Life to Death

Life to Death

Pentecost 105

Yesterday we began discussing Inanna, the Mesopotamian spirit considered to be queen of the world, the spiritual world, that is.  We also discussed her husband, known by the names Dumuzi as well as Tammuz.  The mythology relating the courtship and marriage of Inanna, also known as Ishtar, to Dumuzi, a shepherd-god, is one of the most well-known and considered powerful myths to this culture.

Inanna was wooed by two – Dumuzi and Enkimdu, a farmer-god.  Sumerian mythology proclaimed the selection of Dumuzi over Enkimdu to have been quite the competition.  Inanna apparently preferred the smooth flax grown in the fields by Enkimdu to the rough, course wool of Dumuzi’s sheep.  The two themselves argued over who would be the better husband.  Dumuzi gave the world gifts of wool, milk, and cheese while Enkimdu offered grain which provided flour, beer, and bread.  When Dumuzi compared himself to Inanna’s brother, he won her heart.

At her marriage Inanna adorned herself with oil and wore a great many jewels.  The consummated their love, and each year on the anniversary of their marriage, celebrations were held.  The ancient myth proclaimed that their marriage and its consummation guaranteed the world fertility and the annual remembrances continued that.  Inanna bestows upon her new husband the kingship of Uruk, though so Dumuzi leaves her to assume that and Inanna is left with only memories of her wedding and honeymoon.

Legends about Inanna strongly spoke of the role of women in the cycle of life.  Inanna felt compelled to descend to the underworld and once there, she was stripped of all her powers.  She was allowed to return to the living only when given life back by her father Enki, and that was only if another took her place.  Her descent is described in great detail in these myths.  There are seven doors at and each she was stripped of something: first came her clothes, then her jewels, the Tablets of Destiny which she always carried were also stripped from her.  Eventually she would arrive at the feet of her sister Ereshkigal, and then face the seven judges of hell.

The legend states the Dumuzi took his wife’s place in the underworld as did his sister.  Dumuzi would remain for six months each year and then his sister would take his place.  He was chosen to be his wife’s replacement at her beckoning after Inanna refused to let the other deities take her two sons or other family members.

While this may sound like a story from someone’s extremely vivid imagination, similar rituals of life, death, and resurrection as well as the name Tammuz, are mentioned in some of the writings of the Abrahamic faiths.  This passage is from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 8: “Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north, and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.”  You might also remember our discussion about the North Star and its mythology.  They are, in my humble opinion, more evidence of how connected mankind was and remains.

There are as many mythologies and beliefs about life and death, our birth and our demise, as there are about the varieties of Creation myths.  I have no answers as to which is definitively right or wrong.  Of greater interest to me is how we daily live and die – not literally but figuratively. Something as simple as thinking “I can’t” is a death to what might have been.  Today we have the technology to do many things that only gods and goddesses seemed to have the power to do.  We as humans can travel around the world in a matter of hours via airplanes.  One can teleconference via the Internet with someone on the other side of the world.  We can heal that which once only killed and we can give new life to those critically injured.

Perhaps it is not the essence of life that proves most difficult for us but the actual living.  History is replete with accounts of well-meaning people forcing their beliefs on others.  Of course, many were not really that well-meaning but, for the sake of this discussion, let’s just focus on those that were.  Does one person’s strongly held belief in a particular set of mythologies give them the right to impose those beliefs on another?  One could say the entire work of the man we call Buddha speaks to this.

The struggles faced by this question are not new and were most prevalent on the continent of Asia.  We tend to think of the land we today call Iraq as being Muslim, as having always been a center of Islam but that is not exactly true.  The oldest surviving epic poem on the planet dates back to the third millennium BCE and was found in Mesopotamia or, as we know it, Iraq.  The “Epic of Gilgamesh” is not the story of the historical king Gilgamesh but rather that of the part-god/part-man mythological character who ruled Uruk.  With his friend Enkidu, the two had many great adventures, encountered the goddess Inanna, and searched for immortality.  “He was wide, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the Flood…”  Yes, even this most ancient poem talks about a great flood, another common mythology among the culture of mankind.  In fact, it is in the tale of Gilgamesh that a snake prevents his attaining immortality, another similarity with the Judaic and Christian mythologies.

In his search for immortality, Gilgamesh becomes his own worst enemy, his curiosity preventing him reaching his ultimate goal.  How often do we become our own worst enemies, either by our destructive patterns or by our failure to truly trust ourselves and our beliefs?  When we use our beliefs to prevent others the right to their own choices, our valid are those beliefs?  Most belief systems speak of doing good, not domination.   It was the death of his friend Enkidu at the hands of Inanna that led Gilgamesh on his search for immortality, life everlasting.

Mark Twin once said “The fear of death follows from the fear of life.  Any man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”  I am not certain any of us is really prepared to die at any moment but I do understand the intent of the statement.  When we live fully and do our best, then we have nothing to feel is left undone.  I will always have a closet that needs cleaning or arts and crafts projects yet to complete.  I do think, though, that to know you have left another hurting or lacking because of your own ego or fear, must be a far greater punishment than simple chores left undone.  We need to worry less about what others believe and focus on living what we believe.  Immortality will be ours when we leave behind days and lives that reflect the practicing the goodness of the world’s mythologies.

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