Inanna is the essence of divine autonomy – one may even say divine selfishness. Hers is the supreme confidence to say yes! and the innate audacity to say no! She neither dissembles nor waivers, neither gives up her standards nor gives in to another’s. She does all She desires and nothing She does not desire. She is beholden to no one and thus Her every action is made with absolute freedom of will. The Queen of Heaven has not broken Her chains because She never suffered them to exist in the first place. Inanna is the only sovereign of Inanna, and She can teach you to be the sole sovereign of yourself as well. Every time we exercise our right to self-care by saying yes to something we want or no to something we don’t, we tap into Her willpower. Her road isn’t easy, but it’s the path along which we regain our authority over ourselves and come out the other side wiser and stronger.
A maw of darkness gapes before me. Beyond the cave mouth a pathway descends steeply into the cold, primal earth. There is no light to be had down that trail, nor heat, nor companionship. I am finally here – the mouth of the underworld, the first gate of seven through which I must pass. At the end of this journey awaits my death… and, if I am very lucky and very brave, my rebirth. I need only take the first step. Why can’t I take the first step?
I always knew Inanna’s road would lead me here, though not for what purpose. I believe I finally understand, however, and now I the fool who a year ago swore to run boldly in Her ancient footsteps tremble in fear at the threshold. I’m not ready. I’m not ready. How did She do this? How did She walk into the waiting darkness knowing that at every gate She must surrender a piece of Her identity? I don’t know how to let go so easily as She. I don’t know how to leave behind the things which I have dragged with me all the years of my life: internalized misogyny, unattainable beauty standards, self-hate and self-doubt and self-sabotage. I know how to love someone else’s flaws but not my own.
I’ve wondered for years why I could never quite grasp Inanna’s full appearance, why She came to me naked and unadorned with face hidden in shadow. The answer is obvious in hindsight; She was forcing me to look past Her silk robes and glittering jewels, Her golden headdress and lapis lazuli scepter, past the various trappings of the Queen of Heaven and instead to the plain flesh beneath. I had no choice but to stare at Her round hips, Her soft stomach, all Her folds and curves which were so lovingly depicted in devotional art over 5500 years ago. She wants me to understand – and truly embrace – the fact that what I find beautiful in Her I cannot vilify in myself. I must respect my body for what it is: an extension of the divine.
My body issues feel insurmountable sometimes. I’m not sure I can even make it through the first gate of this journey the goddess intends for me, let alone all seven. I asked Inanna how I can learn to love my body; She gave me the tarot card Justice as a reminder that I am my own judge and jury and therefore control the harshness or leniency of my sentence. To make any progress I must learn to see my body through a loving lens, not one warped by society’s impossible standards and my own insecurities. Is that, then, the first sacrifice on this journey? Should I – can I – surrender that broken mirror so I may pass through the gate?
I lift my foot. I take the first step.
Kneeling before Inanna’s altar I eat a pomegranate with my hands, bloody juice dripping down my fingers and chin. Sweet, bitter, I swallow seeds and spit out half-chewed rind. Inanna’s self-love isn’t all rose petals and bubble bath; it’s stained lips, sticky hands, the crunch of firm flesh beneath your teeth. Inanna’s self-love is red, raw, naked and proud of it. It is both the throne and the meat hook, the body and the spirit. She would have me know all of myself, especially those dark depths into which I am afraid to descend. There can be no self-love without acceptance, no acceptance without understanding, no understanding without recognition.
In my dreams I call myself witch.
Self-love in a woman is so radical it is akin to war. This is Inanna’s lesson.
The Queen of Heaven came to me painted in blood and exhaling ash; with every lightning crack the skull showed beneath Her proud face. She walked up out of the underworld carrying knowledge of life and death in Her curving flesh, and all the armies of man cowered before Her like dumb beasts before a lioness. I cowered too, for I was afraid of what She would demand of me. She is no gentle Aphrodite, no sweet-eyed Venus. She is Inanna, who dances on the battlefield, who strikes down mountains and laughs in Death’s face.
