Inanna – Sumerian Mother Goddess, Queen of Heaven and Earth

One of the longest lasting Goddesses from the ancient world is Sumer’s Inanna, who was revered in the Middle East for over 4,000 years. And even today in modern Islamic Iraq Inanna’s emblems of the reed knot and the date palm continue to have meaning to the people. [1]

Inanna’s origins are very very old and date back well into the Neolithic age. It is believed that the Goddess-revering Al ‘Ubaid culture brought Her imagery with them when they settled in the region south west of the Euphrates river as early as the 6th millennium BCE, i.e. 8,000 years ago. Her earliest temple was discovered in Uruk (Erech), Inanna’s main and longest lasting place of worship, and dates back to about 5,000 BCE.

In the early days of Her worship Inanna was still seen as the all-encompassing Mother Goddess. She was still revered as the source of the Upper and Lower Waters, as the Queen of Heaven, Earth AND the Underworld. As human consciousness – probably due to external factors – changed over the millennia, Inanna’s powers diminished. At first She was split into the Goddess of Life, represented by Inanna, and the Goddess of the Underworld, represented by Her sister Ereshkigal. Eventually She would be given a father who was said to have given Her Her powers.

According to earliest records from the 4th millennium BCE Inanna’s grandmother is Nammu, the primordial Goddess of the Sea. The Babylonians knew Her as Tiamat. Nammu created Heaven and Earth and gave birth to Ningal / Ninmah, the Goddess as the Moon. Ningal / Ninmah Herself created the first people. She also gave birth to Inanna who manifests as the planet Venus, and as Inanna is the daughter of Ninagal / Ninmah, so is Venus the daughter of the Moon.

True to Her heritage, Inanna is the Goddess of the Morning and Evening Star as well as the Moon. Her imagery include the lunar crescent horns and the 8-pointed star, the rosette, which represents the planet Venus. Her headgear consists of a horned crown enclosing a cone, which is symbolic for the sacred mountain.

Inanna is often depicted with wings and a serpent-entwined staff. This imagery tells of Her roots as an ancient Bird and Snake Goddess, the Creatrix of the Upper and Lower Waters and the Goddess of Life, Death and Renewal.

Inanna is often dressed in blue which, just as Her lapiz jewels, reflects the blue of the Upper Waters or “The Deep” as the Sumerians referred to space. In fact they saw the sky as being a manifestation of the Goddess with the clouds being Her breasts and the rain Her milk. Inanna’s necklace is described as the rainbow and Her girdle as the zodiac.

Inanna is associated with the gate to cow-byres and sheepfolds, the gate representing Her vulva and the cow-byre or sheepfold Her womb. In ancient Sumer two bundles of reeds with curved ends (“Inanna’s Knot”) were placed at the entrance of Her storehouses and later Her temple Eanna in Uruk (Erech) to symbolise the Goddess.

Inanna’s sacred animals include the lioness and the cow, the former representing Her powers – She is able to tame wild lions! – and revealing Her as Goddess of the Animals, while the latter represents Inanna’s life-giving and nurturing aspect.

In her life-giving aspect Inanna’s birds include the white lunar dove and the swallow. In Her aspect as Death-Bringer She is associated with the viper and the scorpion, but also the owl, one of Her names being “nin-ninna” or “Divine Lady Owl”

Inanna, the Great Mother Goddess of the Sumerians has many titles such as:

“Queen of Heaven and Earth”
“Priestess of Heaven”
“Light of the World”
“Morning and Evening Star”
“First Daughter of the Moon”
“Loud Thundering Storm”
“Righteous Judge”
“Forgiver of Sins”
“Holy Shepherdess”
“Hierodule of Heaven”
“Opener of the Womb”
“Framer of All Decrees”
“The Amazement of the Land”
“The Green One”
“She of the Springing Verdure”
“Queen of Stall and Fold” [2]

