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GODDESSES with ATTITUDE
By Trina Robbins
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2001 Trina Robbins
All rights reserved.
The Evil Twin
Sumer, the earliest known civilization, sprang up around 4000 B.C.E. in the land now known as Iraq. Inanna, the morning and evening star, the mighty queen of heaven, was the ancient Sumerian goddess of love and war, and don't those two things always go together?
One sunny Sumerian morning about 5,000 years ago, Inanna leaned against an apple tree, surveyed her land and herself, and thought about Important Things, as befits a goddess. "Not bad," she commented, looking out upon her fertile fields, and "Girlfriend, you are hot!" she exclaimed, looking down upon her own immortal bod. She was a beauty, Middle Eastern style, from the tips of her gilded toes to her golden breastplates, which were a perfect 36C. Her heavy eyebrows met over her nose centuries before Frida Kahlo made that look famous, and she wore tons of eye makeup.
But something was missing. "Considering that I'm the queen of heaven," she complained, "you'd think I'd have more—well, powers. Like I can't even leap tall buildings with a single bound. Sometimes being a stunner with a perfect body is not enough."
Inanna decided to pay a visit to her grandfather Enki, the god of wisdom. "Grandpa," she told herself, "has lots of powers. Surely he can spare one or two." She ordered her Boat of Heaven brought forth, and had it piled high with beer—lots of beer. Then she sailed down the Tigris to Enki's city, Eridu, situated where the Tigris River meets the Euphrates. In Eridu she found Enki, sitting on a golden throne in his palace built right over the entrance to the Underworld.
Enki looked out over the waters and saw the Boat of Heaven approaching. "Why, it's my granddaughter, Inanna, coming to pay her old granddad a visit," he exclaimed. "I haven't seen her since she was a baby, a mere 5,000 years ago. What a little cutie pie!"
When Inanna undulated off the boat, wiggling her hips a little more than usual, Enki's eyes bugged out, and he repeated, "What a little cutie pie!"
Inanna gave him a granddaughterly peck on the cheek, and said, "I thought we could have a nice visit, Grandpa. I hope you like beer." Meanwhile, her servants unloaded beer from her boat and carried the containers into the palace. By the time they finished, Enki's throne room was filled with huge clay jugs, leaving only just enough room for a table and two chairs, where Enki and Inanna sat down to do some serious drinking. Now, not only was Inanna good at holding her liquor, but when Enki wasn't looking, she poured her beer out into the potted palm behind her. The god of wisdom, however, was a bit of a lush, and as soon as he emptied his bronze goblet, Inanna refilled it like a dutiful granddaughter.
Soon Enki was confiding that Inanna was the best grandchild he ever had, that only she understood him, and that she should have something nice to take back with her. Inanna smiled sweetly and suggested, "Oh Grandpa, I wouldn't dream of asking for anything, but if you really wanted to give me something, a teensy bit of your powers would be nice."
Enki pushed his chair back and stood swaying on his feet. "Done!" he thundered. "I give you the High Priests and the High Throne of Kingship!"
"Ooh, that's nice," said Inanna. "I'll take them." And she refilled his goblet with strong amber brew.
Enki drained the goblet in one gulp, wiped the foam off his mustache, and said, "Plus I give you the secrets of Sex and the Single Girl! I give you everything you wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask! I give you the temple exotic dancers and the sacred empowered sex workers!"
"That's very sweet of you," said Inanna, refilling his goblet. "Thank you ever so much."
Enki's voice was slurred as he proclaimed, "I also give you the art of song, the art of writing, the art of woodworking and leathermaking and copperworking and goldsmithing."
"Cool," said Inanna, pouring the last of the beer.
Enki laid his head on the table and added, "And I give you the cosmetic secrets of the rich and famous, and the giving of judgments and the making of decisions...." And his voice trailed off.
Inanna politely accepted his gifts and made a decision. She stood up. "Will you look at the time!" she exclaimed. "I simply must run, Grandpa, but thank you so much for all those lovely gifts." And, clapping her hands, she commanded her servants to pile high the Boat of Heaven with all the powers that Enki had given her, while Enki lay with his head on the table, snoring loudly.
The next morning, Enki woke up with a hangover worthy of a god. He groaned as he looked around his empty throne room. "Where are my High Priests?" he demanded, "And what happened to my High Throne of Kingship?"
Enki's servants were afraid to tell him what happened, but his chief servant, Isimud, was braver than the others. He prostrated himself before his king and said, "My king, you gave them away to Inanna."
"What?" roared Enki. "I feel terrible. Bring me some orange juice and send in the temple exotic dancers."
Isimud trembled. "My king," he said, "the orange juice I can do, but I'm afraid you gave your exotic dancers to Inanna yesterday."
"What about my sacred empowered sex workers?"
"My cosmetic secrets of the rich and famous? The art of song, the art of writing? The giving of judgments, the making of decisions?"
Isimud could only nod.
Enki sat with his head in his hands for a moment. Then he looked up. "How far away is Inanna's Boat of Heaven?" he asked.
