The Politics of Rökkatru

Now that we have established at least some of the core values of Rökkatru, it is time to turn to the politics of Rökkatru. Though it may not be immediately obvious why it is necessary to discuss the politics of a budding minority religion, given the sociopolitical environment Rökkatru was born into and has been growing into, and the degree to which politics and religion have become muddled and intertwined in America, it is not something to be glossed over. Given that Heathenry as a whole is plagued with white supremacy and other forms of bigotry, it seems especially important to establish the politics of this new branch of Heathenry.

Though Rökkatru is not a unified or organized religion by any means, and there is wide diversity in the views and opinions held by those who practice Rökkatru, there has been some movement in online communities to firmly establish Rökkatru as anti-bigotry. In particular, some Rökkatru communities online have declared themselves in open opposition to the Asatru Folk Assembly, a Heathen organization widely known for espousing white supremacist, transphobic, and homophobic rhetoric.

The desire to form a visibly inclusive, anti-bigotry Heathenry has been voiced commonly enough within Rökkatru communities online that it seems safe to say that this is the most commonly shared sociopolitical outlook of Rökkatru. Considering that the values of Rökkatru include such values as diversity, acceptance, and community, and that the Rökkr themselves often represent the strength of nature’s diversity, it does follow that Rökkatru’s politics would be inclusive.

Furthermore, alongside the Lokean community, it is Rökkatru which boasts the highest degree of diversity among its ranks, in particular with regards to gender identity and sexual orientation. As the Rökkr are associated with shape shifting, in particular Loki who is known to shape shift not only into other animal forms but also into different genders, many Rökkatru see representations of their own fluidity in gender and sexuality reflected in their gods. Nothing within Rökkatru is strictly binary or easily confined to a box, which permits its followers a level of self-acceptance many were unable to find in other spiritual paths that adhere more closely to traditional, hetero- and cisnormative binaries.

In part because of the strength in diversity that the gods themselves represent, as well as the fact that many who might call themselves “misfits” have found spiritual home within Rökkatru, it is a path which has grown in the direction of inclusion and acceptance. Though within the ranks of adherents the most prominent form of diversity is in gender and sexuality, inclusivity and acceptance are extended to all those who fall outside of mainstream society’s hegemony. As a result, Rökkatru has not only been developing as a religious movement which values acceptance, it has been increasingly priding itself on being an anti-bigotry spiritual movement.

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Original design available for purchase on tee shirts at Mind-art Passion

Not only is Rökkatru anti-bigotry, it also deeply values environmentalism. Again we see this in the values of Rökkatru, especially in those represented by Jord and Gerd. Caring for nature, especially in the age of climate change, is a key element of Rökkatru sociopolitical identity, and not just because of what Jord and Gerd represent. All of the Rökkatru deities are generally considered to be closely associated with nature. Some may have direct and explicit connections to natural forces, such as Surt (wildfires or volcanoes) or Aegir and Ran (the ocean). Others seem to mirror more vague natural energies, such as Hela (death), Fenrir (destruction), or even Angrboda (who is closely associated with wolves and generally associated with wild things).

With a couple of deities that specifically highlight the importance of caring for and working closely with nature and the earth, as well as how interwoven the Rökkr are with natural forces as a whole, it is clear that this is a path which reveres the natural world. Because of this, environmentalism has become a core element of Rökkatru political values. It is not unheard of, in fact, for people to make donations to environmentalist nonprofits in the name of a particular deity as a way of making an offering to that deity. For example, some people might donate to organizations that are dedicated to cleaning our oceans in the name of Jörmungandr (who is known in the lore to occupy the seas surrounding Midgard) whereas others have donated to wolf sanctuaries or other organizations that protect wolves in Fenrir’s name.

In an increasingly polarized sociopolitical climate, and staring down climate change and rising fascism along with an increase in visible violence towards marginalized communities, all of these political values boil down to a deep value of activism. Rökkatru as a whole does not seem to look well on inaction in the face of injustice, though there is an understanding of the limited abilities of some members of this immensely diverse group (limitations in time and finances, in physical, emotional, or intellectual ability, etc).

