Exploring the 8 Types of Love Goddesses

What are we talking about when we talk about “love”? It’s a pretty abstract term and fluid concept. English basically has one word for “love.” There are many terms to describe affection, fondness, or attraction for or to another person, but with the term “love” we assign all manner of emotions, desires, and commitments. We can love our parents and love our pets, love our lovers and love pizza, love sunsets more than sunrises or love the color blue. The weight of this word is often found in the context of the thing you’re talking about; we understand the weight of loving your life partner to be different than the weight of loving a particular genre of music. 

With this in mind, when we talk about Love Goddesses, what are we really saying about them and their power? What traits, qualities, or actions are we equating with them? 

I think in some cases the answer is obvious. There are Love Goddesses who embody sensuality so obviously that one has to assume that the type of love where they wield power is sexual, pleasurable, or romantic. But there are other Love Goddesses who seem to embody none of these things and are more regal, strict, or oriented towards justice. To those goddesses you might assume they wield power in more structured forms of love, the kinds of love that come with commitment of one’s life, time, or home such as a marriage, a family, or a duty to one’s community. 

These are the 8 main types of Love Goddesses that I’ve observed and I’ve offered a few examples of each. I should say that these lists are definitely not exhaustive. I mention a wide variety of goddesses here because I want to be inclusive. Please feel free to learn and research any of them, but be deeply considerate before deciding to incorporate any into your personal pantheon that are not of your culture. Spirituality is not an excuse for cultural appropriation. 

For now, let’s keep things general and high level. There are 8 types I want to cover today:  

Goddesses who attract Love

Goddesses who rule romantic Love 

Goddesses who rule familial or parental Love 

Goddesses who wield emotional Love 

Goddesses who work in physical Love 

Goddesses who heal broken hearts 

Goddesses who aid in self Love 

Goddesses of unconditional Love 

1. Goddesses who attract Love 

On the surface this might sound like Goddesses who attract romantic love, but I think it’s a little different from that. The desire to attract love into one’s life implies that there’s something absent, that there isn’t a person there who you feel comfortable confiding in, being vulnerable with, or receiving tenderness from. The Goddesses who work in this area can help us create and attract all manner of loving relationships with family, friends, or romantic lovers; in some cases, I think, they’re also able to bring love into our lives in other forms like a dog or profoundly tender experience of kindness from a stranger. 

These Goddesses include many beings related to springtime like Aine, Freya, or Eostre. Benten or Saraswati, Hathor, Psyche, Oshun, Yemaya, Venus or Aphrodite, and Frigga have a lot of influence here too. 

2. Goddesses of romantic Love 

These are more familiar, I think, to most of us. Aphrodite or Venus are the most obvious candidates for romantic love goddesses. Romance is a strange thing in the context of a pagan path, though. In many traditions from the ancient world, we find that romantic love and lovers weren’t associated with things like life partnership or marriage. The ancient world was one where people often married for duty, status, or economy; romantic pursuits were left outside of that contractual relationship. This isn’t exclusive to the ancient world, either; the modern world had this system of separating romantic love from marriage in western and eastern cultures. It wasn’t until recently that we, as a culture, have valued a merging of the two. 

That means we encounter many myths and stories of what we would now consider to be infidelity and cheating, but back then wasn’t viewed in that light. So long as your duties to your spouse, family, and social performance were met, cheating has often been fine. Don’t talk about it on main street but it wasn’t always a case of public ridicule or stoning. Yet, we can also find the opposite example in the ancient world, where sexual or romantic dissatisfaction with one’s spouse was a legal reason to pursue divorce. The Hebrew Canaanites did this as did the Egyptians.  

Some of the more interesting goddesses to explore when considering the boundaries or merging of romantic love and commitment are, in my opinion, Radha, Juno, Freya, and Anath. Isis, Ishtar, Inanna, Yemaya, and Oshun are also very rich in this area.  

