Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Inanna and the Old Woman at the Gate
This is dangerous work, this thing we women do, feeling everything, passing through the gate that way. This is our play with the spirits: we gain what we risk. So it is with Inanna; what she would gain and therefore what she must risk is life itself. Inanna hears Ereshkigal crying, so she has to go. She has to go: after all, isn't Inanna a woman?
We stand on the crack between the worlds in our women's bodies. We look both ways on the horns of life, forward, to see our children through, backward, to remember. That's why our love takes so much courage. Inanna comes through here, asking me the way. I know her symptoms - haven't I seen them a hundred times before? I would have cried for her if she hadn't so many tears for herself already. I am Daughter of the Sun, Inanna says, but I am so wet, I am so wet, I am rain without a river to collect me, I am a flood with no banks to embrace me, and still I cannot stop crying. Old Woman, what can I do with all my water?
"You have the water of life itself in you", I tell her, "It is your responsibility to cry it home." How Inanna cries! She cries as if she has already become the wind: It's not enough, she says, the way I've made myself up, it's not enough; my crown and my kingdom, it's not enough, all my light - not enough, my stores of wealth - not enough, the soldiers who would trade away everything for one night with me - not enough. My sweet companion Ninshubah, who has stepped her path from childhood to womanhood alongside my own - not enough. Even Dumuzi, my king, flesh of my flesh, not enough. My own beloved sons - who are to me as life itself, not enough. There are some kinds of tears that cannot be wiped away. Like prayers, they announce us.
My body! Inanna cries, this hopeless beauty of mine is like the skull of a melon. I don't know who has eaten my insides. This candle of flesh I carry only illuminates everything yellow as bones of sand. I know what Inanna is saying when she asks me how to get through that gate, when she asks me how to dream. Old Woman, Inanna says, teach me how to dream.
"Don't ask me that!" I tell her, "We all know how to dream. Just some of us listen to our dreams. So you just listen to whatever it is stampeding inside you, pulling you over. You just ride it where it takes you. Aren't you yourself the morning and the evening star? There's no woman can't walk through walls, navigating her dreams. There's no woman can't walk through time - don't you have two sons to prove it?"
Can't I give her something more? Inanna wants to know. Something to make it safe? But all I can give her are the words I keep as the witness at the gate: "Ereshkigal is your own sister, and all the scribes in Sumer haven't any more power than what's written in the mother's milk you shared: that's the ink that draws us into this world. And what draws us in draws us out again, both directions."
I didn’t tell her the rest. What good would it do? What must be, must be. But even the underworld rewards the courage of love.
Text: The Descent of Inanna ©Madronna Holden
Photo: model Anna Chipovskaya by Nicolay Biryukov