Some weeks ago I confided in my acupuncturist about the deep grief and loneliness I’d been trying not to feel of late.   My usual pattern is to stay so busy so as not to feel.  But it wasn’t working very well, and I started to feel weary from so much activity.  I could no longer outrun it.  Zer-me, my guide in dzogchen practice, suggested that whomever told me loneliness was dangerous and not to be felt was expressing their own fear. “It is more painful to avoid it. At the same time, be sure not to be hard on yourself. If you allow emotional states to arise and then depart, they show themselves in a kinder light.”  Simplicity.  So I allowed myself to feel my broken heart, harboring an old wound from childhood – the belief that I was unworthy of love and would always be abandoned.  My acupuncturist had asked me to pick an archetype representing the lonely, grieving part of me, and ask its gifts and lessons.  I drew a blank.  Who would create a mythology around such a being?

A week later, I found myself at Pantheacon, February 16 to 19 in San Jose.  Pcon, as it is affectionately known, is an annual convention of pagans, anamists, polytheists, and others of diverse religious beliefs.  I have always enjoyed this gathering of the tribe, as well as the eclectic courses and rituals offered.  I followed my intuition one afternoon and decided that the class on Oghams, an Early Medieval alphabet used to write the early Irish language was not for me.  Instead, I waited in the overflow crowd next door hoping to get into the workshop and take a journey to meet Ereshkigal, the Sumerian goddess of the underworld.  She is one of many dark goddesses, and per Jane Meredith, the workshop leader, is shockingly recognizable as that part of ourselves that we try to contain and deny.  Sounded familiar.

Somehow I managed to enter the room despite the lack of floor space.  I sat and listened as Jane described the journey we would take to meet this goddess whom few had listened to.  We were simply to listen and witness her pain.  We began by descending  through the 7 gates that Inanna took to visit her sister Ereshkigal in the underworld.  In the vision, I saw her lying on the floor, moaning in the throes of childbirth. Her heart had been torn out, and I could see two aortas still in place where her organ had been.  Then I noticed that her eyes too were missing.  I wondered whether her hearing and other senses were more developed as a result of the loss of sight and heart. In the vision, tears ran down my face and began to cleanse the blood from her wound.  I saw her pain and isolation similar to that of the Minotaur who was left alone to starve.  I felt her deep loneliness. Then she presented me with a beautiful stone heart, the one that I’d recently won in an art auction in Santa Cruz.  She told me that even stone can be shaped. I wondered whether it was a replacement for the one ripped from her, or from me.

As I sat in the dark room, seeing only with my inner eye, I had the feeling that Ereshkigal’s pain was not only due to giving birth. She had been left alone in this pit, shunned.  One of the most natural human urges is to belong, to be part of a community, whether that of family or of friends.  What part of myself had I done that to?  And now felt the need to reclaim and bring back to the surface, to life.  I thought about my 11 year old self who had felt completely abandoned when my father left.  I remember sitting on the back steps of the classroom at lunch, eating alone.  Feeling ashamed that my family was splintering, while no one else in school had even heard of divorce.  I recently visited my friend Mika, with whom I was a cheerleader that year.  She told me about things I’d completely forgotten, about my dad and family.  I can’t remember much between 6th and 9th grade, when I started Homestead.  I wonder whether I blocked those memories because the loneliness I felt was too painful.  Along with losing my memory of those three years, I also changed dramatically, no longer reading or drawing but going out into the world exploring and doing sports.  I didn’t want to be inside.  Even practicing piano was painful, because I’d have to be home alone.  So I eschewed the lonely world of an only child indoors and ventured out to explore the world.  At least I didn’t feel as alone there. Ever since, I’ve rarely had the will to do other indoor activities other than times when I had a piano or art class with homework. Even after a serious car accident shattered my ankle, I was willing to risk falling after just a week of cabin fever just to get a change the scenery. “Pulling a geographic” has given me solace when nothing else has. Perhaps I just need to accept that for now. Maybe one day my pre-teen self will heal that deep loneliness inside and find her way back to doing the creative things inside that I once loved.


4 responses to “Ereshkigal

  1. Thank you for this, Lisa. What a remarkable gathering that must have been! I’d never heard of Ereshkigal before but, improbably, I’d had a brush with Inanna in Istanbul years ago (

    And I hear you: it’s always felt to me like society heaps aloneness and loneliness in one big pot and treats them all as some pathological aberration, and those who confess to them as somehow diseased, and to be shunned. And yet we glorify those who seek solitude!

    It took me so long to work through my own journey on this front, and I think the only thing that gave me traction was the mindfulness training (thanks, Meng!) that instructs us to constantly ask ourselves “What am I feeling right now?” And, once we can put our hands around the feeling, to ask “So, what’s behind that feeling?”

    It’s still a deeply imperfect method, but it helps me…

    Again, thank you for sharing this, and for bringing us along on this inner journey of yours, just as you’ve carried us along on your travels through all those amazing places in the outer world.


  2. Thank you Pablo for your insightful and compassionate comment. I appreciate you sharing the method of insight meditation that has helped you. I sometimes forget in the middle of deep pain. I’ve been hesitant to write about my process and inner journey, as I assume it would be too raw for folks, as well as for me. But I think it’s important to be honest and reveal our inner workings. Otherwise we all run around comparing our insides to other’s outsides, never knowing the struggles that they also contend with. You are a dear friend. I feel lucky to know you.


  3. Fits with my own experience. I was told by Ereshkigal in the same ritual, too “bring the darkness into the light.” Sounds scary or intimidating on the surface but, I am not a surface person. I’ve struggled to interpret the meaning of her charge and in so doing, I found myself helping others and bringing the unseen (dark places within them), out into the light of awareness. We may have some work too do together around this. No expectations just a strong feeling.


    • Thanks Tom for your insights about the ritual. I’d forgotten that you were there too. It’s good to get corroboration, especially when it’s such a mirky field. I look forward to doing some work with you around connecting with her.


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