3. Goddesses of familial or parental Love 

My two favorite stories here are Demeter and Isis. Both of these goddesses displayed in their myths a passionate commitment to their children and their legacy. Assuming you are a pagan, there’s also a good chance you have had some turbulence with your own parents or family. Many of us abandoned the religion of our upbringing in favor of a pagan path, and many of us have identities that our families are prejudiced against like our sexual orientation or gender expression. Working with a familial or parental Goddess has been really healing for me. I resisted seeing Isis as a mother figure for so long because I had such a bad taste in my mouth about mothers, and I wanted her to feel more like a big sister. But as I allowed myself to be vulnerable in that way, I was able to work through my own trauma. Now that I’m about to be a mother myself, I am so much more confident than I could have ever imagined in facing the task of raising a child. 

If parental or family love is something you struggle with or are thirsty for, I highly recommend learning about or possibly working with the goddesses Demeter, Ceres, Frigga, Tiamat, Parvati, Ereshkigal, Shekinah, or Isis.  

4. Goddesses of emotional Love 

How do you experience love? Like, personally? What words would you use to describe the emotion of love, as you feel it? Your answer is probably going to be different from mine, different from your partner’s answer, different from your friend’s answer. We all have our own love languages because we all have a different experience and understanding of the emotion of love. When I think of Goddesses who wield this emotion as one of their realms of power, I think of ones who are large in their pantheons, dominating, and have stories that demonstrate many different ways of offering up that pure ray of love. 

Isis comes to mind again, but others who embody this pure essence include the Sophia, Venus, Branwen, Inanna, Kuan Yin, Laksmi, Oba, and Erzulie. These are goddesses who emanate in the purest form the emotion of love, and their stories and folklore demonstrate the different ways that that emotion manifests into action. 

5. Goddesses of physical Love

Emotion manifests into action, often acts of service or sacrifice. But attraction, physical attraction, also manifests into action. Physical attraction to a person is about more than sexual desire. That desire is what leads us to want to observe that person, be around them, experience their auric field, drink in their personality or style. It’s often a building block to creating a deeper emotional bond, or even emotional love.  

Goddesses of physical love can help us make that first move. They encourage us to send that first message on Tinder. But they also help us discern safe and unsafe situations; a Goddess of Physical Love is there with us on that date and can help us determine whether or not a hookup with the other person is going to be an experience worth enjoying or one that might eat away at our energy. These goddesses help us pick out lingerie, select the perfume we want to be our signature scent, and encourage us to be creative in the bedroom. 

Aphrodite is perhaps the most famous of goddesses who wield power in this area, but she’s definitely not the only one. Bast, though originally a goddess of war, gradually came to embody these qualities of seduction and lust. Anath, Freya, Lilith, Kali Ma, Shakti, Astarte, Ereshkigal, Hathor, Inanna, Qetesh, Kupala, Isis, and Oshun all have influence in this realm of experience. You’ll notice, I hope, that many of the goddesses most associated with physical love and lust are also associated with things like the underworld, the dark moon, or war. This isn’t a coincidence. 

6. Goddesses of the broken hearted

Going through a breakup is hard. Getting rejected by a longtime crush is devastating. Being strung along by a friend with benefits can be emotionally traumatizing. Losing your partner is an immeasurable grief. 

Having one’s heart broken isn’t some unfortunate, random experience. It’s a guarantee in life. Most people experience their first heartbreak in their teen years shortly after puberty, and when you’re young it feels like you won’t survive it. As you age, the stakes surrounding the loss of love rise; the pain of heartbreak never ceases, but we as individuals do learn ways to build resilience to those knives. 

The people of the ancient world felt this too. Disease, famine, and war took their lovers then as they take our lovers now; rejection and betrayal occurred then as it does to us in now; even the modern difficulty of catching feelings for a friend with benefits has a mirror in the ancient world of concubines and mistresses. It sucks to be a side chick, but it’s not new. 

