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Middle Eastern Mythologies

Inanna’s Descent

What is the story of Inanna’s descent?

To prepare for her journey to the “dark side,” Inanna abandons her city and temples, turning the rule of Uruk over to her husband Dumuzi. She takes seven of the sacred me and wears them transformed as jewels and magnificent clothing. Informed of her illustrious visitor, Ereshkigal is not pleased. She instructs her servant to allow Inanna into her realm only if she leaves one of the me at each of the seven locked gates of the Underworld. So it is that when Inanna arrives at her sister’s throne she is naked and stripped of all her power and trappings of authority. In death, after all, such powers and trappings are useless. Inanna attempts to usurp her sister’s throne but learns the lesson of humility when the Underworld gods hang her up on the wall like a piece of meat.

Meanwhile, back in Uruk, three days have passed and the people and temples all go into deep mourning. Inanna’s faithful servant asks Enlil and Nanna for their help in retrieving Inanna, but they refuse. Enki, however agrees to do his best. Living as he does in the absu, the underground waters of the marshes, he can hear what goes on in the Underworld. Enki understands how important the goddess of love and fertility is for the welfare of the world. To save his relative and sometimes rival, Enki employs his power as a trickster. He creates two creatures from the mud under his fingernails. Lacking sexuality and gender, these creatures, he rightly believes, will not offend the barren and fruitless Ereshkigal who is continually screaming in the pangs of endless childbirth. To Ereshkigal, unlike to her ripe and fertile sister, sexuality and gender are anathema. Enki gives his mud creatures the plant of life and the water of life and instructs them to proceed to the Underworld and to offer the queen these gifts as a means of easing her pains. Ereshkigal gladly accepts the gifts and, as Enki knew she would, offers his creatures gifts in return. As instructed, they request the release of Inanna. Ereshkigal has no choice and agrees to release her sister. But the Underworld gods insist on a price. Inanna must send a sacrificial substitute to the Underworld in order to remember her own dark side, her abandoned older sister Ereshkigal. Inanna takes up her me and her queenly robes and returns to Uruk where she finds Dumuzi reveling in his kingship, apparently unaffected by the loss of his wife. Furious, Inanna names him as her substitute. Dumuzi’s sister, however, agrees to spend six months of each year as her brother’s substitute in the Underworld, during which time Dumuzi can come home. Dumuzi, too, then, becomes one of the first of many “dying gods” in world mythology



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