I’d always considered the Sumerian myth of Inanna’s descent into the Underworld one of seasonal decline during the onset of winter.
Research for a short story revealed far more depth.
Inanna was the Queen of Heaven in Sumerian myth, and her sister Ereshkigal ruled the shadowy Underworld.
Inanna visits the Underworld to witness the funeral rites for her sister Ereshkigal’s deceased husband, the Bull of Heaven, who died defending Inanna’s honor.
Ereshkigal, not quick to forgive, bolts the seven gates against her sister. At each locked gate, Inanna is stripped of her symbols of power before she can pass until Naked and bowed low, Inanna entered the throne room.
The seven judges of the dead see through Inanna and recognize she intends to steal her sister’s throne and become Queen of Heaven and Earth. This infuriates Ereshkigal. Not only is her sister responsible for her husband’s death, now Inanna is trying to steal her throne.
Then Erishkigal fastened on Inanna the eye of death. She spoke against her the word of wrath. She uttered against her the cry of guilt. She struck her. Inanna was turned into a corpse, a piece of rotting meat, and was hung from a hook on the wall.
Inanna had arranged for her faithful servant to ask her three father gods for aid should she not return.
The first two father gods refuse, saying, “My daughter craved the Great Above. Inanna craved the Great Below. She who receives the me[h] of the underworld does not return. She who goes to the Dark City stays there.”
But the third father agrees to help. He forms two flies from the dirt under his fingernail and sends them to commiserate with Ereshkigal and seek Inanna’s release.
Ereshkigal agrees to give them Inanna’s rotting corpse.
The flies revive Inanna with the food and water of life.
But the Underworld judges insist that if Inanna returns to life, she must send someone to die in her place. As she ascends through her palace, the judges seize different servants, all of whom wear sackcloth in mourning.
Inanna refuses to give up any of her servants (including her hairdresser). Then she sees her husband Damuzi wearing fine clothes and sitting on her throne. She fastened on Dumuzi the eye of death. She spoke against him the word of wrath. She uttered against him the cry of guilt. 'Take him away! Take Dumuzi away!'
At the end of the myth, Damuzi’s sister volunteers to take his place and it’s decided that each sibling will spend six months a year in the Underworld, again suggesting a seasonal cant to the tale.
Inanna was worshiped in Sumer as early as 4000 BCE, and may have originally been the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah.
By the mid 600s BCE, under the name Ishtar, She was the most widely venerated god in Mesopotamia.
Her non-binary priests are often described as “homosexual transvestites” or “androgynous hermaphrodites.” These gala, individuals of neither male nor female gender, made up a significant number of the personnel of both temples and palaces in ancient Sumerian society.