16 April 2012

Being Drawn into the Underworld

Last month I mentioned what it was like to be a Servant of the Gods which has evolved into an increasing interest in ancient Mesopotamia (which corresponds to an area including modern day Iraq, north eastern Syria, south easthern Turkey and south western Iran).  The word Mesopotamia means "between two rivers" which refers to the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers.

This area is often referred to as being the "Cradle of Civilisation", with templed cities pre-dating the buildings of Egypt, and has been the home for many differing people - from the indigenous Sumerians and Akkadians (including Assyrians and Babylonians) who dominated Mesopotamia from the beginning of written history (c3,100 BCE) to the fall of Babylon in 539 BCE, when it was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire, only to later fall to Alexander the Great in 332 BCE.

Of the many Deities associated Ishtar/Inanna tends to be more commonly known, however as my interest in this timeframe has increased, so too has my interest in her sister (or "dark" half), Ereshkigal who will be one of the Goddesses I will be introducing people to during the upcoming Encountering the Dark Goddess workshop (26 May 2012).

In the Descent of Inanna, Ereshkigal is the ruler of the Great Below, the Underworld, which was also known as Aralu, the "Land of No Return", the mirror opposite to Inanna's realm of the Heavens.  In this myth, Inanna descends into the Great Below (out of curiosity, to mock her sister or even in an attempt to asurp her) and is confronted by the fact that her sister's rules applies to everyone entering the Great Below, including the Queen of Heaven.  As such, at each of the seven gates, Inanna is forced to relinquish an item of status until after the seventh gate, she appears naked in front of her sister.

The pure Ereshkigal herself upon her throne,
The Annunake, the seven judges, pronounced judges, pronounce judgment before her,
They fastened their eyes upon her, they eyes of death.
At their word, the word which tortures the spirit...
The sick woman was turned into a corpse,
The corpse was hung from a stake.

When Inanna does not return to Land Above, Enki (who is Ereshkigal's twin brother in an earlier myth) fashions two creatures from the dirt underneath his fingernails which are sent into the Great Below.  In order for them to get Ereshkigal on side, they show her compassion as she apparently labours with no end result.  As such, Inanna is released and able to return back to her realm.

During my research into Ereshkigal, other myths have surfaced, including mention of an ancient poem, Hymn to the Locust Tree, which explains that "Ereshkigal had received the underworld as her share" of creation.  It is a dry, dusty place beneath Abzu, the "sweet waters of the underground".  Aralu is a dimension of eternal darkness, a huge communal grave where languishing spirits eat dust and moan in sorrow.

As for Ereshkigal labouring "unfruitfully", there is mention of her having a number of children including Ninazu by the Great Bull of Heaven, Gugalanna, whose death was the cause of Inanna's descent.

More about Ereshkigal and her ancient myths will be share during the upcoming "Encountering the Dark Goddess" workshop.

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