Rituals of change: Why women’s spirituality can really use Inanna’s story

Trigger Warning: Rape, power abuse within relationships, victim blaming

One of the biggest changes I’ve gone through in my life is re-understanding parts of my relationship with a past partner as not just difficult but fundamentally wrong. As the relationship developed, it became more and more obvious that he was taking advantage of me in oh so many ways. This culminated in intimate partner rape.

Carol P. Christ has come out with a story of her own about a relationship that involved, at the very least, abuses of power. As she relates, understanding what happened to her, in retrospect, involved a lot of changes. Most powerfully, she judged herself for “letting” this happen. She should have known better, she should have recognized it, and so on an on with the internalized victim blaming that is one of the strongest tools patriarchy has ever invented.

What helped her get out of that was ritual, a ritual of self-affirmation of a kind that has a lot of prominence in women’s spirituality because of the sad fact that so many women need it. (Yes, plenty of other people need it too, including for sexual and relationship abuse. I’m not trying to exclude them, only to speak from my own place of experience.) I love that she created her own ritual in her own words. I want to share my similar experience and suggest why the story of Inanna may be especially suited to this kind of ritual re-understanding of self.

When I wrote the “Call to Inanna,” I wrote it with many situations in mind. Almost any kind of facing the darkness and reclaiming one’s power, I thought, could be a motivation for doing this ritual. I had seen a lot of discussion of Inanna’s experiences as an archetype for women and women’s rituals, so I thought I’d create my own version of it. No big deal.

Little did I realize that this was not an accident. As I wrote that, I was in the midst of the process of understanding how wrong that past relationship was, which culminated in me being able to name the worst of it as rape.

That naming was a tremendously powerful, positive experience for me. As soon as I named it as rape, I felt different in my body. I felt safe within my own skin in a way I never had before. By realizing that what happened to me was wrong, that it happened without my consent, I was able to reclaim my rights to myself, to my body, to my ability to choose what I do, with a partner or by myself.

If you want to use these terms, I went straight from “victim” to “survivor.” Those are loaded terms, and I haven’t even begun to engage with the wider discussion on what they mean and how to use them, but that’s how I would use them. I had been a victim in silence for years; when I spoke, I became a survivor.

Along the way, I had learned how wrong it is to blame the victim of rape. She doesn’t give consent by remaining silent. She didn’t give consent by what she wore, or did, or said, or anything else. I’d never applied those conclusions to myself, though; I continued to judge myself and to exonerate my rapist by rationalizing that when I stopped saying no, because it wasn’t doing any good, I had okayed what happened to me. Suddenly I realized that I had never given my consent, and that my feelings of shame and revulsion shouldn’t be directed at myself, but at the person who violated me, my body, and my sense of self.

As I was dealing with this, I thought I might do a ritual to reclaim myself from that experience. Suddenly I realized that I had the answer: as if dropped in my lap from the Queen of Heaven herself, I already had a ritual designed for facing the worst of a past experience, coming out of it, and reaffirming oneself afterward.

So I did. It became in some ways more than just self-affirmation; it became a rite of passage, of empowerment, from someone who had had bad things happen – had maybe “let” them happen – to someone who had had a bad thing happen, yes, but wasn’t defined by that. As I separated responsibility for the rape from myself and identified its true source, my own identity grew and blossomed into a woman with the right to own myself.

This is only my story, but the fact that rape and abuse are such staggeringly common experiences for women is why I think the story of Inanna is so prized by the women’s spirituality movement. That story certainly can be used to understand other harrowing experiences besides rape, and as a spiritual transformation all on its own, but I think a lot of women who have been through experiences like this desperately need stories to help them understand how they became a piece of meat…and then became a person again afterwards.