Inanna, Her Descent, and Her Sister Ereshkigal

At the autumn equinox, Babylonians re-enact the Descent of Inanna. Her Descent into the Underworld is the hinge between the dry and rainy seasons. Inanna dies but is rescued. Since someone has to replace Her in the Underworld, Dumuzi, Her Shephard Consort, goes down for six months. His sister, Geshtinanna, Goddess of Autumn Wines, takes his place the other six months. Meanwhile, Ereshkigal continues to reign in the Underworld.

Inanna (Ishtar)
Inanna, who is known by many names – Inana, Ishtar – is a complex Goddess. Thought to be a mixture of Sumerian and Semitic Gods, She is both the Goddess of Love and the Goddess of War. Her origin is thought to stem from the Semitic God Attar (male) becoming Ashtar, then the female Ishtar. This Goddess merged with the Sumerian Inana of Uruk to become Inanna. She now possesses male and female qualities. In modern times, Inanna has become a part of the Goddess Religions as a Goddess of Self-Actualization and Avenger of Women who have been wronged. She can be considered a fluid Goddess, who changes through the ages for the people who revere Her.

Traditionally, Inanna has three aspects. As the Goddess of Love, She has no permanent consort but a series of lovers. Inanna governs Sex and Sexual Pleasure, and is the Patron Goddess of Prostitutes. In some Babylonian hymns, She will refer to Herself as a prostitute. Some vases have been found that show Inanna receiving offerings from naked men.

Her second aspect is the Goddess of War. Inanna lusts for blood and power, and glories in battle. Sargon of Akkad had Her as his Patron riding beside him as he formed his empire. Later, his grandson, Naram-Sin often invoked Inanna for his royal power and military might in putting down rebellions.

Meanwhile, King Solomon of Israel sang to Inanna:
Who is this arising like dawn
Fair as the Moon,
Resplendent as the Sun
Terrible as an army with banners? (Song of Songs 6:10)

Venus, the morning and evening star, is Inanna’s third aspect. “I am Inanna of the Sunrise,” She declares. After the sun and the moon, Venus was important in divination for the Babylonians. Depending on where Venus was in the sky, the harvest could be successful, war would break out, or famine would come. Also, Venus determined the fate of kings.

My sense of Inanna is that She is fluid. She is independent and beholden only to Herself. Passionate, Inanna freely acts on her emotions. She is worshipped for Who She is.

Ereshkigal
The Queen of the Great Below, Ereshkigal rules the Underworld (Irkalla). This is the final destination from which there is no return – either for Gods or mortals. Ereshkigal keeps the Dead where They need to be, so the Dead do not wander off and plague the living.

For the Sumerians, the Dead went to the world beneath the Earth’s surface. Called the Lower World, a stairway, from a cave in the earth, went down to the First Gate. As the newly deceased moved downward, They would give gifts to the various Galla who guarded the Gates. After going through the Seven Gates, the Dead would arrive before Ereshkigal. She would pronounce the sentence of death on Them as her scribe, Geshtinnana recorded their names.

Ereshkigal never leaves Irkalla, nor do the Great Gods visit Her except for Nergal, Her Fourth Consort. Nergal (The Unsparing) has his escorts keep the Gates open when He returns every six months to sit by her side. During that time, Nergal rules with Her. The other six months, He wages war and sends the newly killed to Her.

Her Son Ninazu, God of Healing, and his son Ningishzida (God of the Dawn) would conduct business for Her in the Upper World. Namtar (Fate-Cutter), also Her Son, would go to the Upper World to spread the plague and pestilence. Her daughter, Nungal is the Goddess of Prisons and Punishment.

The Descent of Inanna
In The Descent of Inanna (c 1900-1600 BCE), Inanna journeys to the Underworld to visit her recently widowed Sister, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Great Below. As Inanna descends, She is forced to give up her royal power and is stripped naked. Leaving the Seven Gates behind, She enters the throne room. There, She finds Ereshkigal in labor with her late husband’s child. The Annuna, who are the Judges of the Underworld, surround Inanna and pass their judgement of death on Her. Ereshkigal then kills her Sister and hangs the corpse on a hook.

Meanwhile, Ninshubur, who is Inanna’s chief minister, seeks help from the Great Gods. Enki, Inanna’s Father, sends two Galla help rescue Inanna. They help Ereshkigal give birth, who then allows them to take Inanna’s Corpse. Once Inanna is restored to life, She must find someone to take her place. Eventually, She chooses her consort Dumuzi, who did not mourn Her. However, Dumuzi’s sister, Geshtinanna volunteers to take his place for six months each year.

