A Feminine Approach to Calling
How the Underworld Can Support Purposeful Living
By Aninha Esperanza Livingstone, Ph.D.
We are born of mystery, and to the mystery we will return. Our time in this world brings us face to face with the questions Who am I? and Why am I here? Our deeper identity and purpose can sometimes feel like cryptic hieroglyphics scratched into the walls of our life.
The masculine powers of logic, linearity, and productivity are essential to living our calling, yet they cannot decipher the message embedded in our souls. In order to access this level of clarity, we need the power the feminine, of She who oversees the dark mysteries of death and rebirth.
The story of Innana, the Mesopotamian goddess whose tale was discovered on ancient clay tablets, offers this wisdom. Her initiatory descent into the underworld reflects the archetypal journey we must each take in order to live our calling from the depths of our being.
As Innana heeds the call to visit her underworld sister Ereshkigal, she teaches us to honor being called into the darkness. As she is forced to shed her status in the form of her jewels, crown, and regal garments, she teaches us about the sacred sacrifice of shedding old identities, no matter how cherished or hard earned. She reminds us that it is in our utter nakedness that we are reborn into the truth of who we are.
The underworld is a transformative cauldron that can be likened to a caterpillar entering an enclosure, dying to everything known, and emerging with new capacities, new ways of moving through the world, and a heightened God-given beauty. Here we are offered a new life, but not before surrendering to a death with no guarantees.
Perhaps you know this terrain as depression, loss, illness, or the healing process of what in this context could be considered a sacred wound. For women in particular, you may know it as the loss of identity that can accompany surrendering to motherhood or facing menopause.
You are not alone. “The dark night of the soul,” “it is darkest before the dawn,” and “the light at the end of the tunnel” all speak to the universal experience of entering this realm. Here we garner what mythologist Michael Meade calls “dark wisdom.” It is this very wisdom that informs our calling. The gifts with which we emerge are not of our own making—rather, they have been forged by the feminine.
We are told that we need friends in high places to make it in this world. Perhaps it is the friend we make with ourselves in the very lowest place that really matters.
This journey, both ominous and promising, can be undertaken consciously. In order to willingly walk through this doorway, we need a strong container, a place that we can die to who we know ourselves to be. Just as Innana had allies, we too need support. A mentor or guide is of great value. Here are some examples of containers in which the feminine circuitously leads us toward our destiny:
* Depth and Sandplay Psychotherapy: Through an alchemical process informed by myth, we are able to make contact with our Self or with a core image that reflects our unique soul.
We might inquire, Who am I below this persona? What deeper self might emerge that is unique to me and to my calling?
* Vision Quests: Through prayer and fasting in the wilderness while held by trained soul guides, one might return with a new name and a new way of belonging and contributing to the larger community.
We might ask, What is my calling? How can I serve the community? What is my medicine name?
* Shadow work: Through intentionally retrieving disowned aspects of ourselves that we have projected onto others, we can reclaim our wholeness. Here we confront not only our less-than-desirable traits but also what Carl Jung referred to as the “Golden Shadow”—our hidden powers and capacities.
We might consider, Who do I judge or dismiss? Who do I admire or envy? What traits do they exhibit that I believe I would never want to, or could never in my wildest dreams, embody? How might these people mirror aspects of myself needed for my calling?
* Dreamwork: By writing down our dreams, embodying them, and sharing them in a sacred context, we engage the soul’s unfolding through imagery and symbols.
We might ponder, What are my dreams telling me about my calling? What steps am I being guided to take? What aspects of wholeness am I being asked to become conscious of, or to integrate?
* Life Transitions: Through consciously engaging what is commonly referred to as a midlife crisis, we have the opportunity to enter the second half of life with greater meaning and clarity of calling.
We might become curious: How does the reality of my mortality inform what has meaning for me? What am I called to in the precious time I have left?
Whether our underworld journey is unexpected or chosen, when we emerge from those depths, we return with greater capacities with which to express our unique gifts. It is at this point that we need the masculine powers of planning and implementation to help bridge our dark wisdom into this world. The attributes of the masculine are golden allies, but only when we have been deemed ready by something greater than ourselves.