Stars and the Sky

Power of stripping identities, one step at a time.

Metaphors abound around us that attempt to illuminate the human condition. But none are more prevalent or useful than those that help us understand the mystery of our own self.

Who am I? A question as eternal and ever present as none other. Philosophers have asked this of themselves since the beginning of time. Every time you find yourself in a social situation with a new acquaintance, you answer this question as you introduce yourself. Same question, different depth to the answer.

Today’s morning sky had a profound take on how we deal with our identities. If you looked toward the Eastern horizon just before sunrise, if the skies were clear, you would have seen Venus right next to a waning crescent moon. A star and a sickle.

One of the earliest known epic poems is the Descent of Inanna, a Sumerian myth from the Akkadian Era, written nearly 4000 years back. Inanna is an accomplished woman, queen of heaven and earth, with a beautiful family and population that loves her, and living a rich and splendid life. But at the behest of her sister, Erishkigal, she descends to the Underworld. To meet her sister who lives at the center of the underworld, Inanna must pass through seven well-guarded gates.

Going to the underworld – which may metaphorically be considered as a journey to our own inner selves, facing up to those facets of ourselves that we don’t usually own up to, accepting our own limitations and vulnerabilities – is no easy task. Inanna starts her journey in her royal regalia, each ornament representing a part of her identity, bestowing her with her sense of self and power.

Inanna – Goddess of Heaven and Earth
Source: Art by Tomas Orban

As she enters the underworld, she is confronted by the gatekeeper, Neti, who will let her enter each gate only if she gives up one of her regalia. The poem describes in detail Inanna going through the seven gates, losing first her crown, then her necklace, beads, breast plate, ring, measuring rod and finally her gold bracelet. Exhausted, stripped and broken, Inanna endures the journey and crosses the final threshold. At each step of the journey, Neti asks her why she has come. At first, her answers are assured and strong, but as she crosses each gate, it becomes more feeble, eventually until she says nothing – the answer Neti was looking for all along.

The story continues beyond this to her staring at her sister (metaphorically, death) and after that the transformative rebirth before she starts the ascent…but I will leave that part for another time.

The significance of today’s morning sky and this ancient epic is that each meeting of Venus and Moon in the sky is meant to depict a gate. The story of Inanna, the first goddess of love, power and wealth, have been inspiration for the later mythological characters of Ishtar, Isis, the Greek Aphrodite and the Roman version of Venus.

Venus started its current journey as the morning star earlier this year, in January (my post about it here) It is called the morning star during the months when it is visible for a few hours in the morning just before sunrise. During this period, every month it will come together with the crescent moon in its waning state, just before the moon disappears to become a new moon. The ancient Sumerians likened it to a gate in Inanna’s descent. What wondrous and delightful imagination! By my count, January 29, 2022 was when Venus entered her first gate, in the constellation of Sagittarius.

Venus and Moon in the morning of 29 January 2022, seen from Dubai, UAE.
The First Gate.

Now 7 months later, she is crossing her seventh gate, with the moon and Venus playing out the story against the backdrop of Gemini. Don’t take my word for it, you can see it in the sky yourself, the cosmic drama is all the more entertaining with a story to accompany it.

Source: Venus and Moon on the morning of 26 July 2022.
The Seventh Gate.

For each of us, it’s an opportunity to examine the labels we give ourselves, the masks of our identities that shroud our true self. Do we dare, like Inanna, as Venus descends, to strip ourselves of all that we hold dear? When we are not afraid to be nothing, we have the potential to be everything. We can finally recognize that we are beyond all labels, star dust in a galaxy full of them.

The best metaphors work at multiple levels, simultaneously profound and practical, esoteric and utilitarian. Identity is essential for human life, it is hard to function in our world without it, but the occasional descent into nothingness – and there are many ways to do this in our daily lives – will remind us that each facet of our identity is just a sheath and that we will all benefit from wearing our masks lightly, which is to say, by not taking ourselves too seriously.

Enjoy the cosmic drama unfold in the skies…we will watch Venus’ inevitable rebirth in the months ahead. And each time, we can choose to see what we want to see, what we need to see. Isn’t that the beauty of metaphors?

PS. Isn’t it fascinating that the 7 gates that Inanna passes through corresponds almost exactly to the 7 chakras of our spiritual tradition?

PPS. In the original poem of Inanna’s descent, Neti, the gate keeper says at each gate, repeating in dramatic epic style, “Not this. Not this. Not this.” urging Inanna to give up something. Is it a coincidence that if you split the name Neti into “Na” + “Iti”, it means “Not this” in Sanskrit?

PPPS. I have always been curious about the stark difference between the portrayal of Venus in Western mythologies – as the goddess of love – and in Indian stories – as Shukra-acharya, Guru to the Asuras. Am beginning to see the connections and evolution, to be explored in another post.

  • References:
  • The long version of the story of Inanna:
  • Venus as morning and evening star:
  • Related post on going beyond labels: