Myth of Inanna: The Empress confronting Death

Guest post by Luciana.

In Sumerian mythology, Inanna was the goddess of love, beauty, sensuality, fertility, procreation, and even of war.

Identified later by the Akkadians and Assyrians as Ishtar and assimilated by the Greeks as Aphrodite, she has also been correlated with the morning star Venus and, of course, with the Egyptian deity Isis.

Like the Empress, Inanna’s story navigates between the boundaries of love and power. In fact, the Empress is usually depicted with wings, which brings us to many winged versions of this card or reminds us of the eagle that appears in decks such as Camoin (Marseille) and Crowley. The scepter brings us another clue about the Empress’ Venusian character: when inverted, it represents the symbol of Venus. In other decks – such as the Rider-Waite-Smith, the Spiral, and the Mucha decks – this symbol has been depicted more clearly for the reader to envision.

In Inanna’s most renowned myth, we learn the story of her descent into and return from Kur, the ancient Sumerian underworld.

Blindly following her ambition, she decides to dethrone her sister Ereshkigal and become herself the Queen of the Underworld, remaining the sovereign of the Great Above. Despite the different versions of this myth, there is one core fact that underlies all of them: Once victorious in the Underworld, she is not allowed to leave unless she finds a replacement for her position (which ends up being her husband; a situation some authors attribute to revenge, provoked by his lack of interest in her disappearance).

In his book A History of Religious Ideas, Mircea Eliade explains the disastrous consequences of her captivity:

[H]uman and animal reproduction ended entirely after the Goddess’ disappearance. (…) the catastrophe was of cosmic proportions

This symbiosis between life and death is clearly explained by Alejandro Jodorowsky in his book The Way of Tarot. Based on numerology, he establishes a correlation between and within the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana.

In the case of the Empress, being the third Arcana, she also relates to the 3s in the suits, as well as the Arcana 13, Death (or Nameless Arcana, according to Jodorowsky). Naming this interconnection ‘third degree’, he ascribes it the quality of being a burst of accumulated energy and somewhat an aimless action. At the same time, he observes a deep transformation facilitated and undergone by these energies.

Like the beautiful Inanna, the Empress brings fecundity, creativity, and power to our lives – as well as a sound abundance and the impulse for action. As for the Nameless Arcana, it brings destruction and elimination of life. Even if both energies seem to be a priori contradictory, the deep transformation and purification brought by this latter is utterly necessary to balance the outburst of the Empress.

Characterized both by an adolescent and eruptive energy, it is up to the Nameless Arcana to rise to its level of higher evolution in the sequence of the Major Arcana and take a more mature role – instead of a juvenile burst of hormones, the outbreak now becomes a revolution, a deep transformation.

Both principles are necessary in order for equilibrium to exist – astounding creation and poetic destruction. Just as the cocoon is broken in order for the butterfly to be born, Death comes to fertilize and plow the soil for life to flourish, for there is no life without death. Inanna’s ambition for fertility to dominate every terrain has brought exactly the opposite result, thus the impossibility for her to remain sovereign of both kingdoms. She had to choose in order for harmony to exist.

She could not have it all.

This is what the myth of Inanna has come to teach us: to observe the coexistence of opposites and to accept the alternation of life and death, two sides of the same reality.

About the author

Luciana Sayanes is an Argentine performing artist, teacher and produced. Having studied Political Science with the aim of changing the world, she then realised the only way for change is through following our hearts. That’s when she decided to delve into singing and performing arts, as well as healing and spirituality. After taking clown and theatre lessons, she then met her greatest love: Japanese Butoh dance, an expression which was born after the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a way of dealing with pain and being reborn from the ashes. Apart from digging into spirituality and working for ascension, she currently focuses on this art, writing, creating and performing for her project Nyx Butoh.

– Eliade, Mircea: A History of Religious Ideas. Volume 1: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries. USA: The University of Chicago Press, 1981.
– Jodorowsky, Alejandro: La Vía del Tarot. Madrid: Editorial Símela, 2004.
– Nichols, Sallie: Jung and the Tarot: An Archetypal Journey. N.p.: Weiser Books, 1980.

Featured image from Wikipedia by Wolfgang Sauber
Feature decks: Rider-Waite-Smith, Pagan Otherworld Tarot

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