Modern readings of the Descent of Inanna have Inanna shedding her old self, confronting her shadow, and emerging again whole. Read in conjunction with the Epic of Gilgamesh (c 2150-1400 BCE), the Descent of Inanna presents a different meaning. Inanna is instrumental in having Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven murdered. He is Ereshkigal’s husband and father of her unborn child. His wife wanted justice for the death of her husband, and leaving her unborn child fatherless.

However, Inanna avoided the consequences of her actions. She was able to convince Enki to return Her to life. Dumuzi and Geshtinanna paid for her decision to attain more mes (power) by going to Gugalanna’s funeral in the Underworld. The Descent of Inanna then becomes a story of one God seeking justice and being thwarted, while another God escapes punishment for what They did.

Gods and Politics: Civics from the Romans

At this time of the year, I ponder what is citizenship and good government. At the Ides (13th) of September, an epulum (feast) is given to the Capitoline Triad. For my epulum, I lay out food for Jupiter, Brightest and Best (Iuppiter Optimus Maximus), Juno Regina (Iuno Regina) and Minerva Augusta. (These Three Gods comprise the Capitoline Triad.) It is also the Day of the Epulum Iovis (The Feast of Jupiter). In Ancient Rome, sacrifices would be made and the feast attended by Roman Senators. (The ceremony was called a lectisterium, a ceremonial meal that is offered to the Gods, Who attended through their statues.)

During the time of Roman Kings, the Archaic (Original) Triad, was Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus. Jupiter guided the State, while Mars defended the borders. Quirinus promoted civic responsibility. (Roman citizens were addressed as “Quirites.”) I see this Triad today teaching new nations how to govern themselves.

Under Etruscan influence, the Gods of the Archaic Triad were changed to represent The Republic. Jupiter and Juno protected the State and guided the Senators. Meanwhile, Minerva, as the Patron of the Arts, promoted excellence in society. I see the Capitoline Triad advising today’s democracies.

The counterbalance to the Capitoline Triad is the Aventine Triad of Ceres, Liber, and Libera. Formed after a plebeian riot, the Aventine Triad protected the rights of the common citizens from government overreach. Ceres maintained the food supplies. Liber and Libera, both Gods of Fertility, protected the male and female seed, respectively. The Aventine Triad protects the rights of citizens today.

I consider civic action to be in the province of the Triads. The Capitoline Triad asks “does the conduct of the government warrant a response of some kind.” Were the representatives bribed into allowing fracking in their district? Did they deliberately enact these laws in the dead of night to avoid public outrage? Meanwhile, the Aventine Triad asks “is this new law fair and sensible.” Is there something out of balance? Did government overreach happen? The answers to these questions form the proper civic response.

I view civic action differently from politics. Civic action is based on what will benefit the community (commonweal). Politics is based on what the person determines to be right and wrong. Since everyone has different ideas on that, no one person can decide what is good for the whole of the community. Civic actions entail whether the citizens are disenfranchised by a law or practice. Are the rights of the minority protected while the will of the majority is being carried out? Are only the wishes of the minority implemented while the desires of the majority are ignored?

The Capitoline and Aventine Triads encourage citizenship and community participation, with deliberate and thoughtful actions. My response to the insistence by some that polytheism must be political is “what does that mean.” Civic action encourages the betterment of the community. Politics stresses one viewpoint over another. Being apolitical is also a duty and right of citizenship. For a society to function well, apolitical people are necessary. They are good judges and mediators, since they view things differently than others.

Whenever various controversies facing polytheists erupt, I always ask the Triads “what would benefit the community.” And I wait for the answer and pray for understanding. Sometimes the answer is to do nothing. Not every controversy requires or deserves a response.

Of the list of Private Roman virtues relevant to political action would be dignitas (a sense of self-worth), firmitas (tenacity), gravitas (a sense of the importance of the matter), prudentia (personal discretion), severitas (self-control) and finally veritas (honesty). These particular virtues both guide the conduct of the Roman Polytheist in politics, as well as define how to be an effective advocate. Following these virtues ensures that one does not degrade those for whom they advocate nor the Gods Themselves.

Public Roman virtues provide a structure on what to advocate for. Abundantia is enough food for all. Aequitas is fair dealing between the government and the people. When conducting affairs let concordia (harmony between nations and between people) and fides (good faith in contracts) be the guides. Iustitia points to having sensible laws, and salus, the concern for public welfare. In the throes of advocacy, bonus eventus (remembering positive events) and fortuna (acknowledging positive events) should not be forgotten.