Activism in the name of Rökkatru spiritual practice can take many forms. We’ve already discussed the concept of donating to relevant nonprofits in the name of a god/dess as a form of offering. I have extensive experience volunteering with disadvantaged and marginalized youth in part as a form of devotional service to Sigyn, which you can read more about here. Those who are able have in the past shown up at counter-protests to represent this inclusive Heathenry in the face of white supremacist and Neo-Nazi appropriation of sacred symbols as rallies. Some have even shown up as part of the black bloc or with Antifa protesters to disrupt rallies of bigotry.

Ultimately, Rökkatru is made up of individuals who all hold different values and political views. Not all of these views are necessarily complimentary, and not all Rökkatru practitioners would even consider themselves political. The most commonly represented political views within Rökkatru communities, however, have repeatedly proven to prioritize acceptable and inclusion, environmental care and well-being, and active action on these fronts.

Skål.

P.S. If you enjoyed this you might enjoy Is It Any Wonder, a narrative piece I wrote for Gods & Radicals that imagines what Rökkr deities might look and act like living in the modern world.

Druidry, and The Hag of the Ironwood

Image by Hellanim

At their roots, druids are magicians (or shamans) who connected to the Earth and can call upon its’ magic in order to counsel, heal, teach, and divinate. In Druidic practice, there are many gods and goddesses that stand out:  Cernunnos, Brigid, Manannan mac Lir, Rhiannon, Lugh…Celtic deities. However, in today’s pagan society, we have created a melting pot of beliefs; blending the old gods and goddesses into even older practices to create something new and beautiful.

This open-mindedness to blending traditions has opened up many doors within modern paganism. If it’s one thing that can be said for certain, it is that our creativity cannot be stifled. So, with this thought in mind, I wish to open you up to a non-traditional goddess that I turn to in my work as a druid: Angrboða—The Hag of the Ironwood, Mother of Monsters.

Not many people will recognize that name and, those that do, would probably struggle to call her a goddess. At her core, Angrboða is a giantess with a name that means ‘announcer of sorrow’. What can also be off-putting to some is her ‘Mother of Monsters’ title, as she is mother to Loki’s three monsterous children; Hel, Fenrir, and Jörmungandr.

But what makes her perfect for druid work is, underneath this harsh exterior, she has an impassioned connection to nature and is a powerful wolf shapeshifter that can teach even the most seasoned shaman a thing or two about transforming themselves. Plus, she is a shaman herself, with an extensive knowledge of magic and divination. And, even though her children are deemed monsters, her maternal instincts rival that of any mother goddess.

Now, as her other (main) title entails, she hails from the Ironwood—a powerful realm known for the giantesses who protect it and the wolves within. While all of them are known to be connected to nature (namely the trees), Angrboða is a leader among them, a high priestess, if you will. And she is always willing to share what she knows with those she deems worthy (especially the lost, the lonely, and those in need of a mother).

However, be prepared to WORK. Angrboða does not take kindly to slacking. She only works with those who are willing to put the time and effort into developing their craft above and beyond what they ever fathomed possible for them. But, once you’ve proven yourself, she will envelop you in a loving and motherly embrace and protect you with the ferocity of her wolf side. As with any deity, showing your devotion through offerings also helps. Some offerings she truly appreciates are raw meat, to appease the wolf, and anything from nature (bones, leaves, sticks, stream water, etc.).

Angrboða truly embodies what it means to be a druid; someone who calls upon the Earth for knowledge and is willing to help those who are desperate for help and healing. So, I hope you will open your hearts to someone new, someone outside the traditional realm of Druidry.  

Hekate, Anubis, and My Brain Injury

My perception of the Gods is that They exist in the Eternal Now. It is the nexus of all time – past, present, and future. It is also the state of “everything is everywhere and always” and “every point of space touches every point of time.” (Note 1) We as humans create in our consciousness, the past, present and future. When the Gods reach out to people, it is not necessarily according to our perception of time. My experience of Anubis and Hekate, two Gods of the Dead, happened that way.

I met Hekate and Anubis together, three months before my life-changing accident. I regard being crushed nearly to death by a faultily constructed wall to be a random event. I do not subscribe to the belief that everything happens for a reason. I see the Universe to be random. I believe that the Gods, Spirits, and everyone else works out each occurrence for Themselves. In my case, Hekate and Anubis decided to use my accident for Their purposes.

