As we finish this period of Venus Retrograde (through June 27 2012), I have been reflecting on the impressive tale of Inanna, the deification of the planet Venus. This is the tale of her Descent to Below.
Thousands of years ago, before the birth of Christ, there was a rich and fertile land nestled between the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The people of Sumer created their civilization of farming and architecture and with it, stunning mythology. They recorded many stories of their great goddess Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth.
The Queen of Heaven and Earth, Inanna, was in her gorgeous sky palace when a messenger brought news of her brother-in-law’s passage. She immediately called her faithful servant, Ninshubur, to help her prepare to attend the funeral.
Ninshubur never failed to do her lady’s bidding, but she fretted as she gathered her garments. “My queen”, she reasoned, “please reconsider. Those who wish you harm will take advantage of your compassion”. Inanna smiled softly and waved away her fears. Nonetheles, Ninshubur worried. Her fears had foundation; after all Inanna’s sister was Ereshegal, Queen of the Underworld.
In her distress, Ninshubur looked to Inanna’s husband, Dimuzi. He shrugged and gazed at his beautifully manicured hands. “There’s no changing her mind ”, he said as he left them to dress.
Only the dead enter the Underworld, called the Great Below. The dead did not return. Ninshubur knew that Ereshegal had always been jealous of her beautiful sister. How could the ruler of the dead possibly compete for the people’s love, when compared to the ruler of the heavens and the bountiful earth?
Ninshubur had tended both sisters as babies, but loved Inanna more than the sun. Her heart was heavy; she could almost feel Ereshegal’s envy under her feet as she dressed Inanna’s hair.
After weaving seed pearls and gold thread into her lady’s dark braids, Ninshubar placed the shugurra (crown of the steppe) on her head. Inanna pointed to her heavy lapis necklace, which the old woman carefully clasped at her throat. Then Ninshubur anointed her with fragrant oils of frankincense, jasmine and myrrh. She draped her queen in robes of purple which she fastened with an intricately wrought gold breastplate.
Finally, she helped Inanna into her royal top robe and handed her a cluster of rings. As Inanna slipped each ring on her fingers, she smiled gently at Ninshubur. “If I do not return in three days time, go first to the temple of Enlil. Tell him my fate and ask for his aid. If he will not help us, then go to Nanna, god of the moon. Once you appeal to him, if he too will not help then you must trouble Enki. He is wise and will know what to do.”
And so Inanna turned and with the turning of her heavy robes, she spun into her descent to the Great Below. She quickly moved through the sky and into the fecund earth. She moved past the hard granite and into the hot lava. She came at last to the first gate of the Underworld.
The startled gatekeeper looked up from his post in amazement. He saw a woman tall as heaven and wide as the earth and strong as the foundation of the city wall. He heard her request for entrance, and her reason for it. Never having encountered someone willingly at his gate, the guard hurried to find his queen. Inanna respectfully waited at the entrance.
When Ereshegal realized her sister had come to offer condolences, she boiled with rage. “How dare she come to see me! Inanna! Whose handsome husband waits for her above! While I am alone! She is here to gloat- hateful, horrible Inanna!” She paced and tossed her head in anguish. The guard stood back.
Suddenly she pulled herself together, to turn and whisper coolly: “Bring her to me”. The guard shivered with the chill in her words. She continued, “But through each of the seven locked gates she must shed a garment to pass.”
Returning quickly to Inanna, the gatekeeper led her through the passage, but not until she discarded a garment in exchange. With each gate they passed she asked: “Why must I take off my shugurra, my lapis?” As each gate groaned open, she heard the reply: “the ways of the Underworld are perfect; they must not be questioned.”
When Inanna entered Ereshegal’s chamber she was naked. Inanna approached her, bowed as appropriate for a mourner. The Judges of the Underworld swirled around her like angry crows. Ereshegal fixed on her the eye of death. With Ereshegal’s wails echoed by the unwavering decrees of the Judges, Inanna was killed. Once the beautiful goddess was dead, they hung her on a meat hook. Ereshegal raged on, her fury wilder with Inanna’s blood. As she looked at her hanging above her, Ereshegal yelled. “There you hang, Queen of Heaven! How dare you come in my grief!”
Miles away, above the ground, Ninshubar felt a chill in the earth against her bare feet. A cry of horror escaped her lips. As she watched the skies cloud gray and the air grow cold, she knew something terrible had happened to her lady. Donning sackcloth, she began to make her way to the Temple of Enlil in Nippur.
She passed Inanna’s husband, wondering if her would join her march. But Dimuzi shook his head. “The ways of the Underworld are perfect; they must not be questioned.”
She passed Inanna’s first son. “Oh my mother!” he exclaimed and wept.
She passed Inanna’s youngest son. “Not my mother!” He ran in panic.
She did not stop for comfort, for water or for food. She traveled tirelessly to the north where the great Temple of Nippur stood. Enlil ruled the ghost-land. He provided the worthy with spells and incantations that the spirits of good or evil were compelled to obey. She prayed that he would offer a solution. But when he heard Inanna’s fate he responded in anger: “She who goes to the Dark City stays there!”
