Myth about the coming-of-age of two teenagers and a moral tale on responsibility towards the offspring-to-be. Enlil and Ninlil is perhaps one of the most complete quests for the beloved in world mythology, although so little known as most Near Eastern mythology: she and he face the challenges together, step by step, becoming thresholds of growth for each other. Enjoy!
A personal view of Enlil
It was before dawn in Nippur, a day after her arrival in that great city, when Ninlil saw her Moon Blood come for the first time. She looked at her wet fingers with a mix of surprise, pride and shyness. She was a woman now. Her womb could conceive, as much as her brains and hands could create. She was also ready to find her mate, wasn't she?
Immediately, Ningal jumped off the bed to tell her mom, the Barley Goddess Numbarshegunu, the news. Father Haia, the Lord of Stores, was out in the fertile fields around Nippur, and would be told of the auspicious events when back to the Kiur, the temple Enlil, Nippur´s city god and lord Air, had provided for Ninlil and family in his fast-growing-city. They had come invited by Lord Enlil, who was building the city for his people.
'I knew this day would come!' Numbarshegunu exclaimed overjoyed, hugging Ninlil affectionately. ' May you be proud of your womanhood, may bring happiness as much as you receive, may your body know and give pleasure in all worlds you dare to fare! May you conceive of your womb, may you create of your own hands, mind, heart and soul! Now, we should search for a worthy partner for you, Fresh as the morning the Anunnaki, the Great Gods, came out of the Duku, the Mound of Creation, you deserve only the best young man we can find!'
Ninlil colored softly: 'Who will he be, Mother?'
'We'll see... and you will know for sure when he turns up! Hurry, now, and wash yourself as you've always done so far. Down the canal to bless the waters with the power of your first blood and dance for the sheer joy of being young, woman and goddess! Just be very careful where you thread upon, for I've heard young Enlil, Lord Air, comes often to the canal and the riverbank to kiss the fertile lands with the power of his breath that makes everything grow. Indeed, Enlil could be the best choice for you, dearest, but he should ask your hand first to me and your father Haia'.
'Mother, if he is so special, tell me more about young Enlil'.
'Enlil is Lord Wind, the Master of Air and the Strongest Winds. He is the First Born of An the Sky and Ki the Earth, the First Breath of the Universe. It is in the courtyard of his temple, the E-kur, that the Assembly of the Anunnaki, the Great Gods, gather to judge the cases that affect the destiny of the land, it is by his Will that the sceptre of kingship is conferred to the fair and strong kings to rule over the earth. Enlil also laid plans to bring forth seeds, plants, trees and abundance to the earth. His was the Inspiration to fashion the pickaxe and the hoe so that humankind could work the ground. His is the Power of Spring to create life, His are the Storms to Destroy what Must Be No More. He is also about your age, my sweet, and hasn't found the Right Lady to release his seed as yet. I hope she is going to be you, but don't make things easy for him'.
'Mother, if Enlil is such a great lord, how will he notice me?'
'Who wouldn't notice you, dearest?' countered Numbarshegunu softly. She gave to Ninlil the exquisite mirror which rested on her bedside table.
'Look at yourself in the mirror, Ninlil, what do you see? No, don't answer me now. Think of that image and rejoice. You are yourself, unique and very special. As we all are, but many times just don't realize. And don't forget the most important...'
'You are my daughter! What else did you expect me to say? So on your way, young lady, to do your first duty as a woman in full power of her womanhood! Go bless the waters and the fields!'
Ninlil gained the streets of Nippur, still empty at such an early time. As she crossed the city gates, a light breeze seemed to follow her out of nowhere, playing with her unbound hair and the rim of her morning dress. Ninlil turned her face towards it with delight. She was following the Breeze or the Breeze was following her? She wouldn't say. She moved to the move of it in a spontaneous choreography. The world was full of springtime scents and the slightly morning chill was as stimulating as the Dance she was engaged in with the Wind.
Suddenly she could not feel the Breeze anymore. Instead, she was dancing with a young man. Surprise made her stop and examine him openly. He was tall, slight of built and with light-colored eyes that gleamed in the dim light of the coming dawn. He seemed to carry no color and yet be the opposite of darkness. He was Force, Weightless Energy and Sheer Might. Ninlil stood just apparently very still. In actual fact, a storm was roaring deep inside herSelf. Awareness of him, of her own womanhood in every cell of her body, in the heartbeat of her chest. Was this desire? She wanted him close, but did not know how, and yet a strange shyness commanded her to be cautious. Who was he? Sooner or later she would find out. When she could gather her wits enough to break their mutual appraisal. But it was him who broke the silence first.
'Who are you? I haven't met you yet and I know all who live in my city'.
"My city?" So she had bumped into Lord Enlil himself. As befitting to her and his station, she bowed graciously and introduced herself.
'I lend you graces, my Lord. My name is Ninlil, a newcomer to your domains. I am the daughter of Haia, Lord of the Stores and Numbarshegunu, the Goddess of Barley. We came in reply to your call to help you build this great city and to ensure with our work that the land bear fruits for the forthcoming harvest.. How may I better serve you, Great One?'
'I would like very much to taste your lips, my lady! Will you give me a kiss, Ninlil? As a Breeze I touched your lips, I played with your pretty dress. As a man I long to taste your mouth, your tongue and feel the sweetness of your body. Come to my arms, Ninlil, surrender to delights we both could share!'
Taken by surprise by Enlil's straightforwardness, Ninlil retreated one step. As much as she had enjoyed playing with the Impetuous Breeze, was it wise to accept the young lord's proposition? She was a Maiden, so little she knew of the Sacred Art of giving and receiving pleasure. Would she know how to please him? She had never kissed anyone in the mouth, she had never touched a man's body in a sexual act. Caution and shyness won over curiosity and desire.
'You are too great for me, my lord. I am too young. I have never known a man. My vagina is too narrow, my mouth still untutored. Choose another one!'
