The myth of the Descent of the Goddess is one of the central themes of Pagan thought, although in some versions it will be presented as the Descent of the God, as Paganism has many diverse variations.
The Descent of the Goddess speaks of the "descent" from the land of the Living into the land of the Dead, and the return to life through rebirth. This of course refers to both the yearly cycle of seasonal renewal, through which the Earth is annually reborn, but also to the process of reincarnation through which we are all eternally reborn. But this ancient myth also has another level, for it speaks of the "descent" of Spirit into Matter, and its' return to Divine Union through spiritual evolution and growth.
There are many versions of the Descent of the Goddess. In the Vangelo delle Streghe the Descent occurs when the Goddess takes mortal form to join with the God, and is defined by the term "To rise You must fall," to achieve the fruition of Divine potential Deity must experience physical incarnation.
Following is one of the oldest versions of the Descent of the Goddess, from the ancient culture of Sumeria. Sumer was an ancient city in the Fertile Crescent, that is to say the region lying between the Tigris and Eurphrates rivers in the area that is now Iraq. Sumer gives its name to the wider civilization of which it was part, which flourished in that region in the years between 3500 BCE and 2800 BCE, finally being absorbed by their Semitic neighbors the Akkadians. The chief cities of Sumeria included Uruk, Lachish, Ur, and of course Sumer itself, among others. Uruk was the chief seat of worship for the Sumerian Goddess Innanna, afterwards identified with the Semitic Ishtar and eventually with Venus-Aphrodite and the Egyptian Isis. It is from Uruk that this version of the Descent of the Goddess derives.
Dummuzi was the King of Uruk, and like all the Kings of Uruk, Dumuzi was ceremonially married to the Goddess Innanna. Innanna loved Dumuzi above all mortals and She was happy with him. As the consort of Innanna, Dumuzi passed his days in joy and laughter, and the Goddess likewise rejoiced in his love for Her. But life in the temporal realm is perilous, and it came to pass that like all mortals, Dumuzi died. Struck through by the tusks of a wild boar Dumuzi sank down into the dark realm of the Dead.
Now Innanna mourned for all who died, but She mourned most for Dumuzi, and She made a great lamentation for Her dead consort, and wept most bitterly.
Now as Lady of Life Innanna was a stranger to the realms of Death, and so She had no recourse to Her bereavement whenever one of Her mortal creatures should die. Yet Her love for Dumuzi was such that the Goddess could not be content with this.
And so Innanna conceived a plan to journey into the realm of the Dead, ruled by Her sister Ereshkigal. Innanna Lady of Life arrayed Herself in all Her royal state to visit Her sister the Lady of Death. She donned Her state robe and Her crown and other jewels, and She set off, intent on convincing Her Sister to release Dumuzi back into the world of the living, and with him all those others who had died.
And so Innanna departed from the world of the living, and all the people, and animals, and the
Earth itself mourned, for when Innanna departed the spirit left the land and the first winter came to the world. The fruit dropped from the trees, plants withered and died, and even the Sun's light grew weak with grief for Her going, leaving the land barren and cold.
Yet difficult as it was for the world She left behind, Innanna found it was no easier to enter the Land of the Dead. When She came to the First Gate of the kingdom of Death, the guardian there challenged Her and would not let Her pass, unless She first surrendered Her golden crown, ornamented with amethyst. This means that to pass the first gate Innanna had to forget conscious knowledge of Divine Union. Reluctantly the Goddess surrendered Her crown.
Progressing, Innanna came to the Second Gate of the Land of the Dead. Here again She was challenged. To enter here She must surrender Her earrings of lapis. That is to say She must surrender conscious knowledge of the Monad, Her connection to the powers of Deity. Reluctantly She did so.
When Innanna came at length to the Third Gate of the Land of the Dead, She was again challenged. The guardian of Third Gate said to Her that to enter She must surrender there Her royal pectoral of fine turquoise. That is to say that She must give up conscious knowledge of Her Soul, the accumulated knowledge of many lifetimes, and of the Divine Plan which guides each lifetime. For love of Dumuzi, reluctantly She did so.
Coming now to the Fourth Gate, Innanna was challenged by the guardian there, who demanded of Her that She surrendered unto him Her pendant necklace of green malachite. That is to say that She must give up conscious knowledge of Her Astral Self, and with it Her ability to consciously create what surrounds Her. Only for love, She did so.
Innanna continued forward. Coming to the Fifth Gate of the Land of the Dead, Innanna was again challenged by the guardian She found there. Here it was demanded that She surrender Her jeweled belt of gold and amber. that is to say that She must surrender Her ability to think and understand abstract concepts. To be reunited with Dumuzi, She did so.
Continuing on, Innanna came to the Sixth Gate of the Kingdom of death. Here the guardian challenged Her, refusing to let Her pass unless She gave up Her bracelets of carnelian. This is to say that She must surrender Her ability to feel and react to emotions. To pass on, She did so.
