(Book Review) Inanna: Queen of Heaven And Earth; Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer

To do away with context and prelude, skip forward the next three paragraphs.

Follows is a review of the aforementioned title. The book was put out in the early 1980s. Which if I’m not mistaken puts it in line with the beginning of a “revolution” in “occult” which tended towards the homogenisation of many trends into the burgeoning “New Age” “Movement.” In which a predisposition towards a default near-eastern and oriental fetishism became fashionable, as opposed to the equally reactionary upholstery of “Western” (read Græco-Roman) values that preceded it. Ironically, there was a ‘conflict’ of sorts for the future of thee would be New Age wherein Wicca and Thelema competed for mostly British and then American souls, the former having been an attempt originally at syncretism if various Celto-Germanic and occult ideologies into a uniquely British religion to (one presumes) act as a repellent against the occult being utilised by some German sectors of society during the last Europeans Civil War.

The above is for reference, even if it seems outside the scope of the review. It is helpful to remember that the myths of Inanna among others have occupied an uncertain corner of the “Western Canon” for many years. Attempts to “Britishise” these myths were undertaken by scholars like Waddell who appears to have been Britain’s Wieland. More recently, epics such as those of Sumeria underline revivals of subjects such as astrology and shamanism. So it pays to become familiarised with the material. I think. My understanding of Annie Dieu-Le-Veux’s writing is greatly bolstered by this book, as is my appreciation of the connections made by Markale in his writing.

One of the great takeaways I had in reading was how deeply entrenched Eros & erotica were in mythology prior to, one assumes, the sanitising effects of Christian monks and latter-day Victorian saints. The story of Inanna is inescapably erotic, one cannot avoid this with a shred of integrity. For to deny Her in that way would be a lie. But then and again: European myths were earthy in their way, harbouring elements that the post-Victorian, Puritan affected mind views as dangerously close to if not thoroughly obscene, whose themes were perhaps simply matters of course for a breed of ancestors more in tune with their various natural faculties than the bipolar husks our false society wishes us to be. Here we have a world in which the erotic is not to be contained, shied from, but extolled, celebrated and championed. And here is a world where that sensuality is not a spectacle divorced from the self, but part of the soul – explicitly. (Do we not look to the “occult” for “magical” rites of sex and fertility? Why should these be hidden?) Inanna is a Goddess of great appetites in no way constrained, strangled or enmeshed in faux-piety, Her appetites are not confined to a singular domain – she takes as tribute all which have historically, tentatively made life ‘good’ being food, shelter, love, sex and a few other things Maslow would have me bullet point. Something we are trained to see as intimidating, to no avail, and should perhaps see as refreshing. I’ve come to.

The book itself is organised topically, which I appreciate. The meat is split between Inanna’s story and Her hymns. There is also an introduction and lengthy commentary, for those who like such things. The writing is poetic and stylistic, meant to be read by eyes of the then current year. Given the timelessness of the material, one has no problem reading it.

The book’s main push is presented neutrally, allowing the reader to formulate and confirm their own biases (I walked away with plenty.) This is a refreshing change of pace, given the seemingly inescapable conclusions of editors and translators publishing after, say, 2010 or so at which point social commentary became increasingly imbedded. Follows is an encapsulation of her story, followed by a few takeaways from Her hymns.

In what sounds like primordial chaos, Inanna has Her beginning. The Sky God is away, and the God of Wisdom is with the Goddess of the Underworld when we meet Inanna. As the Gods were given their Dominion, Inanna takes a tree and plants it on the land which becomes her kingdom.

The tree grows quickly and wondrously, but soon attracts a serpent that cannot be tamed and a bird that cannot be shooed. Lilith makes her home in the trunk. Inanna is distressed and calls on all the Gods who entreat her to silence and unanswered prayers.

It is Gilgamesh who answers her when called upon. He dons his great armour and girds himself. He strikes the serpent and drives the bird off. Seeing this Lilith destroys her home and flees. Gilgamesh carves out her home in the tree, and She makes a place for him.

Now Inanna is laid upon with the Crown of the Steppes, at which point she “discovers” herself and grows comfortable with her sexual prowess. In full possession of her sexual prowess and fertility, she seeks Enki the God of Wisdom.

