The First Gate

Inanna-First-GatWhen Inanna arrives in the Underworld, her sister Ereshkegal orders all seven gates to be bolted. She then instructs the gatekeeper to open them one by one, each one no more than crack, to let Inanna through.

“As she enters, remove her royal garments.
Let the holy priestess of heaven enter bowed low.”

At the first gate, Inanna loses her crown – her shugurra.

“What is this?” she demands. And she is told:
“Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.”

So questions are not allowed in Ereshkegal’s realm. Its perfection is unchanging and absolute. I have to say these lines remind me of the Sunday school I attended as a child at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Any question on God brought a frown from the nun behind the teacher’s desk. Her answer was always, “It’s a mystery.”

The Crown

crown-inannaInanna’s headgear is also a mystery to me. Images on Sumerian clay seals show gods and goddesses wearing conical “hats”. Some look layered, some appear to have horns, and some are topped with circular loops. The turban-like wrap that Inanna wears in my first woodcut (and that Ereshkigal wears in the third) is my version of these hats but they don’t look very crown-like to me. So I based my crown design for this woodcut on an image of Inanna on a basalt pot fragment (c. 2400 BC).1

I borrowed the wheat sheaves that evoke Inanna’s power as an agricultural divinity, and I added claws that curve into a heart, since along with her title “Lady of the Large Heart”, she is also depicted with talons for feet.
Most interesting, though, are the crown’s horns. They could represent the “horns” of a crescent moon – a properly “female” emblem that suggests the cup of the womb and a woman’s monthly cycles of fertility. But scholars of Neolithic art say that they are bull’s horns and that they represent “masculine” powers of nature within the goddess’s life-giving womb. Excavations at a Neolithic site in Catal Huyuk, Turkey, turned up a graphic image of the goddess giving birth to a young bull.2

Losing Power

When Inanna gives up her crown at the first gate, she is giving up her vital “bullness”. And since Ereshkigal is grieving over the death of her bull husband, both goddesses are losing power. Fast forward to the Christian era and the horns are no longer associated with a life-giving female divinity. They sprout from the heads of devils and red imps stoking the fires of Hell. In the Christian church, what remains of the sex goddess Inanna has morphed into the Virgin Mother Mary. She stands obediently apart in an alcove off to the side of the high altar where an omnipotent Father, his son Jesus and the dove of the Holy Spirit receive the prayers of the faithful. Nonetheless, when it comes down to the crunch and I am sitting beside someone who is dying, be it a hospice patient or my mother, the prayer I say over and over is not the “Our Father.” I hail Mary and ask her to “pray for now and at the hour of our death.”

1 Wolkstein and Kramer, Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth

2 Riane Eisler, The Chalice and The Blade


Queen Puabi’s headdress, circa 2500-2300 BC, excavated in 1927-28 at Sumerian city of Ur, now in Iraq. Photo from Institute for the Study of the Ancient World exhibit catalog “From Ancient to Modern Archaeology and Aesthetics” New York and Princeton Universities, 2015