January 16, 2013

Inanna: Queen of Heaven (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , , at 11:38 pm by Babs

Inanna, which means “Queen of Heaven”, is the Sumerian Great Goddess and forerunner of the Babylonian Ishtar, with whom She shares similar legends.  Sumer was a culture located in what is now the southern half of Iraq, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers known as the “Cradle of Civilization”.  It was one of the earliest civilizations on this Earth.

Inanna is the First Daughter of the Moon Goddess Ningal and her consort Nanna, and the Star of Morning and Evening.  She is also regarded as a daughter of the sky-god An and sister of the underworld goddess Ereschkial and of the sun-god Utu.  Like Anat and Aphrodite (who is believed to have a Phoenician origin) She is linked to the planet Venus and is a love goddess.

Her wedding to the Shepard Dumuzi was celebrated on the first day of the new year as a sacred marriage rite and Her legends show Her to be a woman of powerful sexuality.

The Sumerian great “Lady Queen of Heaven” (Ninanna) who appears in two sources: the Gilgamesh Epic, where she aids the hero and tries to seduce him, and in the Cycle of Inanna, a collection of poems concerning her relation – in life and death – to her brother and lover, the vegetation god Dumuzi (aka Tammuz).

Inanna figures prominently in various myths, such as ‘Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld’.  In this particular myth she travels to the realm of the dead and claims its ruling.  However, her sister Ereshkigal, who rules the place, sentences her to death.  With Inanna’s death, however, nature died with her and nothing would grow anymore.  Through the intervention of the god Enki she could be reborn if another person took her place.  She chose her beloved consort Dumuzi, who would from then on rule the underworld every half-year.  This myth has some relations to the Demeter/ Persephone myth as well as to the celtic beliefs that the vegetation dies and gets reborn.

During the time of growth, which was in the Near-East the autumn when the first rain after the long summer fell, the people celebrated the “Holy Marriage” of Inanna and Dumuzi – yearly at the autumn equinox as the New Year Festival which brought the land fertility and growth again, because Dumuzi had returned from the underworld and made love with Inanna again.

Inanna’s Story in Short:

Inanna makes her descent into the dark realm, kur-nu-gi-a, of her sister, Ereshkigal.  Inanna passed the seven portals of kur-nu-gi-a and at each of the portals she was obliged to remove an item of clothing until at last she stood before Ereshkigal, totally naked.  Ereshkigal fastens on Inanna and for three days she hangs like a carcase on a hook.  Her faithful female companion, Ninshubur (“Queen of the East”) whom she warns to go in search of help for her if she does not return, appeals to the god of wisdom, responds to her and sends two creatures to plead with Ereshkigal for Inanna’s release.  They find Ereshkigal in the process of giving birth.  Inanna is restored to life and ascends like the moon after its three days’ death to assume her place once more as Queen of Heaven.

The lesson of this ritual drama for Sumerian culture was the deep realization that death is not inimical to life but an essential aspect of its totality and, indeed, the passageway to a new cycle of life.  So her journey into the Netherworld was both a literal and symbolic enactment of a natural world occurrence and its mirror in the human psyche as represented by her earthly representatives: the priestesses of Sumeria.

Inanna’s descent to the Underworld is similar to the journey of the later goddess Ishtar, with some important differences.  Inanna goes to the Underworld to learn of the wisdom of death and rebirth.  To be released from Death She must choose a substitute, and offers up Dumuzi, who in Her absence has not mourned.  With Dumuzi gone, His sister Geshtinanna, Goddess of Wine, went frantically searching and eventually a bargain was struck.  Dumuzi would remain half the year in the Underworld, and Geshtinanna would take His place in the Land of the Dead for the rest of the year.

Other Names and Titles:

Like many goddesses whose name means “Queen of Heaven” there are many names which represented aspects of her power and glory.  Inanna’s (also known as Innin and Innini) titles include Honored Counselor, Ornament of Heaven, Holy Priestess of Heaven, Supreme Among the Heavenly Gods.

As the “Lady of Myriad Offices” she acted as a mediator of differences.  Her duty is to light fires as well as put them out, to cause tears as well as joy.  Also, to pester, insult, deride, desecrate, as well as venerate.  Inanna, downheartedness, calamity, heartache and joy and good cheer is your domain.

As the “Lady of the Palace” she ruled as queen.  As Ninsianna she is the personification of the planet Venus.

