Folklore Thursday: Asushunamir, the first nonbinary person.

So let’s talk about the Babylonian myth of Asushunamir, the first nonbinary person who plays a key role in the myth of the goddess Ishtar/Inanna’s descent into the underworld.

After the goddess Ishtar got herself trapped in the underworld, the gods created Asushunamir, a being who was neither man nor woman, to venture to the Underworld and rescue her. Ashunamir goes before, Erishkigal, the Queen of the underworld, and charms and seduces her. Asushunamir asks Erishkigal to show them the fabled ‘waters of life’ held by Erishkigal. Using the waters Asushunamir revives and frees Ishtar.

When Erishkigal realises she has been deceived she flies into a rage and Erishkigal cursed not only Asushunamir but all those like them to always be viewed with suspicion in human society. Ishtar is unable to lift the curse, but as recompense blessed them and those like them with wisdom, prophecy, healing and that they would always be held sacred to Ishtar.

This appears to be reflected in the priesthood of Ishtars Cult. Contemporary accounts report androgynous and intersex people were often members of the cult’s priesthood. During Sumerian times, a set of priests known as gala worked in Inanna’s temples, where they performed elegies and lamentations. Gala took female names, spoke in the eme-sal dialect, which was traditionally reserved for women.


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