At a Pagan gathering many years ago, I attended a Norse seidr (ritual of speaking to the Dead) to ask about my deceased father. As with all religious activities, I prepared by washing and dressing in my formal Roman stola and palla. The seidhr was held at a campground, in the evening. The seidhrwoman sat high on a picnic table, with everyone sitting on either side on benches. Because I came later, I had to sit on the lone chair in between the benches. Covering my head with my palla, I was ready for the ritual. Apparently at the seidhr, I resembled the Goddess Hecate.

After the seidr began, I felt myself going away. The last thing that I heard was someone faintly asking about Anubis. At the time, I did not expect to be possessed by a Deity. Usually when people are to be possessed by a God, they plan for it and assemble a crew to help them. I was an “accidental” possession, totally unexpected by anyone.

I have no memory of what happened after we approached the Underworld during the ritual. I was told by witnesses that Hecate took over my body. The seidhrwoman later told me that she had received a vision of Hecate coming to the seidhr dressed as a Roman.

After Hecate left my body, I was totally out of it. I felt like I had been struck by lightning, dragged for miles behind a fleet of Mack trucks, and run over repeatedly. Dazed and confused, I panicked. Fortunately for me, the seidhrwoman knew what to do to help me. First, she had me drink water and eat some crackers. Then, she spritzed me with lavender. All the while, she discussed the weather with me. Eventually, I came back to my body.

Disoriented, I asked the seidrwoman what had happened. First, she had a prior vision of Hekate attending the seidr. When I came in, I was Hekate come to life. During the seidr, Hekate used my body to talk to the people attending about their Dead.

Later together with the seidrwoman and the woman who had asked about Anubis, we had a private seidr. While answering the other woman’s question, the seidrwoman suddenly transformed into Anubis. After taking command of her body, He commandeered a golf cart. After ordering us in, Anubis took us on a wild ride through the camp. Riding in a golf with a God driving it will unsettle anyone. That is how I met Anubis, the Egyptian God of the Dead.

My experiences that weekend were too weird, even for me. They were things to file away under “interesting stories.” Then my freak accident happened, and almost killed me. At that time, Hekate and Anubis reintroduced Themselves to me.

During my coma and later my brain “fugues,” Hekate and Anubis roamed with me throughout the Lands of the Dead. Not alive, but not dead either, I floated between the worlds like a specter. Wandering about, I met Stellar’s Sea Cow, an extinct mammal, who guided me back to life. Along with Her, was Dire Wolf, a prehistorical mammal, who showed me his worlds of wonder, and Diplocaulus, the boomerang-headed amphibian of the early Permian, who taught me play again. With their help, I came back to the Land of the Living. Still hovering at the threshold, I was hesitant to return. Anubis whispered to me that He was the Key, The Opener of the Way. Before I could react to that, I was propelled through the threshold.

My work for these two Gods is now to help the newly Dead to find the map to their Land of the Dead. (Maps are needed for the Dead to follow or They get lost, wandering hopelessly about.) When I go into a fugue state, I meet the Dead then. Also, I formed a cultus to honor extinct and prehistoric animals. (Note 2)

As I have said, I do not believe that either Hekate or Anubis caused my accident. I do believe that They used my brain injury for Their Purposes. They had reached out of the Eternal Now introduce Themselves before I could understand what They wanted.

Notes:
1. This theory was first described by J.M.E. McTaggart in The Unreality of Time. 1908.

2. I wrote about that in Witches & Pagans #32: Polytheism, July 2016: “That Which is Remembered, Lives: Establishing a Cultus for Extinct Animals.”

Works Used:
Kaldera, Raven, “The Eightfold Path to Altered States of Consciousness.” 2006. Web. http://www.northernshamanism.org/the-eightfold-path-to-altered-states-of-consciousness.htm
Kaldera, Raven, “Spirit Possession.” 2010. Web. http://www.northernshamanism.org/spirit-possession.html

In Defense of Syncretism

Throughout my time being active in the various pagan communities online I’ve been noticing an odd and frankly puzzling trend. I’m talking about the exhausting tendency of many modern pagans to dismiss syncretism out of hand. This despite the fact that that many such syncretisms have historical precedence.

As a Kemetic I’ve found myself more and more intrigued by the historical associations made by the ancient Greeks between their gods and those of the Egyptians during the Ptolemaic Period. For example, the Greeks believed that the Egyptian god Amun was the same as their god Zeus. They also associated Bast with Artemis, Min with Pan, Hethert with Aphrodite and so on. Frankly the Greeks had a long history of doing this kind of thing from what I’ve seen.