My favorite goddess by far when it comes to the healing of a broken heart is the Morrigan. Occasionally seen as one goddess, other times seen as a trifecta, her own experience of heartbreak and devastation, her own dark nature, is deeply healing. If that dark, gothic aesthetic doesn’t work for you, Hestia is a great alternative. She’s warm and will make staying curled up in bed crying a lot less lonely. Other goddesses for the healing of a broken heart include Oba, Kuan Yin, Ereshkigal, Devi, Venus, and Shakti. I’ve also heard positive things about Yaoji and Red Tara

7. Goddesses of self Love

Self love is a challenge. It’s a challenge to separate it from ego, it’s a challenge to maintain it in the face of emotional ups and downs, and it’s a challenge to learn what it looks like for you. Some of us struggle a lot more with body image than we do confidence in our intellect, while others among us rely on our physical beauty to mask our fears of being seen as uninteresting or not charismatic. We all worry in one way or another if we’re good enough for the rest of the world, if we’re going to be accepted by it; we worry that we might lose the love of a partner or family member if we were to fail to live up to some version of ourselves we think they expect. 

Goddesses of self love are about fostering not only an independent review of the self but gradually manifesting new practices, habits, routines, and mantras that encourage a life-long relationship of loving oneself. Medusa, though not technically a goddess, is the perfect example of someone who experiences othering as a result of her condition. Other goddesses to consider are Baba Yaga, Artemis, Psyche, Green Tara, Rhiannon, Kupala, Venus, Ame-no-Uzume, the Cailleach, Ereshkigal, and Isis. 

8. Goddesses of unconditional love 

This might seem similar to the goddesses of emotional love, who vibrate with a pure, boundless energy. But unconditional love comes with a few other elements than just emotion. Unconditional love is a package of emotional love, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, and acceptance. Sometimes we need to employ unconditional love when we forgive someone close to us, and sometimes we ache for it in the hope that we can be forgiven. Unconditional love means not holding the mistakes of a person against them, of seeing their progress more than their failures, and encouraging them to continue to grow, improve, and shine. This is often as much about how we treat others as it is about how we treat ourselves. 

The Sophia, Isis, Kuan Yin, and Shekinah all embody this, as do Kali Ma, Ereshkigal, Andraste, and Asherah.  

I hope this served as a useful starting point to identifying which myths and stories to begin reading, or even what goddesses you may want to incorporate into your life. Depending on where you’re at right now you might need a very different kind of Love Goddess. You may be in a loving marriage but feeling distanced from family, in the middle of a hot and cold relationship, or learning to love yourself. 

If you have any additions to these lists I’d love to hear your thoughts. Or, if you’ve worked with any of these goddesses, please feel welcome to share your story. I’d love to read it and I’m sure others would benefit from it too. 

12 Goddesses to Honor for Ostara, the Spring Equinox

Ostara is just hours away, and this will be the first sacred day I’ve fully observed in quite a while! My pregnancy had me exhausted, so beyond a little home decoration at Samhain, Yule, and Imbolc, I’ve done nothing else since last July. Most years I chose to welcome Persephone back to this realm at the spring equinox, but this year I wanted to explore something new. I’ll be making an offering to a goddess I’ve never honored before. Who? Don’t know yet, but I’ve got a little time left to come up with something! Now that I’ve transitioned into motherhood I want to open up relationships with more mother goddesses who can, I hope, teach me to be a better parent.

While exploring options for myself, I wanted to share twelve goddesses who are wonderful options for beginner pagans, baby witches, or anyone looking to greet someone new. This list is, of course, not exhaustive. There are many dozens of goddesses from a variety of pantheons one would do well to honor for Ostara. But this list might offer the right amount of inspiration and direction for you as you craft your rituals.

Persephone
Greek. Also known as Kore or Propserina to the Romans, she is the spring maiden and daughter of Demeter. Together they are the central figures of the Eleusinian mysteries. Persephone is the embodiment of youth, abundance, and growth; but she is also the keeper of souls in the Underworld as a dark maiden, where she spends four months of the year with her consort Hades. Though young, she’s skilled in magick, divination, and wise in the philosophies of life and death.