She said these words and fled to the welcoming waters of the canal which led to the river. She needed to be on her own to assess her own feelings. Because part of her wanted to come back to Enlil, but the other half commanded her to wait. What if she lost him? She also wanted to know Enlil's reaction. Was he as frustrated and confused as she was? Ninlil dived and swam as silently as she could to the high reeds by the river bank. From that advantage point, she could observe Enlil's next move without being noticed. He seemed to have been struck by a tornado, stunned and very, very angry.
'Wait! Come back over here now! Why are you running away? Nusku! Where in the Skyfather's name are you hiding?'
'So he is angry! With me or himself... or both?' considered Ninlil from the safety of the high reeds. Because she did feel drawn to him, the greatest of the younger generation of the Anunnaki, the Great Gods. She knew other young men, but no other had made her head spin, her blood race like a chariot drawn by lions, her insides melt like fresh butter. For the first time she knew what desire was like. But she needed time to consider her feelings and thoughts before coming to him. Because she definitely would. With increasing wonder Ninlil understood her mother's wise words of early morning. She knew Enlil was her heart's desire. He was indeed Force, Enthusiasm, Might and Impetuousness. She would come to him... when she was good and ready.
In reply to Enlil's call, a man slightly older came. Nusku, Enlil's sukkal, his closest helper in the temple, best friend, advisor and counselor.
'Coming my lord! What's upsetting you? You told me to keep out of sight!'
'It's a girl, damn her! Ninlil is her name. She dared to give me the slip. But I'll come after her! Quick, Nusku, find me a raft so that I can chase her in the canal. Never before was I refused anything. I'll have her, no matter what!
'Your wish is my command, my lord. I'll go to the quay and see what I can find'.
Enlil's anger was so funny! Ninlil had a hard time not to giggle. So she had been the first he had made such a proposal! Like herself, he lacked experience in the Sacred Matters of the Flesh. And he couldn't conceive to have been refused! Alarm bells only started ringing when she saw Nusku's return. He had grabbed the first raft that came to hand, a bundle of reeds lashed together. Enlil hardly waited for the nose of the raft to get closer, and leaped across the waters with a bound that almost swamped the fragile vessel. Swiftly he settled his balance and urged Nusku to punt on.
'She can't stay underwater long. I must have her! What woman have I offered myself before her? None!'
'You shall have her, my lord. Trust me'.
Ninlil slid among the high reeds, but the raft was quickly approaching. She kept very quiet. Her chances to escape, though, were scarce. Against Enlil's and Nusku's combined strengths and the raft, she could only hope they gave up the pursuit.
'There, my lord, in between the reeds!'
She started swimming for her life, but Enlil was faster. In a swift move he lifted her off the river by the waist and laid her on the raft, standing on top of her.
Ninlil struggled in vain. He was much stronger. Soon his mouth was in hers, his hands everywhere along her body, tearing her morning dress. Then his member entered her vagina, breaking the sensitive skin that kept her maidenhood intact. Ninlil released a shout of pain. Then Enlil was inside her and moving to a rhythm of clouds pushed by early morning winds. She twisted her thighs trying to escape, but the discomfort gave way to an overwhelming sensation that obliterated any rational thought as Enlil's seed was spilled into her. The feeling was so intense that Enlil stopped moving, stunned, to look into her face.
'I really made it! My seed is inside you! Ninlil, o Lady!'
Ninlil could feel the wonder in Enlil's words. But her anger was greater. Her body ached, thighs were sore and bloodier, her dreams of a tender, sweet lover marred forever. This was the denial of her dreams of love and happily ever after. She pushed Enlil away and dived into the waters. She needed a physical barrier and cleansing before anything.
'Ninlil, my Lady, wait!'
She heard Enlil's shout, and were she not beyond herself with anger and grief, she would have noticed the deferent tone he was addressing to her now. On the shore, she straightened her back with great dignity, standing proudly on the ground. Her clothes were wet, bloodied and torn, her lips bruised and reeds were tangled in her long hair. Tears she did not want to hide streamed down her face. Her last words would be for Enlil before she left for Nippur, for the safety of the Kiur, her parent's place in the city. She turned to the raft, where Enlil stood, naked and still under the effect of last events. Ninlil pronounced the Words of Fate addressed to Enlil, her voice deep with power, anger and pain:
'Never before was a daughter of An, a Maiden of the Holy House so ill-treated by one of the Anunnaki. The waters of Mother Nammu, the Source of Life, were defiled by one of her own. May you stand trial, Enlil, for what you did to me. May you pay a very dear price for the brightness of your seed!'
From the Heights Above, An, the All-Powerful Skyfather, King of All Gods, Beloved of Ki, the Earth Mother, saw Ninlil's bitter tears and the unspeakable behavior of Enlil, his first-born. He immediately summoned the Assembly of the Gods, the Anunnaki, the highest authority in the Mesopotamian universe who met, when occasion arose, in the forecourt of Enlil's own temple in Nippur to judge wrongdoers and elect the worthy to rule the land. All gods were bound by oath to abide by the decisions of the Assembly. Despite the fact that the execution of the assembly's decisions normally were overseen by Enlil, this time he would stand on the defendant's corner. No one, not even the first born of the Skyfather and Mother Earth, was above the Law. In the Depths Below, the Queen of the Underworld, Ereshkigal, saw Enlil's wrongdoing and heard the lament of the Maiden: the Lady of the Great Below heeded the Maiden's words. She knew a door had been opened for Justice, Growth and Regeneration in the Underworld if only Enlil submitted to the Laws of the Land of No Return. In Nippur, Ki, Mother Earth, also known as Urash, Ninmah, and Ninhursag felt strongly that Enlil should suffer the hardest of all punishments for his conduct.
