How Inanna Tipped the Balance
This story of the Queen of Heaven and Earth, Inanna, comes from Sumeria, which existed long ago between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in what is known as the Cradle of Civilization. It is the headland of present day Iraq.
Inanna hears the mourning cries of her sister, Eriskegal. Eriskegal is the Queen of Death and the Underworld. Her husband has abandoned her and that is why she cries.
Inanna is moved by her sister’s misery and she determines to go and visit her. Of course, Eriskegal lives in the Underworld…a place where no one can go without first dying. Those who go the the Land of the Dead do not return to the sunlit Earth.
But Inanna is a very powerful woman and she believes that she can do it.
She wears the shining crown of heaven upon her head, a golden ring upon her finger, a lapis necklace around her throat, sparkling beads are draped across her chest, a sliver breastplate protects her heart, a cloak of stars lies over her shoulders and a golden measuring rod is held in her hand.
Before Inanna goes to the Underworld, she tells her servant, Ninshubar, that if she does not return in THREE days, then Ninshubar MUST appeal to the other deities. She must plead with them to DO SOMETHING to bring her back from the Underworld!
Then Inanna travels until she comes to the door of the Underworld. She knocks loudly.
The gatekeeper asks who is there. Inanna gives her name and title. The gatekeeper demands Inanna’s crown in exchange for passage.
Inanna submits and is allowed to enter.
A bit further on, Inanna comes to another gate, and she is ordered to surrender her golden ring in exchange for passage. Inanna submits.
Inanna comes to a third door and knocks. This gatekeeper requires her lapis necklace as payment for passage.
There are seven gates in all, and each time that Inanna goes through one, she must surrender another article of her clothing. At the entrance to the throne room of her sister, Eriskegal, Inanna has to give up her cloak of stars, and she is naked. Naked we arrive into the sunny realm of Earth and naked we enter the mysterious land of Death.
Eriskegal is sitting upon her shadowy throne. A necklace of human skulls is around her neck and a dark crown of death is on her head. Her eyes are empty sockets, as black as onyx.
She says, “Who are you and why have you come here?”
Inanna, cries, “Don’t you know me? I am your SISTER! I have come to comfort you in your grief!”
Eriskegal does NOT remember her and she strikes out with her strong arms of iron. Inanna is killed instantly.
Eriskegal hoists her sister’s corpse onto a hook outside her chamber.
Three days go by.
Inanna’s servant Ninshubar begins to feel a numbing cold and she misses the warmth of Inanna’s radiance. She fears the worst. So she goes to the powerful God, Enki, who is Inanna’s grandfather.
As Ninshubar begs for his help, Enki seems to be ignoring her. He looks at his fingernails and begins to pick some dirt out from under them. This dirt falls onto his lap. Enki bends down and breathes life into the specks of dirt. Suddenly, they are animated…tiny little creatures, like insignificant gnats!
And yet Enki sends them into the Underworld to rescue his radiant granddaughter!
Without hesitation, the gnats buzz down and down and down into the darkness. Long before they arrive at Eriskegal’s throne room, they hear her moans and cries of pain. She is sobbing, “Oh, my belly! Oh my belly! The pain!”
The gnats fly around Eriskegal’s head, bringing her comfort by singing out in their tiny voices, “Oh your belly, your poor belly!”
When Eriskegal weeps about the pain in her head, the gnats comfort her with their sweet singing, “Oh your head, your poor poor head!”
And likewise when Eriskegal agonizes over her broken heart, the tiny healers sing out, “Oh your heart, your poor broken heart!”
Their voices sink deep into Eriskegal’s lonely, cold body. And their comfort heals her pain. In gratitude, the Queen of Death grants them any wish.
The insignificant, submissive, powerless gnats request the bloody corpse of their Queen, Inanna. Thinking them truly insane, Eriskegal obliges them.