Although Inanna is a Goddess of Life and Death, later mythology passes Her dark moon aspect on to Her sister Ereshkigal who once having been a Corn Goddess becomes the Goddess of the Underworld. This changeover has much to do with a changing attitude towards death and the life cycle. While during the Neolithic and the early Bronze Age life was seen as cyclical with death not being the final end but rather a resting stage before rebirth, in later years as humanity distanced itself more and more from the natural world, the understanding of the Underworld changed from it being the womb of the Goddess to a place of no return. Ereshkigal is the Ruler over the Sumerian Underworld. However, some of the old cyclical beliefs remained even during the later Bronze Age, as late Sumerian mythology tells of how Ereshkigal gives birth to new life.

In Her capacity as life-giving Goddess Inanna is all about fertility and abundance. This is the aspect of Her that today we most associate with the Goddess as Venus.

As Queen of Earth Inanna is Goddess of grain, vine, date palms, cedar, the sycamore fig, the olive and the apple tree. Her temple towers known as ziggurates were large storehouses from where Her priestesses would watch over the fields, fisheries and livestock. They would accept donations from the people and share them with everyone. All incomings and outgoings would be recorded by them on clay tablets using reed styluses.

The High Priestess or Entu was seen not just as Inanna’s representative on Earth, but as the Goddess’s incarnation. Every autumn at the new year she would select a young man as her lover-consort to celebrate the Sacred Mating (Greek “Hieros Gamos” = Sacred Marriage). Through the love-making of the Entu and the man, who would become the king for the next year, the fertility of all life on Earth would be assured. Any children that were born of this union were considered to be half divine and half human, just as the hero Gilgamesh was thought to have been.

Just as Inanna is the Hierodule of Heaven, so were Her priestesses the hierodules of Earth. Hierodule is a Greek word that means “sacred work” or “servant of the holy”. Fertility and life is how the Goddess manifests Herself on Earth. [In most cases] Sexuality is the means by which fertility and thus new life comes about. In order to honour Inanna and to help keep the Earth a rich and flourishingh place, Her priestesses would re-enact the sacred act of lovemaking with Inanna’s worshippers at Her temples. The feelings of ecstasy experienced were seen as a divine state of bliss. Unfortunately, when Sumer with her long-hidden secrets was discovered not so long ago, the worldview of the archaeologists and anthropologists was clouded by Christian teachings who misunderstood the sacred role of hierodule and called Inanna’s priestesses “temple prostitutes” or “harlots”.

Inanna is the Queen of Heaven, her celestial manifestations being the Moon and the planet Venus. Like Isis in Egypt the star Sirius is sacred to Her as are the constellations Virgo and Scorpio.

Inanna is the Goddess of Death and Destruction. She is a Goddess of the Storm who represents the raw, unbridled destructive power of nature. Inanna is also known as “the Dragon” and is depicted as such with venom spewing from its mouth. In Her capacity as Destructress She is also represented by a lion-headed thunder bird known as “Imdugud”[3]

Inanna is the Goddess of Natural Law and Justice. She is the Bringer of the “me”, the Sumerian Tablets of the Law. Inanna is just and compassionate. Her gifts to humankind include civilisation, wisdom and prophesy. [4]

As said before, at the start of the Bronze Age humans still saw themselves as being completely part of nature and therefore the Goddess. However, as time went by and our consciousness and self-awareness increasingly developed we felt more and more separate from the source. While initially humans saw death not as an end but just as another step on the cycle of life, with the increasing separation from nature came the realisation that while life in general continues indefinitely, the inidividual life will not. The Ancients described this in terms of a permanent life source – Ka soul or Zoe – and the many varieties of temporary life – Ba soul or Bios – the latter of which was believed to return to the source after death. The permanent life source was experienced as the Goddess and that of the temporary life force that is born from Her and returns to Her after death was represented by Her son-lover-consort. The life and death of the son-lover contains the lunar myth of birth, growth, decay and death. It also represents the Wheel of the Year with the god or son-lover being symbolic for the vegetation that grows and dies with the seasons. By the end of the Bronze Age rebirth was no longer envisioned for the individual but reserved only for goddesses and gods.

