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  • Annette Dunlop

Mind Body Medicine. Possession. Inanna & Ereshkigal

I’m reading this book, The Cure Within, and thinking about what healing is in a time when we have split the body from the psyche.

Anne Harrington describes the history of mind-body medicine albeit from the point of view of someone who identifies as “fundamentally skeptical of all things psychological”. P66

So I take her interpretations of a loaf of salt. For what does it mean to be skeptical of all things psychological?

I quote Harrington: “the only legitimate alternative to a Dr. Miracle is a biomedicine based in solid physiology.”

So for her the real is what has been real to medicine. Solid physiology. That which we can measure, (sometimes), that which is consistent with the narrative of her time.

There is an implied premise here that only reveals itself in relief structure, through how she interprets the “reality” and “deception”, the presentation of health care over time.

The real, for Anne Harrington is something material.

She distrust the psychological as not real.

One senses that she would rather stand firm on her feet in a place of one kind of knowing. For when we enter the psychological we are asking ourselves to relate with a different kind of knowing. We welcome the body, we welcome feelings. We aren’t merely satisfied with dissection or quantitative measurement. Because we value that which it is not possible to relate to with this methodology.

To relate only with mind is to thrust the psyche into the basement. Where the psyche gets very very angry. Perhaps she is right to distrust psyche. Perhaps she fears what is lurking for her in the Great Below.

There is a very appropriate myth, the Descent of Inanna. And I have a wonderful book, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noak Kramer, much of which I quote is directly from this book.

Descent of Inanna begins.

From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below

From the Great Above the goddess opened her ear to the Great Below

From the Great Above Inanna opened her ear to the Great Below

Inanna is Queen of Heaven and Earth, but does not know the underworld, the realm of her sister Ereshkigal.

According to Mircea Elida, who I have talked about before, traditional rituals of descent tend to follow a universal pattern:

  1. Separation from family

  2. Regression to pre natal state, the cosmic night

  3. Death, dismemberment suffering

  4. Rebirth

  5. Killing of another

Now this is a sumerian myth and in Sumerian, the word for ear and wisdom are the same.

Inanna doesn’t know the underworld, she doesn’t “hear it”.

Enki, however, the God of Wisdom and King of the Watery Deep lives just above the underworld with his ears “wide open”. He, therefore, is a psychopomp, able to connect to the underworld as well as the upper world. And he facilitates the journey and meeting of Inanna and Ereshkigal, as well as its confrontation and resolution.

The moment Inanna opens her ear to the Great Below, her journey begins. To enter the spiritual realm, Inanna must give up her earthly powers.

Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld, represents the neglected sides of Inanna. This underground goddess, whose realm is dry and dark, whose husband Gugalanna is dead, who has no protective or caring mother, father, or brother, who wears no clothes, and whose childhood is lost, can be considered the prototype of a witch -- unloving, unloved, abandoned, instinctual, and full of rage, greed, and desperate loneliness.

She abandons her seven cities and temples and she gathers together seven “me”, seven items for protection, in the form of feminine allure, crowns jewelry, gown.

Neti opens the gates of the underworld to Inanna. At each gate Neti divests the goddess of all that she has accomplished, so that she may experience rejection and rendered into prima materia, the raw alchemical material from which all life sprung.

“The all seeing judges of the underworld perceive Inanna’s hidden, split off parts and condemn her. Ereshkigal cries out “Guilty.” And Inanna, like Gugulanna before her, is killed and becomes part of the underworld.

Ereshkigal is moaning both for her “inside” and her “outside”. Inanna is dying, which Ereshkigal willed, but she can scarcely bear it, for Inanna is the other side of herself. Ereshkigal is moaning this death, as well as a need for rebirth. We understand now that Inanna was first pulled down into the underworld by Erishkigal’s labour cry.

Meanwhile, Enki, God of Wisdom and Healing, creates these little instinctual creatures from the dirt underneath his fingernails who amplify Ereshkigal’s moans. She who has never been taken care of, who has withdrawn to the underworld with the rage and wounds of life’s rejections, is touched by the attention that she offers them gifts of fertility. They reject her gifts, which would break the rules of the underworld, and ask her to release her pain and anguish. But just being in relationship with them she has already begun to do so.

The proof of healing is in the pudding, and Ereshkigal lets her sister go. Now reborn, with an inner ear turned towards the underworld. She leaves immediately, but noone has been allowed to leave the underworld before, so there must be a trade.

When Inanna returns to the surface she finds her husband has gained incredible status upon earth and no longer relates to her. Perhaps fitting, then, that he is sent to the underworld and his achievements torn apart by Ereshkigal.

Back to Harrington.


Harrington begins her story with possessions and exorcisms, citing studies by anthropologist Erika Bouguignon, who analyzed 488 different societies and found that 74 percent of them told possession stories and 52 percent had ceremonies for treating cases of possession.