The gnats carry Inanna up, up, up; back through the 7 doors of death. As they emerge from the dark mouth of the realm of the dead, the sun rises, the Earth is warmed, flowers blossom, people emerge from their dwellings to greet their Queen, who takes a partner and begins to dance….
The Equinox Tango!
How Jesus Tipped the Balance
This story of the Prince of Peace, Jesus, comes from Israel, a country which has existed since ancient times on the shore of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.
Jesus, from an early age, hears cries of misery from his people, whose nation is occupied by the cruel Roman Empire.
Jesus is moved by his people’s plight and he seeks a way in which to lead them to freedom. As a youth, Jesus was inspired by stories of his ancestors, Moses and Elijah, who had both led the Israelites out of bondage in the past.
As Jesus grows older, it becomes clear that he has supernatural powers. He is often seen with light shining in a halo around his head, and sometimes around his whole being. He is able to heal people from many afflictions. He can command the winds. He can do magic. And he can defy death itself.
The people recognize that these miracles, which Jesus is able to perform, are just like those which Moses and Elijah had accomplished so long ago. Many people come to believe that Jesus is their new spiritual leader, anointed by God, sent to free them from Roman rule.
Jesus, with a god’s clarity of vision, sees that the way to freedom from oppression is to cease abiding by the rules of the political world. He tells people to love everyone, even their enemies. Jesus was like a cool breeze in an arid climate, moving through crowds of anger and misery, leaving joy in his wake.
One year, as the holy festival of Passover is approaching, Jesus decides to go to Jerusalem to celebrate in community. In the prophetic acting tradition of Ezekiel, Jesus envisions a scene in which he enters the holy city as the Prince of Peace, riding a lowly donkey instead of a war horse. To this end, Jesus asks his friends to get him a donkey to ride into town.
He sits on the little animal and as they approach the city, they stop on a hill overlooking it. Jesus put his hands to his face and bows his head. He begins to cry, sobbing out the words, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, why do you kill your prophets? Why must you stone those who are sent to help you? How often I have wanted to gather you together as a hen gathers her brood beneath her wings, but you would not respond!” Then Jesus continues on down the road.
Just imagine how it looks…a holy prophet, able to command even the natural elements, riding into town on a little donkey, riding on past dead-faced Roman soldiers, riding on past corpses hanging on crudely constructed crosses, riding on past Hebrew people who have come to town for a festival which recalls their emancipation from slavery, riding on past ragged children and skinny beggars, angry businessmen and anxious mothers….riding on… like a complete fool.
A few days later, Jesus is arrested by the Romans. On what charge? The Roman Empire didn’t need a “charge”. He is arrested, confined and beaten and then he is tied onto a crucifix, which is erected up on a hill so that the citizenry can see this execution and learn a lesson. Jesus is left to suffocate, die and be eaten by wild dogs.
Jesus dies. And then Jesus goes down into the Underworld…the realm of the dead. Into that dark country, Jesus brings the brilliant sunlight of his eternal message: Love! The unshakeable power of his belief in love and non-violence liberates souls which had been languishing in lonely misery there for eons!
Back on Earth, Jesus’ friends take care of his body, placing it in a cave so it won’t be eaten by predators. Roman soldiers stand around the cemetery so that no grave-robbers can steal from the tombs.
At dawn, on the third day after Jesus had been murdered, there is a thunderous noise from the sky! The guards look up and they see the skies open and two angels descend in a burst of light! These angels approach Jesus’ tomb and as they do, the stone that had been placed over the opening begins to roll away all by itself! The dark opening of the tomb is revealed, and into that frightening space, the two angels move.
When they emerge again, there is between them a third being…a being of pure light, whose head reaches up beyond the clouds! The soldiers who haven’t already run away simply pass out in fear!
A little later, some of Jesus’ friends come to grieve at his tomb, but when they get there they see that it is standing wide open! And before they can cry out, an angel says to them, “Fear not! Look! The sun is risen! The Earth is warmed again! Flowers blossom! Waken from your bondage! Take a partner and begin to dance….The Equinox Tango!”