In Sumerian mythology this story is told through the birth and death of Dumuzi, the son-lover of the Goddess Inanna. His name literally means “faithful son”, but being a vegetation god he was also referred to as “The Green One”. He is a shepherd, “Lord of Life” and “Lord of the Net”. As “Bull of Heaven” the bull is sacred to him, but so are the ram and the goat. In Sumer the date palm which was the Tree of Life was associated with Dumuzi, as were grains, especially barley. Inanna’s son-lover was identified with the harvest and all the produce that was stored inside Her temples.

Every year in the autumn when in Mesopotamia the fertile raining season started, Inanna would join with Dumuzi in the rites of the sacred mating / marriage. This would ensure the fertility of the land. At the onset of the summer in July when the Sun would dry up the land and burn the crops, Dumuzi would die and enter the Underworld.

The story of Dumuzi’s death is interlinked with Inanna’s Descent. As said before, at some point during the Bronze Age people stopped believing in the uninterrupted cycle of life and death for themselves. The Underworld no longer was the womb of the Goddess, but instead became “The Land of No Return”. However, Inanna’s priestesses were aware of this split between the Upper and Lower Waters. Just as in ancient Greece every year many Sumerians would re-enact the descent of the Goddess into the Underworld in order to reunite their own consciousness with their unconscious and regain completion. It was a shamanic journey for both the Goddess and Her initiates.

The story of Inanna’s Descent involves the Goddess visiting and re-uniting with Her dark self or sister Ereshkigal. It is very much a lunar myth of the dark moon. On the way Inanna encounters seven gates – the number of days of the waning moon – where She has to give up the seven regalia of Her office. When She finally meets Her sister, She dies and has to hang on a hook for three days – the number of days of the dark moon. During that time Ereshkigal, the Dark Moon Goddess or Inanna’s dark moon aspect, gives birth to new life. Eventually the Queen of the Underworld agrees to let Inanna return to the world above, but only on the condition that She can find a replacement for Herself. Inanna returns to Heaven and Earth where She finally chooses Her Son-Lover Dumuzi to take Her place, as unlike everyone else he did not grieve for Her and instead enjoyed his time on Inanna’s throne.

Much of Sumerian mythology was adopted by the Babylonians where She was known as Ishtar and Her son-lover as Tammuz. Eventually the story of the Goddess and Her son would make its way into Christianity where to this day millions of people celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas and his death and resurrection at Easter. Mary to this day is celebrated by many as the Mother of God.

Unto Her who renders decisions, Goddess of all things,
Unto the Lady of Heaven and Earth who receives supplication;
Unto Her who hears petition, who entertains prayer;
Unto the compassionate Goddess who loves righteousness;
Ishtar the Queen, who suppresses all that is confused.

To the Queen of Heaven, the Goddess of the Universe,
the One who walked in terrible Chaos and brought life by the Law of Love;
And out of Chaos brought us harmony, and from Chaos Thou has led us by the hand.

- Babylon, Eighteenth to Seventh Century BCE

NOTES

[1] From Elinor W. Gadon’s “The Once and Future Goddess” pg.119

[2] From Anne Baring and Jules Cashford’s “The Myth of the Goddess – Evolution of an Image”

[3] Eventually as life in the Middle East changed and became less peaceful, Inanna was turned into a Goddess of War. This, however, was not one of Her initial attributes!

[4] Later myth passes the “me” on to the god Enki, by then described as Her father, who gives them to Inanna only to regret his decision later.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chii
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:25:12

    It’s virtually impossible not to be overwhelmed by Her Pagan glory and power when one beholds Her with an open mind. The Mother Goddess is the most beautiful and true Deity to worship, the first to be revealed to the humanity in all cultures.

