The Descent of Inanna: a ritual for a large group in a small space
by Mary K. Kuhner for the University Unitarian chapter of CUUPs
Inanna, Ereshkigal, Gatekeeper, Messenger
Black Guide, Red Guide, White Guide
Black Guardian, Red Guardian, White Guardian
Storytellers (one or preferably more)
Additional people to sweep, cense, call quarters, etc.
Space requirements: outer room, inner room, vestibule between them.
Gather in outer room, forming a double or triple circle (chairs on the edge for elders, pillows otherwise) with altar in the center. Altar has cauldron, elements, and makings for the Food of Life (white foods such as bread). There should also be a pile of congregation candles and a red taper in a holder (unlit).
At sign-in, there is a poster explaining the three groups (Black, White, Red) and a bunch of small colored ribbons of the three colors for people to wear. This can be used to limit the number in each group to a reasonable size, say 35.
The director talks about the Sabbat, and explains that the ritualists will be divided into three groups who will experience somewhat different aspects of the ritual. The Black group will focus on personal confrontation with the Darkness. The White group will focus on honoring and communing with the Ancestors. The Red group will touch on both aspects, and will be the most active, high-energy group (dancing, chanting, etc.)
Explain the basic premise of the ritual: that we are re-enacting the descent and return of Inanna, and that each group has a role to play in that drama.
Explain explicitly that those who do not wish to journey to the Underworld should join the White group. Also note that the division does not imply level of experience; there is no "beginners' group".
Red and White groups are asked to write messages for their dead (provide pencils and paper). Black group is asked to meditate on their desires in meeting the Dark.
Before the main rite begins, cast a circle in the Chapel. Quarter calls and circle cast as in main ritual. Invoke Ereshkigal:
Messenger: Hail Ereshkigal, Lady of the Underworld! We invoke you into your priestess. See with her eyes Speak with her lips Touch with her hands Feel with her heart Be with us now In your dark splendor: Watch over us as we visit your realm. So mote it be.
Guardian: Please stand. Is there peace on the circle?
All: There is peace.
Sweeping: Black spirits and white, red spirits and grey, Come ye, come ye, come ye as may. Around and around, throughout and about, The good come in, the ill keep out.
Censing and Asperging: [Use a feather fan to waft incense over people, since it will be impossible to reach all of them while they are sitting in multiple circles. Similarly, don't try to sprinkle each one individually. Do both censing and asperging at the same time, staggered about 1/4 of the way around the circle.]
Circle Cast: [around outside of circle] We are mortal spirits, who pass From life to death to life again Ever and forever, as the wheel turns.
We cast the sacred circle between the worlds In the world of life we now inhabit On the borderlands of the dead which we shall visit In the world of life to which we shall return.
O circle, be thou a meeting place of joy and love and hope, A shield against all evil, A vessel to contain the energies we raise here tonight. As above, so below. So mote it be.
East: Hail, Guardians of the East! Breath of the living, Voice of the ancestors, Power of Air, strengthen and protect us here And on our journey tonight. So mote it be.
South: Hail, Guardians of the South! Hearthfire of the living, Balefire of the dark realms, Power of Fire, strengthen and protect us here And on our journey tonight. So mote it be.
West: Hail, Guardians of the West! Fountain of life, River of the dark border, Power of Water, strengthen and protect us here And on our journey tonight. So mote it be.
North: Hail, Guardians of the North! Soil that sustains life, Grave that accepts death, Power of Earth, strengthen and protect us here And on our journey tonight. So mote it be.
Messenger [putting jewelry on Inanna]: Hail Inanna, Lady of Heaven and Earth! Hail, Star of the Evening! We invoke you into your priestess. See with her eyes Speak with her lips Touch with her hands Feel with her heart Be with us now In your radiant glory: Lead us on the great journey. So mote it be.
Storytelling: [This can be elaborated somewhat as the storyteller desires] It is Summer's End and the season of mortality, and all the world wails for the dead.
Inanna, the Queen of Heaven, hearing the cries of her people, resolves to go down into the Underworld and visit her sister Ereshkigal, its Queen. She prepares herself, putting on her royal robe, her necklace, her crown, all the symbols of her high office.
Inanna: [calling Guides to her] Protect and counsel my people, and if I should not return, seek for me in the court of Ereshkigal. But never let hope fail here, or I will have no kingdom waiting when I return!
Black Guide: Hail, Inanna, splendid in your courage! Red Guide: Hail, Inanna, lovely in your brightness! White Guide [more soberly]: Hail, Inanna, in the glorious folly of your pride.
Inanna: Fare thee well, and never forget me.
All: Farewell, Inanna!
[Inanna departs. She is let through the Gate by the Gatekeeper, who takes her jewelry from her. She puts on Ereshkigal's robes over her own and sits behind the screen, if she is also playing Ereshkigal's role; otherwise she is hidden behind the screen by Ereshkigal.]