Associations: Pomegranates, earth, red, pink, rose quartz, black tourmaline, seeds, mint, crowns, torches, deer.

Branwen
Welsh. One of the many Celtic goddesses of sovereignty, Branwen is a daughter of the sea and spring. Married to an abusive husband, she ultimately died of a broken heart when her loved ones perished in their attempts to rescue her. She is thus associated with freedom and new beginnings, especially for people seeking to break free of cruel relationships or failed marriages, and can offer a spiritual home for those feeling trapped. Birds represent her, especially starlings. Her name may in fact translate to “white raven.”

Associations: Cups, cauldrons, starlings, birds, aquamarine, rose quartz, standing stones, blossoms, white.

Anath
Canaanite/Mesopotamian. Also written as Anat or Anatu, Anath is a warrior, lover, and virgin often depicted riding a lion with flowers in her fists. She appears in many forms across Mesopotamia and Egypt, but her character as a warrior remains the same. She is as sensual as she is ferocious, a dedicated lover who can bring the dead back to life. She was celebrated at spring and harvest festivals in recognition of her role in fertility of women and the land.

Associations: Weapons, especially bow and arrows, axes, and clubs; flowers, lions, sashes, red, green, calves, sunstone, copper, iron, Mars.

Demeter
Greek. Mother of Persephone, goddess of grains, parenting, and grief. Though more often associated with the harvest, Demeter teaches the acts of both sowing and reaping, making her guidance at Ostara worthwhile for those looking to pursue goals over the Wheel of the Year. She is central to a many myths, mysteries, and forms in the ancient world, making her a deeply complex goddess of both underworld and agrarian magicks. She suffered over the loss of Persephone to the Underworld, symbolized by the loss of vegetation in the barren winter months, making her an excellent teacher of patience, dealing with loss, and finding hope for renewal in the spring.

Associations: Cornucopias, wheat, bread, torches, grain, sheep, flowers, poppies and opium, fruit such as apples, Virgo, horses, green, black.

Juno
Roman. Though she has a reputation for civilized wisdom and counsel, Juno is also a guide for adolescents going through puberty and adults looking for a special someone. For those looking for love in the spring, Juno’s rulership of femininity and romantic bonds is perfect for attracting romance this season. She is symbolized by peacocks, famous for their courting feathers, and guides young women into their adulthood while promising the perfect match at the right time. Her sacred month is June when spring transitions to summer. As a queen, she is decisive and can be unforgiving in her verdicts. As a goddess of marriage, she deeply values fidelity.

Associations: Earth, air, gold, blue, green, wedding rings, thrones, diadems, the Moon, peacocks, books and scholarship

Aurora
Roman. Like the Aurora Borealis that bears her name, Aurora is the goddess of extravagant light and the dawn. She opens the gates of heaven and offers renewal to the masses. As spring marks the beginning of a new agricultural year, Aurora is the perfect goddess for anyone looking to start afresh or embark on a new path. The mother of the constellations and their light, the four winds are also her children.

Associations: Chariots, saffron, poetry (especially erotic and love poems), cicadas, air, water, stars and constellations, all colors and rainbows

Eostre, or Ostara
Germanic/Saxon. The goddess of spring from whom the holiday Ostara takes its name, Eostre’s very name means “spring.” Depicted as a young woman bearing fertility, she was celebrated with painted eggs and sweet foods that are now found in the Christianized version of the holiday as Easter.

Associations: Hares and rabbits, all colors and rainbows, eggs, dawn, quartz, opal, opalite, wildflowers, meadows

Bast
Egyptian. Before she was symbolized by the domestic cat, Bast was a lioness who ruled the fertile power of the sun’s rays on the land. Protector of children and women, Bast grew from a ferocious warrior of anointing into a goddess who also embodied sensuality and love. As a guardian of the home, she is the perfect companion for a deep spring cleaning – both physical and etheric – and will encourage tidiness throughout the season. Honor her with perfumes from flowers, gold, singing, sex, and feasting.