How Persephone Tipped the Balance
This story of Persephone comes from ancient Greece, another country which lies on the banks of the lovely Mediterranean Sea.
Persephone is the beloved daughter of Demeter, the Queen of Earth. Demeter and Persephone spend much time together, enjoying the beauty of their home.
But on this fateful day, Persephone happens to be alone in a meadow admiring the flowers and wild grasses, luxuriating in the sweet Mediterranean sunshine and the lovely fragrances all around her.
Unknown to Persephone, her blissful existence is about to change.
The hard, uncompromising God of the Underworld, Hades, has been spying on young, delicate Persephone for some time. Hades has fallen in love with Persephone and he wants her for his bride. Afraid of rejection, Hades does not approach Persephone herself, or even her mother. Instead, he resorts to the good-old-boy network and asks her uncle Zeus for her hand in marriage. Zeus, King of the Gods, knows full well that his sister Demeter would never give her beloved daughter to the God of the Underworld! What mother could imagine their child living forever in caves of darkness, with only the dead for company?
But Hades was accustomed to getting his way. Indeed, he had never known anyone to deny him before…when Death comes, that’s pretty much the last word on any subject! So Hades forces Zeus to give him permission to abduct Persephone. Zeus figures that if Hades does the crime, and doesn’t mention Zeus, then Demeter won’t come after her brother!
So there Persephone is, on the fateful day, basking in the sunshine and glowing with youthful energy…when suddenly the earth opens up and Hades, riding in a great chariot, comes out of the pit! Flying straight at the girl, he leans over and sweeps her aboard! Before Persephone can catch her breath, they swoop back into that dark hole. It closes behind them…and then her first tears fall, invisible in the gray shadows of the Underworld.
Demeter misses her daughter almost immediately. She goes searching for her to no avail. She weeps and wails, she moans and groans. She beats the earth in a rage of sorrow! Finally, beside herself, Demeter curses her beautiful Queendom…the Earth! As soon as she does this, all that is green and growing begins to wither and die. The crops dry up. The trees drop their foliage. The grain falls onto dry, lifeless soil. Before long, the people of Earth are crying, too, because they are starving. They are cold. They are dying.
Now, lovely Persephone is living with Hades, deep underground. He tries to please her, bringing her delicacies to eat and delicious beverages to drink. But Persephone wants none of it. She continues to cry silently, like the slave she has become. But when Hades brings her a pomegranate, and splits it open before her…and when she sees the blood-red seeds of the fruit and smells the deep, bittersweet fragrance, Persephone feels hunger. After all, she is a young woman, with all the desires of a young woman. Persephone reaches out and takes a few seeds…she puts them in her mouth and savors the flavor.
Suddenly, the doors of the Underworld burst open and her uncle Zeus is standing there, in a rage. He yells at Hades, “Bring that girl back to her mother, you fool! Our beautiful Earth is becoming as dark and dead as your Kingdom! Let her go now!”
Then there is such a joyous reunion of mother and daughter! Persephone runs, laughing, through the flowers and wild grasses and greening trees towards her happy mother. They fall into each other’s arms.
After a few blissful moments, Demeter looks at her daughter and says, “My darling, please tell me that you did not eat anything while you were in that dark world.”
Persephone says, “I ate only a few seeds of the pomegranate fruit.”
Weeping again, Demeter informs her daughter that by those few seeds, she has bound herself to the God of the Underworld and that she will be obliged to return to him for half of every year.
So it is that Persephone, to this day, walks down down down into the Kingdom of Hades at the end of September. And then, at the end of March, Persephone shakes off the shadows, climbs the road Earthward,
and as she emerges from the dark mouth of the realm of the dead, the sun rises, the Earth is warmed, flowers blossom, people emerge from their dwellings to greet the Princess, who takes a partner and begins to dance…The Equinox Tango!