"It's on the Tigris River, heading toward Inanna's city of Uruk."
Enki roared, "Don't just stand there! Get the demons of the Underworld, and send them after Inanna before she reaches Uruk! Command them to turn the Boat of Heaven around and return my powers to me!"
So Isimud called forth the demons of the Underworld: hairy, half-animal creatures, giants, and sea-monsters, all to pursue Inanna's boat. Inanna looked back and saw them churning up the foamy water, gaining on her. She called out to them, "Hey, uglies! Quit stalking me! What do you want?"
The leader of the giants grinned, showing off a double row of pointy teeth. "The king wants his gifts back, Inanna," he yelled.
Inanna tossed her long glossy black hair over her shoulders defiantly. She stamped her delicate little golden sandal-clad foot and pouted. "Isn't that just like a man?" she complained. "Promises the moon and then wants it all back. Well, I got these powers from him fair and square, and I'm keeping them." And she called over her own servant, Ninshubur, who was no slouch herself when it came to magic powers. Ninshubur sliced the water with her hand and let out a piercing shriek. A great white wave sprang up and washed all the giants, sea monsters, and animal-men back to Enki's palace in Eridu. Meanwhile, Inanna's Boat of Heaven proceeded on to her city of Uruk, docking right in front of her temple, where she was greeted by a wildly enthusiastic crowd. All of the men were very excited about the temple exotic dancers and the sacred empowered sex workers, while the women were thrilled with the secrets of Sex and the Single Girl, and the cosmetic secrets of the rich and famous.
As for Enki, he sat grumbling in his empty palace. "Young people these days, they have no respect for their elders," he complained. And grandparents everywhere have been saying the same thing ever since.
Five thousand years ago, the ancient Sumerians neatly pigeonholed their gods and goddesses, giving them each their own domain. While Inanna, the morning and evening star, obviously rules the heavens, there were other gods whose place was the earth, the waters, and even the Great Abyss, which might correspond to outer space. So of course they had a special deity who ruled beneath the ground, in the land of the dead.
The Sumerians were not the most optimistic bunch, as you can tell from their idea of the afterlife. No Happy Hunting Grounds for them, and no Spirits in the Sky, either. Their afterlife was a dismal place beneath the ground where the spirits of the dead moped around with nothing to eat but clay, and nothing to wear but bird feathers, and this depressing place was ruled by Inanna's sister Ereshkigal, the Sumerian queen of the dead.
One day Ereshkigal was in a foul mood. This was not too unusual, as she was often in a foul mood. Ruling the dark, dusty underworld could put anyone in a bad mood. In fact it was so dark that she had a terrible time polishing her long, curving fingernails. She kept smearing the black polish, removing it and starting over. All in all, it was very boring with no one to talk to. The wretched spirits of the dead were too terrified of her to try talking, and the Galla, her scaly demon servants, had long forked tongues and couldn't speak.
To make matters worse, Ereshkigal was having a bad hair day. She was trying to train her hair, or rather, train the snakes that grew on her head instead of hair, to lie in a swoosh across her forehead, but they were not cooperating. Instead the snakes insisted on writhing and hissing in every direction, making her head resemble a pincushion. In a fit of rage, she hurled her polished lapis lazuli mirror at the onyx wall of her palace; it broke into a million pieces. "Oh great!" she exclaimed. "On top of everything else, now I'll have seven years' bad luck."
Just then someone raced into her throne room and threw himself face down before her. It was Neti, the gatekeeper of the underworld, whose job was to open the gate for the spirits of the dead. He was also the only other creature in the place who could carry on a decent conversation. Ereshkigal hardly ever got to see him, because he always sat at the entrance to the land of the dead, up above ground, near the land of the living.
Ereshkigal wanted to ask Neti for news of the aboveground, but before she could open her mouth, he panted, "O great queen, there's a major babe up there, pounding on the gate to the underworld, demanding to be let in. But she isn't dead yet! No one has ever demanded entry to the land of the dead! What should I do?"
Ereshkigal grimaced and bit off a dagger-sharp fingernail. "That could only be my sister Inanna, the queen of heaven and earth," she muttered, "But what's she doing here, in my domain? She's got some nerve!"
The dark queen looked down at Neti. "Okay, here's my plan," she told him. "Bolt the seven gates of the underworld. Then open each gate just wide enough to let my sister in. But at each gate, strip her of her finery and her power, until you've taken everything away. I'll show her a thing or two!"
And with that, Ereshkigal laughed. Her mad laughter echoed down the endless dark halls of the underworld, and the dead, morosely stuffing clay down their mouths, heard it and shivered.
Neti jogged back to the outer gate of the underworld, bolting all the other gates behind him. He opened the outer gate for Inanna, who waited outside, impatiently tapping her gold painted toes. As she entered, he removed her horned crown.
Inanna reached for her crown. "Hey, wait a minute. Give that back," she cried, but Neti held it up out of her reach.
"You'll have to pay if you want to get into the underworld," he told her.
