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A Mystery Rite of Irkalla

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The Queen of Heaven passed through the first gate into the netherworld.
The Lady Inana passed through the first gate into the palace Ganzer.

Light fled as she stepped through, and before her lay only darkness.
Ahead in the realm of the dead lay only dimness and dust.

Ereškigal's trusted doorkeeper Neti lifted away Inana's turban;
he gazed upon heaven's queen with no fear in his eyes.

"What is this?" Inana asked him, and he said,
"Lady, do not question the laws of the land of the dead."

The Lady Inana had no answer to that,
for no other realm was as this one:

The heavens were broad and open and walked freely by gods.
The earth was wide and bountiful and traveled freely by gods and men.

The sea was vast and deep, sailed and swum by gods and mortal creatures.
But Irkalla under the mountain was unlike the sky, earth, or sea.

Inana followed Neti in the close space. The path covered her feet in dust.
Around her passed the dead, the dust-covered mortal dead, tattered and rotting.

The mortal dead looked upon her, and at each gate,
the gatekeeper Neti demanded another of her mes.

"What is this?" Inana asked him again, and each time he said,
"Lady, do not question the laws of the land of the dead."

He took her turban first, then her starry necklace of lapis lazuli beads;
he took the lapis lazuli eggs pinned to her breasts and the long, ornate toggle-pins

that bore their weight; he took the bright, celestial gold ring from her hand;
her lapis lazuli rod and measuring line; and the gravest insult, her pala dress.

"What is this?" demanded the Queen of Heaven of the servant who would strip her nude.
"The laws of the underworld must be fulfilled," loyal Neti told her.

Beyond the seventh gate of Ganzer, she would find the Queen of Irkalla.
With her garment, the doorkeeper Neti had seized all her mes.

What power would she, the Queen of Heaven, have here in this place of death,
with the Bull of Heaven lately killed and Ereškigal in mourning?

Holy Inana was she who demanded great An send him to his doom.
The great bull Gud-gal-ana had died at her command.

Then the Queen of Heaven had thought no more on the Lord Gilgameš,
Uruk's king who had spurned her, and instead set her mind on Kur.

The rotting dead shambled around her, eating dust by handfuls, drinking only mud.
Neti took away her linen garment and opened the seventh door. "You must kneel," he said.

Before Inana was the throne of Irkalla. Before her sat her sister Ereškigal, who ruled
Irkalla as An ruled the sky, Enlil ruled the air, as Enki ruled the sea.

On her throne, Ereškigal sat seething. Inana, her sister! Inana, her young foolish sister!
Inana gained her mes by charming them from Enki; they were no birthright.

What right had she to send Gud-gal-ana to his demise?
What right had Inana to make Ereškigal a widow?

And to dare enter here, to dare travel the one-way road to Kur, clad with all her magic about her,
as if she would conquer the land of the dead and return to heaven at her will!

The Lady Irkalla rose from her throne in a fury: her sister would hear her rage!
Ereškigal alit from the dais to circle the girl, walking a pattern in the dust.

Holy Inana leapt, then, leapt forward from her crouch in the dust.
Like a creature of the sky, she leapt. She perched triumphant on Irkalla's throne.

Ereškigal stared at the naked girl.
Ereškigal stared at the audacious Queen of Heaven.

Ereškigal wondered at her sister. How did she believe herself exempt?
How dare she believe herself at liberty to walk the one-way path with impunity!

Thus, the Anuna gods passed judgment.
The seven judges of Irkalla pronounced the Lady Inana's guilt for trespass.

Ereškigal laid her gaze upon the girl.
How dare she ignore the sacred laws of Irkalla?

To take her husband's mortal life and toss it away like a handful of chaff.
To dare breach the gates of the dead as a living body, to despoil Irkalla's sacred throne.

With her gaze, Ereškigal fastened upon Inana the eye of death.
"Hang her on the wall there," she commanded.

Ereškigal pointed and Neti hung holy Inana's body on a hook as one would a spare garment.
No breath passed Inana's lips. No drumbeat moved her heart.

The lady of fertility and love hung dead on a dark earth wall in Kur.
Inana, Queen of Heaven, knew herself dead, hanging on a wall in Ganzer.

Inana in death had no other destination than Kur.
Hanging on the wall with a sharp peg in her back, Inana waited.

Her sister Ereškigal sat upon her sacred throne
and performed her duties as Queen of Irkalla. Inana waited.

Father Enki, god of wisdom, gave Inana the me of foresight:
her loyal minister Ninšuber would come to her aid. Inana waited.

The arts of civilization gained from great Enki of the seas made Uruk
the bravest of cities in the land. Before receiving these mes,

the young Lady Inana possessed a powerful magic of her own:
blessed fertility of womb and of bountiful field was hers to bestow.

She had no strength to lift herself from the hook that impaled her,
but her sister Ereškigal sat her peerless throne a scant few reeds away.

If Ereškigal would punish her with a hook in the back,
holy Inana would match her coup with one to Irkalla's womb.

Let one agony beget another, the Queen of Heaven decreed,
and Ereškigal writhed in the pain of her labor.

Thus, did Enki's deathless messengers come to find Inana's body.
Upon the throne of Irkalla, Ereškigal suffered as if in childbirth.

Ninšuber had well prepared the not-man and not-woman Enki had made,
and their hearts ached for Ereškigal. Their comfort gladdened her.

"What boon would you have?" she asked them in her gratitude.
They pointed to Inana's body. "This only."

Great Ereškigal felt herself tricked, but bade Neti take Inana down.
Enki's messengers poured upon her the plant and water of life,

and thus did Inana's heart beat again, thus did breath cross her lips.
She stood in darkness and dust, restored, and Ereškigal's pains ceased.

At the seventh gate did loyal Neti return to the Queen of Heaven her garment.
At the sixth did he restore the lapis lazuli measuring rod of her queenship.

At the fifth did she don her fine, celestial gold ring.
At the fourth were inserted her ornate copper toggle-pins, their threads hitched tight.

At the third did she twist the two lapis lazuli eggs onto the heads of the pins.
At the second did she regain her necklace, sparkling as stars in the blue night sky.

At the first, at last, did she bind her hair in the turban for traveling abroad on the land.
Thus was she freed from the realm of the dead.

Holy Inana walked out of Kur with Enki's messengers, surrounded by demons.
The Anuna of Irkalla demanded she give them payment in trade.

Whom would Inana consign to Kur? She searched the cities
for a person who had failed to mourn their missing queen.

Thus was Inana's husband Dumuzid exiled for half of each year to Kur.
Thus was the justice of Irkalla satisfied and the Queen of Heaven vindicated.

Great is Inana, Queen of Heaven, who travels the sky and earth and sea,
who caused the one-way road to deliver her from darkness into light.