For many years I had a recurrent mysterious dream: I find myself high up in a tower in ancient Sumeria. At the very top is a domain or Temple dedicated to the Great Goddess.This Temple is open on three sides: to the Rising Sun, the Setting Sun, the Moon, the mountains in the distanc as well as the night sky and the elements.
In this sanctuary, her Holy of Holies, the High Priestess performs her rites to keep the Universe in balance. Both Sun and Moon rise between her legs. This way she gives birth to all Heavenly Bodies, sings to them and cradles them lovingly like newborn children before sending them on her way. The name of her great goddess is “Lady of the Heavens” or “Queen of Heaven”.
This holy office is one expression of the Hieros Gamos (or sacred marriage): between Divine Light and the mysteries of the star-studded Night. Death is present too: a steer’s skull representing the Bull of Heaven is positioned to catch the Sun’s first rays. The daily Kiss of Life and Death calls forth mystery and so mystery is birthed continuously.
This is the Temple of the great Sumerian goddess Inanna and in my dream one of the sacred tasks of the High Priestess is to make love to soldiers returning from war.This is the second expression of Hieros Gamos. The River of Blood – the blood the soldiers shed and the menstrual blood of the temple priestess – flows between worlds: The Land of the Living and The Land of the Dead.
The third form of Hieros Gamos is the High Priestess (embodying Inanna, becoming a human vessel to host the goddess) making love to the High Priest (embodying Anu, God of Heaven and the Sky, Lord of Constellations and Father of the Gods).
She is the High Priestess. He is the Warrior Priest, the Soldier Doctor, The Shaman. Between them they keep the Holy Land in balance and fertile.
The name of the Temple Priestess is Shamhat.
The Cradle of Western Civilization
Isn’t it extraordinary that the place we call the Cradle of Western Civilization has become a place where some voices curse Western civilization and herald its demise? That a cluster of Jihadist groups took the name of an ancient Egyption Goddess: ISIS (now IS or Islamic State) and became notorious for their brutality, including mass killings, abductions and beheadings)…
I mean of course: Iraq, a land that appeared in my art history classes as Mesopotamia: the land between the two great rivers: the Tigris and the Euphrates. The inhabitants of that fertile land, the ancient Sumerians, invented the wheel, the plough and most likely astrology too. It strikes me as significant that they invented both wheel and the zodiac. For me the wheel is a symbol of something coming full circle. When a civilization comes full circle two things can occur: a sharp decline (“death”) or a symbolic death followed by a new beginning (a resurrection or rebirth).
You could say that we find ourselves standing at the very edge of an abyss. We are either going to raise our collective consciousness and fly across it or lose our footing and collectively plunge into chaos.
It is tempting to fall into the polarized thinking so deeply ingrained in us: to (perhaps) think that we need to awaken the great Goddess of Love to balance the “out-of-control Warrior God” – but as we will soon see, it is not as simple as that. Inanna is the goddess of both Love and Warfare!
In my spiritual work (I am a shamanic practitioner and teacher) I recently came face to face with one client who opened the trap door on memories long hidden. The dream (described at the top of this article) that I had not been able to make much sense of for years suddenly acquired technicolor clarity and meaning. Here is the interpretation I arrived at, after serious reflection:
Once upon a time he was a High Priest in Sumeria and I was a High Priestess, his opposite number. Together we were in service to the great cosmic forces that rule Life and Death. Now we were brought together again, in the 21st century, to complete a piece of work that relates to the forces of Death and Destruction at large in our world.
When you have the privilege of performing many shamanic healing sessions you end up visiting all periods in history and many cultures on all all continents, outside space and time that is. Every client brings interesting ancestry and often material from previous lifetimes too. Doing this work is like flipping a light switch: all filaments of the Web of Life light up and become visible. We don’t normally see this (in our everyday consciousness) but it resembles a giant spider web – or the interconnected root system of all the trees on Earth. What instantly becomes clear is that we are all connected.
We all have a place in this larger field where our ancestors and descendants too have their places and pull on those threads. As you catch glimpses of previous lifetimes: you start to see why people choose to be born into certain sets of circumstances, families, eras on Earth. On the level of soul there are no accidents. People are here when they need to be and they face many opportunities to balance things out or arrive at a right relationship where things were “off kilter” before. Those great cosmic lessons in Love can appear like ordeals or even “grave injustice” perceived from our everyday level of conscousness, but there is more to them than meets the eye.
In our world today a large number of profoundly spiritual people is present. They were here before. Many of them are arriving as part of larger “soul groups”. They used to know each other before and now they have gathered again, perhaps to manifest a different outcome. Perhaps even to prevent another lost civilization, if this is at all possible…
For me this “trap door opening” brought the question: what seeks attention, expression or healing through the warzones and conflicts in the Middle East? And I ask this question on a greater global (even cosmic) level: what ancient narratives are playing out. Does it follow an ancient blueprint wired into the human psyche we can identify? And then work out how to take human consciousness to the next level, allowing us to break free of this dance and repeats of it erupting (like a contagious disease) all over our history books?