Never before had the Anunnaki taken to trial one of their own. Shocked and circumspect, they gathered, and were forty-nine, not the usual fifty in number, because Enlil was counted out for the first time. In the lower platform sat 46 judges, in the higher was An, who presided all judgements, sided by Ki on his right and Enki on his left. Father, Mother and Brother to Enlil they were, but also the Guardians of the Attributes of Civilization, Law and Order. The fourth high seat was empty. It belonged to Enlil, the defendant. Red-eyed Ninlil, sided by the healer goddess Gula, sat quiet and dignified on the right. On the left and opposite to her was Enlil, whose discomfort was evident for all to see.
An opened the session:
' Two grave crimes were committed by one of the great gods. First, a Maiden, a daughter of the Holy House suffered the most unspeakable offence that could have ever been inflicted upon her. Secondly, and related to the first offence, the sacredness of the sexual act, Life-Force and Energy that Moves Creation and perpetuates all lines through the Times was completely neglected. My heart bleeds for the accused, my first-born Enlil, but it bleeds even more for my daughter Ninlil. The Assembly was called upon to decide the punishment for the wrongdoer. For no one, not even the gods, are above the Law! Let's hear the accuser's defense for his act.'
Enlil bowed low to his father and the Assembly, and spoke, his voice deep and constrained:
'Before this very day never had I felt such a strong desire for a Maiden. Before this very day never had I felt so drawn to a lady of the Holy House. Before this very day never had I known passion as I did and still do for Ninlil'.
'Is that all you have to say to the Assembly? Is your defense based on just desire and passion?', asked Ki to Enlil, her voice sharp as a razor.
'Yes', replied Enlil, clearly in discomfort.
Ninhursag-Ki's anger was so evident that she dismissed Enlil with a wave or her mighty hand. She turned then to the Assembly:
'It is right to feel desire and expected that a young god feels drawn to a Maiden of the Holy House. Above all, it is expected that they come together at the right time and season in the Sacred Marriage rite. This is the way the Sacredness of Life is celebrated among us, from Mother Nammu the Sea who in an act of selfless Self-Love engendered the Skyfather who the Assembly presides and myself as the Cosmic Mountain Ki. It is understandable impetuousness and confusion in dealing with such matters of the flesh, for the young need time to understand that matter, spirit, feeling and mind are but Representations of the Mystery of Creation. Indeed, we all stem from and are one with the Source, and we the Great Gods are but Reflections of the One. Ninlil and Enlil are both very young. But like a stallion waits for the right time to court the mare, like a lion is drawn to the lioness, so it is with young god and goddess. Only when are ready and fully aware of the Mystery they will re-enact in the Sacred Marriage Bed. So has it always been. So will it always be! This is the law, and anything that violates this precept hurts the Spirit, the Inner Fabric upon which our civilization was formed. The law shall be preserved!'
'The law shall be preserved!' repeated in agreement the Assembly.
'The accused has spoken,' said Ki, then turning to Ninlil. 'Let's hear the victim. Daughter, would you like to address to the Assembly?'
Ninlil stood up and graciously bowed to the judges. She was a sight to behold, young, eyes swollen with tears, yet showing profound dignity as befitted to an Anunnaki princess:
'Nothing can undo what was done to me. For above all, now I bear Enlil's first seed. A child of light is growing inside my womb, a little one conceived out of immature desire on both sides. I claim my child as Enlil's first born-to-be. To the Assembly gathered here I demand the punishment of my rapist so that never again a daughter or son suffer the hideous act of violence I was subjected to. As for me, to the Great Gods my fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters here today, I the Maiden ask: can love grow out of such pain to ensoul my life's further journey?'
' Ninlil!', was Enlil's strangled moan in the profound silence that followed Ninlil's statement.
It was Enki, lord of Wisdom, Magic and of the Sweet Waters, son of An the Sky and Nammu the Sea, brother to Enlil, who answered thoughtfully after some time:
'Sorrow and pain are the measures of the happiness and laughter that could be. Healing can always occur, if one is ready to see truth and wholeness beyond the hardest trials.'
'Is it too late for me to take Ninlil as my wife?' interrupted Enlil, turning to the Assembly. He turned then to Ninlil. He knelt graciously in front of her. ' Will you accept me as your true husband, Ninlil? Nothing can undo what was done, and I deserve the hardest punishment for my act, but I am also honor-bound to set balances right for what I did to you, my Lady, and my seed. I'll do more than marrying you, Ninlil, because let it be known that from now on I'll share my power with you, Lady Air, so that you can become my true Soul-Counterpart everywhere we dare to fare'.
Another deep silence followed Enlil's words.
Ninlil, from her seat, felt her heart melt, but reason commanded her not to express her feelings openly. Enlil had accepted her as his equal, her baby was already acknowledged as Enlil's and hers firstborn-to-be. But the fact remained that the young lord Air had claimed her through violence, and no matter who he was, he should undergo punishment as an example for the old and young of the land.
Only Enki smiled. Wisdom had finally started to find a tiny space in Enlil's heart, giving substance to Lord Air. The Anunnaki stirred indecisively. But An's voice was deep and firm:
'The possibility of marriage is only a first act to set balances right. But it does not absolve the culprit. Enlil's impiety struck at roots far deeper than that. Enlil made himself a Guardian of the Earth, to guard, love and protect first his mother and all women, who are garments of my Beloved Ki. Enlil himself forbade violence all over the land, all that lies in the South, North, West and East. He kept in the wilderness the quarrelling beasts. But now he has brought violence in. He broke the sacred trust we gave him. All I say is that Sky rejects you now'.
'The Earth rejects you now', said Ki.
'So be it! The Assembly rejects you now!' echoed the judges.
'Where should I then go?', asked stunned Enlil.
Enki left out a deep sigh:
' Until you set balances right, until you travel unknown depths, you cannot go back to us. There is only one place you are bound to go. To the Land of No Return, the Underworld'.
'So be it!' agreed the Assembly.
'But I don't know the way to the Underworld', said Enlil, still trying to avoid his fate.
