic loss, and each represents, in order, the kundalini chakras.  For example:           

            Her crown -- her godhood, her connection to heaven, the crown chakra.

            The small lapis beads earrings -- her sense of magic and ability to manifest, her third eye.

            Double strand of beads necklace -- her rapture of illumination, her throat chakra.

            Breastplate called “Come, man, come” -- her emotional heart, her heart chakra.

            Golden hip girdle -- her ego, her solar plexus.

            Lapis measuring rod and line in her hand -- her will, at the level of her genitals.

            Garment of ladyship, breechcloth -- her sex role, her root chakra.  

Inanna had initially prepared for her descent by giving up her worldly possessions and status, but this was not enough.  Making the descent into Hades requires evenmore.  

Upon entering the underworld, judgment is passed against Inanna (the inevitable judgment of the external world against each of us), wrath and guilt are hurled at her, and she is physically struck by her dark side.  Completing the first critical stage of her initiation, she is “turned into a corpse, a piece of rotting meat, and [is] hung from a hook on the wall.”  The implication is that without our own, even elaborate, preparations, we’re dead meat!           

But Inanna had relied on her Higher Self and divine intervention.  After three days (the time traditionally viewed as the “Dark of the Moon” period -- Inanna was considered to be the “first daughter of the moon”), Ninshubur sets up a public lament, beating the drum, circling the temples, tearing at her eyes, mouth, and thighs, and dressing in sackcloth (a symbol of mourning).  She pleads before Enlil, Inanna’s paternal grandfather, and Nanna, Inanna’s father, but both in turn are angered by the different direction Inanna has taken from their own.  In a classic patriarchal response, they reply that Inanna “got what she deserved”, and that they were not about to break the rules in order to save her.           

In pleading before Enki, Inanna’s maternal grandfather and God of Wisdom, Ninshubur gets a quite different response.  Enki understands the value of the journey Inanna has undertaken, has compassion for her difficulty, and does not forget that she is vital to humanity.  In reacting, he moves with feeling, empathizing with Inanna, and improvising to create what the moment needs.           

Enki knows the nature of the underworld and its rule by a jealous, anguished Ereshkigal.  He also has the power to create and facilitate.  From the dirt under his fingernails, he creates the kurgarra and galatur -- instinctual, asexual creatures who their creator endows with the artistic and empathic talent of being professional mourners, capable of mirroring the lonely queen’s emotions.  “They are humble, nonheroic creatures, without definition or even the need to be separately defined -- without any sense of what we would call ego-needs.  These little asexual creatures represent the attitude necessary to draw a blessing from the dark goddess.” [2]           

When the kurgarra and galatur arrive, slipping into the underworld disguised as flies (the lowest of creatures), Ereshkigal is moaning “with the cries of a woman about to give birth”.  Her need is rebirth from “the nighttime aspects of the feminine -- the powerful, raging, sexuality and the deep wounds accumulated from life’s rejections -- and which sought solace in physical union only.”  [1]  Ereshkigal complains both for her “inside” and her “outside”.  Having willed Inanna’s death, she can scarcely bear it, for Inanna is her other side.          

The kurgarra and galatur moan with Ereshkigal, appeasing her anguish by the echo of their concern, affirming her in her suffering.  Enki has understood that complaining is one voice of the dark goddess, a way of expressing life -- valid and deep in the feminine soul.  Such complaining does not seek alleviation as much as it is to simply state the existence of things as they are felt to a sensitive and vulnerable being.  There is no need for a stoic-heroic superego perspective of judging it as foolish and passive whining, but rather it should be viewed as autonomous fact -- “that's the way it is.”  Suffering is seen as part of reverencing.           

Ereshkigal is so touched by the attention they offer her in her pain that she extends herself and offers gifts of fertility and growth.  Following Enki’s instructions, however, the kurgarra and galatur refuse these gifts and ask for what Ereshkigal most wants to give and that which is most difficult for her to give:  They ask her to release part of her personal anguish, her despair and anger which is embodied in the glorious goddess of love.  They ask for the rotting body of Inanna.  When Ereshkigal is able to release her nemesis, and thus part of her pain, the kurgarra and galatur sprinkle the food and water of life on Inanna’s corpse, and she is reborn.           

In ascending from the underworld, a dilemma is encountered.  The Anunna (aka the Anunnaki) must maintain the rules of the underworld, but they must also deal with the fact that Inanna has been reborn in the underworld, an original event.  Their tactic is to tell Inanna that she must provide someone in her place.  In essence, Inanna cannot be allowed to again forget her neglected, abandoned “sister”, that part of herself that is Ereshkigal.  Wolkstein [1] views this aspect as a passageway which has been created from the Great Above, the conscious, to the Great Below, the unconscious -- which must be kept open.  Thus, the galla, the demons of the underworld, those “who cannot be bribed”, are assigned to accompany Inanna as she leaves the underworld.  

