Myth of Inanna Essay

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The myth of Inanna


myth and modern psychoanalytic perspectives

Myth in psychoanalysis and depth psychology has a fascinating modern history that has involved the recognition of the importance of ancient myths and mythical structures in the understanding of the human psyche and the structure of the ego. The discovery of the unconscious mind, or rather the popularization of the concept of the unconscious by Freud, opened up a radical contemporary vision of human nature. In order to understand the significance of the myth of Inanna in terms of modern depth psychology one first has to understand the importance of the discovery of the unconscious in Western thinking

Freud understood the unconscious as the symbolic working of the human psyche and that myths were representations of the repressed or hidden ideas and feelings in the unconscious mind. However, Jung, who differed from Freud in a number of vital aspects, was to take the idea of the unconscious mind to a new level when he posited his theory of the "collective unconscious." This refers to archetypal or originating patterns of perception and understanding that were "encoded," as it were, in the mythical stories and legends found in all cultures.

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Furthermore, Jung suggested that this collective or archetypal unconscious was common to all human cultures and that this explained the remarkable similarity that we find in many mythical structures throughout the world. These mythical structures could then be studied as the foundations and bases for human thoughts, actions and emotions.

A related theme found in the works of both Freud and Jung is the "… concern with polarities and their dialectical reconciliation or transcendence" (Staude, 2004).In essence this means that Freud's view of the psyche was"… shot through with polarities-one thinks of the dualism of instincts, and the polarities of pleasure/unpleasure, active/passive, subject/object, etc." (Staude, 2004).

TOPIC: Essay on Myth of Inanna Assignment

In simple terms, this refers to the struggle in the psyche between the Super-Ego and Id, and the mind and the body (Staude, 2004). While these polarizing factors are significant, what is more important in terms of the present analysis of the myth of Inanna is the fact that "Freud placed the Ego as an integrating and synthesizing principle." (Staude, 2004). The descent into the underworld that we find in the myth of Inanna can therefore be understood as both a process of the disintegration of the ego structures of the psyche and the reintegration of the ego on a new and transcendent level.

This view of the place of myth in the analysis of the unconscious applies even more in the case of Jung. Jung disagreed with various aspects of Freudian theory. While the theory of the unconscious was retained by Jung he disagreed with the overly sexual view of repressed consciousness. More importantly, he felt that the theory of the unconscious should be much more extensive and therefore developed his theory of the collective or archetypal unconscious, which is shared by all humanity. As briefly referred to, this theory focused on the view that the collective unconsciousness contained within it "…inherited predispositions to perceive the world in certain ways" (Ewen, 1998, p. 1). This theory had profound consequences for the psychological views of personality development that were later to be developed.

The term archetypes is derive from the derived from Greek 'archien', which means beginning and 'typos', which means form. Therefore the archetype and archetypal myths can be understood as beginning forms of the human psyche and its understanding of reality (MYTH AND THE WATER SIGNS: The Descent of Inanna). In essence Jung was of the view that;

All of these unconscious images…had a direct and meaningful relationship to man's physical and emotional well-being…myths… were an impersonal, communal projection which arise from a collective, instinctual wisdom which is inherent in mankind's psyche. Jung claimed that myths give us this universal connection, as the stories from differing cultures, time periods, and regions of the earth, were startlingly similar. (MYTH AND THE WATER SIGNS: The Descent of Inanna).

Furthermore, Jung also stated that "… myth-forming structural elements must be present in the unconscious psyche" (O'Connor. 2008, p.103). In other words, Jung emphasizes the intimate connection between the psyche and myth. This is also emphasized in other works on Jung and myth. As R.A. Segal states in Theorizing about Myth (1999). "For Jung, myth is no more about gods than about the physical world; it is about the human mind and must be read symbolically" (Segal, 1999, p.69).

Carl Jung observed that myths and religions across cultures contain common themes and entities: for example, images of the mother, father, wife, husband, lover, fool, devil, shadow, hero, saviour, and many others. The stories woven from these beings, as gods, goddesses, semi-mortals, heroes, and demons, constitute the myths and religious stories of humankind. (Relke, 2007)

We should also note in regard the interpretation of the myth of Inanna and its relation to the concept of the anima in Jung. Jung refers to the anima as the "soul" and as "…something that lives of itself, that makes us live; it is a life behind consciousness that cannot be completely integrated with it, but from which, on the contrary, consciousness arises" (Jung, 1954, p.27). This refers to the female principle that we encounter in the myth of Inanna.

The Myth of Inanna

The myth of Inanna is one of the many female mythical constructs that has been seen by psychologist as a means of providing fundamental insight in to the human condition and the human psyche. This Sumerian legend of the goddess Inanna is one of the oldest of these mythical constructs and revolves around the most important goddess of the Sumerian Pantheon.

It should be noted at the outset that, while there are many aspects and details of psychological relevance in this myth, the present study will refer only .to those aspects that pertain to the main trajectory and thesis of the present study -- which is that the myth of the descent of Inanna into the underworld, the confrontation with her sister and her death and resurrection to the world above, constitute the central elements that provide a source for modern psychoanalytical interpretations of the ego and the transformation of the ego structure in modern psychology.

The Sumerian poem, 'The Descent of Inanna' was written in clay

tablets in the third millennium BC. It deals with the story of Inanna, the Sumerian

Queen of Heaven and Earth (MYTH AND THE WATER SIGNS: The Descent of Inanna). Inanna was seen as a fertility goddess who was linked to images of birth and fecundity. " She was also healer, lifegiver, composer of songs - to which she is said to give birth - in fact, she was creative in all realms" (MYTH AND THE WATER SIGNS: The Descent of Inanna).

In contrast we have the mythical figure of her dark sister, Ereshkigal, who is linked to the fate of all humanity. She ruled the underworld and it is she who Inanna must confront in her journey.

Central to the myth is that one of the reasons for Inanna's journey to the underworld is to unseat or displace her sister Ereshkigal. In terms of Freudian and Jungian analysis we therefore have two opposites in Inanna and her sister that represents the opposites in the ego and human psyche.

An important point to make is that Jungian mythical analysis takes into account the fact that many myths from numerous cultures in antiquity provide insight into the human psyche. Women in myth for example includes figures such as "Isis, Cybele, Ishtar (Inanna), Aphrodite, Hipta, the Marys, Demeter, the Maenads, and Anat in the story of Baal "(Leeming, 1998, p. 180). All of these mythical female are usually linked aspects of fertility, birth and rejuvenation. They all refer in different ways to the central mythical structure being explored in the Inanna myth - which is the descent into the underworld for the purpose of revitalizing the world above. The death of the heroine and her association with the female life force holds promise of new life.

Thus, out of the bodies of Attis, Adonis, and Dionysos spring flowers and the vine; the body of the dismembered Osiris is literally planted by his sister-wife, Isis, and the world is renovated by the Osiris religion which grows out of these ritual burials... (Leeming, 1998, p. 180)

Interpretation: Descent into the Underworld and Ego Transformation

Dissolution and Destruction of the Ego

If we accept the Jungian theory of the archetypal structure of common myths and that those myths are in fact forms of deeply remembered reality structures that pertain to the development of the human mind and psychology, then the myth of Inanna has a number of lessons to teach us about ego construction and ego transformation. This refers to the theme of the descent into the underworld, which is commonly found in many cultures, from Sumerian to Greek sources and many others.

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Myth of Inanna.  (2010, April 8).  Retrieved September 25, 2021, from

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"Myth of Inanna."  April 8, 2010.  Accessed September 25, 2021.