    Reply

  2. vessle
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 06:18:03

    The use of gender is incorrect, as is the use of goddess/god. They are immortals, they are not bound by time. As immortals they cannot experience life without death, we as avatars are their conduit to life.

    Reply

  3. Gavin White
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 14:51:01

    Hi Silvestra, I liked what you said about Inanna and the historical processes that influenced her character. I have come to similar conclusions concerning the changing geneaology of Inanna, the different belief systems concerning the dead and the link between cattle-pens and wombs!
    I’ve been researching goddess symbolism in ancient Near Eastern art and have just published the first of a pair of books largely about Inanna and her celestial symbolism. It’s called ‘The Queen of Heaven’. It concentrates on the general nature of Inanna and her bird aspect, as well as the basics of the symbol system used in the ‘fertility religions’. The second volume, which I hope to publish in the spring, will concentrate on her other animal symbols and a more detailed look at the symbolism of the constellations and planets.
    Yours, Gavin White

    Reply

  4. Ivy T.
    Mar 31, 2014 @ 17:08:35

    Inanna: Queen of the Heavens and Mother Goddess
    Inanna long pre-dates the Al ‘Ubaid people who were Arabs. The Arabs moved into the areas where Inanna cultures were already established.
    Inanna was one of the goddesses of the R1b people who lived in Mesopotamia thousands of years before Semites emerged out of Africa. The R people were eventually over-run by nomadic Semitic Arab tribes who raided the agricultural settlements and eventually took over, driving many R1b north into Anatolia where they became the Hittites and also into Europe. Today the Middle East still has about 20% R1b men whose ancestors never left.
    R1b is the non-Semitic (non-Arab) yDNA signature of the Egyptian royal family of Ramses and King Tutankhamen.
    R1b is the most common signature of western Europeans. Remember that European peoples once lived in Mesopotamia on their way north out of Africa. During the Ice Ages Europeans did not live in Europe, which was covered in ice. Europeans lived in Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean, which was not a large sea then as the sea levels were so low, leaving the Mediterranean a fertile savannah, cut with small rivers and dotted with lakes. As the ice age warmed up, R1 people moved north, but some remained in the region.
    Inanna was one of the goddesses of the European people when their ancestors still lived in Mesopotamia, before they were in Europe when Europe was still uninhabitable by ice. As the R1 people moved north, Inanna became Venus and Aphrodite of Greek and Roman mythology.
    We see the closest legacy of the Mother Goddess Inanna in the Indo-European language of northern Europeans who left Mesopotamia first. The term “Nanny” which is a term for mother comes from the word Inanna. Also the word “Nana” for ancestral mother (usually grandmother, but also any other ancestral mother) comes directly from the time when the Mother Goddess Inanna was their term for the symbolic Mother Goddess of all creation.
    A reason why the early Christian Church had to emphasize the worship of Mother Mary was to replace the many European derivatives of Inanna worship (under various names) with Mother Mary worship. The Jewish and Islamic religions do not promote worship of mothers, females or goddesses. The native religions of Semitic peoples did not worship mothers or females. Some semites who invaded prior civilizations with goddesses adopted them, or just lived among those R1 peoples who had established the Mother Goddess in the near east. Judaism and Islam demanded that Semites stop worshipping the goddesses established by non-Semitic peoples.
    Arabs were the last people to emerge out of Africa. Arabs were raiders when they first emerged, not agriculturalists or builders. They invaded the regions where the Mother Goddess of Inanna had long been established. This clash drove most R1 people out, but some stayed behind accounting for why up to 20% of Arabs have more ancient R1 male fathers. However the majority of R1 males and their women moved north into Europe taking the Mother Goddess Inanna with them as Nanny, Nana, Venus and Aphrodite

    Reply

  5. Trackback: Descent of Inanna into Bohemia Grove | rosamondpress

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