Inanna is restored to active life, but returns demonic, surrounded by the galla.  She arises loathsome and claiming her survival -- the same fearsome characteristic of any woman or man coming out of hiding and ready to stand their ground.  Each knows that changes and life demand sacrifice, a bit of knowledge from which most flee in terror.           

But even in her demonic state, Inanna recognizes that Ninshubur and Inanna’s two sons, Shara and Lulal, had abandoned the routine of their daily lives and gone into mourning for Inanna.  And while the galla are ready and willing to take any of them in Inanna’s place in the underworld, Inanna knows that each of them cared for her, and therefore, she does not choose them.           

Her consort and the shepherd she had installed as King of the land, however, had gone on with life as if nothing had happened.  While Inanna had ventured into the unknown and undertaken the ultimate quest, Dumuzi had turned his attentions to earthly achievement, growing attached and identifying with his high position, neither weeping for his “lost” wife nor running to greet her on her return.  In addition, Dumuzi had dared intimacy with the goddess and that entails a price. His attempts at scapegoating and taking flight betray his need “to descend into the underworld himself, his need to find a relationship to an inner feminine whom he can accept nondefensively and revere as equal.”  [2]           

In attempting to escape his fate, Dumuzi is first turned into a snake -- a symbol of serpent wisdom: that nothing in the Great Round dies, that life’s forms are both lost and renewed.  He also turns to his sister, Geshtianna.  Dumuzi had been king, but he lacked the qualities of understanding and compassion, devotion and the sense of belonging to others.  He had thus turned to the feminine wisdom of his sister.  It was then Geshtianna who made the ultimate sacrifice.           

Geshtianna’s willingness to suffer torture protecting her brother, and then to share his fate in the underworld, is not the grand gesture of a Christ dying for all of our sins, but a much more personal and deeply feminine act.  She acts out of love and grief, doing what she can to redeem her brother lost to the underworld.  She neither flees from her fate nor denigrates what is to be (as would Dumuzi and the patriarchy).  Geshtinanna thus ends the pattern of Scapegoatology, and allows herself to be acted upon by the light and dark aspects of the goddess.  Dumuzi’s sister becomes “the result of, and an embodiment of, the whole initiation process.”  [2]

 Reasons for Making the Descent

In Sumerian, the word for ear and wisdom are the same.  Thus, when Inanna “turned her ear to the Great Below”, the implication is that she was seeking wisdom and understanding.  When approaching the outer gates of the underworld, she said she was on her way to the East -- a sign of her entering the ordeal of initiation.  According to Perera [2], Inanna's descent “is a story of an initiation process into the mysteries.”  “Inanna shows us the way, and she is first to sacrifice herself for a deep feminine wisdom and for atonement.  She descends, submits and dies.  This openness to being acted upon is the essence of the experience of the human soul faced with the transpersonal.  It is not based upon passivity, but upon an active willingness to receive.”  It is the allowing of another to exert influence upon her.           

Inanna is also descending into the underworld “because... of my older sister, Ereshkigal.”  This symbolism suggests that Inanna had perhaps heard the pain and anguish of her denied and dark side, and was willing to acknowledge the feelings of abandonment and guilt.  This takes on the significance of Inanna facing her dark side.  It is also a form of approaching the dark forces of earthly reality and the unconscious; a slow process of peeling away ego-identifications and defenses -- particularly after “the conscious ideal of the personality has been wounded by being cut off from its roots by the devaluation of matter and the feminine.”  [2]           

In an earlier myth, The Huluppu Tree, Inanna, as an adolescent, had been frightened by Lilith, the neglected, wounded, and raging sexuality side of Inanna.  The powerful Lilith had to be sent away so Inanna’s life-exploring talents could be developed.  But now these characteristics must be reborn, and it is perhaps Ereshkigal’s labor pains or “call” that Inanna heard in the Great Above and to which she responded.   

Another of Inanna’s stated reasons for descending was in order to observe the funeral rites of Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven.  There is power in the knowledge gained from observing such rites, and this may have been part of her motivation to undertake the journey.  This is particularly true for Inanna because Gugalanna was as impetuous and emotionally aggressive as she was.  But there is also the sense of the death of the old ways prior to their rebirth.  Just as Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld, astrologically symbolizes Death and Rebirth, so Inanna must accept death before she can be reborn.           

Finally, in reviewing Inanna's reason for making the descent, we might consider the view of Perera [2]:  “Inanna's suffering, disrobing, humiliation, flagellation and death, the stations of her descent, her ‘crucifixion’ on the underworld peg, and her resurrection, all prefigure Christ’s passion and represent perhaps the first known archetypal image of the dying divinity whose sacrifice redeems the wasteland earth.  [However] Not for humankind’s sins did Inanna sacrifice herself, but for earth’s need for life and renewal.  She is concerned more with life than with good and evil.”  [emphasis added]  

The Descent into Hades as a Psychological Tool

According to Perera [2], “All descents provide entry into different levels of consciousness and can enhance life creatively.  All of them imply suffering.  All of them can serve as initiations.  Meditation and dreaming and active imaginations are modes of descent.  So too are depressions, anxiety attacks, and experiences with hallucinogenic drugs.”           