'There is a door to the Underworld in every soul to set balances right and change. The moment you forced yourself unto the young Lady you found that door. Let's see whether you can get in and pay the price for your return. Now you are the doorkeeper of the Great Below', said Enki.
Enlil's eyes traveled around the whole assembly, and focused on Ninlil's. Both dived into each other's depths for the first time, totally vulnerable. Then he withdrew contact. He was Enlil, the Guardian of the Earth. He should conquer back the Right he had lost.
Enki raised from his seat and so did Enlil. Brothers looked into each other's eyes. Enki bowed slightly to the older brother, Enlil nodded silently. The unspoken dialogue meant trust on both sides. Enki would deputize for Enlil in his absence from the Heights Above. At the same time, Enlil felt his admiration for his younger brother grow to a much deeper level. Enki knew better. He had gone to the Depths Below and returned. So would Enlil.
With this last thought, Enlil bowed to the assembly, to Ninlil. Then he stepped forwards with a silent Intent to disappear from the Assembly, Nippur and the Worlds Above. He found the threshold to the Underworld.
Ninlil was the first to recover from the initial shock of Enlil's vanishing. She raised from her seat, went to the spot where Lord Air had stood until moments ago. She then turned to Enki. She needed to know and act.
'Lord Enki,' she asked, 'is my lord gone?'
The Lord of Wisdom, Magic and Sweet Waters looked at her with interest. So young but strong. And perhaps a fool too. But the Journeys to the Underworld, the Inner Realms of Wisdom Learnt through Experience also belong to the Holy Fools.
'Yes, Ninlil, he is gone. We hope it is for the time being, until he learns a deep lesson, until he pays the price for what he did to you and all Creation', Enki answered softly, bowing to her. 'Enlil has just crossed the threshold to the Underworld.'
Ninlil kept silence for a little while, as if gathering all her strength to do what she should.
'I'll follow my lord to the bowels of the earth', she said out loud. 'And beyond if need be'',she thought to herself. As these words came out, she too vanished from the assembly.
Surprised, but not afraid anymore, Ninlil saw herself at the very city gate she had crossed twice this very morning. A tunnel entrance lied a few yards away. In she went through the brick-built walls downwards for a long time.Dow, always downwards, deeper and deeper below Ninlil went. When she was about to ask whether she had done right to follow the sudden impulse of her heart's desire, she discovered a massive wooden door. A gate!
But when she stretched her hand to pull the heavy iron handle up, a hand prevented her to do so. A tall, imposing figure, eyes light of color as the first breeze of the day met hers
'Go back, my lady. The door to the Underworld is closed to you'.
So Ninlil had found the gate to the Depths Below and the doorkeeper. She assessed both silently. Doorkeeper and Gate were oddly similar. Both loomed in front of her, both were a barrier she had to cross, no matter what if she wanted to rescue Enlil. For a moment, she felt immense sorrow, for there was no way back for her until she found her heart's desire. Heart's desire? With an increasing sense of wonder, she dared to admit the truth: how important Enlil had become to her. To the extent that she would risk her life for him, if it meant they could have a chance together in the future... whenever it was meant to be! Gone was the girl afraid of yielding to her sexuality, yet bold enough to desire the greatest of the younger gods. In her place there was now the hopeful young woman who trusted her power to get her reluctant, stubborn Beloved back. For herself and their child.
She would be sustenance and balance out Enlil's Impetuousness. Ninlil felt a deep bond to Enlil, his seed growing steady like a beacon of light in her mind, body and soul. Now she had to gain her way in. She summoned her Will and endowed it with the power of the Winds of the Four Quarters to face the doorkeeper.
'I have a question for you, Keeper of the Gates. Did you see my Lord Enlil come this way?'
The eyes of the gatekeeper gleamed: ' This way is barred to you. My Lord Enlil commanded me to stay silent'.
Ninlil smiled: ' So I may not be that far behind him. You must let me in. I am Enlil's Lady. Open the gate for me'.
'Lord Enlil commanded me not to allow you to follow him. It is too risky. But I did dry the tears on my Lord's face. I did try to soothe his heart. If you are Ninlil, his lady, let me feel your cheek, let me touch you and swear my loyalty on them to Enlil'.
Ninlil willed herself to remain calm. She could feel the depth of emotion that radiated from the gatekeeper. As if he had a tornado inside. Or were a tornado himself.
'The seed of your lord grows within me. If Enlil is your Master, then I am your Lady. By my power, by the Beloved of mine you serve, let me in. Now'.
'O Lady, may my royal seed go to heaven, may my royal seed go to the underworld. Please, my lady, lay with me. Let not the seed of the Bright One descend to the Underworld. Let my seed take his place'.
Ninlil looked sternly at the gatekeeper: 'Why are you doing this, gatekeeper? Why are you giving your seed to replace my lord's? And why would I accept such high ransom?'
She could feel the shyness and reluctance of the gatekeeper to open up to her. But she was patient. Somehow she had seen through the disguise who he actually was. "Enlil, stop pretending and let me in so that we can descend together. Why the disguise? Have the Winds of Change started to blow within your heart? Show me who you are, Enlil. It's me, Ninlil, your Soul-Counterpart."
'Lady, I offer my seed to replace my lord's out of love and sorrow for the offence my lord committed in the Worlds Above. He should have known better before using his force and hurt the one who is now closest to his very heart. I am pledged to serve Enlil and ransom him with my very life. The deep sorrow I feel for the lord is now rooted within my Self like a Tree that Bears Fruits in the Lowest Depths. So lay with me, lady of my lord's heart, give me your embrace and touch to quench my lonely night. And I'll let you go in, for you'll have this way given consolation to my Wandering Soul.'
Ninlil reached out for the gatekeeper and kissed him in the mouth. "Beloved, why?" her heart asked, but the words were not uttered, as she reached out for him. Arms as strong as gale, light as air drew her into the lodge placed by the gate. She fixed her eyes into his and they let themselves be carried away by the hurricane of touch and thrust. It was much better this time for he had asked her out of his very need. Of her, although he might not be ready to admit it. When would he be?