Cycling our way back to Inanna: Inanna is known as a great goddess of (sexual) love but she was as much of a goddess of warfare. The ancient Sumerians were skilful astrologers and they linked Inanna to the planet Venus. In her “astral aspect” Inanna was both Morning Star and Evening Star, always on her journey, appearing, disappearing and reappearing (as she still does today).
This very brief introduction already tells us that Inanna had two very different sides, two aspects that both sought expression through the hierodules ( or temple priestesses) who worked with her.
Before we delve deeper into this material we need to take a moment to reflect on the fact that even if we are not practicing Christians, many of us grew up in a predominanlty Christian culture. This anchors certain key concepts in our society and collective psyche (axioms that many of us live by, often without reflection or questioning) :
– Monotheism: that there is only one (male) God whose love for human beings is unconditional (and beyond human comprehension. That is why is he surrounded by a pantheon of saints and angels etc. It is easier for humans to have a personal relationship with a saint or a guardian angel!)
– “The Bible Says”: The Early Church Fathers edited passages out from the Bible and actively used fear as a social tool to root out magical and pagan practices. Even today that leaves us with fear of “talking to spirits” or “talking to the dead” etc.
– “Temple Prostitution or Holy Whore”: Anthropologists do not always understand the cultures they study and describe (by this I mean that they write as a outsider, an observer, not as an insider or participant). They have given us those ugly phrases as the process seems an abomination to anyone used to Christian rituals and forms of worship
– “Woman can’t be priests”: It has taken women a long time to win the right to become ordained priests. The Roman Catholic Church does not allow women to be ordained as priests even today. All this is a far cry indeed from the peaceful era of the Great Mother Goddess many historians now do believe did exist in Europe once upon a time.
This list could go on. And on! The point I am really trying to make is that every culture is biased but we rarely reflect on the bias built into our own society and belief system. This is part of the “cultural soup” in which we all float and this inclines us to perceive other belief systems as “misguided”, “primitive” or downright “ludicrous” (without realizing that the rituals of Christian worship appear equally bizarre to those from very different cultures!)
Let’s return to Inanna who is a great goddess of (sexual) love and warfare. I teach all my students that Life and Death are flip sides of the same coin. Meaning that every great Mother Goddess is also a Death Goddess. Even Aphrodite (whom we think of the ultimate alluring goddess of sexual love) has another manifestation: The Dove Goddess, guiding souls home safely to the Land of the Dead. So the great goddess who gives birth and brings forth also reabsorbs what she created when a soul’s time on Earth is done.
This touches upon an ancient shamanic teaching: to be able live life to the full we need to look Death in the face and lose our fear of death. This was the core teaching of all Mystery Schools in the past.
So that is Death, but where does War come into the picture? In this wonderful book War and the Soul, Edward Tick (a clinical psychotherapist who works with many war veterans) says that War is wired into the human blueprint, meaning that we crave war in its mythic dimension. And initiation for young boys often took the shape of them being trained as warriors.
What connects religion and war is that human beings are compelled to fight for “what is most sacred to us”. This is the fundamental principle that underlies any “Holy War”. (And often people will fight on on opposite sides, living out that same archetype and narrative. Nothing is resolved. Many deaths result).
So War has a mysterious connection to Love: War in its spiritual dimension is about protecting loved ones, the vulnerable, our ancestral land where the bones of our ancestors are buried.
Rites of Passage
We need to learn all over again how to initiate young people into the Mysteries of Love, Death and War. That is the great teaching Inanna presents us with. And if my dream is anything to go on, this is also related to the ancient blood mysteries. However, the challenge of our time is to create a spiritual shift in the place where the blood of men and women flows and meets.
War and religion are powerful collective forces. But the reality of modern (21st Century) war is horrible, deadly and large scale. It can wipe out whole populations and cause devastation in large areas (just look at the hotbed that is the Middle East today). Remember too that any trauma which goes unhealed pools up in the ancestral field continues to (literally) run in families for many generations and destroy lives.
So What Are We To Do?
The reason my dream was so powerful was that (I now think) it was trying to teach me about the need to become aware of all that is within ourselves and owning all manifestations of “being human” but learning to choose the highest expressions of those things. We cannot resolve polarized “peace and war” consciousness by:
1. Becoming a pacifist and turning our backs on it all (it will just surprise us from behind when we least expect this)
2. Identifying with the Love Goddess but denying any or all connection to the Warrior God (this just enrages the Warrior God and he spins out of control, goes on a rampage).This is why positive “new age” thinking not backed up by solid shadow work ultimately becomes dangerous.