Roman Virtues who are Gods:
Abundantia: With her cornucopia, this Goddess distributes grain and money to all.
Aequitas: Aequitas is the God of Equity.
Bonus Eventus: Depicted with a patera (cup) in his right hand and a wheat shaft in the left, this God ensures good harvests and successful enterprises.
Concordia: This important Goddess has a festival on July 22.
Felicitas (Prosperity): This Goddess represents the best aspects of communities.
Fides: This Goddess oversees oral contracts between people.
Libertas (Liberty): This Goddess personifies liberty in all its aspects – personal and political.
Pax (Peace): When Augustus re-established peace after the Roman Civil War, he made Pax a Goddess.
Pietas: This Goddess is usually portrayed with a stork, a symbol of filial duty.
Pudicita (Modesty): This Goddess, once represented the modesty of women, but later oversaw the moral uprightness of citizens.
Salus: This ancient Goddess also preserves public health.
Spes (Hope): Depicted about to depart, this Goddess holds an opening flower.
Virtus (Virtue) and Honos (Honor): These two Gods are usually worshipped together. They are also Gods of Military Courage and Honor.

Hindu Festivals: Janamashtami

Today is Krishna’s Birthday! Yaay! Here are a few things you need to know about this festival and the god whom it is meant for.

Well, first of all, Krishna wasn’t technically a god. Yes I know he is worshipped as one and ISKCON devotees believe him to be the Paramatma, the great creator spirit. But in older traditions, Krishna is only an avatar of Vishnu, who lived here on Earth as a human many thousands of years ago. That is how it’s possible for him to have a birthday. He was born on the eighth day of Bhadrapada month – Hindus use a Lunar calendar when it comes to most celebrations; it’s around August-September in our calendar.

Born as one or not, he certainly is a very popular god with devotees. He is said to be very attractive, and is the god of compassion, tenderness and love. I would personally add ruthless politics and trickery to the list due to the role he played in the Mahabharata but that’s just me. Most people worship him as the innocent looking charmer with the flute and cows.

So. How do you celebrate a god’s birthday?

1. Clean the house. Just like you would when hosting a birthday party for a human.

2. Cook something yummy for Krishna. It must be vegetarian. He is said to love butter so you could leave some for him at his altar/statue. I normally cook chick pea curry with puri (deep fried breads) and some sweet dish – this year I have made date laddoos. I will leave a link at the bottom with the recipe for these.

3. Celebrate him! Chant his mantras, watch movies about him; keep him in your mind. A good movie that came out fairly recently and I really liked is OMG – Oh My God. It is in Hindi but you might find it with subtitles.

4. Go to a mandir or gather with friends and keep a vigil. Krishna was born at midnight, so people keep vigil to wait for his arrival and wish him happy birthday.

5. Many people fast on this day (I don’t but I make sure I only eat vegetarian food). If you decide to fast you can do it sunrise to sunset, or until the next day morning. You can also do a light-fasting, with eating only fruits and water. Hard core believers will not eat anything and won’t even drink water all day until the next sunrise.

6. If you are in India or in an Indian community, there are always dance and drama performances to honour him. ISKCON temples are a good choice to go as obviously Krishna is their main god. And of course there is a special tradition to commemorate his stealing butter from his mother’s kitchen: dahi-handi. A pot full of yoghurt is hung really high up. Then people have to make a human pyramid in order to reach the pot and break it. The group who manages to break it gets the blessings of Krishna – and some presents from the organisers.

Happy birthday Krishna, I’m sure you are having a blast this year too!

Chick peas curry:

https://www.cookwithmanali.com/punjabi-chole-chickpeas-curry/

Puri:

https://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/poori-a-kind-of-fried-indian-bread/

Dates laddoo:

https://hebbarskitchen.com/dates-ladoo-recipe-khajur-laduu-recipe/

Generational Trauma, Dolphins, and Neptune

Odin, the Norse All-Father, recruited me into Polytheism. Since outside of Odin, no other Norse God seemed interested in me, I questioned my baffling experiences. Later I found out that there is a Group of Gods (Sekhmet, The Morrigan, Odin, Hekate, and Dionysus.) who recruit people into Polytheism. (Recruiting Gods will often leave the person once they become a Polytheist.) However at the time, I was frustrated and disappointed at having no rapport with anyone.