A fundamental aspect of such descents is the letting go of illusions and old outworn patterns of mundane life.  Ereshkigal’s realm is like the undiscriminating fires of Kali, which combined with time and suffering grinds away all distinctions and ego before yielding new life.  It is an adherence to some pre-ethical natural law, an acknowledgment that life is inconstant and cyclical.  Inanna can still wrap her consort in an active loving and caring embrace, and then back down, suddenly disinterested, alone and even cold.           

It is important to recognize that Hades, or the underworld, cannot be equated with the Hell of Christianity.  The Greek god, Hades, as ruler of the underworld, was known as the “Bringer of all Good Things”, the god of riches, and often pictured with a cornucopia or horn of plenty.  In an inscription found at Eleusis, the site of Demeter’s Eleusian Mysteries (wherein latter day Greeks made their own ritualized descent), the end result of a descent into Hades is lauded:  “Beautiful indeed is the Mystery given us by the blessed gods: death is for mortals no longer an evil, but a blessing.” [3]           

Being able to not care about relating to an external other, nor to the collective society or its Paradigms, can initially be very frightening because it cannot be validated by the collective from which one is releasing themselves.  But the act of letting go, being able to not care, can provide the possibility of a totally fresh perception, a creative perspective in the form of Enki reacting to the needs of the moment, a new pattern and a never ending exploration.  What mass consciousness may fear as chaos, monstrous or ugly, is hard to endure. It implies the elimination of our defenses, a sacrifice of easy collective understanding, the dashing of hopes to look good and safely belong, and the giving up of being agreeable to a patriarchal paradigm.  It involves hitting bottom, but a bottom where all the “assets” that have been given up, lost, or taken, become irrelevant.           

Ultimately, the purpose of descending into Hades, of undertaking the journey of spiritual initiation, is for self-empowerment.  Preparing oneself, relying on divine assistance, and beginning “The Fool’s Journey” by stepping off the precipice, psychologically removes the deadwood, the irrelevant artifacts of modern life whose value is illusionary at best.  Whether we eliminate from our lives our most fundamental identities at each of seven gates, or whether we process the same death and rebirth on a daily, less dramatic basis, we still make our descent into our psyche, and at the bottom find pure gold and enlightenment.  For when one has nothing to lose, when there’s nothing they can take from you, when even death is no longer feared; that is when the possibilities become unlimited and one can be truly empowered.   

Dance of the Seven Veils  

There is a sense today, that our modern world is now making its own descent, one in which we must all participate.  The world seems enmeshed in a host of cycles within cycles, all of which are ending with the turn of the millennium and the run toward 2012 A.D..  Financial cycles beginning in the early 1980s, the time of the Great Depression, and further back to the late 1700s, all appear to be ending and beginning to turn down.  Governments, religions, systems of law, traditional healing modalities, all seem stricken with a fatal strain of Armageddon Virus.  Even the most basic philosophies, our work ethics, our fundamental rules of relating to one another, are breaking down.  The patriarchal paradigm itself seems doomed.  Massive, earthshaking chaos seems imminent.           

If one considers the Time Wave theory to be valid, then the Cycles which are ending are on the scale of the invention of writing, the discovery of the wheel, sliced bread or equivalent landmarks in the human evolution (or transformation).  The descent of mankind into Hades is fully evidenced by the madness of governments, the loss of humanity, and the rise of individualistic, innovative, and unique spirituality.  The human experience may very well be thought of as the ultimate Descent into the Underworld, where Free Will is equated with resistance, predestination with divine destiny, and the only wild card in the deck being that knowing effects reality.  The choices before us are Data Collection, unique transmutation, transformation, and Synthesis, and Communicating what we learn.  

As the Chinese I Ching notes, the symbols for chaos and opportunity are the same.  If the world, our society, our must cherished collective beliefs, are indeed being threatened with chaos -- then perhaps it is only our world making its own descent into Hades prior to its being reborn.  If so, then we’re looking at a time of opportunity, not merely chaos.  We’re looking at our world shedding a host of illusions, in preparation for being empowered.           

The ancient “Dance of the Seven Veils” is a symbolic shedding of illusions.  Robbins [4] has taken this understanding and unveiled seven illusions within which he believes our world is currently suffering.  The illusion-destroying reality, in his view, becomes:  

            1.  The reality that the earth is a sexual globe, the drama of which is largely, historically, directed by the female.  Venereal Disease is caused not by sexual license, but the fear of sexual license and the guilt associated with the suppression of the great mother.  