3. Waging the war to end all wars. (The moment we do this we engage on the very level of consciousness that created today’s state of world affairs in the first place).
What we can do (given time and dedication) is:
1. Initiate our young people into the Mysteries of Love and War, Life and Death, once again.
2. Teach them how to do shadow work (meaning the owning of our unpleasant side, the things we do not like about ourselves – so we no longer need to project that onto others (and get into large-scale conflicts with them).
3. Teach our young people about a much wider range of gods and goddesses (and not just academically, but on a level of personal devotion and a dedicated spiritual path).
4. Honor our soldiers: those who go to war on our behalf and often return with PTSD, carrying trauma beyond our imagination. Soldiers need rituals and ceremonies to welcome them home (a reception befitting heroes!). They also need to be credited for the shouldering of responsibilities that frees the rest of us to live our lives in peace.
5. Take responsibility for (and make amends for) the pain, the trauma and the losses deeply embedded in world history. Even if we did not personally commit those acts – it is still our job to close the gap and create solid ground for our descendants to stand on. We are the ones alive today. We have a human body. We have access to means of shifting our consciousness. We are in a position to do it. We owe this to both our ancestors and all people killed in wars and terrorism attacks.
The moment our culture can own its collective shadow – we no longer need to project that onto other cultures. Be it “Islamic” cultures, (so called) “primitive” cultures or the cultures of people with a different god or skin colour than ours.
Even terrorists (think back to IS) come under that heading: they act in a larger field that holds and connects all of us. They give expression to something that exists somewhere deep within all of us. Acknowledging this is the beginning of healing fear-based thinking and responses.
The great Sumerian goddess Inanna holds all of those strands within her own nature .That is what makes her such a powerful goddess for us today. She can lead us on a fearless exploration of our own nature. Just looking at where one great hotbed of war and violence is today (Iraq) leads us to Inanna’s door.
ISIS and IS
So what about the organization that started off sharing a name with an ancient Egyptian goddess? My best suggestion is that we take a big step back from responding on the level where they challenge us. If we respond to fear-mongering by dropping into fear (collective panic) and using the language of conflict in response, we remain locked into an old polarized pattern, we continue an ancient dance. We can choose to realize that anything ugly and violent is ultimately something that seeks love and healing. We can make a conscious choice to meet this material on that level.
Individual terrorists come under that heading too: we need to realise that they act in a larger field that holds and connects all of us. They give expression to something that exists somewhere deep within all of us. Acknowledging this is the beginning of healing fear-based thinking. Not easy – but profoundly necessary.
Beyond that we can also make a conscious choice to honour Iraq (and the larger Middle East) as the Cradle of our Civilisation. The place where Inanna reigned supreme and so did the Egyptian goddess Isis nearby. As the place that gave us many things we take for granted today. We can choose to see the Middle East in an earlier more peaceful manifestation.
We can tell both Inanna and the other old Sumerian gods that we are now ready to take our consciousness to another level. That we are willing to honour the warrior aspect of ourselves in a peaceful and evolved way. That means that we all become spiritual warriors, making our contribution to a larger global shift in conscioussness. Based on countless healing sessions with clients I have concluded that most of us are alive at this time in history for exactly that reason.
Who was Shamhat? She was a hierodule or temple priestess of Inanna. She appears in the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh where she sleeps with Wild Man Enkidu to prepare him for civilization. Shamhat put her body in service of the great goddess and the greater good of all. When making love is seen as a sacred act in sacred space, making love to the Goddess of erotic love (embodied by a human being) was to learn about Love, about Life and about being human. The word “prostitution” is a complete misnomer. I have come to think that in my dream I may have connected to Shamhat. If that is so, I received an immense blessing and insight from her. I am grateful!
One other thing worth mentioning here is that traditionally a priestess (representing the goddess and Divine Principle) would marry a King (representing the land). When a young hero invites this invitation from the Goddess, he demonstrates that is fit to be king. Human beings cannot live their lives on the land that sustains them without being in active relationship with the spirits of that land (and the deep dreaming, memories and ancestral stories held in that land).
Over years of studying and practicing shamanism I have come to see that our relationship with the spirits and gods truly is a partnership. They need us as much as we need them! Forgotten gods can wreck havoc in our world. Just like out of control control human beings.
Ancient gods and goddesses continue to evolve (into new manifestations) through their interaction with human beings just as we evolve through our honouring of them. That great process of symbolic death and rebirth is built into the human psyche and our relationship with Divinity.
About the author:
Imelda Almqvist’s book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon Books in August 2016. She is based in London,UK and teaches shamanism and sacred art internationally. She was a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit in July 2016.