Inanna and Ishtar

These stories are found on clay tablets from around 1750 BCE. The Inanna/Ishtar Descent Story describes a powerful underworld initiation of death and rebirth chosen by the goddess reminding us of this possibility for each of us.

The Descent

The season after the harvest is the time of the dark goddess where we face death and destruction opening the space for new birth to occur. The ceremonial journey of Inanna or Ishtar into the underworld is where the Queen of Heaven (Venus) passes through seven or eight gates and she is stripped of all the symbols (representing chakras) of all the distortions associated with these symbols. Inanna chooses her descent knowing she will encounter the dark Goddess also known as her elder sister Ereshkigal Queen of the Underworld. The story takes place as the Sacred Bull of Heaven, Gugalanna and Ereshkigal’s husband, has died marking the end of the matriarchy. This is what prompts Inanna to make the journey to the underworld so she can witness the death rites of the passing age.

Inanna’s return from the underworld is accompanied by demons who will take whoever Inanna chooses to the underworld in her place. Inanna fixes the eye of death on her partner Dumuzi (Mars) sending him to the underworld as she realizes he no longer can meet her now that she has gone through her own death and rebirth initiation. Dumuzi resists the initiation and is chased by the demons and taken to the underworld. At some later point Inanna searches for him and ensures his own rebirth and resurrection as the fully initiated God who has come face to face with his own shadow, how own dark side and is no longer at the effect of it. We see how this story was turned around in the patriarchy with the abduction of Perspehone by Hades and taken to the underworld against her will.

Summary of Ishtar’s Story

Ishtar goes into the Realm of Darkness in search of her beloved spouse Tammuz. Arrayed in her magnificent power and splendor she begins her descent. She encounters seven gates. At each gate the gatekeeper, Nedu, removes one of her vestments as required by Irkalla, the Dark Goddess and sister of Ishtar. The Dark Goddess insists Ishtar may only enter her realm according to the ancient rites.

At the first gate he removes her splendid crown.
At the second gate he removes her necklace with the eight-rayed star. (Sometimes described her rod and staff)
At the third gate he removes her bracelets of gold and lapis lazuli. (Usually described as her Lapis Lazuli necklace)
At the fourth gate he removes her shoes. (Usually described as her Breast Plate)
At the fifth gate he removes her veil. (Usually described as her Ring of Power or Waist Belt)
At the sixth gate he removes her outer robe. (Usually described as her ankle bracelets)
At the seventh gate he removes her garment. (Usually described as her Royal Robe)

“And naked, with her splendor, and her power, and her beauty all gone from her, the Lady of the Gods came before Irkalla. And Irkalla, the goddess of the World Below, had the head of a lioness and the body of a woman; in her hands she grasped a serpent.”

Irkala curses Ishtar and summons the plague demon to afflict her. And Ishtar becomes as one dead — “Ishtar saw the light no more; feathers came upon her; she ate dust and fed upon mud….” Meanwhile Shamash, Lord of the Sun, notices the effect of Ishtar’s absence on the world and concludes that this generation of creatures will die and that the creation will end. He sends Ea to conjure the Water of Life from Irkalla, and revive Ishtar. This Ea does through an intermediary.

The Source:

“From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below.
From the Great Above the goddess opened her ear to the Great Below.
From the Great Above Inanna opened her ear to the Great Below.

My Lady abandoned heaven and earth to descend to the underworld.
Inanna abandoned heaven and earth to descend to the underworld.
She abandoned her office of holy priestess to descend to the underworld….

If I do not return,
Set up a lament for me by the ruins.
Beat the drum for me in the assembly places.
Circle the houses of the gods.
Tear at your eyes, at your mouth, at your thighs. …

Go to Eridu, to the temple of Enki.
Weep before Father Enki.
Father Enki, the God of Wisdom, knows the food of life,
He knows the water of life; He knows the secrets.
Surely he will not let me die.” …

When Inanna arrived at the outer gates of the underworld, She knocked loudly.
She cried out in a fierce voice: “Open the door, gatekeeper! Open the door, Neti!
I alone would enter!” …

When she entered the first gate,
the shugurra, the crown of the steppe was removed.
When she entered the second gate,
From her neck the small lapis beads were removed.
When she entered the third gate,
From her breast the double strand of beads was removed.
When she entered the fourth gate,
From her chest the breastplate called “Come, man, come!” was removed.
When she entered the fifth gate,
From her wrist the gold ring was removed.
When she entered the sixth gate,
From her hand the lapis measuring rod and line was removed.
When she entered the seventh gate,
From her body the royal robe was removed. …

Naked and bowed low, Inanna entered the throne room.
Ereshkigal rose from her throne.
Inanna started toward the throne.
The Annuna, the judges of the underworld, surrounded her.
They passed judgment against her.
Then Ereshkigal fastened on Inanna the eye of death.
She spoke against her the word of wrath.
She uttered against her the cry of guilt.
She struck her.
Inanna was turned into a corpse,
A piece of rotting meat,
And was hung from a hook on the wall….

Then, after three days and three nights, Inanna had not returned,
Ninshubur set up a lament for her by the ruins.
She beat the drum for her in the assembly places.

Neither Enlil nor Inanna’s father Nannar, the Moon God of Ur, will help her because she has craved the below, and because those who choose the underworld do not return. Ninshubur succeeds in getting Enki to secure her release:

Inanna was about to ascend from the underworld
When the Annuna, the judges of the underworld, seized her. They said:
“No one ascends from the underworld unmarked.
If Inanna wishes to return from the underworld,
She must provide someone in her place.”…

As Inanna ascended from the underworld,
The galla, the demons of the underworld, clung to her side.
The galla were demons who know no food, who know no drink,
Who eat no offerings, who drink no libations,
Who accept no gifts.
They enjoy no lovemaking-
They have no sweet children to kiss.
They tear the wife from the husband’s arms,
They tear the child from the father’s knees,
They steal the bride from her marriage home….

The galla said: “Walk on, Inanna,
We will take Ninshubur in your place.”
Inanna cried: “No! Ninshubur is my constant support….
“Walk on to your city, Inanna, We will take Shara in your place.”
Inanna cried: “No! Not Shara! He is my son who sings hymns to me. …
“Walk on to your city, Inanna, We will take Lulal in your place.”
“Not Lulal! He is my son. He is a leader among men. …
“Walk on to your city, Inanna.
We will go with you to the big apple tree in Uruk.”
In Uruk, by the big apple tree,

Dumuzi, the husband of Inanna, was dressed in his shining me-garments.
He sat on his magnificent throne; (he did not move).
The galla seized him by his thighs.
They poured milk out of his seven churns.
They broke the reed pipe which the shepherd was playing.

Inanna fastened on Dumuzi the eye of death.
She spoke against him the word of wrath.
She uttered against him the cry of guilt:
“Take bim! Take Dumuzi away!”

The galla, who know no food, who know no drink,
Who eat no offerings, who drink no libations,
Who accept no gifts, seized Dumuzi.
They made him stand up; they made him sit down.
They beat the husband of Inanna.
They gashed him with axes.”