There were also historical instances of people believing many of the Greek and Roman gods to be one and the same. Whether people believed certain deities to be the same or different has always varied by time period and individual. Obviously a person is under no obligation to practice any form of syncretism but shooting down someone who does is disrespectful and shortsighted.

I remember many years ago when I was still new to Paganism I stumbled upon a post someone wrote concerning the identification of Artemis and Bast. The article was so full of righteous indignation that it will probably stick in my mind for years more to come. The author bemoaned “inexperienced new pagans” “confusing these goddesses together”. They ranted about how frustrated they were and that they “knew” the two were different.

I remember being struck by the strange defensiveness of the post. Surely a person confident in their relationship with a deity would not feel so threatened by someone else’s beliefs? Especially since those beliefs are also rooted in ancient practices?

The truth is that beliefs regarding the nature of the gods varied extensively throughout historical eras and geographical locations. We need to remember to be open minded when coming into contact with pagans whose beliefs and ideas are different from ours. Instead of immediately jumping to the conclusion that the other person is wrong and/or ignorant why don’t we instead try to see their point of view?

I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about empathizing with people who warp pagan beliefs to justify their bigotry and hate. Screw those people. They should never be welcome in these communities.

Now to the question of what I believe regarding syncretism:

I do believe in some syncretism within my personal practice. I’ve found myself increasingly interested in the fusion of the Greek, Roman and Egyptian pantheons mentioned at the beginning of the post.

I do believe some Greek and Roman gods are the same, though this statement does not extend to all of the gods as there are definitely deities unique to one pantheon or another (and some adapted from other pantheons altogether)! As far as the Egyptian gods go: They have a long history of merging together to create composite or synced gods while also preserving the individuality of the deities involved. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for this to be extended to Their experiences with different pantheons. We even have examples of this happening in the form of Hermanubis, a composite Hermes-Anubis deity.

My point with this article is not to demand every polytheist immediately adopt syncretistic beliefs. Your beliefs are your own. Instead I’m pointing out that these beliefs are not new and every bit as valid to those who hold them.

©Terra Akhert 2019

 

Rökkatru Samhain

The time has come—Samhain is just around the corner, the holiday that is (almost) universally every witch’s favorite holiday.

Certainly it is my favorite holiday, and I have been celebrating it for years with a small, intimate potluck of my best friends and family members who are able and willing to join. This holiday marks the last harvest of the year, and the beginning of the transition from the season of growth into the season of death and hibernation.

Because of this context, coming together to share the bounty of the season in the form of a potluck continues to feel relevant. I have traditionally enjoyed arranging the table around a centerpiece altar for the ancestors and the dead. Over the years this altar has grown to include a statue that puts me in mind of all of those who came before in my lineage, far back past recorded memory, as well as skulls of various animals and a small wooden ghost that, while mostly there to be cute, also signifies the dead who might be passing through. A portion of the meal is set aside as an offering for the spirits represented in this altar.

All of this is fine and good and certainly has its place within a Rökkatru framework—but I think we can make it better. On this holiday which hails the thinning of the veil between this world and the world of the spirits and which and specifically centers death and the deceased, it only seems right to honor Hela, the goddess presiding over one of the Norse cosmology’s many afterlives.

Within not only Rökkatru but Heathenism more generally, Hela is the most recognizably death associated diety. Though it is commonly accepted that those destined for Helheim are those that died of old age, illness, and other such inglorious ways of passing, this is only found in Snorri’s accounts. Other sources for old Norse belief suggest that this delineation may not have been so clear. Nonetheless, it is generally taken for granted that this is where people who experience such deaths are going to go, so it is often taken for granted that many of us will end up in Helheim. As such, Hela is the foremost figure of death in the Norse pantheon.

Within Rökkatru she is an important figure as much for her role in presiding over the underworld as she is for being Loki’s daughter. She is one of the primary Rökkr much as Loki and Angrboda are, and as a goddess of death she is arguably one of the most ubiquitous and most powerful.

So this Samhain perhaps we can represent Hela in our altars for the dead and the ancestors, and save a portion of the meal for her. It is a good time of year to hold a blót for Hela, toasting her with mead, dark beer, or red wine and perhaps pouring some out for her.

