An adaptation by Storm Faerywolf & Claudia Lorie
from the translations of the ancient myth as previously published in
Blossom of Bone by Randy Connor,
Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Kramer,
and The Greatness that was Babylon by H.W.F. Saggs
Commentary by Storm Faerywolf
In many cultures, sexually variant people were known to have possessed certain powers or abilities. Perhaps by the very nature of being “in-between”, or “outside” the mainstream gives the Queer person a unique perspective, an advantage in perception that allows for liberation from the usual confines that mainstream society places upon the individual in the name of gender. This encourages the creation of new art, ideas, deepened spiritual awareness, and even healing. We are the “walkers between the worlds” of socially imposed identity and self-created expression, using our perceptual relationship to provide ourselves with a larger array of choices, and to deepen everyone’s understanding of the Universe.
The Queen of Heaven and Earth has been known by many names. The Sumerians knew Her as Inanna; the Babylonians, Ishtar. Countless other cultures have known Her by a million other names. This is the story of Her rescue from the Underworld, the turning of the seasonal wheel, and the creation of a special race of beings: the Queer Ones. By the time it was written down (circa 3000 BCE) it was already ancient.
Ishtar, Queen of Heaven and Earth, without whom the flowers would not grow,
Without whom the ice would never melt, the skies would never brighten,
and the world would forever lay in slumber, awoke in Her fullness to Her beauty.
From the great Above My Lady, Ishtar opened Her ear to the great Below
And the Goddess abandoned Heaven and Earth
To descend into the Underworld
For there lived Her sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld.
Past the seven gates the Goddess Ishtar would pass, demanding entry,
And at each gate the Goddess was stripped of Her valuables.
And at each gate Ishtar asked, “What is this?”
And my Lady was told: “The ways of the Underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.”
Finally, naked and bowed low Ishtar entered the throne room.
Ereshkigal rose from Her throne and struck Her.
Ishtar was turned to a piece of rotting meat and hung from a hook on the wall.
And Ereshkigal decreed,
“No God, or Goddess, No man or woman may enter the Underworld to rescue Ishtar.”
So it was that the Great God Enki was informed
And from His magnificent fingernail, made of light, He fashioned a being, Asushunamir.
Asushunamir a being of light, that was neither male nor female and yet both he and she.
Renewing of light, Asushunamir.
And he sent It to rescue Ishtar.
He and She whose face is brilliant, so beautiful, Asushunamir
Clothed in stars, Asushunamir.
The spell of great Ereshkigal could not possess this luminous being.
Yet She was moved by Asushunamir’s beauty, stirred by the creature’s voice, by the creature’s dance.
Ereshkigal demanded a great feast be held in His-Her honor, the best wine brought to the table.
She dreamed of taking this beautiful being to Her bed, of keeping It with Her in the Land of the Dead
But Asushunamir was careful to pour the wine upon the floor and to eat not food prepared by ghosts.
When Ereshkigal had fallen into drunkenness, the neither-man-nor-woman asked if He-She might taste
the Water of Life,
which Ereshkigal kept locked in the cellar.
Ereshkigal called out to Her servant, “Bring the jug! I shall grant the wish of this fetching creature!”
When Ereshkigal fell asleep, Asushunamir made His-Her way to the lampless cell
Where Ishtar, held captive, lay.
He-She sprinkled the Goddess with the Water of Life.
As the drops fell upon Her, She opened Her eyes.
Radiant and flowing with the energy of life, Ishtar quickly made Her way back through the seven gates,
ascending to earth and bidding the flowers to grow.
Asushunamir was not as fortunate.
Ereshkigal awakened as He-She approached the 7th gate and nothing could extinguish Her fires of passion
turned to hate.
“The food of the gutter shall be your food!” Great Ereshkigal cried. “The drink of the sewer shall be your drink. In the shadows shall you abide.” Having pronounced Her curse upon the creature, She banished Asushunamir.
When Ishtar learned of the terrible curse placed upon the luminous being, She wept and spoke softly so that no one might hear, “The power of Ereshkigal is great. No one dares defy Her. But just as winter was softened and turned towards spring, I may so soften the curse upon you. For many ages you will suffer. Those who are like you, queer ones, lovers of men, kin to my sacred women, shall be as strangers in their homes. Their families will keep them as secrets in the shadows and will leave them nothing. The drunken shall smite their faces, and the mighty shall imprison them.
“But if you will remember Me, how you were born from the light of the stars to save Me from death and rid the earth of winter, I shall harbor you and your kind. You shall be My special children, and I shall make you my priests. I shall grant you the gift of prophecy, the wisdom of the earth and moon. You shall banish illness from My children, as you have stolen Me from Ereshkigal and the Land of No Return.
“And when you adorn yourselves in My robes I shall dance in your feet and sing in your throats, and no one shall be able to resist your enchantments.
“When the earthen jug is brought forth from the 7 gates you shall be freed from the spell of Ereshkigal. Once more you shall be called Asushunamir. Being clothed in light. Your kind shall be called Those Whose Faces Are Brilliant. Those Who Have Come to Renew the Light, the blessed ones of Ishtar.”
It is interesting to note that the very power of Asushunamir lies in His-Her Queerness, that wonderful ambiguity that allows us to live not only as men or as women, but more fully as humans, and by extension, as spiritual beings. He-She exists in the crack between the established order of things, and is therefore not subject to its laws or limitations. In this myth it is also important to note that by rescuing Ishtar from the Underworld, thus restoring springtime to the earth, He-She is effectively embodying the powers of fecundity, that which makes things fertile, a role that gays, lesbians, and trans-people have long been denied because of our lack of procreative sexual expression.
In one sense, the lesson of Asushunamir is one of choices. He-She is given the choice to claim His-Her power and eventually even to break the curse of Ereshkigal if only He-She were to remember the goddess Ishtar, and more importantly, His-Her origin from the light of the stars. While we do not have a choice in who we are or where we come from, we can choose to live the truth that is inside us, even if that means being cursed by the dark ignorance of a repressive society. But even in the midst of that curse a blessing is possible, if only we choose to take it: to use our pain and our sensitivity, our tears and our laughter, to propel us forward to embody the beauty of our true selves and to express it outward so that others may benefit from our example. Being true to our own nature is the most powerful religious, magickal and political act possible. May we always have the courage to do so.