[Period of quiet drumming]
[Messenger knocks hard on Vestibule doors, and is admitted by one of the ritualists (cut him/her into circle)]
Messenger: I am the Messenger of the Underworld. Let me tell you what I have seen. Your Goddess passed through the Gates. Everything was taken from her: her jewels, her crown, her robes. She was brought naked before the Judges of the Dead and her sister Ereshkigal. They fixed the eyes of death on her and she became a corpse. They have hung her from a hook!
[Silence as Messenger leaves the circle]
Black: She is gone, and our hopes gone with her, into the dark. [to the Black group] Will you descend, pass into the darkness, leave the realm of the living for her sake? [to the Red and White groups] Will you keep the fires alight, keep the memory of those who have passed away, for their sake and for our sake?
[Black Guide gathers quarter and takes them into Narthex, while Red and White draw the circle together to fill in the space.]
[From this point on the ritual is divided into Outside (Nathan Johnson) and Inside (Narthex and Chapel). Both parts happen simultaneously. The Messenger is responsible for communication between the groups, and needs to be alert for timing problems.]
White Guide: If we forget those who have gone before us, then they are truly dead, and we are a people without ancestors, without history, without hope. This is the season when the worlds press close together, and words can pass from one to another. Cast your messages into the cauldron of death and rebirth. The Goddess is not forsaken; those we love are not forgotten.
[Cauldron is carried round, and messages placed in it.]
Red Guide: I call on Fire, the great transformer, to carry our words to our beloved dead. [Lights cauldron]
If you wish, look into the flames for a reply.
Chant: Cauldron of changes, blossom of bone, Arc of eternity, hole in the stone.
[People come up a few at a time and stand or kneel to look into the cauldron.]
Red: Let us dance to honor our ancestors of body and spirit.
Chant: E Oh Ah Voy Ay Ai
[Leads simple circle dance, if there's room; may have to be double circle.]
[Stories about loss, courage, keeping the faith. Storytellers must be alert to return of the Messenger, and cut off the last story when they see him. Ideally there should be at least 3 stories ready to be told, but whoever is going last should not feel bad if s/he doesn't get to tell a story.]
INSIDE: [Black group gathers in Vestibule. Black Guide has a single candle or lamp (shuttered lamp would be perfect).]
Black Guide: You are free to turn back now if you choose and rejoin the others, and there is no shame in doing so. Does anyone wish to do so?
We will pass one by one through the Gates, and there the Gatekeeper will question us. Answer him according to your own heart.
[People will pass through one at a time, signalled by the sound of the Gatekeeper's staff; Black Guide goes first. Gatekeeper questions each one in turn. After answering, they join Guide in small circle at center of Chapel, clustered around the lamp.]
Gatekeeper: Are you here of your own free will? What do you seek? What do you fear?
Then pass, Seeker.
[Ereshkigal, heavily veiled, joins the circle and sits at its edge.]
Ereshkigal: [Inuit story of Skeleton Woman, and a guided meditation on the personal meeting with Skeleton Woman]
[Ereshkigal withdraws, signalling Messenger, and leaves the Black group sitting quietly. Black Guide passes out candles and whispers that these will be lit by someone else.]
Messenger: Those who went before you are gone, and no light shone out when those great doors closed.
Red: [to Red group] Knowing this, who will come with me? Who will carry light to the place where all lights fail? [to White group] Knowing this, who will remain? Who will keep vigil in this darkening world?
[Red Guide passes out unlit candles to R quarter members, then leads then into Narthex. W arranges remaining people in a small, intimate circle.]
White: We remember those who are past: they live in us, our thoughts and dreams, our hopes and fears, our works and words. Tonight we remember them and give them honor.
[White Guide explains the form of the memorial: each person who wishes should speak for a few minutes, ending with "We remember you, X" which will be echoed by all. Each speaker, and after they finish all non-speakers, should take a bread from the altar and lay it on the offering tray.]
White: I speak for all those whose stories have been lost, whose names have been forgotten, whose voices have been silenced. We remember you.
All: We remember you.
White: All that we make is built on the wisdom of those who have gone before us. Goddess bless them. This food, a symbol of their work; a symbol of the Circle of Life and Death. Goddess bless them. From this hallowed food we find life; within each of us a living testament to their life. Goddess bless them. We offer honor to their wisdom, to their works, to their lives. So mote it be.
Red: You are free to turn back now if you choose and rejoin the others, and there is no shame in doing so. Does anyone wish to do so?
[Red distributes congregation candles, unlit, to each person. As each person passes into the tunnel, they will light their candle from Red's.]
We carry light not for yourself alone, but for all the worlds. When you pass through, find one person to share it with.
We will pass one by one through the Gates, and there the Gatekeeper will question us. Answer him according to your own heart.
Gatekeeper: Are you here of your own free will? Who are you looking for?