If you have the means to safely build a fire, it would not be unreasonable to additionally light a fire and then symbolically douse it in Hela’s honor (perhaps pouring out her portion of a drink onto the fire to do so). This can be done to acknowledge that the summer has come and gone, the days are growing shorter, and we are moving into the season of darkness.

For Rökkatru this is not something to fear, but to celebrate. It is a time to be meditative, to reflect, to rest and incorporate all of the growth of the spring and summer seasons.

The dark season is a time for communties to come together and support one another. Though we don’t necessarily need to worry about the harsh winters and dwindling food stores anymore, there are plenty among us who deal with serious seasonal depressive disorder, and we can support one another through these difficult times, as well as seeking ways to support those who have fallen on hard times and might be dealing with the harsh reality of hunger and homelessness during the winter.

So as we transition into this dark season, let’s take some time to honor She Who Presides Over Hidden Places, and ready ourselves for the cold.

Let me know if you have other ideas for better incorporating a Rökkatru practice into your Samhain celebrations this year. I would love to hear what you try out!

 

Skål

 

The Values of Rökkatru: Part 2

Before I get too far into this, check it out! I did an interview on Rökkatru for Talking My Path by Rebecca Buchanan, who happens to have been the first person to have ever given me a shot at this publication thing. Pretty neat!

Now, to get back to it! In my last post on the values of Rökkatru, I introduced some of the values as embodied by the gods and interpretations of them and their stories. I’ll do the same here, but without the preamble — let’s jump right in.

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My vision of Sigyn

 

Sigyn is best known for being the wife of Loki and the mother of his children Narvi (also rendered “Narfi”) and Vali. She lost her sons when one was turned into a wolf to kill the other. After, she stayed by her imprisoned husband’s side, holding a simple bowl above his head to capture the venom that dripped from a snake tied above him.

This minimal suriving lore leads to the most common interpretation of Sigyn as being a goddess of loyalty and fidelty. As a result, Sigyn’s value or lesson is most often attributed as loyalty, and is expanded upon to highlight the importance of standing by those you love when they are cast out or pushed out.

However, other scraps of lost lore, such as the meaning of her name (alternately interpreted as “victory woman” or “friend of victory”) and the kenning “Incantation Fetter,” we can clearly see that there was so much more to this goddess than has survived into the modern era. Looking to kennings she has received from modern practicioners, including such names as “Balm for the Broken,” “Safe Harbor for the Heart,” and “Lady of Unyielding Gentleness,” we can see a very common theme of how she is understood among her adherents. According to the UPG/PVPG of many in the Rökkatru community, Sigyn offers en encompassing comfort to those who have been wounded and/or ostracized. For this reason I would propose that she additionally embodies the values of compassion and empathy.

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Surt is a fire jötunn from Muspelheim, who is fated to kill Freyr during Ragnarok. The historian Rudolf Simek has proposed that Surt is an embodiment of eruptive volcanic force, something which doevtails well with the interpretation of the jötnar as nature spirits as well with the fact that Eddas were written in Iceland, which hosts quite a lot of volcanic activity.

Surt is yet another for whom not much has been recorded, but according to Gylfaginning, Vafþrúðnismál, and Völuspá, Surt will lay waste to the earth with a flaming sword before the whole mess is swallowed by the sea. For this reason he has also been associated in the Rökkatru community with wildfires.

Volcanoes, wildfires, and the spirit of fire generally is nothing if not overbearingly intense. Surt’s actions in Ragnarok certainly mirror this intensity, and it is for this reason that the value attributed to him is simply that of intensity—pouring your whole heart and soul into what you are doing, and never half-assing a thing.

 

Jord is a jötunn woman who embodies the earth. She is the mother of Thor and is referred to in Gylfaginning as the daughter of Nótt and Anarr. Because she plays no role in the myths and we have no surviving lore about her outside of these tiny scraps, some scholars think she likely wasn’t honored or considered literal and personified in her own right. Some scholars believe it is very unlikely that Jord was recipient of worship in the past, but more represented the general concept of the earth.

Nonetheless, this has not prevented modern practicioners from honoring her and learning from her. As the embodiment of the earth upon which we live, many Rökkatru have come to see her as representing the value of nature or the value of reverence for nature. For Rökkatru, many of whom are keenly in tune with the damage that humanity has done to the planet, this value is of the utmost importance in the age of climate change.

