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 honour was the centerpiece of the cities. Inanna was the queen of seven temples throughout Sumer. 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 – wisdom and gifts that inspired and ensured their growth sensuous lover in The Courtship of Inanna and Damuzi. Indeed, Inanna is herself the Goddess of Love, and it is this aspect and power — creativity, procreative, raw 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 mo st 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.
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 which 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 relinquishes 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, gala, below to rescue Inanna, Ereshkigal was struggling to five 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 insured 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 served to humble the imprudent King.
Song to Inanna
My Lady looks
in sweet wonder from heaven.
The people of Sumer parade
before the holy Inanna.
Inanna, the Lady of the Morning,
I sing your praises, Holy Inanna.
The Lady of the Morning
is radiant on the horizon.
Journey to the Dark Center
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!
It is you who teaches us
to die, be reborn and rise again.
Die, be reborn, and rise!
Queen of Heaven and Earth
This article was transcribed from SageWoman Magazine, Issue #17, Samhain 1991 (or Autumn 1991).