Inanna was the Sumerian goddess of sex, love, fertility and warfare. Her sister was Ereshkigal, queen of the Underworld, and Inanna wished to visit her.
Before she left, she told her uncle Enki, god of craft, water, intelligence and creation where she was going, in case she got into trouble. Then she dressed for her visit in a turban, wig, a lapis lazuli necklace, beads, a royal dress, a golden ring and a lapis lazuli measuring rod.
The gatekeeper of the first gate of the Underworld informed Inanna that she could only pass if she handed over the measuring rod.
'Why?' asked Inanna.
The first gatekeeper shrugged. 'It is just the way of the Underworld.'
Inanna handed over the rod and passed through the gate.
At the second gate, the gatekeeper asked her for her golden ring.
'Why?' asked Inanna.
The second gatekeeper shrugged. 'It is just the way of the Underworld.'
Inanna handed over the ring and passed through the gate.
At the third gate she surrendered her beads. At the fourth, her necklace. The fifth gatekeeper took her turban and the sixth her wig. At the seventh gate she removed her dress, and arrived before her sister naked, all of her power stripped from her along with her jewels.
Ereshkigal was not the the most loving of sisters. She was jealous that Inanna could come and go as she pleased, when she, Ereshkigal, could never leave the Undeworld. So she declared that Inanna was to be turned into a corpse and hung on a meathook.
For three days and nights, Inanna's rotting corpse hung from the meathook. And then her uncle Enki started to worry about her.
He took the dirt from under his fingernails and made two tiny creatures who were neither male nor female. He whispered to them to appease Ereshkigal, find Inanna, and sprinkle her corpse with the food and water of life.
The fingernail-creatures were so tiny that they passed through all seven gates of the Underworld unnoticed. When they found Ereshkigal, she was moaning and crying like a woman giving birth.
'The terrible pain!' she cried.
'Oh!' said the fingernail-creatures relied. 'Poor you! You must feel terrible.'
'I do!' said Ereshkigal. 'It hurts so.'
'Tsk tsk,' said the fingernail-creatures. 'You're being so brave. You are wonderful.'
Ereshkigal was so grateful for the sympathy of the fingernail-creatures that she asked them what they wanted. They replied that they wanted the corpse of Inanna.
They sprinkled the rotting meat with the food and water of life, and revived Inanna, but Ereshkigal declared that she couldn't leave the Underworld unless someone took her place. She then sent demons up to the surface to find someone to replace Inanna.
First they came across Nincurba, Inanna's priest, who was mourning for Inanna. Inanna refused to let him take her place, as he had been there for her. Next the demons found Cara, Inanna's beautician, also in mourning. But Inanna refused him too, as Cara had always been there for her. Then the demons came across Dumuzi, Inanna's husband. He was dressed in nice clothing and enjoying himself even though his wife was missing presumed dead. Inanna frowned and let the demons take him.
And so Inanna returned to her home with the memory of hanging on the meathook fresh in her mind, the memory of how it felt to be stripped of her clothes and power. And a renewed appreciation for the people who she loved, who loved her back.