During my struggles, I attended different rituals held by other Polytheists. When I went to a Roman one, I met Neptune. During this rite, I felt a 1,000 volts of electricity coursing through me. My head was on fire and my hair stood on end. Neptunus Pater (Father Neptune) made Himself known to me. I was welcomed into the Roman Pantheon of Gods. I felt as if I had come home. Later, I realized that the Roman Gods wait before introducing Themselves to practicing Polytheists.

It turns out that my family had a long relationship with Neptune. For generations, they thrived in union with the sea. Mariners, boat builders, and fisher folk received their livelihood from the ocean. However, like all reciprocal relationships, both sides require sacrifices.

The rupture with Neptune came when my grandfather’s father lost his entire family in a horrific storm. They were fishing on Georges Bank in the Atlantic at the time. Following the news, his sorrowful mother made him (her youngest) promise never to go to the sea again. She cursed it for destroying her life. Afterwards, she would chide laughing or happy people with, “Remember you were born to die.”

After that, his father took to farming and was miserable. He passed that misery onto his family and to future generations. Since we are not independent of our ancestors, this transgenerational trauma becomes a part of us. The sickness in my family came out as abuse and addiction.

Since ever I could remember, I disliked dolphins. I could not abide people gushing over these ill-tempered bullies. Dolphins symbolized the deep trauma of my family losing an entire generation. Instead of saving the drowning men, the dolphins acted as psychopomps guiding them across the water to the Afterlife. Neptune had wanted his offerings from my family.

After years of living inland, my father settled us next to the sea. Then the healing could begin. In middle age, my father discovered joy in puttering about in his small sailboat, a blue J. Sailing in the Long Island Sound between New York and Connecticut, he had fun. Sailing with him was an exercise in not caring if we were lousy sailors or not. We had finally made peace with the sea.

Repairing my family’s relationship with Neptunus Pater has been healing for me. The trauma that my family carried is now dissipating. My relationship with Him now is one of sacra gentilicta – keeping rites for the God of my family. It is my sacred duty to make offerings on behalf of my family including the Ancestors lost at sea. I have weekly devotions to Neptunus Pater, and an annual rite during the Neptunalia in July.

Ritual is an ideal way of healing transgenerational trauma. It offers a container to hold the grief. By reconnecting with Neptunus Pater, He allowed me to move the trauma from the present to the past. Stoicism had allowed my family to survive this tragedy. We never mentioned their names again. I released the trauma through radical inclusion by acknowledging those lost at sea.

Meanwhile, I have also made peace with the Dolphins, His Messengers. I forgave Them for not saving my family, and understood that guiding my family to the Afterlife was equally as important. The name of the blog is our reaffirmed relationship with each other.

“Sea Fever” by John Masefield (1878 – 1967, English)

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Works Used

Patricia Kathleen Robertson, “Connect With Your Ancestors.” 2017. Peaceful Possibilities Press: Calgary (CAN).
—, “Let Your Tears Flow.” 2017.
—, “Step Into the Light.” 2019

God, Moving Along the Cape

“I would rather be in the mountains thinking about God, than in church thinking about the mountains.” (attributed to John Muir)

I.

I spent the first of August hiking with my parents on a remote island nature preserve off the coast of Maine. We’d been once before years ago when the trails weren’t quite as established and the handful of fellow naturalists and hikers we encountered this time weren’t as numerous. Despite the increase in visitors, the island loop remains at best a narrow deer trail through the thick of the bog, eventually spilling out into a rocky coast where the trail continues, so long as the tides permit passage.

A few wooden planks have been installed to elevate your walk over rocks and brush in the interior sections. Larger boulders and rock faces provide resting points along the way to the shore. All around you are dangling lichens and tropically toned peatmosses. The thick spruce and coastal jack pine underbrush provide an insulating layer of delicate soil where dozens of amanita mushrooms thrive and wild blueberry and cloudberry bushes cling to whatever depth they can manage to root down into. Pitcher plants and other carnivorous fauna dot the acidic soils, evolutionary remnants of retreating glaciers and a testament to the extremity of this environment. The trail is marked with shining blue blazes easily missed if one is not careful, and in a few spots, iron rungs and gnarled tree roots aid you in climbing back up onto your path.

At first we planned to just hike to the shore and probably back the way we’d come already. This feat alone took about two hours. 

