The Seventh Gate

Inanna-at-Seventh-GateWhen she entered the seventh gate,
From her body the royal robe was removed.
Inanna asked:
“What is this?”
She was told:
“Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.”

The seventh gate to the Underworld is the final one. According to Diane Wolkstein (if you remember, she was the poet/scholar whose translation I’m using), the number seven in the ancient world symbolized “wholeness”, and at this gate Inanna is “wholly” stripped of all her power: her queenly authority, her holy priesthood and her sexual allure. She squeezes through the narrow opening as naked as the day she was born.

For the first gate, I envisioned a grand gate built of bricks in the herringbone pattern used at the entrances of Sumerian tombs. For this last gate, however, I imagined a narrow opening in a natural rock wall – like an adit into a mine shaft. As I sketched striations in the rock, they took on a labial look and I remembered that at early human burial sites, excavated corpses were bound in a fetal position, as if they were going back into the womb of mother earth. So a vaginal gate for Inanna felt right. In this woodcut, she is going back into the inchoate darkness and unformed possibilities of a womb.

Although she is naked, her hair is still “done”. She has lost everything she values – and no doubt she is afraid – but she retains her dignity, her sense of self. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the authoritative German psychiatrist who described the dying process in five tidy stages, observed that people die in character. In other words, we can not expect the process of dying to change who we are. I have found this not only to be true, but reassuring. Even in our last moments, we are still ourselves, still the accumulation of good and bad and everything in between that belongs to us alone. Inanna, on her way into the Underworld, remains a sacred queen, an archetypal goddess, and to show this, I gave her a tidy coif. However, down here in the trenches of ordinary life, dying is often no more “tidy” than giving birth. Even if we “die with dignity” (no feeding tubes, no breathing machines, no cardiac shock paddles), death may well be a bad hair day.

Inanna-Seventh-Gate-2A note on my image: I’ve been experimenting with different inks and papers. For this one I used an oil-based Caligo ink on Arches 88 paper which is made of cotton fibers instead of Japanese kozo fibers. My first proof (posted above) did not have enough ink on the block to get solid blacks but I find I like the mottled effect. It feels like the grayness of a bad dream – dangerously insubstantial. But here’s a fully-inked print so you can see the difference.