Salome: The Seventh Queen: 5: Ishtar’s Gate

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 5: Ishtar’s Gate

by Aline deWinter

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Salome was frightened, for the day had arrived when she must descend to the Underworld to dance before the Great Whore, Ishtar. Dancing, she must pass through the Seven Gates of Hell, and still dancing, enter the Stygian darkness of the Abyss where the Arch Demoness dwelled, exiled, but replete with all her powers.

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Salome’s journey was so secret that, to accompany her dancing, only three musicians were sworn, selected for their natural reticence. Also two maidservants swore blood oaths that they would tell no one, not stone, nor tree, nor water, nor any living thing, that they too had followed Salome into the midnight house of the ancient Goddess. When the dance began, one girl was to carry the mirror and a torch, and the other, the head of Jokannaan. The driver who was to take her down the Road-Where-There-Is-No-Way-Back, through the Sphinx Guarded Gate, to the terraced gardens, wild with olive trees and myrtle trees, was given ten gold coins to seal his silence. Salome trembled, for it was forbidden for anyone, especially the Princess of Judea, to enter the Gardens of Ishtar, Queen of Abominations.

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The day was bright, but as the sun slid towards his nadir, he wore a purple nimbus about him that tinted the air to a darkling splendor. In the spell cast by this light, Salome, painted her eyelids violet and dusted her skin with gold.

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“I pray to you, Lady Ishtar, Queen of Heaven, that you shall accept these red rose petals that shall be scattered before me as I enter your Holy Temple. And this red wine that I shall spill as a libation, and I pray that this incense of myrrh, roses and ambergris shall fill you with rapture. Inspire me to dance, oh Queen of Heaven, the Dance that you require, with all my heart and soul.”

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As Salome prayed, she pulled the sparkling necklace around her throat and clasped it behind, put on the pendent earrings that glowed like small suns, and donned her bright bracelets and anklets. A gleaming girdle of birthstones she laced around her hips, and around her shoulders she drew a flowing cloak of embroidered scarlet. At last she placed upon her golden hair, perfumed with attar of roses, the heavy Crown of Judea, golden and flowered and horned.

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“How do I look, Aaliyah?” she asked the serving maid.

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Aaliyah, smiled and looked down. “Even so beautiful as the sun at midnight.”

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“And Etana, what do you think? Will the Queen of Heaven accept the gift of my dancing?”

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“Of course. You are the supreme dancer in all the land, Princess Salome.”

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Etana’s eyes glittered with her recollection  of Salome’s wild dance before King Herod, and she smiled with subtle admiration.

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Salome looked at her reflection in the mirror of polished silver that made it seem as if another looked back at her from beneath a pool of red-tinged water. Salome imagines her self a poised and golden lioness, her head angled on her long neck as if she watched her prey passing far below.

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“It is good,” she said to her maids, fluttering her eyelids. “I am ready.”

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And so they went out to the courtyard and turned down the secret pathway where the driver waited with the prancing horses and the little carriage that shone like gold in the lowering sunlight. The driver opened the door for Salome, and helped her in. And once she was settled on her crimson chair, he handed her the casket of over-wrought gold that contained the head of Jokannaan.

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To the music of ney, qanun, and bandir, Salome was jostled through bleak, dark hills and sun devoured waste, where vultures circled high above emitting their mournful cries. After what seemed an eternity, the little party arrived at an ancient gate set in a cleft between high rocks and guarded by two chimera, whose blunted features testified to the centuries of desert winds they had endured.

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“Are we to go in there, Princess?” asked Aaliyah holding a delicate brown hand to her trembling lips.

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Salome stared at the chimera with a fear she would not allow the others to see. She set her jaw and shrugged. “Yes, Aaliyah. I believe that is the gate to Ishtar’s Garden.”

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Etana simply stared and turned the silver mirror so that it shone toward the gate.

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The driver stopped the horses. Salome felt her little stair hit the ground, and the door of the carriage opened. The musicians stopped playing as if their music had been absorbed into the silence of the desert.

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“I am not sure we should go forth, Princess,” the driver said. “I would not want you to be subject to such dangers as those that lurk in this place.”

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“We will continue,” said Salome, though she trembled inside.

To be continued….

5 thoughts on “Salome: The Seventh Queen: 5: Ishtar’s Gate

  1. Fantastic site. A lot of useful information here.

    I’m sending it to a few friends ans additionally sharing in delicious. And of course, thanks to your effort!
    Rosella recently posted..Rosella

    • Thank Rosella! Salome is very old, I will be reworking it for publication at some point. I’m glad you enjoy it. This blog has been out there for years and people finally seem to be finding it. It inspires me to put time into it again. 🙂

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