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Do We All Have To Go Through A Descent to the Underworld?

Published by Inanna’s Net, Volume I, Issue Two, April 1993

by Francesca Starr, Ph.D. and Deborah Morris, LCSW

The descent to the underworld is generally an excruciating downfall, comedown, or decline, often triggered by a significant trauma, that makes everyday living and business-as-usual impossible. It is a demand for the transformation of consciousness and one’s entire body-of-affairs. It is “the shedding of outdated structures of the psyche…at the bottom we meet ourselves stripped bare with nothing left but our mere existence.” (Betty DeShong Meador, Uncursing the Dark). This overwhelming event can be purely destructive or serve as a catalyst to fulfill and embody the soul’s higher destiny.

Few of us are called to this particularly Feminine path of initiation and transformation, and very few choose it. The ancient Sumerian myth of “the Descent of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth” gives us a map. Inanna, as a Goddess, purposely chose to go down to the realm of her dark sister, “The Lady of the Great Below”. Inanna was the “first to sacrifice herself for a deep feminine wisdom and for atonement…(with elemental) forces…connected not only to active destruction but also to transformation, via those slow, cell-by-cell organic processes, like decay and gestation…Such impersonal forces devour and destroy, incubate and bring to birth, with an implacable pitilessness.” (Sylvia Brinton Perera, Descent to the Goddess.)

Three or four thousand years later, as sons and daughters of the patriarchy, many of us will be torn from the known and collapsed into the darkness in order to become conscious enough to make the return bearing “the gift of our full individual, creative nature.” (Meador)

In transpersonal psychology we call this kind of fall a spiritual emergence(y). Metaphorically, it is an arduous, chrysalis-like period that is extremely demanding on the caterpillar, out of which the butterfly may emerge – or not. Not all who are called and thrust down are able to return or resurrect in a healed and whole state.

Many genuine seekers choose other valid paths of initiation and transformation. Clearly, these are demanding in their way, but may not require such deep involvement with the transmutation of suffering. And not all suffering should be confused with the descent path. Perhaps the essential difference lies in how the individual is able to use and respond to their anguish.

This is a severe and stormy path of service. The individual works to raise their own consciousness and thereby affects the collective consciousness, which is related to the larger consciousness of mother earth and her own metamorphosis. Those who find the strength, commitment, focus and support to persevere may successfully mutate from early conditioning as it manifests in adult circumstances (the caterpillar). In so doing they become a unique butterfly and thus serve the evolution of the whole.

To complete this journey successfully, we must deepen and cultivate the connection to our innermost knowing, and develop the wisdom and capacity to surrender to a Higher Authority. In authentic humility, we acknowledge our need for help. As we exercise and build muscles of appropriate word and action we are able to respond to our guidance as it emerges from within.

For those who find themselves plunged into the dark, separated from the familiar (“hanging on the meat hook”) we feel that we have to yet achieved a successful return to the light. Remember and honor the power with which we are dealing. It is our Soul’s ruthless way of reclaiming her authority in our bodies, our lives and our world. The descent is a physical merging with the true source of creativity and passion. When we ascend we become co-creators of our destiny.

The descent is never easy. As one’s life is uprooted, one draws inward. This vulnerability, and very often ill-health, will be seen by man as failure, weakness, and neediness. The patriarchy does not recognize this as a positive process, and certainly is unaware of the momentous transformation that is taking place. Profound shame and searing judgment from within and without are added to the burden of the descent. It is the task of the individual to surrender to the descent and this transmutes the shame and judgment into healthy humility, personal boundaries and power.

When one is going down, the crucial learning seems to be that of active surrender. One’s sense of control and perception of reality are mercilessly stripped away; they need to be consciously released and mourned. This is internally very demanding and can take months or even years. This raw and ruthless experience is one of utter aloneness. The need for containment and respect by a depth-oriented, feminine-based counselor and very wise and sensitive friends are essential. The initiate must, ultimately, learn to hear and honor their own voice from within the dark silence.

Such suffering should result in the soul’s fire burning out the abuse, repression, and power-from-without that has ruled one’s body, mind, and spirit, and scour it from each cell. An authentic, feminine, life-giving, creative, power-from-within is born and emanates inexorably. The masculine counterpart is also born anew and loves, honors, protects, and manifests this sacred energy, via thought, word, and deed. The internal marriage is consummated; the empowered woman and the warrior man emerge from the depths into their destinies.

To those of you who have been in, are currently in, or will be in your descent, we salute the sacredness of the task; honor your courage and strength, and your profound contribution to the transformation of yourselves, humanity, and our precious world.


Francesca Starr, Ph.D., CPC
Certified Professional Coach, Post Graduate Voice Dialogue Training with Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone (Creators of Voice Dialogue), Ph.D. Counseling Psychology, MA Transpersonal Psychology, MA Education. Francesca brings finely honed skills and knowledge from previous careers (1. education, 2. business, and 3. counseling) to her passion as a Voice Dialogue Coach and Trainer. Gentle conversations with your Inner Selves that transform your life. Inspired, breakthrough coaching to resolve life and work issues, generate conscious choice and creative action, and evolve consciousness.