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Nidhogg is best known for being the dragon coiled among the roots of Yggdrasil, ever gnawing upon its roots. Though this is recounted in Grímnismál as a terrible evil suffered by Yggdrasil, along with the rotting of its trunk and eating of its leaves by a group of harts, it is often interupted more as form of therapuetic exfoliation by Rökkatru—in essence, Nidhogg is seen as that which consumes the dead substances which erode from the surface of the world tree.

In Völuspá Nidhogg is also noted as presiding over an underworld called Náströnd, but due to the nature of this underworld as being overtly concerned with moral reprecussion, especially for crimes such as adultry and falsehood, scholars have highlighted this as a possible Christian revision. Nonetheless, this has, in addition to the aforementioned interpretation of Nidhogg’s chewing on the roots of Yggdrasil, has contributed to Nidhogg’s value being understood as recycling.

I might pose a rephrasing of this value to better reflect the nature of Nidhogg in these interpretations of the dragon, and to accommodate our cultural understanding of the word “recycling.” Rather than recycling I might rather describe Nidhogg’s value as the value of decay. All things must decay, even stone which is eroded from mountain ranges into sand. Leaves which fall in autumn decay back into earth, returning nutrients to the soil and providing habitat for insects in the meantime. All creatures which die are consumed by bacteria, fungi, insects, and scavengers of all variteies. Entire ecosystems have decay at their foundation, and though it may not always be pretty to look at, it is important to remember its value.

 

Gerd is best known for being the jötunn wife of the Vanir god Freyr, and is often called the Lady of the Walled Garden. She’s only known from the story of Freyr’s pursuit of her, in which he sends his friend and servant Skírnir to woo Gerd on his behalf. Though she resists repeatedly, she eventually succumbs to Skírnir’s threats and agrees to marry Freyr.

Because Gerd eventually married Freyr, effectively making peace with him and by extension his people, her value has sometime been attributed as that of frithmaking, essentially the concept of making peace and “building bridges” rather than making war.

Based on the UPG/PVPG many have experienced with her, however, she may represent different values to different people. Somewhat ironically I’ve heard multiple women report having good luck seeking counsil and aid from Gerd with regards to stalkers and abusers. Many others associate her more strongly with the walled garden of her name than with the story of her marriage to Frey (myself being among them). Given this her values could just as easily be that of farming and permaculture, especially as a goddess associated with fertile soil (according to commonly accepted scholarly interpretations of the story of her marriage to Freyr) and through this potentially connected to Jord (community gardens and farms which focus on sustainability are one avenue for communities and individuals to address climate change). She could also easily embody the value of survival—sometimes frithmaking is less about building bridges and more about living to fight another day.

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Skadi is one goddess who not all Rökkatru agree upon. Because she is known for having made peace with the Æsir, marrying (and eventually divorcing) Njordr and taking up a hall in Asgard. It is often assumed that this means she has sided with the Æsir during Ragnarok, though this is not attested to in any surviving lore.

Some Rökkatru reject Skadi for these reasons, while others still accept her due to her jötunn nature. Nonetheless, she is still sometimes has the value of self reliance attributed to her as a Rökkatru value, and certainly this is something many in the community value deeply.

Self reliance is attrributed to Skadi as a value due to the nature of her story: when her father was killed by the Æsir she marched into Asgard to challenge them for the loss, taking control of the situation and her life in doing so, and winning a place for herself among the Æsir in the process, thereby exercising absolute autonomy over the direction of her life from thereon out.

Inanna, Her Descent, and Her Sister Ereshkigal

At the autumn equinox, Babylonians re-enact the Descent of Inanna. Her Descent into the Underworld is the hinge between the dry and rainy seasons. Inanna dies but is rescued. Since someone has to replace Her in the Underworld, Dumuzi, Her Shephard Consort, goes down for six months. His sister, Geshtinanna, Goddess of Autumn Wines, takes his place the other six months. Meanwhile, Ereshkigal continues to reign in the Underworld.

Inanna (Ishtar)
Inanna, who is known by many names – Inana, Ishtar – is a complex Goddess. Thought to be a mixture of Sumerian and Semitic Gods, She is both the Goddess of Love and the Goddess of War. Her origin is thought to stem from the Semitic God Attar (male) becoming Ashtar, then the female Ishtar. This Goddess merged with the Sumerian Inana of Uruk to become Inanna. She now possesses male and female qualities. In modern times, Inanna has become a part of the Goddess Religions as a Goddess of Self-Actualization and Avenger of Women who have been wronged. She can be considered a fluid Goddess, who changes through the ages for the people who revere Her.

