Friday, 24 June 2011

Meet Ninshubah

Those of you who know me well (well, as well as can be known from what one says – and doesn’t say – in writing) will know how much I love the myth of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess and queen who seems – to me at least – to represent the totality of a woman’s experience.  She moves from youthful innocence, exuberance and heady sensuality, through maturity, power, motherhood and queendom (queenery? queenness? queenity?) to soul-searching, darkness and, ultimately, inner wisdom and knowledge. 

She realises that there is meaning below ground as well as above and takes one of the great archetypal descents in mythology – to visit her dark sister Erishkegal (her shadow side).  As she descends she sheds the outer trappings of success and the world, faces the dark and is killed and hangs on the meat-hook.  Meanwhile, above ground, she is betrayed, abandoned, let down, forgotten. 
Ah, but we are always alone in the underworld.  Ultimately we are all alone.  Wherever we are.

Now there is a character in this who is usually overlooked in the commentaries.  No, not Dumuzi, Inanna’s consort, who frankly doesn’t give a damn that she is stuck in hell.  No.  It’s Ninshubar, Inanna’s sukkal, her servant.  Servant is not really the right word - a sukkal can often have powers greater than his or her master or mistress (which, in itself, is worth pondering). 

Bear with me.  Now it is Ninshubar who arranges Inanna’s rescue.  At which point every woman reading this is probably nodding vigorously. Because, let’s face it, if you wanna be rescued, never rely on a man – your girlfriends are always the ones to pull you up from a pit. Men often fear the dark emotions - they shudder at the meat-hook - despite their love of war, their desire for violence, they generally shy from bloody and messy emotions.  But a woman will jump up and hold your weight, won't take a blind bit of notice of the blood and gore, will stand firm and hold you.

But, more than that (and this is – finally – my point); it is Ninshubar who does the ‘above ground’ stuff while Inanna is shifting, changing, going down deep within; plunging the depths of the abyss; being ripped to tiny shreds.  And yes, as in all myths, Ninshubar is another part of Inanna – a fraction of the whole.
And so it is in life.  Few of us are able to sink totally into our deepest selves when the meat-hook commands.  All those who battle with the dark know this. We have responsibilities; we have children; we have partners; we have jobs and mortgages and bills to pay.  So somehow – no matter how hard it may be - we have to put on the brave face, we have to strap on a mask and pretend we’re okay – to ourselves as well as the outer world.  We have to function – at some basic level – even if we feel like our limbs are being torn apart.  And that’s Ninshubar – the quiet, necessary part of the psyche that puts on the semblance of normality; that smiles, that laughs, that says the right things, that keeps everything ticking over.  No more than ticking, because that would be superhuman.  But ticking is enough.
Thank feck for Ninshubah.

Just don’t look too closely.  Don’t look into her eyes.  Because they are dead.  Stone cold dead.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Milla said...

Hey, Anon, sums it up nicely I was about to say that.
No I wasn't.
Janey!! Being trivial and slippery, evasive and shallow, I steer clear of the deep. And aren't I right to do so!! Those eyes.
Don't be sad.
Have a great trip.
And if this comment doesn't take, again, you'll hear the scream from there.
Am at cricket match (aren't I always?) amongst hearty, smiley chaps. Perhaps Anon is here clapping and laughing. Or perhaps not.
Don't be silly, Milla.
Xxx

Exmoorjane said...

Anonymous: Crikey...I'm sure all those American women are totally gutted. ;)

Milla: cricket, endless fecking cricket. Once again, I have managed to evade... I am fine, dear heart... fine. Stupid, but fine. And just itching to get on that plane. Though still wish you were coming too. :(

Frankie said...

A wise woman once told me, "Your man friends will be there to pat your ass, your girlfriends will be there to save it."

I was young and shallow and didn't understand at the time, but I do now.

Sometimes, just ticking feels superhuman.

zenandtheartoftightropewalking said...

Four months ago I might have disagreed with you on this one(certainly regarding the men frien thing) but now, I might agree more.
I don't know the full myth, to my shame, or how it ends. Whether Inanna ever escapes or not. Remiss of me, I know but I've been writhing myself on a meathook for long enough.
I am not convinced that anyone is ever going to rescue me or that rescue is possible at all. Each time I think I have found relief, the agony begins again. I was going to write about it but what's the point? I'm only talking to myself.
can you email me the rest of the story some time?
ta
Viv