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Legend of the Decent of Inanna

 

 Inanna’s most important myth begins with the great goddess opening “her ear to the Great Below”.  She abandons her temples in the seven cities of her worship, abandons, in fact, all of the glories of heaven and earth, and prepares to make the journey “from which no traveler returns”.  She gathers together seven attributes of civilization, which she transforms into such feminine allure as her crown, gold jewelry, and royal robe to serve as her protection.  She also instructs her faithful servant, Ninshubur, what to do in case of her return -- to seek out her fathers, urging them not to let their daughter die.           

Arriving at the outer gates of the Underworld, she announces herself as “Inanna, Queen of Heaven, on my way to the East.”  Neti, the chief gatekeeper of the underworld, is skeptical and questions her further.  Whereupon, Inanna replies that she wished to descend because of her older sister, Ereshkigal, and to witness the funeral rites of Ereshkigal’s husband, Gugalanna.  Neti is still uncertain and tells Inanna to wait, while he delivers her message to his queen.           

 

When Neti tells his queen, Ereshkigal, of the glorious Inanna at the palace gates, robed in the seven attributes of her feminine allure, Ereshkigal is enraged.  After dwelling on the news, she tells Neti to bolt the seven gates of the underworld, and then, one by one, open each gate a crack, let Inanna enter, and as she does, remove her royal garments, one by one.  Ereshkigal also tells Neti to “Let the holy priestess of heaven enter bowed low.”           

 

Neti does as he is told, bolting the seven gates of the underworld and then allowing Inanna to enter through each gate.  As she does, he removes one of her garments, beginning with her crown, then her earrings of small lapis beads, the double strand of beads about her neck, her breastplate called, “Come, man, come”, her golden hip girdle, the lapis measuring rod and line in her hand, and finally her royal breechcloth.  Each time, when Inanna asks, “What is this?”, Neti answers:  “Quiet Inanna, the ways of the Underworld are perfect.  They may not be questioned.”           

 

Then, naked and bowed low, Inanna enters the throne room.  Ereshkigal rises from her throne, as Inanna starts toward her.  The Annuna, the judges of the underworld, surround Inanna and pass judgment against her.  Ereshkigal fastens on Inanna the eyes of death, speaks against her the word of wrath, utters against her the cry of guilt, and strikes her.  Inanna is turned into a corpse, a piece of rotting meat, and hung from a hook on the wall.           

 

After three days and nights, when Inanna has not returned, Ninshubur begins to lament and beat the drum for Inanna.  She goes to Inanna’s paternal grandfather, Enlil, and then to Inanna's father, pleading with each of them not to let their daughter be put to death in the underworld.  But both are angry at Inanna for her actions and refuse to help.

Then Ninshubur goes to Enki, Inanna's mother’s father, begging for help.  Enki, however, is troubled and grieved for Inanna.  To save her, Enki creates two creatures, the kurgarra and the galatur, to whom he gives the food and water of life, and instructs them to enter the underworld like flies.  He tells them that Ereshkigal will be moaning with the cries of a woman about to give birth, complaining of her inside and her outside, and that they are to echo her cries.  This would please her, and she would offer them gifts.  They were to ask her only for the corpse hanging on the wall.  Then when they had sprinkled the food and water of life on Innana, she would rise.  

 

The kurgarra and the galatur heed Enki’s words and enter the underworld like flies.  Ereshkigal is moaning as if about to give birth.  She complains of her inside and outside, her back, heart and liver; and each time the kurgarra and the galatur echo her pain.  When Ereshkigal stops to look at them, she asks who they were and why they are moaning with her.  She offers her blessings: first the water gift, the river in its fullness, and then the grain-gift, the fields in harvest; but each time the kurgarra and the galatur decline the gift.  When Ereshkigal asks them what they do want, they ask for the corpse hanging on the hook.  Ereshkigal gives them the corpse, whereupon they sprinkle the food and water of life on Inanna, and she rises.           

 

Inanna is about to ascend from the underworld when the Annuna seize her and tell her she must provide someone in her place.  They send with Inanna, the galla, the demons of the underworld, who cling to her side until she chooses the person who will take her place.           

 

As Inanna exits the palace gates, with the galla, Ninshubur, dressed in soiled sackcloth, throws herself at Inanna’s feet.  The galla are willing to take Ninshubur, but Inanna refuses, well aware of Ninshubur’s support and her part in rescuing her.  Inanna also refuses to send her sons, who had also mourned her death.  But when Inanna arrives in Uruk and finds her husband, Dumuzi sitting on his throne, dressed in his finest, and seemingly oblivious to her absence, Inanna tells the galla to take Dumuzi away.           

 

Dumuzi tries to escape by having the god, Utu, change him into a snake, and then into a gazelle.  But each time, the galla find him.  Dumuzi’s sister, Geshtinanna, tries to protect her brother, even under torture by the galla, but to no avail.  Eventually, Dumuzi is betrayed by a friend, whom the galla bribe with the water-gift and the grain-gift.           

 

Geshtinanna, mourning for her brother, cries out that she would share his fate.  Inanna, moved by such grief and self-sacrifice, intervenes and decrees that Dumuzi and Geshtianna will each go to the underworld for half the year, and that each will spend half the year in the world above.  Both of them, Inanna places in the hands of the eternal, making them immortal.  The myth ends with praises being sung to Holy Ereshkigal.  

   

Inanna's Song of Power

 (this is not the complete text)


My father gave me the heavens, gave me the earth,
I am Inanna!
Kingship he gave me,
queenship he gave me,
waging of battle he gave me, the attack he gave me,
the floodstorm he gave me, the hurricane he gave me!
The heavens he set as a crown on my head,
the earth he set as sandals on my feet,
a holy robe he wrapped around my body,
a holy sceptre he placed in my hand.
The gods are sparrows -- I am a falcon;
the Anunnaki trundle along -- I am a splendid wild cow;
I am father Enlil's splendid wild cow,


The Treasures of Darkness. Thorkild Jacobsen, p. 138.

 

 

 

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