The Sumerian Goddess Inanna
The month of August dedicated to the Sumerian Goddess Inanna, was known as Kin-Inanna, or ‘Work of Inanna’ according to the calendar of Nippur. The statues of the goddess were cleansed and purified in the river before the return of her beloved husband Dumuzi. The new moon this year on 19th August is a time to honour her.
An ancient Sumerian goddess, originating over five thousand years ago, was seen as the morning and evening star of Venus and an eight pointed star became one of her symbols, together with the reed post that was the doorway of the marsh huts that the people lived in, symbolising a place between the worlds, a liminal space and a changing nature that was never static. A goddess of love, but also of war; of fierce violence yet deep tenderness; a goddess who ruled the greatest cities in ancient Sumeria, yet also the wild marshes and those who wandered through them. She wasn’t a mother goddess, she belonged wholly to herself and contradiction rages around her like a lion, who she is often seen with her foot upon.
She is represented with the conical hat or crown known as the shugurra, the crown of the steppe, a symbol of a major deity that was made of bulls horns, and holding the ‘me’, the symbols of civilisation, which she cunningly stole from Enki, god of fresh water, rivers, magic, invention and creation. No small feat.
Her epithets and descriptions reveal an extraordinary complexity and range, from the nurturing, abundant, loving and passionate – to an apparition of sheer power;
Lady of the Date Clusters
Queen of Heaven and Earth
Lady of the Largest Heart
Lady if myriad offices
To have a husband to have a wife to thrive in the goodness of love are yours
Lady of blazing dominion, clad in dread, riding on fire red power
Terror folds in her robes
Flood storm hurricane adorned
A raging lioness – a whirlwind warrior bound on a twister
Her overturned furty – a holy woman’s rage is a rampaging flood hands cannot damn
Fear panic alarm stifling terror, dreadful brilliance are yours
The Lady of Warka, c3100 bce is a sculpture from Uruk, her cult centre and is likely to be Inanna, as is the stunning and compelling Burney Relief in the British Museum, dating from 1800-1900 bce.
Her devoted High Priestess Enheduanna is the world’s earliest known poet and known author in world literature and it is from her that we have learned so much about her beloved goddess. A royal daughter of King Sargon, Enheduanna lived in the 23rd century bce and was the priestess of the moon god Nanna but her personal devotion was to Inanna 42 hymns for temples across Sumer were written by her as well as the exaltation of Innana which is a personal devotion to Inanna during a significant time in her life. Enheduanna writes of Inanna that she ‘wears the robes of the old, old gods’ perhaps suggesting she was ancient even then.
She has many exquisite myths; Inanna and the Huluppu tree speaks of a tree that grew when earth and sky were separated and that Inanna planted in her sacred grove in Uruk. Three creatures settled in it; in its roots, a snake which fears no spell, in its trunk a lilitu, a female spirit and in its branches, the Anzu bird. She could not get rid of them and asked her brother, the god of the sun to help. He refused, but Gilgamesh, uruk’s warrior hero cut down the tree and the trunk was carved into the bed upon which the sacred marriage, the ceremony to unite the will of the gods with Sumer’s earthly representative, was help between the King and the High Priestess each year.
In the sacred marriage ceremony, the story of the courtship between Inanna and Dumuzi was recited and its powerfully evocative!
The fertility of the earth and the reason for such a ceremony is clear in the symbolism;
“O Lady, your breast is your field”, sings Dumuzi and Inanna responds, “make your milk sweet and thick my bridegroom” and “My high priest is ready for the holy loins…the plants and herbs in his field are ripe”.
Their myth is intrinsically connected to the land and the prosperity of its people.
In the myth of Inanna and Mount Ebih, Inanna attacks a mountain, loses support from the creator god and relies on herself to force the mountain into submission. She was nothing if not bold.
In the head overturning ritual, Inanna finds a young girl who has been rejected by society. She ‘takes the great crime from their body’, names them pilipili and gives them a weapon as for a ‘man’s heart’. She also meets a man and a woman and does the same, taking a brooch and giving it to the man and a pin to the woman renaming them reed marsh man and reed marsh woman. Gender fluidity was her domain; “To turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man are yours, Inanna” and “the male prostitutes comb their hair before you”. In her processions the women adorned their right side with men’s clothing and the men adorned their left side with women’s clothing.
Her most well known myth is her descent to the underworld. A powerful story of descent through gates at which she has to leave an item of clothing or jewellery until she arrives at the underworld, naked. Ereshkigal, queen of the underworld, kills her and hangs her body up on a hook. But Inanna suspected that such a dangerous mission would have consequences and had instructed her advisor to get help to rescue her if she did not return. Enki, the god of magic, fashions two creatures, the kurgura and the galatur, to bring back her body and give her the water of life. Which they do. Her return initiates consequences that are equally dramatic.
A power grab gone wrong or an initiatory story of profound meaning? However it is interpreted, it remains compelling and has drawn many people to find out more about this enigmatic goddess.
Inanna is divine in matter, sitting across the paradoxical reality of the natural world and human nature. She exists between blessing and curse, light and dark, plenty and want, goodness and malevolence, life and death. It is the real that all of us must encounter and embodies the ‘abysmal contradictions of human nature’ that Jung saw so clearly.
It doesn’t matter how often I speak or write of her, how the workshops I have run on her have left participants deeply moved, often relating their experience to me many years later. It doesn’t matter how much I read or study of her, I always find something new, something revelatory, something that profoundly moves me.
“From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below
From the Great Above the goddess opened her ear to the Great Below
From the Great Above Inanna opened her ear to the Great Below”
A blessing on those that hear and respond to the call.