Inanna’s Ascent: A Fellowship of Isis Chicago Imbolc Ritual

She is rising, She is rising
From the pit.
Come, we will go to Inanna,
We will sit in the lap so holy,
Inanna is ascending, Inanna is ascending
From the pit.

–Lady Olivia Robertson, “Space Magic: Oracle of the Goddess Inanna” (From the FOI Clergy Booklet, “Urania: Ceremonial Magic of the Goddess”)

In the Chicago-based Fellowship of Isis Lyceum to which I belong, we have a lovely and emotionally impactful way of commemorating the descent of the great Sumerian goddess Inanna at our annual Samhain ritual as well as Her ascent at our Imbolc gathering.

Our Lyceum’s beloved founder and Archpriestess, the late and dearly missed Rt. Rev. Deena Butta, AU, had a portable wooden ziggurat that her husband had constructed for the Lyceum. On its seven gold-painted tiers, we would place a colored candle that corresponded with each of the seven main chakras in the human body and also symbolically represented one of the seven jewels/powers that Holy Inanna forfeited at each of the seven great gates in Her descent to the Underworld and the abode of Her fearsome sister, Ereshkigal.

Inanna

Clay seal circa 1,400 B.C.E. depicting the goddess Inanna. Part of the permanent collection of Sumerian artifacts at the Oriental Institute of Chicago. I took this photo on 1/24/2015.

Towards the conclusion of our annual Samhain ceremony, we would each approach a lit candle, starting with the crown chakra or Inanna’s diadem, and say a few words or a prayer before snuffing it out and announcing which of the powers Inanna had relinquished of Her own free will and accord in order to experience the Mystery of Death. After the seventh Lyceum volunteer had extinguished the last candle (root chakra) and the ziggurat (a microcosm of the world)–and by extension, the entire temple space–was engulfed in total darkness, I’d always feel a tremendous sense of heaviness in my heart and a free-floating mild anxiety that would last through the night. Gods, have mercy and let the winter pass peaceably, I’d pray. Let not the wide earth open up to swallow any of us anytime soon.

But in the winter of 2012-2013, my prayer went unanswered. With Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) wending its irreversible, death-dealing course in Deena’s brain and central nervous system,  Samhain of 2012 was the last ritual that she celebrated with us. The rapidity of her decline shocked us all, and the days leading up to Imbolc of 2013 witnessed our Lyceum members surrounding Deena on her deathbed in her home. We gathered the night of January 26, a full moon night, and, joined by her husband Ray and two remaining sons, circled her bed for hours, setting up ritual space and tearfully reciting passages from the ancient Book of Going Forth By Day, the 42 Negative Confessions, and prayers for protection for Deena’s soul during its imminent journey into the Duat. We prayed for her to be found justified before the Judgment of Osiris. We asked her deceased son Maris, whose shocking suicide three years prior to Deena’s CJD diagnosis, to come and welcome her into the abode of their ancestors. That night was simultaneously one of the most despairing and strangely uplifting moments of my life, and a watershed moment in my spiritual evolution as a Priestess. Deena died the following morning at 7:26 Chicago time with Ray and their sons at her side. She was only 63 years old. Her funeral was Imbolc of 2013; Ray asked me to deliver her eulogy, which I did.

Deena

The late Rt. Rev. Deena Butta, Archpriestess-Hierophant in the Chicago Fellowship of Isis

In our grief and confusion over how we were going to move forward as a religious community, we neglected to do the inverse ritual to welcome the goddess Inanna’s ascent from the Underworld for many months; in fact, we put it off until the following year, Imbolc of 2014. I was so, so, so eager to perform it, and I knew Deena’s akh, or transfigured soul, was soaring with us in triumph as we lit the candles in order on the ziggurat, from root to crown, announcing at each stage that the goddess Inanna was whole in flesh once again, that Her vitality was returning, that She’d reclaimed Her girdle of power, and so forth, and was ultimately unshackled and released from the Underworld/reborn to bequeath Her gifts to the planet and to humanity. Oh, the sight of all those candles burning fiercely again was and is absolute balm for the spirit!

I’m looking forward to helping ignite those ziggurat candles again and praising Inanna’s return on Saturday, January 30, when our Chicago FOI Lyceum of Alexandria-Mishigami will hold its Imbolc gathering. It’s a public ritual open to all who honor the Divine Feminine in whatever fashion they see fit. We’ll be meeting at the Life Force Arts Center on Chicago’s North Side (Lakeview neighborhood); doors will open at 4:30 p.m. and the event will begin at 5 and last until 8. The Liturgy we’ll be performing is Lady Olivia Robertson’s Space Magic: Oracle of the Goddess Inanna, the first ritual from the Urania: Ceremonial Magic of the Goddess FOI Clergy booklet. Attendees are asked to bring a potluck dish or beverage to share and hopefully donate $10 towards the cost of the rental space, though no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

It’s been a winter of mourning–Good Gods, in just this week alone we’ve tragically lost two immensely gifted entertainers; first David Bowie and now this morning’s confirmation that actor Alan Rickman, whom I’ve loved ever since the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, has died of cancer also at the age of 69 like Bowie has left me reeling in shock. The three-year anniversary of Deena’s death is swiftly approaching and as with all other loved ones’ deaths that I mourn, I ask myself what it is that I can do, day to day, to honor her memory and her legacy.

Keeping Isis-Seshat journal going is one notable answer, but I know that there are others, and they speak to me with the voices of the subzero winds that blow as I tread my solitary footsteps in the local paupers’ graveyard each night, even when it’s -13 degrees F outside. I need only pause longer to listen. The answers come to me also in my dreams/spontaneous shamanic journeys of intense experiences: two nights ago the Moon was conjunct Neptune and I had a flurry of spiritual experiences in my soul’s sojourns, including encountering Nephthys, my Patron Goddess, in the halls of a Chicago university library and then reporting the dream encounter to friends in a subsequent dream (dream-within-a-dream effect, very trippy).

Descent and Ascent, the twin pillars flanking the altar of our spiritual evolution. Our task is to stand firm, without fear.

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4 thoughts on “Inanna’s Ascent: A Fellowship of Isis Chicago Imbolc Ritual

  1. I really need to ask you this: why add in all these extra pantheons and then pair gods and goddesses with festivals from far differing pantheons. I just feel very uncomfortable with that. Your Egyptian information is wonderful, as I want to know more about the religions of my ancient Hellenic Mediterranean neighbours. I am perfectly happy not including Wiccan/and-or some Celtic/Germano-Norse festivals along with all the rest of the festivals to the Gods during the liturgical year. I do know that Egyptian religion on the whole is more “magical” than other revivalist/reconstructionist faiths, though we all do believe in omens and oracles. I have just been wondering for a long time. I am sure that you have asked Brigid for dispensation (I believe She is the main Goddess of Imbolc) .

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    • Hi, Julia. While my own personal religious practices (what I do at home) are Kemetic Reconstructionist, the Fellowship of Isis, as an organization, honors the Divine Feminine however that concept has found expression across all cultures and time periods. The late Lady Olivia Robertson, co-founder of the FOI, crafted all the rituals and they do deliberately conflate pantheons. Obviously, participation in such rituals is not for everybody.

      My Chicago Lyceum’s late founder and Archpriestess was a devotee of Inanna and it is out of respect for her memory that our Imbolc rituals enact the great Sumerian goddess’s Ascent. Here in Chicago, at this time of year we can see the vise grip of Winter begin to loosen. Crocuses protrude from the ground. The Life Force returns. And yes, in metaphoric thinking, Inanna returns from the Underworld.

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