I have made the contrast between the great ancestress and the Mithraic mode before, but I want to turn toward it more directly. There is something in it of the contrast between a feminine and masculine mode, but it is more than that, encompasses and overruns that. It reflects a fundamental difference in attitude toward the world and our place in it.
At its heart, the contrast relates to how they approach the mystery of the heavens. What I have called the Mithraic mode isn’t really just about the Mithraic mysteries. Rather, the Mithraic mysteries are a convenient hook upon which to hang a discussion of a certain kind of gnosticism, one that seeks to free the soul from the world and ascend beyond it.
The Mithraic mysteries point toward the importance of the planetary gates, the path of ascent, which cuts across many of the gnostic mysteries. That is useful, because it lets us see clearly the contrast of that path with the mysteries of Inanna, the path of descent through the seven gates, and the illumination of the corpse. Because it is Inanna who provides an alternative vision of the gnostic universe, who descends downward.
Inanna does not become more powerful by accumulating the powers of the planets. No, she becomes less powerful, more vulnerable, naked, and finally dead. She gives up her regalia, gives up her ties to the planets, in order to more fully embed herself in the world. When Philip K. Dick talks about the mysterious feminine presence at the heart of esoteric Christianity, the presence for whom Christ is a front? It is the same mystery with which Inanna is bound up. The corpse hanging on the cross refracts the corpse hanging on the hook.
The work of the mother finds its destination in the dirt, in the mound heaped over the corpse, the mound which will become a mountain to better hide the dead. The dissolution of the body accompanies a positive expansion of the spirit into matter, with all the uncomfortable interpenetrations of matter, self, and identity that entails. The path of the mother is the path of becoming more real, not more powerful.
It is why the metaphor of birth plays such a central role in the mysteries, because it is the axis through which the spirit is nailed to the suffering of the earth–the esoteric significance of the women at the foot of the Cross and at the opening of the tomb. The mother oversees the so-called malefic work of Saturn and Mars more intimately than most imagine.
And it is that malefic work which gives Inanna her most terrible aspect. When she returns from her sojourn in the earth, her sojourn as corpse, what is it she finds? Dumuzi enjoying all her luxuries. And what does she do? Hurl him into the underworld, thereby forcing him to follow her path to illumination.
More broadly, Inanna is also the bearer of culture, transmitting celestial wisdom to humanity. The great mother brings the celestial into terrible proximity with the terrestrial, forcing it to take form, to live, and to die. She oversees the (temporary, because temporal) subjection of the eternal to the temporal, thereby establishing a connection between the two. That’s the basis of wisdom, of truth, and of the relentlessness with which wisdom pits the temporal and eternal against each other in a fierce and productive struggle.
And the shape of that struggle is the shape of the life, of lifetimes even.