[Inside: B people are huddled at center. First person through distributes congregation candles to them, and as Red people enter each will light a Black person's candle. When all have entered, the candles are placed in bowls at the feet of the quarter markers. The Black Guide should explain this briefly before the Red group enters.]
Red: Where is Inanna?
Black: We do not know! But together we will search for her.
[B and R do a slow, winding snake dance representing the search for Inanna. Drumming would be ideal here.]
Chant: Hey Inanna
[Gatekeeper stands on the steps of the stage, pounds with his staff to halt the dance.]
Gatekeeper: What are you doing here? Why have living people come to the very doors of Ereshkigal's palace? There is no place for you here!
Black: We have come for Inanna!
[Ereshkigal comes out from behind the screen and stands on the stage.]
Ereshkigal: Have you come to mock me in my pain? I am heavy with the weight of the dead, and grieved by the hatred of the living. Oh my belly! Oh my back!
Black: My Lady, we have not come to mock you. We have come for Inanna, without whom we cannot live. We offer compassion for you in your pain.
Would you, mortal people, show compassion even to me, who am hated by all the world? Would you do that for me?
My hands and face are black with the ashes of the funeral fires. Would you wear that mark and share my grief?
[Black and Red Guides take bowls of ash from the pillars beside Ereshkigal and mark each others' faces, then mark everyone else's. Messenger leaves quietly at the end of this.]
Messenger: The journeyers cry outside Ereshkigal's gates. The Goddess is with them, but they cannot return. What can you offer them?
White: From death we take life, From what is past comes what is to be. These offerings made to our loved ones will become the Food of Life to recall Inanna from the realms below.
Messenger: Gladly will I accept your offerings, and carry them to the realms below.
[takes tray and returns to Chapel]
Ereshkigal: I am moved by your compassion. What shall I give to you? I have sweet fruit of the Underworld here-- Red: No, my Lady. Ereshkigal: --and rich grain-- Red: No, my Lady. Black: Give us Inanna's body, great Lady.
[Black removes Ereshkigal's robes, revealing her as Inanna, if they are played by the same person: otherwise Ereshkigal uncovers Inanna, who has been hidden by a dark cloth, and then retires upstage.]
Inanna: You have found me with your courage, your faith, and your compassion. But how can I return from this land which has claimed me?
[Dialog between Inanna and the Red and Black Guides as they wait for the Messenger. Inanna is afraid that no one is left in the world of the living who remembers and keeps the faith. The Guides try to reassure her that they have left brave and faithful people up there. If the time period here is long, start a chant:
The earth, the water, the fire, the air Return, return, return, return.]
Messenger: [entering, knocking with staff if necessary to stop chant] I bear the Food of Life, the love and reverence of the world above to win you free again.
[Everyone joins hands, starting with Inanna, and she leads them out of the Chapel.]
[Red and Black groups are led into the circle]
Inanna: Faithful ones, you have kept the fires of the world burning. Dance with me now and celebrate the promise of life reborn from death.
Chant (done as a call and response, Inanna leading): Hold hands and spiral round Circle to the center then back around Dancing the spiral of rebirth Transforming energies of the earth.
[Spiral Dance. Someone may need to watch the altar.]
[After grounding the dance, Gatekeeper comes quietly to stand on the edge of the circle for the devocations]
Inanna [to Gatekeeper]: Gatekeeper of the Realms Below, Go in peace with my thanks and blessing. May there be peace between us now and always. Hail and farewell.
The messages you have received are given to the Goddess. Do not carry them as a burden on your own heart.
[to Messenger] Messenger of the Realms Below, Go in peace with my thanks and blessing. May there be peace between us now and always. Hail and farewell.
Devocation of Inanna (Messenger): Hail, Lady of the Evening Star! We praise you for your bright courage. Release now this woman, your priestess. No longer see with her eyes, speak with her lips, touch with her hands, nor feel with her heart. Go in peace with our thanks and blessings. Hail and farewell.
North: Hail, Guardians of the North! Thank you for your protection. May there be peace between us, now and always. Hail and farewell.
[and similarly for W, S, E]
Open Circle: The Witches' law has always been You must go out where you enter in!
All spirits whom this circle has drawn We thank you and ask that you now be gone. Go back to your realms with our blessings in peace Harming none along your way. With points drawn down we make the slash, Each to their own--sham ham phorash.
The circle is open, but never broken. Merry meet, and merry part, and merry meet again.
[In the Chapel, devoke Ereshkigal, dismiss the quarters again, cut the inner circle.
Messenger: Hail, Queen of the Underworld! We praise you for your dark wisdom. Release now this woman, your priestess. No longer see with her eyes, speak with her lips, touch with her hands, nor feel with her heart. Go in peace with our thanks and blessings. Hail and farewell.
Solicit volunteers to set up the tables, and feast!]