REBIRTH: The Transfiguration of Inanna-Ereshkigal in the Underworld
“We all started in the underworld,” observed poet Robert Bly (1), and, I sense that a part of us forever remains in the underworld. Even when the ordinary world calls to us, another part is compelled to answer, to emerge from the underworld, to belong to the ordinary world of gathering and achieving. Our lives are an acting out of ancient myths. In our personal myth, we are in the underworld during periods of withdrawal and introspection, or when, as Yeats wrote, “things fall apart [and] the center cannot hold,”(2) when we become disheartened and we are not in our “right minds.” Periodic necessary descents and withdrawal is often called: depression.
Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman described the Descent:
”The Descent“ is a mythological term for the period during and after a powerful event in which the ego has been overwhelmed by a wave from the unconscious. Energy that is normally available to consciousness falls into the unconscious so the person is often disoriented, exhausted, perhaps in a trance state. This is known as journeying into the underworld, a state in which creative energies are going through transformations that the unaware ego may know nothing about until big changes begin to happen in the outer world…The goal of the descent is a new connection between earth and spirit. People often fall into this realm when they are about to be taken into a new phase of life and they have to die to the old in order to be reborn into the new. This often happens during a period of mourning for a loved one lost through death or separation.(3)
I drew inspiration for Rebirthfrom my nearly four-decade love affair with the epic Sumerian poem “Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth” and from an exquisite terra-cotta relief from Mesopotamia created between 1800 and 1850 BCE and brought to England in 1924. It was referred to as the Burney Relief, named after Sydney Burney, who kept it for a time when the British Museum did not take it. It was then possessed by several collectors until 2003, when the British Museum purchased it for £1,500,000 and changed the name to Queen of the Night.
In the epic myth, Inanna and her twin-sister Ereshkigal represent the light of consciousness and the shadow respectively. Inanna-Ereshkigal are separated when Ereshkigal is given power over the Underworld. My dream of rebirthis this: In answering Ereshkigal’s persistent Call from the Great Below, Inanna descends into the underworld. Upon seeinga long-forgotten, buried part of herself(represented by Ereshkigal), she experiences a great shock, an ego death, a psychic death. Eventually this shattering will make her whole… but first she must hang on the hook for three days which results in a powerful transfiguration, that is to say, “a complete change in form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state6,” whereupon she takes up the attributes of the owl, wearing the owl-feather cape while her feet metamorphosed to talons.
Owl: For Sumerians, the owl was not a symbol for wisdom, but for death.The psychic shock of experiencing a “little death” during her ordeal produces a profound transfiguration which is made apparent when Inanna takes on attributes of the Owl: the owl-feather-cape, the ‘carpal pads’ growing out from her calves11, the grooves around her ankles (seven on the left ankle, and nine on the right);and huge white talons. Lilith and Inanna are depicted with bird feet, or owl talons for feet.(12)
On the bricks of the stairs in the painting, notice three lines of cuneiform that reads:
“Brave Warrior Queen Inanna”, “Love”, and “Queen of the Underworld”
To the right of Inanna’s legs, I wrote how my name might appear in cuneiform, then made my initials “PE” in cuneiform-style.
Venus (above Inanna's crown): Four thousand years ago, many ancient cultures thought Venus was two stars, the "morning star" and the "evening star," because the movements of the planet across the sky seemed to be discontinuous when the planet disappeared for three days due to its proximity to the sun, then reappeared on the other horizon. But the Sumerians knew the two “stars” were one celestial body, and included the movements of Venus in the myth of Inanna:When Venus sets in the west, Inanna descends to the underworld; then after three days, when Venus rises in the east,Inanna ascends to the upper world. As goddess of the morning star and evening star, Inanna is associated with Aphrodite and Venus, the Greek and Roman goddesses of love.
2018(c) Acrylic on canvas, 60" x 36"
Archival Prints of Rebirth available (in the following sizes (includes a five-page description of eleven symbols in the painting) by Pam England.
6.5 in. x 10.5 in. $32.00. plus S&H:
10 in. x 16.3 in. $43.00. plus S&H:
18 in. x 29.3 in. $150 each. plus S&H:
If you want to order a print, phone or email me with your order and phone number. I am not able to to take orders for the prints on the store because I don't know how to make the link, and am waiting for help. In the meantime, if you want a print, let me know!
Robert Blywith Marion Woodman, The Maiden King (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998), 113.
William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming.” The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats. (New York: Macmillan, 1956).
Marion Woodman, The Maiden King, 177–78.
Dominique Collins, The Queen of the Night (London: British Museum Objects in Focus, 2005), 31–32.
Stephanie Dalley, “The Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld,” Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and others. (New York: Oxford Press, 1989),154-163.
12. Sandra Bart Heimann, The Biography of the Goddess Inanna: Indomitable Queen of Heaven, Earth, and Almost Everything (Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press. 2016).