As they laid in a close embrace in the aftermath, he whispered into her hair. 'I need to go. Turn back, Ninlil, don't cross the threshold to the Below'.
'Have you crossed it?' she asked instead, raising her head to meet his light sky-blue eyes.
The Gatekeeper's eyes reflected such deep sadness, the arms around Ninlil's tensed, but the Gatekeeper's voiced sounded strong and committed. To what?
'Yes. I had to. And now I need to go on'.
Ninlil touched with a tender wave of her hand the gatekeeper's face:
'This seed of yours that grows within me now, I'll call him Nergal-Meslamtaea, and his will be the knowledge of the hard mysteries of Conflict, Wounding and Diseases so that humanity and the gods know about Peace, Healing and Wholeness in all levels.'
She put his hand on her belly, and felt it tremble with emotion like a leaf touched by the lightest summer breeze. He kept silent, but she knew he had been deeply affected, as affected as herself had been by the mating they had shared.
'But I also need to be on my way,' Ninlil continued, her voice acquiring a decisive tone. ' Release me, Gatekeeper. I've paid your price. As Enlil is your master, I am your lady. I am not asking your leave. I will get in. Now.'
'So be it', the Gatekeeper replied. A kiss on her mouth as soft and moist as breeze touched by dewfall was his farewell. Within Ninlil another seed had been planted, rooted in her womb. She touched her belly and smiled with a mix of awe and wonder. And again was she on her own, looking into the Darkness that led to the Realms Beyond.
It took a few minutes for Ninlil to get used to the new environs. She had crossed the gate, she had actually made it! So she was on the other side, in the Land of No Return. Strangely enough, she was not afraid, even though she didn't know which way to go. There was anticipation seasoned with caution within her. No, definitely she was not afraid. She had a purpose, she would find Enlil and bring him back to the Worlds Above. Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, had released Lord Enki once, so the Dark Lady's graces could be obtained with the right approach. She would find a way to win Ereshkigal's mercy. The pressing question was were to go next. Inspiration made Ninlil close her eyes. This was the Inner Realm of Essence. Perhaps she should look for clues her Inner World, the place she drew her strength from to be and act in all worlds. Perhaps within the depths of her very Self she would find the right direction. After some seconds or minutes (she wouldn't say), a faint sound of water singing in the darkness could be heard. She followed the sound with her eyes closed first, just trusting her Inner Knowing. Ninlil only opened her eyes when she felt the ground become slightly moist. To her delight, she saw a spring coming off the ground and then stretching itself downwards in a line. A river! Confidence started to build inside Ninlil again. Rivers and waters were sacred. Since time immemorial the sick were taken to the waters to be healed. At the water's edge reeds grow, shells are found and the land can be ploughed to bring food for the people. With reverence, Ninlil knelt and cupped her hands to gather water from the Underworld river. She didn't drink from it though, but sent a healing thought to Enlil as the drops came off her hands to the source back again.
"I'll follow the course of the river and see what lies around the river bank. There may be a bridge or a crossing point somewhere. I just need to be persistent and walk with great care. I'll find a way cross the cataract ... wherever it is!" reasoned Ninlil.
On she walked downwards. Soon the droplets of water that had slipped beside her feet like accompanying snakes were hurrying on to dive into dashing waters. Grown in width and depth, the river started roaring in her ears, yet no bridge or crossing point could be seen. Concern gripped Ninlil's heart. Had her Descent finished without accomplishing her goal? She might, for in front of her a majestic, a cataract opened its hungry mouth plunging into bottomless depths.
"No, I won't give up. I've gone too far now to stop", she reasoned with her fear. "I fear the failure of not being able to rescue Enlil and myself. Is my fear like a devouring river, consuming my soul, my wits, my body and my heart? It can't be. Or perhaps it can. But there is power where there is fear. And where our deepest fears are, there is also the source of healing, if one keeps one's wits steady enough to see through the darkest hours. If Enlil came this way, I'll know. I just need to gather my strength and be like a steady wind circling the world round. Somewhere, somehow a passageway will be found'.
A throaty voice called from behind: 'Go back, lady. You may not cross the Devouring River'.
Ninlil started and turned round. In the darkness, she couldn't discern his features. Only eyes light of color gleamed. She pulled herself together.
"Tell me first, has my Lord Enlil come this way?'
'My Lord Enlil commanded me to be silent'.
'So have you answered me. Enlil came this way. How did he cross the river?'
'He wept for grief in my arms, I touched him and carried my Lord over the cataract and the stepping stones of the Underworld'.
'What you have done for him, you must do for me. I am Ninlil, Lord Enlil's Queen'.
'If you are Ninlil, Lord Enlil's Queen, let me touch your face, let me touch your body and swear my loyalty on it to Enlil'.
His hand reached out for her face. It was a gesture of great tenderness, and it felt like the first touch of winter winds, bringing frost to make the earth rest. Where had she heard a similar talk before? From the gatekeeper. Understanding started dawning on her, but if Enlil liked hide and seek games, she would play along. At least for the time being.
'The seed of your lord grows within me. By my power, by Enlil you serve, carry me over the river. Now'.
'O Lady, let my royal seed go to heaven, let my royal seed go to the Underworld. Let my seed plunge lone into the Great Devouring River as a gift to Queen Ereshkigal. Lie with me as well!'
'Why are you doing this, Guardian of the Devouring River? Why are you giving your seed to replace my lord's? And why would I accept such offer?'
Ninlil was incisive with the Guardian, although her heart asked silently why Enlil was doing this to her, why couldn't he tell her that he was the Guardian of the Devouring River in disguise?