Associations: Red, green, gold, silver, perfumes, incense, domestic cats, lions, sistrum and music, weapons, beer, carnelian, lapis lazuli, the Sun and the Moon

Atargatis
Phoenician/Syrian. Also spelled Ataratheh, she was protectress of the city Hierapolis near modern Aleppo in northern Syria. Known as the mermaid goddess due to her association with iconography found at Ascalon, Atargatis is a teacher of the advancements that come with civilization: improved agricultural and food systems, social structures and contracts, and inventions. Herself a force of nature, she brings fertility, moisture, and abundance. As vegetation returns with the spring, so do her blessings.

Associations: Doves, fish, whales, seashells, salt water, sand, lions, the crescent moon, red, blue, green, veils, scepters, eggs

Pomona
Roman. Pomona is one of many agricultural goddesses in the Roman pantheon. She offers fertility to orchards, nut and fruit trees. Apples are particularly sacred to her. The ideal goddess for the springtime gardener, she teaches proper care and communication with fruiting and blossoming plants. Pomona is also considered a wood nymph rather than a goddess, and is associated with Demeter in the Greek pantheon.

Associations: Pruning knife, cornucopia, fruits, fruit platters, blossoms, groves and orchards, nuts, green, orange, red, moss agate, fairy stone, malachite.

Idunn
Norse. A great healer and the bestower of immortality, Idunn is the keeper of apples that offer eternal youth and it is she who sustains the everlasting life of the gods. Goddess of youth, she lends her strength to the sick and rules the springtime.

Associations: Fae magick, apples, natural springs, green, red, water, earth, herbal medicine, apples.

Yaoji
Chinese. For the outdoorsy and green-thumb pagans, Yaoji offers lessons in herblore, magical brews, and navigating the wilderness of the mountains. If you’re hoping to spend more time this spring in wildlife reserves and parklands, Yaoji can help you learn to identify herbs, fungi, stones, and other natural artefacts on your hiking trails. Her specialty is the love potion.

Associations: Wild herbs, mountains, waterfalls, mist, fog, cauldrons, axes, dusk, dreamwork, visions, red, green, jade, quartz, rain.

Magickal Writing Prompts to Connect With Pagan Deities

I frequent pagan forums and social media circles, and often see the same question repeated again and again – often desperately: Is (x) a sign from (y)?

Opening ourselves up to metaphysical spiritual belief in the age of science is hard. It’s easy to explain to someone that you walked away from organized religion, even praised in mixed company, but to share that you walked into paganism or polytheism renders all kinds of weird questions.

“You don’t really believe in that, do you?”

“I mean, you just see them as archetypes, right?”

Or, my favorite: “Do you have any proof?”

I think our obsession with understanding dream symbols or thirst for a “sign” is an inner battle to reconcile these questions. It’s enough to get them from others, but often we have them within ourselves. Even after years into a pagan practice and countless journal entries detailing sublime experience, once can still fall into doubt. I do.

The important part is that we show up for our spiritual wellbeing and choose practices that enhance our minds, hearts, and health. Choosing to work with a god or goddess can be more religious for some, but psychospiritual for others.

Wherever you are on the spectrum of belief, I want to offer you a list of organic and everyday connections that exist to help us find deity and approach Spirit.  Within yourself are already a multitude of organic threads just waiting to be sewn into a spiritual fabric.

If you feel called toward connecting with deity, here’s my advice: write down your responses to this list. Writing forces you to slow your thinking down and truly consider your ideas, thoughts, and desires with depth and care. Writing pieces of yourself down puts them into the universe; out of the mind and into physical reality.

Take these ideas into a journal, ideally one that you’ve chosen to be a place for spiritual work. It can be a Book of Shadows or something else.