As “Mother of All” she was the goddess of fertility, birth, and nature.  The importance of which shows up in the following Sumerian proverb that may be a blessing or “toast” given to a young man by his father or close friend:

May (the goddess) Inanna cause a hot-limbed wife to lie down for you;

May she bestow upon you broad-armed sons;

May she seek out for you a place of happiness!

As the “Goddess of War and Strife” she held the title Nin-kur-ra-igi-ga “the queen who eyes the highland” meaning that other lands feared her.  Battle was called the “dance of Inanna’ and she was at the very heart of it.  She was the star of the battle-cry who can make brothers who have lived together in harmony fight each other.  She is known for causing the fall of the city of Agade:

The gates of Agade, how they lay prostrate; …the holy Inanna leaves untouched their gifts; the Ulmas (Inanna’s temple) is fear ridden (since) she has gone from the city, left it; like a maid who forsakes her chamber, the holy Inanna has forsaken her Agade shrine; like a warrior with raised weapons she attacked the city in fierce battle, made it turn its breast to the enemy.

As “Queen of the Sky” or Nin.an.na Nu-ugig-anna, the Hierodule of Heaven and Usanzianna, Exalted Cow of Heaven, we see her power over the rains and storms in which she is known for being both a gentle rain and a tempest.

Proud Queen of the EArth Gods, Supreme Among the Heaven Gods, Lout Thundering Store, you pour your rain over all the Lands and all the people.  You make the heavens tremble and the earth quake.  Great Priestess, who can soothe your troubled heart?

You flash like lightening over the highlands; you throw your firebrands across the earth.  Your deafening command, whistling like the South Wind, splits apart great mountains.  You trample the disobedient like a wild bull; heaven and earth tremble.  Holy Priestess, who can soothe your troubled heart?

Your frightful cry descending from the heavens devours its victims.  Your quivering hand causes the midday heat to hover over the sea.  Your night-time stalking of the heavens chill the land with its dark breeze.  Holy Inanna, the riverbanks overflow with the flood-waves of your heart…

Her Signs and Symbols:

Her symbol is the eight pointed star.  Inanna was the goddess associated – in terms of symbology – with the moon, the planet Venus and the serpent.  Being explicitly a goddess of sexuality and fertility, her worship included sacred prostitution.  With wings and serpents adorning her shoulders we can see a trace of the ancient Neolithic Bird and Snake Goddess.  The symbols of caduceus and the double-headed axe both represented her power to bestow and withdraw life.

Cult Centers:

Important sanctuaries of Inanna were in Uruk, Zabalam, and Babylon.

Inanna in Poetry:

INANNA: Journey to the Dark Center

by Mary Scarlett Moon and Callista Deep River

I am the daughter of the Ancient Mother,

I am the child

of the Mother of the World/

I am your daughter

O Ancient Mother,

I am your child

O Mother of the World.

O Inanna!  O Inanna!

O Inanna!

It is you who teaches us

to die, be reborn and rise again.

Die, be reborn, and rise!

Herstory/ Lore

Queen of Heaven and Earth.

The Goddess Inanna ruled the people of Sumer, and under Her rule, the people and their communities prospered and thrived.  The urban culture, though agriculturally dependent, centered upon the reverence of the Goddess – a cella, or shrine, in Her honor was the centerpiece of the cities.  Inanna was the queen of seven temples throughout Sumer.  Probably the most important Sumerian contribution to civilization was the invention and creation of a standard writing and literature; the Sumerians even had libraries.  Their literary works reveal religious beliefs, ethical ideas, and the spiritual aspirations of the Sumerians.  Among these works are the hymns and stories of Inanna – important here because they were recorded at the time when the patriarchy was beginning to take hold, and the position of the Goddess, although strong, was changing.

My Lady looks

in sweet wonder from heaven.

The people of Sumer parade

before the holy Inanna.

Inanna, the Lady of the Morning,

is radiant.

I sing your praises, Holy Inanna.

The Lady of the Morning

is radiant on the horizon.

Inanna’s Descent

The hymns to Inanna are beautiful, poetic, and a testament both to Her power and to Her humanity.  She outwitted Enki, the God of Wisdom and her grandfather, and she endowed the people of Sumer with the seven me – wisdoms and gifts that inspired and insured their growth sensuous lover in The Courtship of Inanna and Damuzi.  Indeed, Inanna is herself sexual energy and passion – that generates the energy of the universe.  In the Courtship, Inanna is both the shy virgin and the sensuous mistress.  Her coupling with Damuzi is one of the most erotic and passionate passages in literature.  The marriage is one of body and spirit, and Inanna’s passion and expectations link her to women all over the world.  After their lovemaking, when Damuzi asks for his freedom, Inanna’s poignant lament is “How sweet was your allure…” The Descent of Inanna plays a key role in the Sumerian literature.