But, Stand daughter, She commanded and I obeyed. When I looked upon Her again, She was not half so terrifying. She wore red silk, not blood, and smelled of roses and myrrh. She was lovely as the dawn and dusk, and all the stars in the sky. Every gem has many facets, She said, and I will teach you to love all of yours. That is what it means to own yourself. That is what it means to fight back.
I begin to understand now. I ignored Inanna’s softer aspects, scornful of the vulnerability of femininity, and focused only on blood lust as Her mode of defiance. But men fear anyone with more power than theirs, and they gain power by making us hate ourselves. In this world, to be a goddess of love is as revolutionary as a goddess of war. Inanna does not rebel against patriarchal oppression with sword alone – She rebels by loving Herself, by taking ownership of Her body and treating it like the sacred vessel it is. Inanna shows us that all we need do to break our chains is embrace ourselves. Self-love is the shield with which we may protect ourselves as we walk onto the battlefield.
I do not know how to love myself. I do not know how to love this body. But if anyone can show me how, it is She who walked naked into the underworld, dressed only in Her self-love, and back out in triumph.
Amid snakes and bullets, crystals and rose petals, She watches. Her dark eyes are circled with white skull makeup; She wears Her death with easy arrogance. I fear that gaze. I fear Her, even as I light Her candle and cry Her titles. Hail Inanna, Queen of Heaven! Hail Inanna, the Morning and the Evening Star! Hail Inanna, She Who Descended and Arose Again! I fear Her as I fear Her sisters Kali and Sekhmet, Ishtar and Morrigan, Scylla and Charybdis. I fear Her wrath, Her pride, Her fickle love and frightening affection – and yet She calls to me. From Her corner altar draped in red, She waits with infinite patience as I alternately approach and shy back from Her path. It leads down deep, dark roads, and I fear above all what I will have to surrender to walk its length. But She tells me such satisfying stories, tales in which a woman can tear down mountains and sit naked and proud on the throne of death, and She whispers such sweet promises that taste like the salt-sown ashes of our enemies. She reminds me that things were not always this way, the bones of justice ground beneath the boots of our oppressors, and it does not have to remain this way. She reminds me of the goddesses who danced on the battlefield, laughing, howling, rejoicing in the thrill of bloody triumph, and that they remain with us. From Her altar, through Her death’s mask, Inanna watches and waits.
I find myself suddenly very bothered by the phrase “special snowflake”. I never liked it, nor the sentiment behind it, but I have recently been gnashing my metaphorical teeth over it. What bothers me is how illogical it is. In essence, a “special snowflake” is supposed to be someone who has many identities, aspects, and labels. This is bad, apparently. What is illogical about this is that we all have a long list of labels – the only difference is that we aren’t always vocal about as many of them. If I say I’m just a girl from Washington state, well, then I’m not a special snowflake. I’m “normal”. Yet if I make a list of even just a tenth of the labels that apply to me, then suddenly that’s too many and I’m just trying to be special. But it’s just a list. All of those things are true about me whether I say them or not. What difference does it make if I state them or leave them unsaid?
I decided to make a list of whatever personal labels I could think of off the top of my head. Let’s see how special snowflake I can be:
I am female, a daughter, and a sister. I am an Italian by descent, an American by birth, and a Washingtonian by choice. I am queer, asexual, sapphic, and engaged. I am a lazy femme, anti-makeup (for myself), and pro-leg hair. I am a feminist and a vegetarian; I am pro-choice and anti-Trump. I am lactose-intolerant, nearsighted, and a supertaster. I am allergic to salmon, kiwis, and oats. I am chronically ill. I am pagan, Kemetic, and a follower of Bast. I am anxious, obsessive-compulsive, and depressed. I am seismophobic and trypophobic. I am a Research Administrator. I am a writer and a reader. I am a nerd and a geek. I am a Fannibal, an Assassin, and a Ravenclaw.
That’s pretty impressive, but does it make me a special snowflake? I don’t think so. Anyone alive long enough to have formed a conscious understanding of who they are could make a list that long, or longer. We all have hundreds of identities, some we are born with and some we choose willingly. We’re all special snowflakes, whether we like it or not. Calling someone a special snowflake just makes you sound like you oppose having a full understanding of yourself, or using descriptors to define concepts that apply to you – in essence, “I hate that you’re using words to describe things”. Well buddy, I have some bad news for you: that’s literally what language is. Words for stuff. If you can’t get over the fact that people like to describe who they are, then you’re going to have one miserable life. Anyway. All this was to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a special snowflake, because all that means is that you’re different from other people, which is literally true for everyone on earth, even identical twins. The end.