1. Numbers

If you’re interested in numerology, you can use numbers like your Soul Path number and find deities or spiritual practices connected to those numbers. Lucky numbers work too. My lucky numbers are 3 and 8, and in my case, 3 is incredibly powerful in all aspects of my life. I’ve found Vishnu and Auset to be my focal points and recognize 3 in them. Vishnu has had 9 incarnations (3×3) and Auset recovered Ausar from the dead to become pregnant and give birth to their child, creating a sacred triad.

What about you? Are there numbers you’ve felt drawn to? Do you have any lucky numbers? Do things always work out the first time you try them, or does it seem to always take three – or seven? Do your relationships with others come in twos or fives? Does your birthday mean anything to you? What about your birth time, or place? If there’s a number you feel at home with, explore it! What deities are related to it? What direction?

2. Animals

Not long ago, I had a profound dream from Atum. In it, he rose spirit bodies from the soil – bright blue energy beings – and they were all the animals that I loved and connected to the most. In the dream, he guided me to them and when I reach out to touch them, they became material. There were gorillas, lions and tigers, crocodiles and elephants.

Everyone has some sort of animal connection within them. My personal belief is that these can be representative of past lives before we incarnated as humans, but perhaps you have a more shamanic perspective that animals are guides and offer us spiritual medicine.

Were you obsessed with wolves as a child? Do you find yourself watching spiders closely rather than jumping away? Does seeing a falcon take your breath away?

Maybe you found yourself getting a dragonfly tattoo out of nowhere, or there’s something about the octopus that gets your heart swelling with intrigue. Write these down. Check the World Wildlife Foundations adoptable endangered species. Which would you choose? What element or directions do you associate these animals with? Which ones do you want to experiment calling upon? And, finally, what deities hold the same animals sacred that you do?

Processed with VSCO with s1 preset
Paintings of Aset and Sekhmet

3. Music

My partner swears by music. That’s the number one way he feels that Spirit communicates with him, and he will stop everything to honor those moments. Sometimes it’s a song that comes on in the grocery store, other times it’s the both of us having a tune stuck in our heads.

Of course, it doesn’t have to just be the radio.

Think about the music you go to when you’re emotionally well; not full of happiness, not in a valley of sadness or pain. What do you like to study to, meditate to? What songs come on when you’re out at restaurants? Is there a song that just pops up at the strangest or most needed of times? Look at the words, the genre, the meaning of these songs or these types of music. If you’re into soundscapes, seek out elemental or nature deities. If you like hip-hop, seek out deities who are playful or assertive. Classical could lead you to deities of balance or justice. Try making music, just with your hands on the table. What rhythms do you find yourself producing? What’s your vibration?

4. Joyous Moments

What makes you happy? I know, loaded question; but it’s true. If you find joy in painting or the arts, you might want a deity who can spend time with you while you pursue that. If you’re really into bath bombs and other luxurious self care routines, that sounds a lot like a good offering to Aphrodite!

Maybe bath bombs aren’t your thing, but tea in the morning is. Do you like being surrounded by friends, family, or strangers? Write down the moments of your life where you felt the most blissful. Write down what moments you want to collect before this life has ended. What deities reflect similar habits or goals? If you want to backpack along the Ganges or in Europe, think about the deities of travel and movement. If you’re passionate about building a family, ask yourself why you want one and look at the many Mother Goddesses you might have something in common with.

5. Weirdnesses

This might be the most important and will require slowly opening your inner eye. Look! For! Weirdness!

These are not coincidences, these are communications. Track your moods, your feelings, your interactions. Did a friend mention a film or historical figure that’s been in the back of your mind lately? Did that license plate you read have the initials of someone you care about? What imagery or feelings keep appearing in your dreams? Do you keep finding pennies everywhere you go?

If you’re not experiencing weirdnesses in your life, throw yourself into a new situation, new people, hobby, or activity. Breaking routine is an excellent way to invite the universe to have a hand in authoring your day.

Processed with VSCO with g2 preset
Forest shrine

Patience is True Magic

These are simple journaling activities to help you place yourself in the greater world we occupy. Spiritual journeys are deep, personal, and a long-term commitment. Don’t choose a deity just because they’re popular, or you feel like you need one.