Inanna shrugged her white shoulders and walked on down the hall till she came to the next gate. But Neti was there ahead of her, and at each gate he took away something else: her beaded collar, her turquoise scepter, her gold breastplate and sandals, her earrings and bracelets, until finally he ripped off her white linen robe, and Inanna entered her sister's throne room naked, humbled, and frightened.
Ereshkigal glared down upon her sister, who trembled before the ebony throne, covered only by her long black hair which hung smooth and shining down to her knees. This sight infuriated the queen of the underworld, who couldn't get her own hair to do anything she wanted. "Mom always liked you better!" she screamed, and hurled a long shard of broken mirror at Inanna. It pierced the goddess' heart, and she crumpled at the foot of the throne, lifeless. (Note: Don't try this at home, no matter how obnoxious your sister gets!) The dark queen clapped her hands three times, summoning the Galla. At her command, they dragged away Inanna's corpse and hung it from a hook upon the palace wall.
Days passed and Ereshkigal remained in a foul mood. Killing her sister had in fact made things worse, because now she felt guilty. She spoke aloud, trying to justify what she had done.
"I'm sort of sorry I killed her. After all, she was my sister. But why did she have to come barging in on me like that? It isn't easy, you know, being queen of the dead. All this has given me a splitting headache."
Of course, nobody answered her. The demons couldn't talk, and the dead were terrified of her.
"Oh, my poor head," she grumbled.
And to her astonishment, two tiny voices spoke in unison, "Oh, your poor head."
At that, Ereshkigal brightened up a bit. She tried, "Oh, my poor stomach."
And darned if the tiny voices didn't answer, "Oh, your poor stomach."
Ereshkigal peered down, and there, standing at the foot of her throne, were two tiny beings. "Oh, my poor heart and liver," she said to them.
"Oh, your poor heart and liver," they answered.
She picked the two little creatures up and held them in the palm of her hand. They stared up at her with big soulful eyes. Ereshkigal was utterly captivated. She didn't know that they were the Kurgurra and the Galatur, created by the great god Enki from the dirt beneath his fingernails, and that he had sent them there to rescue Inanna. In little pouches attached to their belts they carried the water of life and the food of life.
The queen of the dead kissed the Kurgurra and the Galatur on the tops of their tiny heads and murmured, "I like you. Nobody else ever sympathizes with me. You are obviously sensitive and discerning. Let me give you a gift. What would you like?"
"We would like the corpse that hangs from a hook on the wall," they replied.
Ereshkigal yawned. "Oh, that's my sister, Inanna. You can have her if you want, but she's no good anymore, because she's dead."
"Nevertheless," insisted the two creatures in unison, "that's what we want." They sprinkled Inanna with the water of life and the food of life, and she revived.
Ereshkigal was secretly glad that her sister wasn't dead anymore, but she didn't like being outwitted, so she told Inanna, "No one has ever left the land of the dead before. If you wish to leave, you'll have to send someone else back to take your place." And she sent her demon servants, the Galla, to accompany Inanna back to the world of the living, so she wouldn't try any funny business.
On the way back to the earth, Inanna reclaimed her goddess gear, so that she emerged looking as fabulous as when she had left. She went straight to her palace in the city of Uruk, with the Galla following close behind her. As she entered the city gates, she stopped and stared at the sight before her. There sat her husband, Dumuzi, on the queen's throne, wearing the queen's crown upon his head! He was wreathed with flowers, surrounded by dancing girls, and having the time of his life being king now that she was gone. Obviously, he hadn't been mourning his dead wife, nor did he seem to have missed her one bit.
Suddenly Dumuzi saw his wife standing there, her face dark with anger, with the demons behind her, licking their lips in anticipation. Turning pale, he was too frightened to move. The Galla marched up to his throne and grabbed his arms in their clawed hands.
Trembling with anger, Inanna cried, "Take that no-good bum away!" And the demons dragged the screaming king off to the land of the dead.
All of which put Ereshkigal in a better mood, because Dumuzi happened to be a total stud, even if he was a no-good bum.
Pele and Hiiaka
Before the first American missionaries landed in the Hawaiian islands, in 1820, the Hawaiians had a complicated system of gods, traditions, and taboos. By the time the missionaries arrived, the Hawaiian people were ready to be converted to Christianity, having discarded all their gods except one: Pele, the volcano goddess. When a volcano is that visible, dominating the landscape and always threatening to engulf some unfortunate part of the island with boiling lava, it's not smart to deny the existence of a volcano goddess.
Volcano goddesses are notoriously bitchy, and Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, is the queen bitch of them all. This fiery redhead has a foul temper and a tendency to spew boiling lava at a moment's notice. She is also, however, passionate about affairs of the heart, and the mixture of love and lava is a volatile combination.
Once Pele and her seven sisters, all named Hiiaka, had a beach party at Puna, near her volcano. After a day of swimming and surfing, the goddess decided to nap in the shade of a palm tree, but first she called out to her youngest sister, Hiiaka the Youngest. Hiiaka was as even-tempered as Pele was fierce, and was her favorite.
Excerpted from Eternally BAD by Trina Robbins. Copyright © 2001 Trina Robbins. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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