At last Innanna came to the final gate, the great Seventh Gate which gave entry to the realm of Ereshkigal, Lady of Death. Here the guardian demanded of Innanna that She surrender Her garnet anklets. That is to say to say that She must give up even Her awareness of Physical form. This She did, and entered at last the Realm of the Dead.
Here Innanna came at last before Ereshkigal, her sister, the Lady of Death. But Innanna no longer knew why She had come, nor did She remember all that She had been at the start of Her journey. Indeed, a veil had fallen over Her senses, and She knew nothing of the Realm of Light from which She had descended. And so She floated there without awareness, as did the other souls in that place. Yet Dumuzi, who was near, though he did not recognize Innanna, just as he no longer knew himself, felt the presence of Innanna and his heart still stirred with love for Her. That is to say that the soul, even at the lowest level of matter, is still moved by love for the Divine and desire to be reunited with It.
And feeling Innanna there, Dumuzi was alive with love for all things, including Ereshkigal's dark realm, and He praised the dread Goddess of Death, and all Her works. And hearing this the Lady of Death rejoiced, and called Innanna and Dumuzi to Her, and greeted them with love -for until then all had feared Her, and reviled Her as the bringer of death, and the praise of Dumuzi filled Ereshkigal's heart with joy and moved Her to compassion. In other words you can never progress until you first recognize the good that's already there.
And so Ereshkigal gave Innanna and Dumuzi many gifts (which are the gifts of experience) and helped them to begin to ascend through the Seven gates again, and with them all of the souls who had been in Her realm, that they might be reborn. And as they came to each gate, they received back the powers they had surrendered there.
And at last Innanna and Dumuzi and all the souls returned to the realm of the Living, and were again alive as they had been, and all the world rejoiced. And the leaves budded, seeds sprouted, and flowers bloomed, and the world too returned to life with the first spring.
Now to understand this myth you must know that while Dumuzi is portrayed as a mortal King, he really represents a number of other things. Dumuzi represents the soul, which "descends" into death, and is reborn through the agency of the Goddess. Dumuzi represents too the Earth which "descends" into winter and is likewise reborn in spring through the agency of the Goddess. And too, Dumuzi is the God, Who "descends" into matter, only to ultimately return to a state of Divine Union through the agency of the Goddess, or Spirit.
So too, while the myth speaks of the descent of the living into the land of the dead, and their return from it, we are also speaking of the soul's descent into matter and this is why the seven gates are so important, for they describe the process of the involution and evolution of Spirit through the seven planes or spheres of existence.
Many of us have seen the John Borman film EXCALIBER and watched Nichol Williamson as Merlin summon the spirit of the Great Dragon to work his most powerful magics -but how many of us understand why this is?
The Great Dragon is the same figure as the Great Serpent, and is a very important figure in many Pagan religions.
There are many forms of this Deity, Who is found around the world. The Great Dragon was worshipped as the Goddess Tiamat in the Fertile Crescent, the Goddess Pachamama in pre-Columbian Peru, and as the Serpent Goddess Wadjet or Buto in Holy Egypt. The Great Serpent was worshipped as the God Danballah in Africa and Afro-diasporic religions, as the God Quetzalcoatl-Kukulkan by the Aztec and Maya of Central America, as the God Ophion, Python, or Ourobouros in Greece and Rome. There are many other names for this same Deity, Who is found throughout the world either as Goddess or God, depending upon the culture.
The Great Serpent is a personification of Spiritual Energy in motion. As you have learned, Spiritual Energy suffuses all things, and their forms are created by it's movement. It is the movement of energy which creates, the movement of energy which is symbolized by the serpent; the movement of the Divine Spirit which gives shape to our physical universe. The Serpent represents the "Dance of Life" if you would. This movement arises from Spirit and returns to Spirit, and at all points is composed of Spirit, but in it's circuit gives an impression of separateness which is the world we know. To represent this the serpent is symbolized as swallowing it's own tail, forming a circle, the Wheel of Existence. This image is called Ourobouros, and is very ancient. You can see the serpent closed in a circle about the Disk of the Universe in many ancient carvings of Egyptian Divinities and monarchs. It figures too as the Ourobouros in Pagan Greek thought and metaphysics, from which it passed into medieval European occultism and Freemasonry, where the image is to be found in many variations.
As a Deity the Great serpent represents connection to the flow of Divine Energy and ability to direct it and move in harmony with it. The Serpent represents personal connection to the Oneness of all things, and the flow of that Oneness through each individual. Because of this Oneness, each individual connects to all other points in existence, and can call upon the powers of any aspect of creation, if it only knows how to access that connection. This is what is represented by the Serpent, or Dragon. For this reason the Serpent appears on the brow of the royal crowns of Egypt, to symbolize the wearers connection to the Oneness of creation. For this reason the Serpent appears wrapped around the Tree of Life, whose form is created and sustained by the movement of the Serpent's coils, the truth be known.
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