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Sumerian Myth- Inanna's descent to the Underworld

Updated on June 15, 2011

Acient Sumeria

Where is Sumeria? Yes, I asked that question myself, having vaguely remembered studying the civilsation whilst at Grammar School. Sumeria is approximately modern day Iraq and was a civilisation which existed prior to the coming of Christ. Some writings or excerpts from stories have been translated and make some fascinating reading.

map of where sumeria was located
map of where sumeria was located | Source

The Goddess Inanna

Inanna was a Sumerian Goddess with a complex mythological personality. Innanna was associated with warfare, aggression, power, childbirth and erotic attraction- a multi faceted goddess indeed.

One of the most famous stories is that of Inanna's descent to the Underworld. Inanna, often regarded as the Queen of Heaven and Earth decided for reasons unknown to venture into the Underworld. She realised that is a dangerous tasks and take steps to ensure her safety by dressing in her Goddess regalia and wearing her magic amulets. She also concoted an emergency plan with her chief priest Ninshubar, in case things went very wrong.

The Underworld

Inanna arrives at the Gates of the Underworld demanding that she be admitted to attend the funeral of her brother in law. the Queen of the Underworld, Ereshkigal, is Inanna's sister and she is outraged that her sister wishes to attend. She tells the gate keeper to lock the gates- all seven of them!

To get through a a gate, Inannia has to take a piece of her clothing off and by the seventh gate she is naked. taken in front of her sister she is naked, powerless and unable to defend herself. Instead of launching an attack on her sister to size the throne she finds herself condemned to die by the judges of the Underworld and hung dying upon a spike on the wall.

The plan

Inanna fails to return at the correct time and so her priest Ninshubur follows her instructions. She puts her mourning clothes on and appeals to the other God's for help. Only one God, Enki, is prepared to help, the others say it is Inanna's own fault that she is in trouble because she has an ambitious nature, Enki makes two human beings from the dirt under his finger nails and these men manage to arrange an audience with Ereshkigal, flattering her and gaining her confidence. The humans ask for the body of Inanna, who is now dead, and taking her in their arms they sprinkel the water of life over her and she comes life again, having been helped by the God Enki and his water of life.

The trade off

Inanna starts to make her way back through the seven gates, puttiner her clothes on as she goes through them. She is accompanied by demons who will try and obey the judges and seize a substitute to die in Inanna's place. At the last gate to the Underworld Inanna is met be her priest Ninshubur and she prevents the demons from taking her priests. The demons then come upon a number of Gods who are openly mourning Inanna's death, again Inanna protects these Gods with her extra strong powers and does not let the demons take one of them.

Inanna passes through her kindom and sees her husband Dumuji dressed in beautiful robes seated on an imposing throne, She is so angry to see that her husband does not mourn her that she shouts at him in anger and orders the demons to take him in her place.

Sisterly sacrifice

Dumuji was loved by his sister Geshtinanna who begs the judges of the Underworld to let her share her punishment. It was agreed that they would each spend half the year int he Underworld and half the year on earth amongst the living.


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