The Goddess Inanna descended twice: first from Heaven to Earth to rule her people; second, to the realm of the underworld, the domain of her sister Ereshkigal.  It is the second descent of Inanna that is the focus here.  Inanna was Queen of Heaven and Earth, but she knew nothing of the underworld.  Her quest for clarity and knowledge, as well as her sense of duty as Queen and Goddess, led her to the Earthly realm in the first place.  She was a powerful ruler, and yet she felt a strong desire to challenge herself further.

“My daughter craved the great below,” was the response of her father upon learning of her descent and death in the other realm.  In her naiveté, she wrapped herself in the me, transformed into garments and jewels, and began her descent.  Her sister Ereshkigal, upon hearing Inanna at the gates of the underworld, demands that Inanna must give up all of her earthly trappings before she can complete her journey.  There are seven stations through wich Inanna must pass before she meets Ereshkigal, her sister and rival.  At the seventh and last, she meets Ereshkigal, who seizes Inanna and hangs her on a peg to die.

What Inanna discovers about herself and about life itself as she makes her descent is not implicit in the texts.  However, by the time she relinquished her final garment, she is no longer the commanding Queen.  She is open, exposed, vulnerable.  This knowledge, and acceptance of her vulnerability, as well as her first-hand discovery of the necessity of sacrifice and death for the cycles of life to continue, increased her power, her understanding, her beauty.  Her sister learns a lesson as well: she has her heart opened to compassion.  When Enki sent two creatures, Galla, below to rescue Inanna, Ereshkigal was struggling to give birth, even though she was barren.  The creatures moaned in sympathy with her – for the first time in her life, Ereshkigal felt a connection to another.  As a reward for their compassion, the Galla were permitted to take the corpse of the Goddess Inanna away with them, and revive her.  But Inanna was not free to leave unless she ensured that there would be someone to take her place.  When she returned to earth, she found that her husband Damuzi did not mourn her; in fact, he had taken on even more power in her absence.  Inanna allowed the Galla to take Damuzi to rule in her place in the underworld.  For love of her brother, Damuzi’s sister Geshtinanna volunteered to take that place half of each year so he could return to his Queen.  This six-month cycle insured that the lands would maintain their abundance and fertility, and also served to humble the imprudent King.

Inanna Today

In the Inanna cycle, she is maiden, mother and crone.  Her encounter with Ereshkigal can be seen as a meeting of the creator and the destroyer – the light and dark aspects of the Goddess.  For modern women, Inanna is a powerful role model.  She indeed has it all: she is Goddess, protectress, sensuous, a politician par excellence, intelligent, beautiful, powerful.  She is aware of Her position in the world, of Her great responsibility.

We, like Inanna, challenge ourselves, often taking ourselves to task to know more, learn more, be more.  This is not necessarily good or bad.  But in the doing, in living this life, we too must know the power of the underworld and its mysteries, as well as know the power of compassion.  Our personal growth, suffering and pain can be likened to physical death; our psyches journey to the underworld again and again.  Old ideas, old visions, identities die; myths are shattered, and are created anew.  We rise up, like Inanna, aware of our vulnerabilities, and the strength created from them.

In Summary

Inanna is the Goddess of the dark moon, brave and unwavering, she ventures into the underworld.  She teaches us to stand firm, eyes focused on the end true goal, ultimately leading us to a state of wisdom.  She is honored at the dark moon as it is she who fixes destinies at each new moon.  Her journey into the underworld and subsequent revitalization represents the soul’s evolution through hardship into glorious renewal.  In her quest for clarity and knowledge, Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth descended to Earth to rule her people, where (so that her people would not know hunger_ she made a sacred marriage to endure the fertility of the lands.  She thirsted to understand first-hand though, the true sufferings of her followers, so she descended again, this time to the realm of the underworld, the domain of her sister Ereshkigal.

Suggested Mantra: Honesty

Suggested Affirmations:

  • I am revitalized
  • I have overcome negative influences
  • My new life path reveals itself to me
  • I say goodbye  to destructive influences
  • My insecurity is replaced with wisdom
  • Wisdom comes easily to me
  • I release myself from harmful judgements

Gemstones: Carnelian, Coral, Agate, Amber, Brown Jasper

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