'I offer my seed to replace my lord's out of love and my will to heal his troubled heart, as well as to heal the wounds he inflicted to you, my Lady, by his unspeakable behavior. I am pledged to serve Enlil and ransom him with my very life. I've known my lord all my life, but only by carrying him over the devouring river I've come face to face with mysteries unknown to me so far. By facing the violence of the rushing waters, I faced the side of my lord that is like a storm, a restless, destructive force. By plunging into the rushing waters I then learnt of the responsibility to heal inflicted violence and wounds, to resurface with the wisdom of dried tears. It is as if I had become a Water-Knower. Lay with me, lady Air, and share a night of passion by the cataract. I need your care to guide me through this lonely night'.
'Will you carry me afterwards, as you did... to Enlil?'
Ninlil reached out for the Guardian of the Devouring River and kissed him in the mouth. On the hard wet rock their bodies met, their lovemaking wild and passionate. And as they lay in a close embrace, Ninlil kissed the Stranger and whispered:
'This seed of yours, I'll call him Ninazu, the Water-Knower, Lord of the Depths that Heal. His will be the knowledge to wound too, because healing and wounding are two sides of the same coin. Now, lord of the Devouring River, fulfil your part of our contract. Take me to the other side of the Devouring River'.
'It is too dangerous, my lady' .
'Can Enlil be ransomed otherwise?'
'I've paid your fee. Carry me'.
So did he. Ninlil wrapped her arms around his neck and, breath caught, felt the Guardian take a mighty leap over the cataract. The world roared and thundered as he stepped on the stones which led to the opposite side of river bank. Then, the deluge slackened as she was carefully lowered on a rock, and the Guardian was gone. He had parted on a gust before she dared move. "Who follows whom, Beloved?" asked Ninlil to the darkness. No reply came. Nor had she expected one.
Ninlil massaged sore, tense muscles vigorously. Her clothes were soaked wet, so she took them off and spread them on dry grassland. In the distance she heard the falls bellowing behind. No sound came from ahead, from the caves she could hardly discern in the dim light of the Great Below. Deeper, deeper still she should go. She hugged her knees and rested her head on them, sighing. So much had happened since she had met Enlil, so much since the Descent had started! And somehow by some strange and wondrous devices, Enlil had come to tell her where to go, helping her in a backhanded way to cross the thresholds. But why the disguises? Why couldn't he reveal himself to her? They had made love three times already, and three of his seeds grew in her womb. Yet as pleasurable and intense as their physical mating had been, something was missing. Enlil desired her, this she knew for sure. But she needed more than caresses exchanged in the darkness and the bittersweet throbbing of her sexual parts.
"Better to be on my way... " Clothes almost dry, Ninlil walked towards the widest cave opening looming like a dragon's mouth in front of her. The ground abounded with pointed pebbles, so the descent was slow, demanding work. She could hold on to the nearest walls, but in the limited light she could hardly see where to place her next step. There was utter, complete silence, only interrupted by her heartbeat. Time had also lost meaning: a minute could sound like eternity within this Nature's fortress.At last she stopped on the brink of a large expanse of unbroken still waters. Too still. There was no wave, no current seemed to move, no bubble of foam beaded the shore. Impossible to tell how far this lake would reach, how deep. Indeed, she would risk the guess that this was the Underworld Sea, whose darkness seemed to swallow light and not reflect it back.
'Enlil, have you come this way?' Ninlil asked the Darkness out loud, and her voice faded away into the emptiness without echo. She stood silent on the shore, just waiting. A ripple on the water brought her into full alert. Far, very far yet but approaching swiftly was a boat. As black as the water it rode on, with a hooded figure rowing on board. When he got very close, the air stirred around her face in a caress, bringing a memory of the Great Above. Ninlil saw two shining light-colored eyes and straightened her back.
'Who calls the ferryman of the Great Below?'
'Has my lord Enlil taken passage with you recently?'
'I cannot answer this question, for I am commanded to silence'.
'So he did come this way. How did he manage to conquer your graces so that you could ferry him across?'
'Lord Enlil wept for grief in my arms, I touched him and rowed my Lord to the other side'.
'What you have done for him, you must do for me. I am Ninlil, Lord Enlil's Queen'.
'If you are Ninlil, Lord Enlil's Queen, let me touch your face, let me touch your body and swear my loyalty on it to Enlil'.
This was the same speech she had heard from the Gatekeeper and the Guardian of the Devouring River. So here she was face to face with Enlil again in disguise. What was he aiming at? Ninlil could hardly suppress the urge to unmask the ferryman. Then she thought better. For just a little longer she would play along his little game of hide and seek.
'The seed of your lord grows within me. By my power, by the Beloved of mine you serve, let me in your boat and ferry me across. Now'.
'O Lady, let my royal seed go to heaven, let my royal seed go to the Underworld. Please Lady, let my seed dive into the waters of the Underworld Sea as a gift to Queen Ereshkigal. Lie with me as well, my Lady".
'Why are you doing this, ferryman? Why are you giving your seed to replace my lord's? And why would I accept such offer?'
'Lady, I offer my seed to replace my lord's out of love and my will to bring comfort and kindness to his troubled mind, body and heart. I am pledged to serve Enlil and ransom him with my very life. I've known my lord all my life, but only by rowing him over the lifeless, still waters of the Underworld sea I've come to realize the stuff life is made of: love and connection, boundless energy and the will to give of oneself to the world and to the beloved within and without. My lord wants to give of himself in a much deeper level although he doesn't know how. I've felt his need to bond and yet the fear of being let down. I changed by ferrying him over the sea. So lay with me, lady Air, and share with me all the passion that you have locked inside. I need your loving touch to ensoul and guide me through this lonely night. Please, Lady, once you laid on a raft under the skies. Will you enter my boat now in the Great Below?'
Was it Enlil's backhanded way to ask her forgiveness? With growing certainty, Ninlil prodded further: ' I was not invited to the raft under the skies. Are you asking me to accept your offer out of my own free will?'She could feel the intense emotion gripping the ferryman. Had she touched the core of the tornado? And could she ride the storm afterwards?
'Tell me, ferryman, in your own words. Why would I accept to lay with you?'
