Our biggest gathering of the year took place on the day of the Winter Solstice. Twenty-five of us snuggled around the wood-burner in Sue’s home to celebrate the moment of the returning light. We each held the decorated Yule log and imbued it with all that we wanted to burn or wish for as the cycle turned and it was placed on the fire.
At this fulcrum point of the year, we had several departures from our normal routine: the epic story of Inanna was told in two parts, morning and afternoon, by Sue and Abigail; we had the choice of winter crafts or a walk into the wild, wet, dark of the longest night and three brave men joined us for the gathering and brought their wisdom to the pot.
The myth of Inanna, a story being told over 10,000 years ago in what is now modern-day Iraq, came down to us on 5,000 year old clay tablets only dug up in the latter half of the last century and yet it is strikingly relevant to our modern lives. Inanna’s tending of the huluppu tree which grows to fullness with her and is then invaded by a snake, a bird and Lilith, is a powerful rendering of our first encounter with the shadow in that threshold moment of adolescence.
After a drinking match with her father, in which she wins the seven Me, the seven divine powers of Heaven and Earth, Inanna takes on the responsibility of leadership – her throne. Then she moves on to the other item she made from her beloved huluppu tree: her bed.
We witness her initial reluctance and then adoration for the shepherd Dumuzid and see their marriage as an enactment of our connection to the land and its fertility. Strikingly, as a young women beset by many of the fears and uncertainties of first love, Inanna is none the less secure in the knowledge of the beauty of her own body.
And all of this is a prelude to Inanna’s main story of her descent into the underworld and her encounter with her dark sister, Ereskigala. The story is full of surprises from corpses rotting on meat hooks to little empathetic androgynous creatures created from the dirt under a thumbnail who play a vital role, so the closing invocation, after Dumuzid has gone on his own underworld journey, is to Ereskigala – the shadow sister without whom we are not whole.
We explored this story in reflection and meditation with Sam guiding us through the seven stars of wisdom already present in our bodies which link us to universal wisdom. It was a splendid feast at lunchtime – the usual smorgasbord of textures and colours with hot mince pies and mulled juice for the returning group of walkers in the afternoon.
As part of the closing ceremony, we lit candles on the branch of holly taken from Sue’s hedge as part of laying it, in lieu of a Christmas tree. We witnessed each others pledges and sang Gaudete.
It was a full day in many senses and yet one with deep quiet and stillness at its heart and wonder, compassion, knowledge and mindfulness spread out on the table.