In spite of her respect for Enlil, Ninshubur was resolute to obey her queen. She proceeded to Ur in search for the Temple of Nanna. The moon god gazed down at her with a cold and distant eye and agreed in a harsh voice: “She who goes to the Dark City stays there!”
His fierce response frightened the old servant, but she did not waver. She turned in the direction of her final plea. Her last hope took her south to the road to Eridu where she appealed to Enki. Exhausted, Ninshubur shuffled to the center of his temple but did not hesitate. Enki, she knew was the god of beneficence, ruler of the freshwater springs beneath the earth, a healer and champion to all human beings. He must help her free her lady.
As she told her story, a great relief washed over her; she felt strong and rested in the audience of Enki. The god of Wisdom was grieved to hear his daughter’s fate. From the dirt of his fingernails he fashioned tiny creatures, neither male nor female.
Enki bid his tiny creations. “Enter the gates of the Great Below like flies. Seek out Ereshegal. You will recognize her by the sounds she makes, like a woman about to give birth. You must help her pass this grief, for she is blind in her fury. Whatever she says, you must echo. Once she comes to her senses, she will be grateful and offer you a gift. You must ask for the corpse of Inanna.”
He gave one of one of the creatures the food of life and the other one the water of life. “When you receive her, sprinkle these on my daughter’s corpse,”
Quick as flies in summer, the tiny creatures flew to the Underworld and found its queen. Ereshegal wailed in a corner, “Oh my inside!” she moaned
“Oh, oh! your inside!” they echoed.
“Oh, oh! my outside!” Ereshegal wailed.
“Oh! Oh! Your outside!” the tiny creatures comforted.
“Oh, Oh! my heart!” she sighed. “Oh, Oh! your heart!” their tiny voices sang in her ears.
Ereshegal sat down heavily, her emotion spent. “Who are you moaning, groaning and sighing with me?” she asked in quiet amazement. “Thank you. I will give you a gift”. She offered them the river, or fields in harvest but they politely declined.
“We only ask for one thing, dear lady”
“And what is that?” she asked, her great dark eyes following the tiny hovering creatures.
“The corpse of Inanna”. Ereshegal shrugged. The frenzied fury had dissipated and she had no more wish to keep her sister’s disgraced body. She released Inanna to them, then rolled into a ball and went to sleep.
The tiny creatures hurriedly sprinkled the fragrant morsels of Enki’s food and water of life on the cold corpse of Inanna. Within seconds she arose, more beautiful, vibrant and alive than before she’d entered the Great Below.
Just as quickly, the Judges of the Underworld came out of the air to swirl around her and demand a soul in her place. Demons clung to her side as she passed through each gate and regained her possessions. The demons would not release her until they received a life in return for hers. Since no one before had ever returned from the Underworld alive, Inanna had to sacrifice a life if she were to return. The demons would see that she did or they would take her back.
As soon as she stepped above earth, Ninshubur threw herself at her feet in gratitude to the gods. “We will take her!” the demons hissed.
“No!” Inanna gently lifted her loyal servant from the ground. “Because of her my life is saved.”
“Walk on, Inanna”, the restless demons demanded.
The beautiful queen came upon her youngest son dressed in sackcloth. When he saw her he fell to his knees and sang to the gods in his joy.
“We will take him!” the demons writhed anxiously.
“No! Not my beloved son!” shouted Inanna.
“Walk on, Inanna!” the demons demanded. The queen strode forward.
They encountered her eldest son, also dressed in sackcloth who threw himself at her feet. “Oh mother! Thank the gods!”
“We will take him!” the demons panted eagerly.
“No! Not either of my sons!”
“Walk on, Inanna!” She now was at the palace of Heaven and Earth. She entered to find her husband, Dimuzi dressed in shining garments and sitting on her magnificent throne. He did not move when he saw Inanna, as though he were frozen.
Inanna fastened on him the eye of death. “Take him” she whispered softly. “Take Dimuzi.”
In panic, Dimuzi wailed to the God of Justice, who changed him into a snake so he could escape the demons. But Inanna had given them his life in exchange for hers and it was their job to catch him.
Inanna climbed onto her magnificent throne. Inanna, the Queen of Heaven and Earth restored once more to her rightful position.
Inanna is a form of Venus, the goddess of love and wealth. In these last few days that Venus is retrograde, you might want to do some more “house-cleaning” which means putting your finances in order. Not necessarily bookkeeping, but evaluating what it is you truly value. How do you show love? What’s important to you to share?
Inanna’s story is rich. It shows the love of a loyal servant, which can translate to anything you serve with unwavering faith. It demonstrates the appreciation and loyalty a grateful employer has for a valuable employee. There is no question of the love Inanna has for her children and they for her. One reason Inanna is important to reflect on at this time, is that integrity needs to be a factor in her relationships with her sister and husband. One person cannot carry an entire relationship.
We are in a period of stress for relationships, whether marital, personal or business and it is essential to see them for what they are. Inanna had to travel in the Underworld to see that her husband was a snake (and in other stories they come together again… but mythology is like that). If you’re experiencing any tension in a relationship, the Venus retrograde can show some of the cracks in the foundation. Reflect, renew and “walk on”, if need be.
© 2010 Pamela Cucinell All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.