She wanted the Words and was going to get them out of him at some stage.
'Out of love. Love that you feel for lord Enlil'.
"Was that so difficult, Beloved?" Ninlil asked him silently, and said out loud:
'And for the love that I have for myself and the future we can have together if I succeed to bring him back to the Heights Above. I couldn't love Enlil the extent I do if I didn't know my mind, body, heart and soul. He is the closest that I found to my heart's desire, although at that time I wasn't ready to tell him so. I just wonder when he is going to come to terms with his Lover within so that he can acknowledge me without as his Beloved as well as his Queen. For all these reasons, ferryman, I take up your offer'.
Eyes light of color gleamed in the darkness. He bowed low in a most graceful reverence and stretched his hand to help her in. He treated her as befitted to the Chosen of the greatest Anunnaki.
'I'll call this seed of yours Ennugi, Lord of the Sexual Parts', said Ninlil when intercourse was over. She kissed the ferryman in the mouth. 'His challenge will be to go beyond physical release, his gift will be Seduction, Laughter, Intimacy and Play. His duty will be to be Responsible for whom he captivates. He will be Energy and Passion seasoned with Creativity in all worlds he dares to fare'.
'Your surprise me, my Lady'.She knew there was a smile in his voice.
'Fulfil your part of the contract, ferryman. I need to go to the other side. If I need to ransom mine and Enlil's life to have a future, I want to start building this future as soon as possible'.
As soon as she set foot on the shore, the feeling of disorientation, of going deeper and deeper still into other realms took hold of Ninlil. When an eternity later she felt her balance return very gradually, Darkness spoke. Again, Ninlil had to get a serious grip on her strained nerves not to scream. The voices spoke all at once, and it took a little while for Ninlil to understand the bellowed words.
'Who has come unasked to the Great Below? 'Who has dared to come unannounced? 'Who has crossed the threshold of the Land of No Return?'
Ninlil took a deep breath to quieten her racing heart, the panic that had started to find a place in her soul. The voices were real, but she could see nothing ahead. Nevertheless, she had gone too far not to continue the descent. But the weight of the journey was heavy on her shoulders. Now that the end was nearer than before, would she be able to rescue Enlil and herself? Could she reason with the Dark Lady?
Strangely enough, it was the thought of Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, who made Ninlil turn to practical matters. The thought of her Great Ancestress, who had been given the Underworld for her domain after Earth and Heaven had been separated, made Ninlil remember her temple training, the manners of a young goddess and the respects due to her elders. No matter what, the Underworld was a Sacred Realm, and she had come uninvited. The first thing she should do was to greet the guardians and the Lady of the Great Place. Graciously, Ninlil knelt and bowed to answer the Voices Claiming in the Darkness:
'I lend graces to the Guardians of the Underworld and to Almighty Ereshkigal, Queen of the Great Below. I am called Ninlil, a Maiden of the Holy House of An, daughter of Haia, God of the Stores and of the Barley Goddess Numbarshegunu. I came alone and of my own free will to the Land of No Return to intercede for the life of my lord, Enlil, the Air god, who was sent to the Underworld because of a grave offence he did to myself. I therefore very humbly request an audience with the Lady of the Great Place. May the Dark Lady receive also in advance my respects and deepest praises!'
Sooner than Ninlil expected, a stern gate towered over her, opened by an even sterner gatekeeper holding a torch upright. He was Neti, she was told, Ereshkigal's guardian of the Underworld thresholds. This time, she was sure, the Guardian had not been Enlil in disguise. Eyes were not light of colour, there were no emotions on sight, just impartiality and efficiency. Six other gates succeeded the first with a speed she found difficult to believe, for a feeling of disorientation took hold of her, as if she were going deeper and deeper within layers and layers of existence, her own and many others. The strong, soul-baring feeling only subsided when she crossed the seventh gate, when another even more serious face greeted her and Neti.
'Sukkal Namtar, the young woman from the Worlds Above requests to be seen by the Great Queen,' provided Neti.
Namtar nodded and appraised Ninlil with cold assurance. She felt like shrinking before such knowing gaze, but held her ground.
'Since you've come this far, it is fitting that you are given the chance to see Queen ... and see whether you can conquer her graces! Follow me,' Namtar answered after a time that looked like eternity.
A palace rose before them. It was made of the purest lapis lazuli and crystal rock, solid and severe in its square design. Wall carvings showed scenes she knew of the Great Myths and others she couldn't place the land. The ziggurat tower in the middle of the palace projected itself in the dim light of the Underworld, and torches glowed in the ever-lasting twilight.
'I need to ask you again, my lady, is it your will to get into the domains of the Great Queen Ereshkigal?' asked quietly Namtar.
'If my lord Enlil is in there'.
'So it is my will to go in'.
'You were warned'.
Ninlil followed Namtar across the silent courtyard, countless passageways, chambers and staircases. Finally, they stopped in the Grand Hall. Namtar bowed deeply. Ninlil wisely imitated him before raising her eyes and to see what laid before her eyes.
Seated in a high throne in the twilit room and the shadows beyond was a tall, regal woman. She was cloaked and hooded in a shimmering black fabric that had fleeting blue glints, like those of great lapis-lazuli stones. Her visage was hidden. Ninlil caught her breath in foreboding because of the aura of surpassing mystery and power which seemed to emanate from her, making her tremble as a terrified child. Never before had Ninlil encountered this kind of grave authority and seriousness. She was unmistakably in the presence of Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld.
'Why have you come unasked to the Land of No Return?' asked a deep, incisive and yet melodious voice.
The question had been issued, and it resonated within Ninlil's heart, mind, body and soul. She swallowed hard and spoke, her voice sounding very small in the vastness of the Great Hall:
'Great Lady, I came to ask you for the life of my lord Enlil, who was sent to you because of a grave offence he did to me. I am Ninlil, his Lady, who bears also his seeds. And.. there is something else too...'
