Ereshkigal is a dark goddess from Sumerian myth, an archetype of initiation into greater consciousness to whom her sister Innana goes for renewal.
I had my first encounter with Ereshkigal when I was a young soldier in the Rhodesian bush war. We had been dropped behind enemy lines for a surprise attack on a ‘terrorist’ base camp which, with surprise on our side, we had won after a short but intense fire fight.
We then swept the terrain for weapons, documents, bodies..
I came across the man in a forest clearing. At first I thought he was dead. Lots of blood. Then he opened his eyes and looked across at me. He was badly wounded but made no sound.
You just stood there staring back at him, silent, stuck between paradigms.
He was silent.
Intensely, raging, terrified silence.
My training had been at the extreme end of the scale. I was guarding my dorm mates at boarding school with a lee Enfield 303 by the time I was sixteen. We took it in turns to watch over one another throughout the night in case we were attacked.
We had night drills at school, crawling along darkened corridors, cursing.
And armed convoys for a trip to town with mounted machine guns front and rear..
And grenade screens on the windows and RPG proof blast walls so that rollcall could be safely held..
Alexander,Ball, Barber, Becker, Blick, Bradley, Brightenstein, Butterworth…
At night you could sometimes hear gunfire and the railway line was blown up.
Conn, Crow, Devilliers, Ellman-Brown, Fouche, Garvin, Graziola, Haynes…
I was drafted straight out of school, did special services training and was part of fireforce operations.
Henderson, Hill, Hjul, Horsley, Howden, Johnstone…
my job was to kill the enemy.
But try as I might the humanity and suffering of the wounded man lain there impressed itself on me despite lifelong indoctrination.
I didn’t know what to do. I had run out of rule book. I felt frozen to the spot. Unable to think or move.
After an age I jerked myself forward and had a look at his wounds. He was badly shot up. His eyes never left me as I examined him. It was as if they had teeth.
I called a medic over and began to patch him up. His eyes bored into me. I worked in silence. He had a ring on his finger. A green beryll stone set in silver. I took it roughly, then almost as quickly gave it back, embarrassed, confused, trapped.
The sargent came over to see what the hold up was and raised his rifle to kill my patient.
Call a chopper.
Patch up the injured man.
Finally I carried him over my shoulders to the DZ. When the chopper came I slid him in onto the cool metal floor. He looked me in the eye, took the ring from his finger and pressed it into my hand. ‘Datenda Nkosi.’ Thanks boss.
I never went back into battle again. One thing and another, including a long spell in Casualty, conspired to keep me from the field.
What had happened?
You met yo’ own dark brother, mon.
My analyst always did say I had a real gift for acting out. The main thing is not that I was brave and saved someone, I was brave and saved me.
But not without that brief eternity of suspension,
and being hung like a ham.
incoherant, body slaming, slow motion…
Enough to ask,
When Innana descends through the seven gates to Ereshkigal’s lair she does so willingly but there is no doubt that the events happen to her in a visceral way. She’s going to feel victimised, humiliated and attacked.
Though she may be doing gladly what she must, it is also the experience of being destroyed.
There is ‘no-exit’ .
Death of the old which is still oneself.
A letting go and an act of will.
The philosopher Karl Jaspers calls it ‘foundering’. When you have tried everything and failed,
when life brings you to your limits.
and the old way just won’t do anymore.
”Until the final question meets with the silence of fullfilment in which a person’s own essence can speak directly through the inmost self.”Koral Ward 2015
Its the moment when you face that a relationship must end, or that you must uproot yourself somehow without knowing where the wind will take you. Its going into the unknown with heavy heartedness or broken heartedness, sudden separation, the sense that you’re being reinvented without pre-approving the plan.
Czech analyst E. Dabrowski calls it ‘positive disintegration’, a breaking down of psychic structures that have effectively been outgrown, when values you’ve been living by crumble but you have no others with which to replace them.
….an’ it not jus’ some theoretical, beard stroking point for you to make mon, some arsy intellectual cocktail party piece.
Its switching off the automatic pilot and discovering you don’t know how to fly.