At some point in our lives, we hit rock bottom, find ourselves in a dark place, lost and unable to carry on. It might be depression, the ravages of cancer, abandonment, rape trauma, war, addiction, prison, a locked ward. I found myself in this living death and recalled somehow that She had gone before me, had descended into the darkness by choice and that She had been destroyed, her violated and tortured body left to hang green and rotting on a a meat hook. Abnegation, the world of non-self. The abyss.
And friends had come to search for her, those who loved her and were loyal to Inanna followed her down into the underworld known to the Sumerians as the Great Below. Helpers are created from the dirt under Enki’s fingernails, two androgynous servitors who will follow the instructions:
”Go to the underworld,
Enter the door like flies.
Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, is moaning
With the cries of a woman about to give birth.
No linen is spread over her body.
Her breasts are uncovered.
Her hair swirls about her head like leeks.
When she cries, ‘Oh! Oh! My inside!’
Cry also, ‘Oh! Oh! Your inside!’
When she cries, ‘Oh! Oh! My outside!’
Cry also, ‘Oh! Oh! Your outside!’
The queen will be pleased.
She will offer you a gift.
Ask her only for the corpse that hangs from the hook on the wall.
One of you will sprinkle the food of life on it.
The other will sprinkle the water of life.
Inanna will arise.”
Inanna has to pay a price for her freedom — she has to send another down into the depths to suffer in her place. She has to surrender her heart, one might say. Her lover will go away into the darkness for six months of the year. She will journey alone, will resume her life in the Great Above with the joy of regained freedom offset by sadness, a knife in the heart. The greatness enlarged, the goddess radiant. Inanan the murdered has come into her power over life and death.
This is the Sumerian legend first told in the valleys of Mesopotamia in what is now bloodied Iraq. The hymns to Inanna are found in Eheduanna’s poetry, some 4 300 years old.
When humanity comes before you in awed silence
at the terrifying radiance and tempest,
you grasp the most terrible of all the divine powers.
Because of you, the threshold of tears is opened,
and people walk along the path of the house of great lamentations.
In the van of battle, all is struck down before you.
With your strength, my lady, teeth can crush flint.
You charge forward like a charging storm.
And the echo of that reverence and wonder comes down to us through the centuries since:
Your torch lights up the corners of heaven,
turning darkness into light with fire.
No one can lay a hand on your precious divine powers
You exercise full woman power over heaven and earth;
you hold everything in your hand.
Mistress, you are magnificent, no one can walk before you.
Quotes from ‘Inanna’s Journey to Hell’ are from the Penguin edition (1971), translated by N.K. Sandars. Quotes from Enheduanna’s hymns are from the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature: ‘The Exaltation of Inana‘ and ‘A Hymn to Inana‘.