As I walked into the willow grove, I parted the veils of falling branches and leaves before me. I felt like I was entering a magical place, a landscape of mystery and enchantment. Numerous large willows clustered near the banks of a stream, drawing nourishment from the fresh waters. Their gnarly trunks spread their arching branches wide overhead, enfolding and shielding a secret world below.

Strolling among the trees, I found the space to be peaceful, yet also lively and vibrant. The hanging branches swayed together, rustling in the soft breezes, while small birds chittered excitedly above. Rays of sunlight filtered through the canopy, creating a shimmering play of golden lights and shadows throughout the grove.

Fancifully, I wondered which of the willows might be the famous one featured in the legends. Looking around me, I studied the trees but couldn’t determine that one was more attractive than the others. Each tree was beautiful and unique in its form, expressing the wonderful diversity of nature. In my estimate, Inanna could have favored any one of the willow trees.

Animated by the gentle winds, the willows were immensely evocative, stirring my emotions, memories, and thoughts. Their pendulous branches, with their slender spiraling leaves, sensuously caressed my shoulders, calling to mind the long silky hair of a lover. In my imagination, the trees became nurturing and protective beings, like parents or even grandparents, keeping me safe and sheltered within their loving arms.

Inspired by the trees, I reached my arms upwards and spun in circles, weaving a spiraling path through the hanging branches. Through my dance, I expressed my joy and pleasure, and my appreciation for the beauty of the willow trees. Winding through the curtains of leaves, I allowed my feelings to guide my movements, responding to the peace and contentment of the willow grove.

As I danced, I also sensed an undercurrent of sadness, like the willows were weeping in sorrow. The branches cascaded in waterfalls of greenery around me, flowing like endless tears of grief. As a gala priest, I was reminded of lamentations for the dead, and I responded with feelings of compassion and empathy. The willows aroused very strong sentiments in me.

After ending my dance, I continued to move through the willow grove, taking my time to explore my surroundings. In a few areas, I had to trod carefully, stepping over wet sod, and around protruding roots, particularly near the banks of the stream. Occasionally, I paused to admire the reflection of the willows on the waters. Standing in the shade, I was mesmerized by the moving images, glistening abstractly on the surface.

As I followed the stream, I came upon a secluded outcropping of rocks, where the waters trickled into a small pool. A light mist rose from the surface, blanketing the surrounding plants with moisture. The pool was almost entirely hidden from view, nestled in the rocks, and screened by the hanging willow branches.

Kneeling beside the pool, I saw myself reflected in the smooth surface of the waters. I studied my beardless face set with deep blue eyes, framed by a black cap, with my black curls escaping. I was happy to be alive, absorbing the natural beauty of the garden.

I offered a silent prayer of thanks and praise to my divine father Enki, whose presence in the waters was very strong. Gazing into the pool, I was admiring the glimmer of sunlight on the surface, when I noticed that the mists began to thicken and swirl upwards.

Rising out of the moisture of the pool, Usmu gradually took form, hovering slightly above the waters. Floating in the air, he moved towards me and finally stood at my side. This time the divine messenger appeared as a young woman with straight black hair, dressed in golden garments.

I rose from my kneeling position to address him.

“Good morning, Usmu,” I said cheerfully. “I’m enjoying this public garden. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Indeed, the garden is beautiful,” he replied. “But what do you mean by ‘beautiful’?”

“I don’t understand,” I responded. “The garden is simply beautiful.”

“Ah! But is the garden beautiful because you experience it as such, because it pleasures your senses and gives you a feeling of peace?” he asked. “Or is the garden inherently beautiful, in and of itself? Does the beauty of the garden exist separate from your sensory perception of it?”

“Usmu, I think that the garden is beautiful whether I’m experiencing it or not,” I replied thoughtfully. “But when I experience its beauty, I feel a longing in my spirit. I aspire to beauty, like I aspire to ideals that are high and noble, such as truth and wisdom.”

“What drives your desire for beauty?” he continued to probe. “Do you seek a sensory experience of beauty, or a communion with beauty?”

“That’s an interesting question,” I responded. “While I enjoy the sensory experience, I do seek a communion. I seek a merging with things that are beautiful and true. When I experience this garden, I feel like I’m reaching for a union that’s transcendent and sublime.”

I thought for a moment, pondering his question as well as my response.

“Usmu, is the beauty of this garden a manifestation of the gods?” I asked. “For this garden inspires in me an intense longing to commune with the divine.”

Usmu raised his eyebrows as he glanced curiously at me. Then he shifted his form into that of an elderly man with long white hair and a long white beard, wearing an elaborate silver robe.

“Beauty speaks to our infinite desires—our yearnings for love, truth, justice and wisdom, and also for a union with the divine,” he stated. “The experience of beauty also quickens our awareness of life, particularly when we try to merge with beauty.”

“I can relate to that last part very well,” I replied, “particularly when I’m merging with a beautiful woman or man. The experience can be totally divine.”

Usmu threw back his head and laughed loudly at my jest. His form wavered slightly, then he settled back into his elderly male persona and addressed me again.

“Enough small talk,” he declared. “Look into the pool of waters. Enki sends you a message, and also a warning.”

[continued in Inanna’s Bargain]

Watch the book reading of this excerpt on my YouTube Channel.


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