“A myth is a story about the way things never were but always are.”
If a myth is a collective dream full of impossible happenings, Dumuzi’s dream is a dream within a dream – a personal dream full of fearful, incomprehensible images that shake him to the core. The dream arrives in a time of panic: dethroned by Inanna and pursued by the demons, he stumbles across hilly grasslands begging the natural world to take pity on him. Anticipating his death, he asks the earth to tell his mother where his body lies so she can properly mourn him. Exhausted, he lies down for a rest and falls asleep only to be woken by a dream that leaves him shaking in terror. He can neither dismiss it nor make sense of it. So he consults his sister Geshtinanna, “a wise woman who knows the meaning of dreams”. He finds her by a river, a source of fertility, and tells her the dream:
A single growing reed trembles for me.
From a double-growing reed, first one, then the other is removed.
In a wooded grove, the terror of tall trees rises about me.
Water is poured over my holy hearth.
The bottom of my churn drops away.
My drinking cup falls from its peg.
My shepherd’s crook has disappeared. …
My sister, your goats drag their lapis beards in the dust.
Your sheep scratch the earth with bent feet. . .’i
Geshtinanna is horrified. “My brother,” she gasps. “Do not tell me such a dream!” She explains that the single reed is their mother mourning for him. The double reed is the two of them; one cut down after the other. The tall trees in the wooded grove are the galla, the demons from hell who are searching for him. She predicts that when the fire on his hearth is extinquished, his life as a shepherd will be destroyed. She goes on to say:
When the bottom of your churn drops away
You will be held by the galla.
When your drinking cup falls from its peg,
You will fall to the earth. . . .i
Geshtinanna believes her brother is a dead man.
For my own interpretation of Dumuzi’s dream, I chose the broken cup and a sick goat. I figured a cup would easier to depict, and perhaps more visually accessible, than a twin reed or bottomless churn or demonic trees. Also, the cup brought to mind the Biblical cup that “runneth over” in King David’s Psalm 23. In this psalm, written about 1000 BC, a divine shepherd fills us with more life than we can “drink” or absorb. But a thousand years earlier, the shepherd Dumuzi’s cup has shattered. He can no longer drink the waters of life, no longer feed his flock with the overflow of his own cup.
As for the dream’s goats, their “lapis beards” hooked me. Lapis lazuli was highly valued in Sumerian culture. Inanna’s queenly regalia, from her necklace of “small beads” to her “measuring rod”, were lapis. The blue stone was fit for the gods and a symbol of royalty. This suggests that Geshtinanna’s goats were sacred – a symbol, perhaps, of divine sexuality. (Think of the Greek god Pan’s horns and goatly lower half – or even the complaint: “he’s an old goat”.) In any case, Geshtinanna’s goats are sickened – literally brought low – by Dumuzi’s death. I googled “sick goats” and – as described in the poem – found images of sad-looking goats, heads down, beards in the dust. I used blue color pencil on my grieving goat’s beard – the first color in the series – and enclosed him in Dumuzi’s broken cup.
Next: The galla seize Geshtinanna.
i Inanna Queen of Heaven, Wolkstein and Kramer, p. 75
ii Ibid. p. 75-76