Harrington dates the Judeo-Christian culture’s encounter with possession back to 200 BC, where demonic forces were thought to enter the bodies of the unlucky. They would then become sick, engage in wild, “improper” or “immoral” behaviour, vomit, break out in skin rashes, succumb to violent convulsions.

Let’s pause here. This possession looks an awful lot like Ereshkigal. It looks an awful lot like all of the repressed instinctual energies are exploding with behaviours that appear outside of the realm of social norms or possibilities. Along with that appear skin rashes, vomiting and seizure like convulsions.

Harrington observes these possessions overtime. Moving from 200 BC where the collective consciousness used the word possession, to the second half of the 17th century when the Church had to concern itself with a growing skepticism in the possibility of possession, as natural philosophies began to explain this behaviour in another way. Finally we arrive at the worshipping of Medicine, an applied science, as the new church. Doctors are the experts we use to explain our symptoms.

From Harrington’s perspective, we are “unmasking the reality of the theatre” over time. But I would argue that we are theatrical beings, this is not unmaskable. Our bodies are theatrical beings.

Our bodies are never merely physical things that are separate from our relationships to eachother, from our relationship to magic, to healing, to mystery.

To deny the mystery of life is to take a stance towards it. It is to thrust Ereshkigal into the basement.

The words we use to describe “socially immoral behaviour” are telling. A healthy body lives within social codes. To break out of these social codes is deemed unhealthy.

To be possessed is to be in the underworld, to be visiting our rejected sister.

As we grow overtime, we are not developing a purer, more accurate, theory of reality, of ‘biomedicine based in solid physiology’. We continue to dance the dance. Theatrics remains an incredibly important part of our healing process. Our denial of this is the great secret to the Wizard of Oz. Yet revealing there is a man behind the drape does not allow us to conclude that this is not an inborn feature of our psyche, it’s not likely to change anytime soon.

It just means that it is quite easy for this very real power to be taken advantage of.


If, when we tap into socially inappropriate behaviours, we get physically ill. It tells us how deeply interconnected our psychic and somatic systems are. That they have grown together overtime. It tells us how polarized we are. It tells us about the jail within which we keep our healers.

Enki, god of Wisdom and healing, creates Kurgurra and galatur, instinctual, asexual creatures with artistic and empathetic talent of being professional mourners, capable of mirroring the lonely queen’s emotions.

When mourning and moaning occurs so deeply within ourselves that it is not consciously accessible it produces physical symptoms. It is so painful that it is dangerous for the psyche to contact it alone. We require empathetic embrace in order to consciously grieve. These little instinctual creatures relate to Ereshkigal with no judgement, allowing her to cathart and express and mourn.

If you live in a sexually repressed era, and your feminine instincts have no place to be expressed, you are going to have physical symptoms, you are going to have incredible anxiety, and there will be rage. The rage may not be conscious, in fact it it likely that it will not be because that would be too dangerous. Instead it festers in the unconscious. When such a woman “visits her rejected sister” she expresses hysterical symptoms. This energy has nowhere else to go. So when Freud found a way to listen to these women, to listen and amplify, like Enki’s instinctual creatures, their energies who had nowhere else to go. These women were able to be reborn, not completely as they continued to live in a terribly repressed society, but they were relieved enough to be able to become Inanna again.

If you live in 200 BC, I can only imagine what energies you would not be allowed to express. Other energies you simply don’t have the commercial, social, psychic vasculature to express. So yes, the visit to the underworld looks like a possession by sheer force of energies that need to explode.

We all have an Enki living inside of us who is able to listen to what is happening within us. But our Enki’s, until we have had a shamanic illness that forces us to break our psychosomatic bonds to family, are bounded within whatever myth of healing is available to us in our moment. This mythos, this narrative of what healing is sits deeply bound within the social fabric of our moment.

To be outside of the collective is to be ill. To be outside of empathy which means instinctual energies harden and pull us into the underworld.

The illness is trying to heal the individual, to force a rebirth by visiting the underworld. The energies which cause our illnesses, sprung from our collective unconscious and simmering undigested within our bellies, are also trying to heal the collective. For our collective narratives are what we suffer from. It is our moral systems that limit how much energy we are allowed to access within our bodies. The rules we follow within our closest relationships determine what parts of ourselves get to live and who must remain in the basement.

Some of us have complexes, inherited psychic material, which force us to engage with the world in a way that will advance our collective consciousness, but that comes at great cost to our own way of life. They knock at the door of our consciousness asking to be brought into the world, they threaten to turn our lives upside down, and if we do not heed their call, you can be sure they will somaticize. The diseases typical of particular cultures are indications of which energies are not allowed to be conscious.

As individuals, we have the power to expand the scope of our Enki’s, our psychopomps whose ears are always open. We can listen to Ereshkigal and ask her what she would like to live out, lest we too become possessed. But in order to do so, the first step, as Mercia Eliade outlines in his framework of the descent process, is to separate from family. Separate from the tribe with whom you identify and be willing to listen all on your own.

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