'I... I would like to understand what has been going on so far, since the Descent to the Land of No Return for us started. For I suspect there is great healing in what we've experienced so far.'
Ereshkigal didn't reply, and asked on:
'Why are you interceding for the life of Enlil, if he did harm to you?'
'Enlil was violent and clumsy, but I didn't fare much better either. With him and myself. But I believe we both learnt a great deal and need the chance of a future together. I ask you for a future, my lady. For Enlil and me and our seed, the baby of light, in the Worlds Above.'
'On what grounds do you say that Enlil learnt a lesson? How do you know that he satisfied the Law of Balance and made up for his wrongdoing?', queried implacably Ereshkigal.
Ninlil sighed. The Queen of the Underworld was not going to make things easy for her. Yet She still hadn't fastened on Ninlil Her 'eye of death'. In actual fact, Ereshkigal had been totally impartial so far, listening attentively for Ninlil's version of all facts.
'I believe Enlil might have learnt a lesson because of the strange, intense meetings with the gatekeeper first, then the guardian of the devouring river and finally with the ferryman of the Underworld sea. They were Enlil in disguise, weren't they?'
Having made this bold statement, Ninlil stopped and looked up to see whether there was any reaction on Ereshkigal's side. There was none. But on the other hand She hadn't said that Ninlil was out of her mind. So she continued:
'Somehow I could see it was him behind each Guardian of a Threshold I had to thread upon. I wondered why he was there each time in disguise...'
'Go on', urged Ereshkigal, her tone of command could not be denied.
'Because... because we were both thresholds to each other. Enlil confronted his worst nightmares at each time we met and he was in disguise. He saw the true colors of conflict and grief at the city gate, wounding and healing in the Devouring River, loneliness and connection in the depths of the Underworld sea. But there is more to it. Having been hurt by Enlil, I was his most difficult threshold. On my side... I had to learn to see through him, understand his Quest and my role in it.' Tears started streaming down her face. Ninlil dried them with an impatient wave of her hand. ' This is the reason why he never told me who he was at each threshold. He simply couldn't. You inflicted a mighty test of humility to the proudest of the young Gods, my lady. He had to come to me and beg for love, risking rejection, but trying anyway. I wonder whether he realized all this. And I... I had to go beyond my girlish dreams of a fancy lover to accept the god and the man in his totality. And his seeds...'
A sob cut out her words. Ninlil didn't care. Her tears were a measure of how much she had grown and learnt. They couldn't be denied. She sat on the floor, because her knees were giving in to the effort of sustaining her body to continue:
'The three seeds of mine and Enlil's I had to take them into my body and heal us three. And now, my Lady, I understand your Great Mission and my heart is filled with awe before you.'
'Why?' was the question, issued in a much different tone this time.
'Because only You and your Realm are the Keepers of Regeneration, Inner Beauty and Self-Transcendence. Only the Mighty Ereshkigal, the Judge, Keeper of the Ancestral Land and Mistress of Balance holds the Keys to solve Conflicts and Wars, knows the Depths of Healing and Wounding and understands Life, Love and Connection because She is Life after Life the One that gives Rebirth hopefully in a higher sphere, if we pass Her tests. Lady, I lend you graces with all my body, mind, heart and Soul.. For only You are the focal point above all dualities, the Centre that Sees ALL, Knows and Heals'.
Ninlil lowered her head to dry in the skirt of her dress the sea of tears that blinded her. She didn't see that Ereshkigal had left her high throne to stand in front of her.
'Daughter of An, beyond your tears you've learnt to SEE, FEEL AND ACT so it is fitting that now look at me!'
When Ninlil looked up, the hood had fallen and she saw for the first time Ereshkigal´s face. Not the lioness-headed goddess or the projection of one's worst nightmares. Instead, the radiant beauty of a dark-haired goddess looked at Ninlil. The Lady of the Great Place was older, yet young and Ageless, a Woman in Her own right, tall and slim. Eyes of Thoughtful Seriousness were smiling at Ninlil too.
'You've traveled far and well, Ninlil. Now, off to the Great Above you should go. At the right time and season, you'll come back to Me, to give birth to the three seeds that should return to the Inner Womb of the Universe. Now that they were created, the seeds of Conflict and War, Healing and Wounding, Loneliness and Love can hurt as much as they can heal. Everything will depend on one's choices, and I can do no more than to Keep Watch and Guard so that the Laws of Balance prevail in the end. The fourth seed when it is due, may it ascend to the heavens with my blessings to grow and wane for twenty-seven nights in a never-ending cycle. On the 29th night, though, it will disappear from the Worlds Above to join My Lights in the Underworld. At the end of the 29th night it will then return to the Heights in Waxing Glow. Call yours and Enlil's baby Nanna, the Light of the Night, the Brightness that will teach humanity to count time, the Moon that Waxes into Fullness and Wanes in all Worlds, always to Return.'
Ninlil found herself smiling back at Ereshkigal. Hers and Enlil's baby would indeed have a most splendid fate. A child whose Light would wax and wane in a never-ending cycle, out of Darkness towards Light and back again from Brightness to Dark.
'Great Lady, I lend you graces.'
Ereshkigal smiled at Ninlil, and then Great Goddess' voice turned gentle and direct at once. Ninlil suspected that this right balance of inquisitiveness, prodding and humor was Ereshkigal's trademark:
'In the assembly of the Gods gathered to judge Enlil, I also heard your lament in a form of a question. You asked whether love could grow out of pain to ensoul your life's further journey. Can it really, Ninlil?'
Understanding and joy so great filled Ninlil's heart.
'Yes', she affirmed, ' but only if one is able to see truth and wholeness beyond the hardest trials.'
A delighted laughter sounded in the Great Hall.
'So what are you waiting for, Ninlil, to rescue your reluctant Lord to the Heights Above? Off with both of you from my realms!'
Ninlil did exactly as she was told. Who was she to disobey the Great Queen of the Underworld?
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