Your own divinity and power to manifest does not reduce because you’re not throwing food at your altar for a “patron deity” every week. In fact, patron deities are a lot rarer than social media might have you believe. Allow this process to be what it is – a process. Allow time to discover your spiritual home. There’s no rush. You’ve lived lifetimes and you will live more.

Spirit guides are already here, waiting for you to listen. The more you reflect on the inner workings of your mind and heart, the more you’re saying YES to magic and saying YES to ascension.

The Underworld of Inanna and Ereshkigal

 

Her name literally means “Queen of the Great Earth.” Maybe you’ve come across her before as Allat or Irkalla, the latter of which is the literal name for the Underworld.

Ereshkigal is the dark sister of much more popular goddess Inanna. While Inanna is associated with the planet Venus and rules over love, sex, beauty, art, and joy, Ereshkigal rules the dead in the underworld and all that lies in shadow. She is passionately in love and married to Nergal, the god of war, plague, and pestilence. Together, they had three children.

In contemporary comparative mythology, Ereshkigal is considered to have equivalency with the Goddess Hecate of the Greek pantheon. Though they are both goddesses of darkness, the underworld, and — of course — magic, the similarities stop there. Hecate had an active role in mythology, was an unwed crone, and traveled to and from the underworld at will. Ereshkigal was, like many ancient deities of Mesopotamia, more mysterious.

Personally, I fall into a school of thought which paints Ereshkigal as a goddess similar to Persephone. In a theoretical perspective, too, Ereshkigal and Inanna could be seen as two halves of the same woman — just as Persephone is split between the upper and lower worlds with Demeter or Hades.

Many versions of Ereshkigal’s myths survive, but I want to focus on one particular myth that opened me up to shadow work for the first time. I came across the story and devoured it again and again. Gradually, it helped me understand the duality inherent in womanhood, the importance of death to life, and how to accept and utilize the dark feminine.

Fear of the Dark Feminine

The myth in question is actually Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld. While Inanna initially seems to be the protagonist — she’s venturing to the Underworld to attend the funeral of Nergal, Ereshkigal’s husband — it becomes clear that she is more of a student in the domain of her sister.

Though Inanna is aware of the dangers in entering the great below, her heart aches to mourn with her sister; indeed, Ereshkigal is a dangerous woman, but Inanna’s love for her sets her on the quest anyway. Inanna takes a few precautions by alerting her confidants of her journey and asks them to fetch her from the underworld if her sister does not allow her to return.

From our modern perspective, the tale can seem strange. Why fear your own sister? But, as anyone walking the path of women’s spirituality has probably learned, there is a lot to fear about ourselves and our nature.

Within us are traumas, sins, dark desires, and ugly inclinations. Shadow work itself is dedicated to unearthing the roots of what poisons us from the inside. For Inanna to take precautions in visiting her dark sister is not unlike someone beside you when in a lucid dream, drunkenness, or delirium from migraine pain. If anything goes wrong or is too intense, someone is there to comfort and soothe the spirit.

The Seven Bolted Gates

In Ereshkigal’s Underworld, there are seven gates which lead to her throne room or palace. When Ereshkigal learns of Inanna’s arrival at the first of the seven gates, she orders them sealed and bolted. For Inanna to reach her, Ereshkigal demands that her sister Inanna unlock the gates through a series of sacrifices.

Essentially, Ereshkigal has closed her domain off from the goddess of love. Yet, she’s given her a choice to enter through sacrifice. These are a series of choices Inanna must make at each gate.

The symbolism of the sacrifice comes in the form of clothing. Inanna must remove an article of clothing at each of the bolted gates to unlock it, but this is decidedly exoteric. Ereshkigal’s seven gates interestingly correspond quite well to the chakra system and, although these two spiritual beliefs are of different cultures, I think placing them side by side can help us analyze the myth in a holistic way so we may analyze ourselves.