This is a love letter to my sidecut.
When I was a kid, I had a mane of wavy hair that reached my butt. I never brushed the dark mass unless my mother held me down and did it for me, resulting in many tears on my part and frustration on hers, so it was always a rats’ nest. When it came time to wrap it all up in a bun for ballet, or trap it with a bow for choir, so many bobby pins were enlisted that some would never be found again. Despite how much I hated tending my wild hair, though, I never considered cutting it. I just had long hair, the way I had two arms and two legs, and therefore had to deal with the tangles and tearing (and two really unfortunate cases of lice) that came along with it.
When I was in high school, I chopped the whole thing off and adopted a classic bob that I thought made me look mature and edgy. It really didn’t, but a bob was much easier to care for than four feet of snarls. Still, I spent as little time as possible caring for my hair – which over time caused me to resent even the bob style for its reliance on a brush and straightener. My wavy hair just didn’t conform perfectly and immediately into the sharp, straight bob I imagined, so mostly I thought fuck it and did nothing.
When I was in my sophomore year of college, I had my friends shave off my bob in our dormitory kitchen. My father had died only a few months past and I was grieving through minor bursts of much-delayed rebellion. Over the next few years I wavered between a shaggy pixie cut, poorly styled faux-hawk, and a close shave that left me sunburned on my scalp for the first time in my life. I loved having hair that couldn’t tangle, dried fast, and required very little thought. While I knew, deep down, that my hair never looked great (okay, it often looked BAD), I didn’t care; I only cared that I didn’t have to fuss over it.
By the end of college, though, I grew tired of not knowing how to rock a pixie cut and looking more like an awkward baby-dyke than the stylish warrior woman I wanted to emulate. I grew out my bob and kept it around for a couple years because… uh. I don’t know. Somewhere along the line a bob just became my default hair, the way “super long” had been my default style as a kid. I thought I liked it well enough, but it didn’t make me feel anything. I had a bob because it was a socially acceptable haircut that didn’t look too bad on me. I washed it, dried it, brushed it before work, and never thought about it otherwise…and in between, I mooned over pictures of girls with sidecuts. They looked so cool, so fierce, so edgy and dangerous, and I wanted desperately to look like them. I knew that wasn’t how it worked, though. I hadn’t looked like a badass with a pixie cut or a faux-hawk or an asymmetrical bob. I wouldn’t look like a badass with a sidecut either.
Finally, though, after agonizing over the decision for months, I took the leap. I shaved half my head and walked out of the salon feeling like the whole world had turned a different color. Everything felt ridiculously, unaccountably different, and I was sure I turned heads everywhere I went – not because I was attractive, but because I was bursting with Me-ness. I felt like I stood out in a way I never had before, simply because every part of me was in total, perfect alignment. It sounds silly to talk like this about a haircut, but it’s the truth. Somehow that minor alteration made me click into my whole body like I never had before. I didn’t think a haircut could feel so right.
I’m going on two years with this look, one side shaved and the other growing longer by the day, and that initial feeling hasn’t lessened. This is me, I think every time I look in a mirror. I am fucking rocking this. I still have my usual body image issues – nothing can make those go away 100% – but somehow the sidecut overshadows them so much that they don’t have the same power they used to. This thing feels magical, almost spiritual. It feels like armor and defiance and comfort and truth and holy-shit-it’s-me all at the same time.
If I’ve learned one thing in my life, it’s that hair grows back. To that same point, clothes can be donated, tattoos can be removed, and piercings can heal closed. Life’s too short not to experiment with trying to make who you feel like match who you look like. I’ve gone through some truly atrocious fashion phases in my life, but they’re all worth it because they got me to this place where I feel so very me. That sounds simple, but it’s a long, hard journey for most of us. So if you’re looking for a sign to get something cut, pierced, tattooed, or dyed, this is it. Go for it, friend.