6,000 years before we memorialized our Easter celebration, the Sumerian culture had its own resurrection story. Containing the elements of death, redemption and resurrection it is the story of the Age of Gemini, whose essential nature was that of dualism.
Inanna was the Queen of Heaven of Sumerian culture associated with Venus, the morning and evening star, goddess of the fertility of the fields. The resurrection story, like the story of Persephone, ties the seasons into the actions of the gods.
The Sumerian year had 12-lunar-months, based upon phases of the moon and just two seasons. Summer began on the vernal spring equinox, lasting 6-months through until the autumnal equinox. Winter was the harvest season and outlined by monthly written characters for hand, seed, grain and cutting.
Her story is a journey of development and evolution. The young Inanna rescues the huluppu-tree, the sacred tree, (whose four main branches pointed to each of he cardinal points) when a flood has carried it into the river; she plants this tree in her garden so that eventually its wood can be used to make her “shining throne” and “her shining bed”. From the beginning, her desire for rulership is paramount, and she is angry and frustrated because the older deities have all the me, the manifestations of authority and wisdom.
Inanna managed to secure the me from her grandfather by getting him drunk on her barley beer, after which he handed them over to her. When sober, he attempted to regain them, but her right hand woman, Ninshurbur, fights him off, thus securing for Inanna ultimate power over the earth and man.
But Inanna’s twin sister, Ereshkigal, had a dominion all her own before Inanna secured her earthly authority, the Underworld. There she judged the souls of the dead. Barren though it was, it was a place of ultimate power, as even the other gods feared to entered and face the Voice of Ereshkigal, the ultimate judge, who could seal even the gods away into the depths of the Underworld.
Inanna is not satisfied with being just the Queen of Heaven, so she decides to face her sister in the Underworld. Under the pretext of attending the funeral of Ereshkigal’s husband’s funeral she demands admittance at the Gates of the Underworld. Wearing all her finery, and symbols of her earthly and heavenly power, to gain admittance she is forced to strip naked, giving up a different item as she passes through each of the seven gates of hell. Thus she arrives in front of her grief stricken sister naked yet not humbled. It is clear to Ereshkigal that Inanna arrives not in sympathy, but with ulterior motives.
Ereshkigal, in grief over her husband’s death, has no patience with Inanna, her pride, or her thin pretense to enter the Underworld. With her fearsome Voice, she judges, Inanna, finding her wanting in virtue, and in the process dries up the body of Inanna into a desiccated corpse. She hangs Inanna’s naked corpse on the walls of the Underworld where it hangs for three days.
Having taken the power of Inanna, she now experiences the flip side of fertility, the agony of the pains of childbirth. Thus with one goddess dead and another incapacitated by excruciating pain, on the third day, grandfather God Enki steps in by creating two sexless creatures from the dirt under his fingernails. These creatures, not being of the living, were easily able to pass through the gates of the Underworld, and in coming to Ereshkigal, mourn with Ereshkigal, echoing all her grief and sorrow. Thus Ereshkigal was comforted and she was so grateful she offered gifts to them. The creatures asked only for the body of Inanna, which they took and using the water of life given to them by Enki, brings her back to life. She was allowed to leave the Underworld under the condition that she sends someone to take her place in the Underworld.
Upon her return, she saw the loyal Ninshubur and her sons mourning for her, but her husband Dumuzi was amusing himself in royal regalia upon her throne. “Take him,” she cried, for she had now learned of sorrow and rage, and her harsh condemnation of him was as drastic as Ereshkigal’s had been of her.
But it wouldn’t do for the goddess of fertility to be without her consort, and after Inanna’s rage subsided, Dumuzi’s loyal sister, Geshtinanna, the goddess of the vine, offered to share his exile. So it was that Dumuzi went to the Underworld after the spring barley harvest, and Geshtinanna returned to preside over the grapes.
Inanna’s rule parallels the Great Age of Gemini, the age of the Twins. Inanna’s Venusian desire for sovereignty over both light and dark forces resulted in her death and resurrection. There was an essential change in the lifestyle of her subjects as well as now the seasons were born. This quest left her and her people changed in essential ways, and reinforcing the dualism of the Age of Gemini.
During the Age of Taurus, the resurrection story was that of Ishtar, another incarnation of Inanna, and also of the Egyptian Apis bull, who was sacrificed for the fertility of the fields and replaced by another who bore the same markings as the previous one. During the Age of Aries, the resurrection story was that of the Egyptian god, Osiris, aided by the magic of his wife, the great goddess, Isis, also called the Queen of Heaven. Up to this point, these stories, even as they display the interaction of god and man, related to how the actions of the gods affected the earthly activities of man. With the resurrection story of the Age of Pisces, the realm shifts from the earthly to the spiritual realm.
Photo published under a Creative Commons license by Nikoreto on Flickr.