For Inanna to pass through her sister’s gates, she sacrifices pieces of herself. I like to think of each gate as the process of chakra and its symbol shutting down; as Inanna descended to the underworld, she is slowly dying. If we begin life from the root chakra upward, it makes sense that as we return to the underworld we would descend from the crown.

And so, at the first gate, the Gate of Authority, Inanna is asked to remove her royal crown. We can understand this as both spiritually and literally symbolic: she is entering the domain of Ereshkigal’s kingdom, and her authority has no place there.

The second gate is the Gate of Perception, corresponding to the brow chakra. Inanna loses her staff, a symbol of wisdom; Ereshkigal’s staff, a snake, is the source of perception in shadow.

The third gate corresponds to the throat chakra. I’ve written before about how the Dark Goddess is particularly potent with the throat chakra. In this legend, at the Gate of Communication Inanna loses her necklace. It is not until the fourth gate, the Gate of Compassion (corresponding to the heart chakra) that Inanna begins to become truly exposed and naked in removing her breastplate.

Further descending into the underworld, Inanna crosses the fifth Gate of Personal Power and removes her ring of power. While the idea of enhanced objects is nothing new, I particularly like the symbolism here. The solar plexus chakra associated with the fifth gate is a swirl of golden light. For her to lose her ring of power, which I would assume to be gold based on both the era and culture, begins to truly give the visual of her chakra system’s lights going out. Inanna is slowly evaporating at the gates of her sister’s kingdom of the below.

The sixth and seventh gates, the Gate of Creativity and the Gate of Manifestation, correspond to the sacral chakra or womb space and the root chakra from which our survival instincts emanate. Inanna first removes her ankle bracelets, a symbol of her sensuality and sexual power, before removing her royal robe.

Ereshkigal has stripped her sister of her power and vestments through a series of choices. At each gate, Inanna could have turned back, but she persisted. Within Ereshkigal’s kingdom, all that is of the Above world does not matter; none of the objects nor the chakras of the living body hold power in Irkalla.

Ereshkigal Kills Inanna

Finally, in the presence of her sister, Inanna is naked, vulnerable, and emptied. There, in the palace, Ereshkigal kills Inanna. She then leaves her sister’s corpse on a hook for three days.

As the third day passes, two beings sent by Enki arrive to rescue Inanna. Ereshkigal possesses the water of life, a magical substance which can resurrect the dead, and uses it to bring her sister back to life.

Inanna departs from the Underworld, returning to her own domain above.

Ereshkigal as Woman and the Legend of Persephone

Though this may seem brutal, Ereshkigal has, through this act, initiated her sister into the mysteries of the dark feminine. Inanna persisted through each gate and, which each of her lights of earthly and heavenly vitality (the chakras) gone, all that remains is life itself.

Through striking her sister down, Ereshkigal delivers unto Inanna deep feminine wisdom and a psychological opportunity for Inanna to meet her own shadow, her own death.

For me, the descent Inanna experiences could be thought of as her gradually becoming Ereshkigal. The idea of this duality and process reminds me of Persephone and her dual nature. Persephone, too, is a goddess who represents the initiation of a maiden through terror and extremes — but learning to hone them, grasp the experiences, and emerge forth with deep wisdom and Queenliness.

Ultimately, Inanna is reborn because of her sister, and is only given the experience of rebirth because she died in the first place.

We as women embody the goddess. Our bodies themselves are reflective blueprints of nature, and the myths we have passed down for thousands of years reflect those very patterns. Just as the planet Venus goes retrograde, dipping below the horizon into the underworld, Inanna descends to meet her sister.

Women do that too. We have the opportunity to descend and meet our inner shadow, our dark sister, our underworld self. We have high pain tolerance, create and destroy, and bleed to make life. We can see ourselves naked, dead, powerless, and in this way recognize all that we are in rebirth.

What is our menses, the cycle of the moon, but a process of death and rebirth? Of coming to know the shadow and, through that process, living the fullness of life with more joy and beauty?

This piece was originally published to Medium. You can read it here.