World Deities: Inanna

In Sumeria, the Mother of All Things was known as the Goddess Inanna. Around 2,300 BCE, its chief priestess, Enheduanna, composed The Exaltation of Inanna, meaning the first god, priest and poet were all female. Stories about Inanna had been handed down from one generation to the next for hundreds of years. One of the most popular ones tells of Inanna’s descent into the underworld. The Goddess wanted to better understand her people, so she came down from her throne in the sky to visit the realm of the Underworld, to face mortality and death. At the first of the seven gates of the Underworld, she was stopped by a gatekeeper who demanded she surrender some part of herself. At each gate she was stopped, giving up her wealth, her power, her clothing, her jewels. Finally, stripped of all her possessions, she stood naked before Eriskegel, the Goddess of Death. Who killed her. When Inanna failed to return, her father sent two creatures to revive her. But the Land of the Dead required a substitute for the life it was giving back, and on her way back up, she fought to free the gods being taken in her place. When she finally made it home, she found that her schmuck of a boyfriend had hijacked her throne. So she gave him to the Underworld as her permanent replacement. Poetic justice, I hear you cry!

Because of Inanna’s death and rebirth, her people saw her as the protectress of the whole realm of the human and natural worlds, the Underworld as well as the Realm of the Living. She represented The womb and tomb – the full cycle of life. When it came to honouring the Goddess, her people depicted her with a winged staff twined with serpents, and a labrys, a double headed axe. The first represented her ability to travel freely between the worlds; the second symbolised the butterfly, the emblem of transformation and rebirth. Together these symbols represented Inanna’s power both to bestow life and take it away.

Inanna was also the Goddess of Fertility, and the Sumerians told tales of grain pouring forth from her womb. She was the goddess of trees, grain and vine, and sacred offerings of fruited bread were placed on her altars. These Cakes for the Queen of Heaven celebrated the nourishment and transformation of the goddess.

Inanna, then, is the perfect goddess for Easter Week.

© Carly Dugmore

Inanna