            2.  Human beings do not have dominion over plants and animals.  Humanity as a function of nature, cannot live separately from nature except in a self-deceiving masquerade.  

            3.  Attempts at political solutions are futile -- the primary problems are philosophical.  Political activism is seductive because it seems to offer the possibility of improvement without each person going through the personal ordeal (or initiation) of rearranging one’s perceptions and transforming one’s self.  Humanity’s great mission in life has nothing to do with struggles between classes, races, nations, or ideologies, but rather is a personal quest to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit and lighten up.  

            4.  Religion is an improper response to the Divine, an attempt to pin down what is eternally in flux, forever moving, and shifting shape.  Religion is reductive, while the Divine is expansive.  Religion is thus blasphemy.  

           5.  Security is a form of paralysis, just as satisfaction is a form of death.   

            6.  Economic depression and “insufficient funds” are illusions.  There is plenty of everything for everyone.  There is only lousy distribution.  

            7.  Everybody has got to figure it out for themselves.  No one can do it for you, think for you, or hang on your cross.  The priest, rabbi, shaman, guru, can, at best, direct you through a busy intersection, but they won’t follow you home and park your car. [5]  

The world’s descent into the underworld is involved in the releasing of those illusions that cover such realities as described above.  It is the death of an old paradigm of protection values and the rebirth of an emerging paradigm of growth values.  These differing values have been highlighted in Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Values”.  

Making the Descent into Hades

The timing of the world’s descent into Hades is, of course, important.  And while there was a sense of “impending doom” associated with the end of the millennium, it seems more likely that the world has already begun the descent, and we just haven’t been fully cognizant of that fact yet.  

In the late sixties, for example, the inflation-adjusted national stock exchange index reached a peak which has never since been exceeded.  (Sorry about that!)  This peak occurred at a time nearly coincident with a mass conjunction of seven planets in the astrological sign of Virgo.  Virgo is the sign of discipleship and the discrimination between alternatives.  The conjunction in August 1968 (the time of the rioting at the Democratic national convention) may well mark a significant turning point.           

Other economic cycles (as represented by the national stock market) involved the end of a larger economic cycle extending from the bottom of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and also the end of a still larger cycle extending back to the late 1700s.  George [3] has suggested that we may be in the “Dark of the Moon” phase of a 25,920 year cycle (the time for a complete revolution of the polar axis).  George has also noted that in “1998-99, for the only time in a 26,000 year cycle, the winter solstice point will precess to exactly align with the intersection of the Milky Way galaxy (our galaxy) and the Zodiac (our solar system).  According to many calendric and medicine traditions, the winter solstice point marks the ends and beginnings of Calendars!”                       

On a more individual note, a relatively small object was discovered in a planetary orbit between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus in 1977, and thereafter called Chiron.  Mythologically, Chiron is the King of the Centaurs, the maverick, mentor, astrologer, wholistic healer, and man/beast archetype.  Astrologically, Chiron is also the planet of initiation.  Meanwhile, Pluto, discovered in 1930, is the planet of Death and Rebirth -- inevitable, fundamental transformation.  It would thus appear that transiting Chiron conjuncting an individual’s natal Pluto would imply a sort of Initiation Imperative, in other words, a strong tendency toward initiation, either voluntarily or involuntarily.           

In esoteric astrology, the effects of a planet are not fully realized until their discovery.  One might therefore suggest that the transiting Chiron conjuncting natal Pluto aspect would not be effective until after the discovery of Chiron on November 1, 1977.  However.  From November 1, 1977 through December 31, 1999 (when transiting Chiron conjuncts transiting Pluto), transiting Chiron conjuncted the natal Pluto of everyone on the planet!  In other words, everyone got an opportunity to feel the Initiation Imperative!  The fact that Chiron and Pluto conjunct exactly once on the very last day of 1999 is, in itself, something that exceeds the bounds of “coincidence”.  

The big question is, “Were you paying attention when your number was called?”  


Inanna         Return of the Goddess         The Great Goddess

Forward to:

From the Great Above to the Great Below

Interpretation of Inanna’s Descent Myth         Descent into Hades



[1]  Wolkstein, D. and Kramer, S.N., Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth; Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, Harper and Row, New York, 1983.

[2]  Perera, S.B., Descent to the Goddess; A Way of Initiation for Women, Inner City Books, Toronto, Canada, 1981.

[3]  George, D., Mysteries of the Dark Moon; The Healing Power of the Dark Goddess,  Harper San Francisco, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1992.

[4]  Robbins, T., Skinny Legs and All, Bantam Books, New York, 1990.

[5]  A more detailed review of Robbin’s “dance card” is contained in Dance of the Seven Veils, and of course, in his delightful and brilliantly innovative book [4].




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