Traditionally, Inanna has three aspects. As the Goddess of Love, She has no permanent consort but a series of lovers. Inanna governs Sex and Sexual Pleasure, and is the Patron Goddess of Prostitutes. In some Babylonian hymns, She will refer to Herself as a prostitute. Some vases have been found that show Inanna receiving offerings from naked men.

Her second aspect is the Goddess of War. Inanna lusts for blood and power, and glories in battle. Sargon of Akkad had Her as his Patron riding beside him as he formed his empire. Later, his grandson, Naram-Sin often invoked Inanna for his royal power and military might in putting down rebellions.

Meanwhile, King Solomon of Israel sang to Inanna:
Who is this arising like dawn
Fair as the Moon,
Resplendent as the Sun
Terrible as an army with banners? (Song of Songs 6:10)

Venus, the morning and evening star, is Inanna’s third aspect. “I am Inanna of the Sunrise,” She declares. After the sun and the moon, Venus was important in divination for the Babylonians. Depending on where Venus was in the sky, the harvest could be successful, war would break out, or famine would come. Also, Venus determined the fate of kings.

My sense of Inanna is that She is fluid. She is independent and beholden only to Herself. Passionate, Inanna freely acts on her emotions. She is worshipped for Who She is.

Ereshkigal
The Queen of the Great Below, Ereshkigal rules the Underworld (Irkalla). This is the final destination from which there is no return – either for Gods or mortals. Ereshkigal keeps the Dead where They need to be, so the Dead do not wander off and plague the living.

For the Sumerians, the Dead went to the world beneath the Earth’s surface. Called the Lower World, a stairway, from a cave in the earth, went down to the First Gate. As the newly deceased moved downward, They would give gifts to the various Galla who guarded the Gates. After going through the Seven Gates, the Dead would arrive before Ereshkigal. She would pronounce the sentence of death on Them as her scribe, Geshtinnana recorded their names.

Ereshkigal never leaves Irkalla, nor do the Great Gods visit Her except for Nergal, Her Fourth Consort. Nergal (The Unsparing) has his escorts keep the Gates open when He returns every six months to sit by her side. During that time, Nergal rules with Her. The other six months, He wages war and sends the newly killed to Her.

Her Son Ninazu, God of Healing, and his son Ningishzida (God of the Dawn) would conduct business for Her in the Upper World. Namtar (Fate-Cutter), also Her Son, would go to the Upper World to spread the plague and pestilence. Her daughter, Nungal is the Goddess of Prisons and Punishment.

The Descent of Inanna
In The Descent of Inanna (c 1900-1600 BCE), Inanna journeys to the Underworld to visit her recently widowed Sister, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Great Below. As Inanna descends, She is forced to give up her royal power and is stripped naked. Leaving the Seven Gates behind, She enters the throne room. There, She finds Ereshkigal in labor with her late husband’s child. The Annuna, who are the Judges of the Underworld, surround Inanna and pass their judgement of death on Her. Ereshkigal then kills her Sister and hangs the corpse on a hook.

Meanwhile, Ninshubur, who is Inanna’s chief minister, seeks help from the Great Gods. Enki, Inanna’s Father, sends two Galla help rescue Inanna. They help Ereshkigal give birth, who then allows them to take Inanna’s Corpse. Once Inanna is restored to life, She must find someone to take her place. Eventually, She chooses her consort Dumuzi, who did not mourn Her. However, Dumuzi’s sister, Geshtinanna volunteers to take his place for six months each year.

Modern readings of the Descent of Inanna have Inanna shedding her old self, confronting her shadow, and emerging again whole. Read in conjunction with the Epic of Gilgamesh (c 2150-1400 BCE), the Descent of Inanna presents a different meaning. Inanna is instrumental in having Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven murdered. He is Ereshkigal’s husband and father of her unborn child. His wife wanted justice for the death of her husband, and leaving her unborn child fatherless.

However, Inanna avoided the consequences of her actions. She was able to convince Enki to return Her to life. Dumuzi and Geshtinanna paid for her decision to attain more mes (power) by going to Gugalanna’s funeral in the Underworld. The Descent of Inanna then becomes a story of one God seeking justice and being thwarted, while another God escapes punishment for what They did.