For most of the journey, I stayed ahead of my parents, even when depending on my cane for balance. There’s just something about wild spaces like this which call to me, which set me into a rhythmic gliding as part of the landscape. I can’t go any slower. I just can’t. Enormous island birds cawed at me, and I cawed back to them. We circled one another and told the trees about the other. The only human apart from one other hiker passing in the opposite direction and my parents a quarter mile or so behind me, I increasingly felt the spine-tingling awareness of wild things all around me. 

The island is the kind of wilderness where something always seems to be lurking not far off the trail. For the whole hike to the shore, my mind replayed the truth that in all the hikes I’ve been on, in all the parts of known bear country, never, not once have I crossed paths with a bear. I wondered then if these thoughts might be some sort of premonition that one was about to appear. I’d had that kind of intuition before–where I could almost see the bear just waiting on the path around the next corner–but here it seemed just as likely I might instead pass the next tree to find a stark naked wizard challenging his mind to some sort of mystical experience on a nearby rock. Neither appeared beyond the passing images of my mind.

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How Babylonian and Roman Gods Recruit Followers

The Roman Gods do not actively recruit from the greater population. I was recruited into Polytheism by Odin, the Norse All-Father. After following the Norse Gods for some time, Neptune of the Romans showed Himself to me. Since then, I have encountered people who have become Roman Polytheists after being Norse. They said it was a natural progression from the “chaotic” Gods to the more “orderly” Ones. Different pantheons have different expectations of their followers. Roman Gods prize order and structure, whereas the Norse are comfortable with chaos.

Since there is overlap with Greek Gods in many people’s minds, the Roman Gods would rather leave the followers of the Hellenic Gods alone. I have noticed that conflation occurs for various Gods such as Poseidon and Neptune in discussions about Gods in general. Recognizing the differences between the Two Gods can be difficult.

Moreover many Celtic followers are resistant to Roman Gods because of the Romans’ war with the Druids. There are Celtic-Roman Gods such as Sulis but their worship does not seem to extend to Roman Gods. Then there is the “coolness” factor of the Norse and Celtic pantheons which people find exciting. Perhaps this is because of all that exposure that people have to Greco-Roman myths and none to these other pantheons.

In my observations, Roman Gods refer people who are already practicing Polytheists. From my experience with Roman Polytheism, it requires daily and regular practice. Since These Gods are “Romans,” They do prize organized over ad hoc devotions. Perhaps that is why the Roman Gods are more reluctant to actively recruit, since many Pagans have eclectic practices.

The Babylonian Gods have a problem in attracting many followers. They and the Canaanite Gods are often first encountered in a negative light in the Old Testament of “The Bible.” Therefore, it is hard for the average Pagan to want to know any of these Gods since they associate Middle-Eastern Gods with Christianity. Also, the Old Testament treats these Gods as figments of people’s imaginations. For these reasons, Marduk, Nanna, and the other Gods do not seem as “real” as the Egyptian Gods. Often the Babylonian Gods will fade into the background.

Another problem for the Babylonian Gods is the meme set forth by the late Zecharia Stichin that the Anunnaki are space aliens who created humans to be their slave species. Stichin took various Babylonian myths and re-invented them to fit his theories. These aliens come from the planet Nibiru (“the 12th planet”) which supposedly passes by Earth every 3,500 years. At that time, they come to earth to bedevil humanity. The meme goes downhill from there and into ancient astronaut theories and alien-human hybrids.

The popularity of Inanna (Ishtar), the Goddess of Love and War often impede people from knowing the other Babylonian Gods. (A popular chant includes Her Name with others Goddesses.) The Pagan devotion to Inanna is often divorced from the other Babylonian Gods. Usually, it is centered in Goddess Worship, whose followers see the Goddesses as individuals and not rooted in particular pantheons. Therefore, Inanna becomes attached to Isis and the other Goddesses.

The devotion to Inanna does not usually transfer to the other Babylonian Gods. This is in contrast with Isis and Hecate, who followers will become acquainted with other Gods from their respective pantheons. I think it has to do with the Babylonian Gods Themselves. More formal in their relations with humans, these Gods expect a sense of propriety from their worshippers. Moreover, They want to be their worship to be rooted in their culture, which makes These Gods reluctant to deal with Eclectic Pagans.

My experience with the Babylonian Gods came from studying mythology and comparing various myths to popular culture. At that point, Marduk decided that I understood the “Enuma Elish,” the Babylonian Creation Epic. From intensive studying of that epic, I developed a devotion to this pantheon. The Babylonians, from what I can infer, prefer people who have little or no Christian residue, and are willing to take their myths seriously.