There are many myths about the descent of a goddess. This is when the Goddesses ruled the Heavens, the Earth and the Underworld. This is the story of Inanna, the ancient myth that predates the male gods, such as Zeus.
The oldest known myth is Sumerian and was written on clay tablets in the third millennium B.C. It is usually known as “The Descent of Inanna” the Sumerian Queen of Heaven and Earth. In their original inception they were pre-patriarchal myths. But by the time they were written down, the myths showed the incursions of the patriarchy, Inanna’s gradual dispossession, and eventual loss of status.
|Dummzi: God of the Harvest|
Inanna marries a young, handsome shepherd called Dumuzi who becomes a god-king. They have a blissful union but after the honeymoon, Inanna decides to visit her sister in the Underworld whose husband has just died (long story). However, she isn’t on good terms with her, so, as a precaution, she instructs Ninshubur, her trusted female servant, to get help if she does not return within three days.
At the first gate to the Underworld, Inanna is stopped and asked to declare herself. The gatekeeper informs Ereshkigal, Queen of the Great Below, that Inanna, “Queen of Heaven, of the place where the sun rises,” asks for admission to the “land of no return” to witness the funeral of Gugalanna, husband of Ereshkigal. Neti is still uncertain and tells Inanna to wait, while he delivers her message to his queen.
|Neti: Chief Gatekeeper|
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 (God of the Heaven and Earth), and then to Inanna's father, Nanna (Moon God), 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.
|Enki: God of the Waters and Wisdom|
Then Ninshubur goes to Enki (God of Wisdom and Water), 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 some 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.
|Dumuzi: Whore of Underworld|
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's annual death and rebirth are sometimes associated with the seasons.