This mythical structure has a long history in terms of mythical and visionary experience in all cultures of the world. One could also refer to the earliest Shamanic forms of religion and the myth of the dismembered Shaman who is also the transformed healer of others. In these myths the journey to the underworld, and the process of the destruction of the old self or ego does not result in final death but in transformation and greater insight into reality.
Therefore, taking the above brief sketch of the significance of this mythical structure into account we can apply it to a Jungian analysis of the ego.
When Inanna descends to the Underworld she divests herself of her previous life and this is symbolized by the way that she throws off the accouterments and symbols of her previous existence. When she enters the realm of the dead she can only do so if she removes her clothing and rings at each of the gates. She eventually faces her sister naked.
The word naked refers not only to her physical appearance. In terms of Jungian depth psychology it refers to the constitution of the ego structure. In order to retain balance and to attain integration, the ego must confront its opposite -- its "shadow." Therefore, in facing the mysterious and the unknown, represented by the female hero facing the terrors of underworld, the ego undergoes confrontation with its darker and hidden side. This means in the first instance, in terms of ego structure, that the preconceptions and habitual forms that constitute the parameters of the ego are displaced and destroyed in the confrontation. Inanna is in a psychological sense 'naked' in terms of ego defenses. This is all represented by the descent of the goddess into the underworld and the dissolution of her previous existence. As will be discussed, this process is not only one of destruction but also a process that is necessary to lead to transformation and revitalization.
The myth then goes to tell of her death.
After she had crouched down and had her clothes removed, they were carried away. Then she made her sister Erec-ki-gala rise from her throne, and instead she sat on her throne. The Anna, the seven judges, rendered their decision against her. They looked at her -- it was the look of death. They spoke to her -- it was the speech of anger. They shouted at her -- it was the shout of heavy guilt. The afflicted woman was turned into a corpse. And the corpse was hung on a hook. (Inanna)
In essence, the Jungian analysis of this process of dissolution and destruction of the ego is one of self-realization. As Leeming ( 1998) states,
The psychological reality behind this and all mythological processes is the process of self-realization. The voyage to the underworld is the "night journey" or "dark night of the soul" -- the second and final stage of meditation. It is the crucial stage of self-exploration in the face of a life already lived.
(Leeming, 1998, p. 213)
In Jungian terms, the hero or the goddess is "…the archetype of the self" and "the archetype of the self has, functionally, the significance of a ruler of the inner world, i.e., of the collective unconscious" (Leeming, 1998, p. 213). Just as Inanna must confront her darker self, her sister Ereshkigal who represents death, the ego must confront its dark side in the descent into the unconscious and in the search for balance and revitalization,
The psychoanalytic significance of the descent and dissolution of the ego structure is summarized by Alan Watts as follows:
The descent is likewise a figure of the descent of consciousness into the unconscious, of the necessity of knowing one's very depths. For so long as the unconscious remains unexplored it is possible to retain the naive feeling of the insularity and separateness of the conscious ego. Its actions are still taken to be free and spontaneous movements of the "will" and it can congratulate itself upon having motivations which are purely "good," unaware of the "dark" and hidden forces of conditioning which actually guide them. (Watts. 1968, p. 168)
In other words, the descent of the ego into the unconscious is necessary in order for the process of ego re-integration to take place.
We can apply the same theoretical constructs to analyze the reintegration of the ego and the ascent of the Goddess towards life from the underworld. Once the dark underworld has been confronted the ego integrates its dark side. This allows the ego to become stable and for the process of transformation and revitalization of the ego to take place. In the myth, Enki creates two androgynous figures named gala-tura and the kur-jara from the dirt under the fingernails of the gods. They are sent to appeal to the dark goddess and as a result Inanna's corpse is sprinkled with the water of life. This leads to many events and eventually to a period of peace and calm -- a spring and a summer. Just as the world is transformed and rejuvenated by the actions of Inanna, so in terms of Jungian analysis the ego is transformed and revitalized by its descent and confrontation with its shadow or dark side. As Jung states, the descent of the ego "…expresses the psychological mechanism of introversion of the conscious mind into deeper layers of the unconscious psyche" (Jung, 1968, p.41).
The myth of Inanna is one of the oldest myths that deal with the female fertility goddess known to us. In terms of depth psychology and the concept of the archetypal unconscious, it is a formative fragment of our psychological history that, if analyzed correctly, enables us to understand better the process of ego construction and development. It provides invaluable insight into the ego process and its confrontation with the "shadow' or dark, hidden side that must be confronted in order for the ego to become whole and more integrated.
What is of special significance is that the destruction of the ego leads in fact to transformation in the integration of the ego structure. This in turn results in a more coherent and cohesive psyche. It is also significant that Jung emphasized that we neglect these deep mythical structures at our own psychological peril. "Jung believed so strongly in the power of myth he claimed that man's drift away from the need to incorporate myth into our lives is much more responsible for modern neuroses… (MYTH AND THE WATER SIGNS: The Descent of Inanna) In this light the myth of Inanna is not some fragment of a long-lost civilization but is an important if not essential myth that can explain and help modern man to attain a greater sense of integration and wholeness.
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