The great goddess Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, has been revived by the water and food life brought down to the underworld by the kurgurra and galatur, Enki's obedient creatures. Ereshkigal will allow her to go home. Thank you Ninshubur, for stepping in on Inanna's behalf! But as Inanna makes her way back through the seven gates, reclaiming her powers one by one, the judges and demons of the underworld gather around their queen. Inanna's crown and necklaces, her breastplate and ring, her robe, the lapis measuring rod; these are the me of the cities in her sunny realm, the tools of order, the justice, the rules. As it turns out, the underworld has a few rules as well.
Until Inanna's release, no one who entered the underworld ever came out, and this principle has to be upheld. The quid pro quo between the realms can't be ignored, the balance between upper and lower has to be maintained. Everything comes at a cost. We commonly say that there's no such thing as a free lunch. In the case of Inanna (as goddess and as metaphor for the process of psychological maturation), I think of this observation from Robertson Davies: "One always learns one's mystery at the price of one's innocence." Such is the case for Inanna.
The judges declare "No one leaves the underworld unmarked!" and Ereshkigal decides that Inanna will have to send someone back to take her place. The demons that belong to Inanna ( seems we all have them) flock around her and they head up to the surface together.
When Inanna reaches their meeting place, Ninshubur runs out to greet her. She sees the demons and throws herself into the dust at the feet of the goddess. The demons swirl around them and say, "Good, we'll take her, she'll do." But Inanna defends her loyal advisor and friend. "No," she says, "you absolutely cannot take Ninshubur." "Very well," say the demons, "we'll walk on further with you."
Next Inanna comes to her first temple. Her eldest son is there praying for her safe return and when he sees his mother he runs out to greet her. The boy sees the demons and throws himself into the dust. The demons swirl around him and say "Good, we'll take him, he'll do." But Inanna says "No, this is my eldest son and you cannot have him." "Very well," say the demons, "we'll walk on further with you."
Next Inanna comes to her second temple. Her youngest son is there praying for her safe return and when he sees his mother he runs out to greet her. The boy sees the demons and throws himself into the dust. The demons swirl around him and say "Good, we'll take him, he'll do." But Inanna says "No, this is my youngest son and you cannot have him." "Very well," say the demons, "we'll walk on further with you."
Who will go to the underworld for Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth? So far she has disallowed the willing volunteers, but someone will be sacrificed, someone important to her. Inanna will be marked by the loss---and so will they. When, if, you have made life-altering changes in your psyche and way of being, no doubt you have also seen profound shifts ripple and rumble through the lives of those close to you. Was it tragic? Helpful? We can't always be sure. But the fact of our interconnectedness gives legs to the idea that personal growth is a communal affair, and maturity or wisdom, privately earned, are collective resources.