In Enki’s Hall Inanna is fed butter-cake, water and beer and treated as a God. She then drinks with Enki, her object being to secure his blessing. She is initiated through drinking 14 rounds of beer (on a full stomach? Ouch) while swearing increasingly complex oaths relating to the Mes (spiritual gifts.) Having outdrunk the God, Inanna is given many blessings of Enki.

When he wakes to sobriety later, Enki realises that she has consumed his attributes and was poised to replace him. He then lies to rescue the Mes from her. Inanna calls on Ninshubur, the old Queen of the East. She repels Enki. Inanna then crowns herself Queen, and Enki is forced to relent and surrender his full blessings.

Eventually Inanna falls in love with the Sun God, Utu, Her brother. Utu rejects her, to Her pain and consternation. He recommends She seek comfort in Dumuzi, the shepherd. At first Inanna is repulsed and protests in Her heartache, but Utu insists.

After a time of boasting, of oaths and proving his pedigree, Inanna begins to see Herself with him. This is no doubt helped by Dumuzi’s bribery of Her with cream and milk and promises to secure for Her the finest faire. Her future secured, she agrees to be wed.

She awaits Dumuzi in ceremonial robe, adorned with makeup and anointed with oil. She speaks saucily with pillow talk to make the Canticle of Canticles blush. Their union causes Earth to blossom, crops to grow and so forth. Following the incense, oil and ritual sex, Inanna prescribes herself Queen of Heaven and crowns Dumuzi King.

Later, Inanna takes her servant Ninshubur aside and declares her aim to travel to Kur, the underworld and lair of her sister Ereshkigal. Because none may enter while living, Inanna lies and says the Bull of Heaven has been unjustly taken.

Ereshkigal sees through the rise and makes secret demands of her servants. Inanna is to be stripped naked, piece by piece at each door descending down and bowed low before her. Inanna goes deep, but is stripped bare and bent low. She comes naked before Ereshkigal and bows, but Ereshkigal turns the Eye of Death upon her and kills her.

Ninshubur calls on the Gods in turn but the lot of them, save Enki, are worthless. Enki creates sexless golems Kurgurra and Galatur who infiltrate Kur. The golems imitate Ereshkigal who is suffering from some kind of stomach pain, and in wonder she offers them gifts. The golems refuse, and submit they will settle only for Inanna.

Ereshkigal agrees and Inanna is fed the food and drink of life. Inanna makes way to leave, but is thwarted by Annuna – judges of Kur. None touched by death can leave Ereshkigal. She cannot leave unmarked, only by trading another’s life for her own can she leave. They try to take Ninshubur, but Inanna denies them. In the end, they seek Dumuzi whom Inanna betrays to Kur by declaring his guilt and having Ereshkigal turn the Eye. The Eye of Death is turned on him, but Dumuzi prays to the Gods to make his limbs into serpents. They hear him. In this way he flees to the Steppes from which he came.

In hiding, Dumuzi calls on his mother Sirtir to weep, as he is haunted by death. He calls upon his sister Geshtinanna and she tries to hide him. She is tortured but does not betray him. Nevertheless demons find him, and Dumuzi prays to be given the limbs of a gazelle to flee again. In the end, he is caught, and he is rendered dead.

It is said Inanna’s lamentation was that never no more would her paramour do her honour. No games, no wars, nothing done in her name. Sirtir weeps for her son, and then Geshtinanna for her brother. They find Dumuzi in the Steppes and deliver him to Ereshkigal in soul.

Stories don’t always reflect all truths, so when dealing with ancient Gods it pays to examine them by myth, by votive and hymn. In the Hymns to Inanna we learn She was the first daughter of the moon. She was crowned with horns. She manipulates weather according to her emotional whims, relative to her own cycles. The Gods submit to Her. Physical purification, such as ritual bathing and anointing, are requisite to being seen or heard by her. She is placated with food offerings by old women. She is generally held to exact cosmic justice against unmet evils. She is fed the finest food and drink by men and Gods alike, who are supplicants to Her. Her relationships are symbolic of all love, whose adornments form the basis of symbolic and ritual weddings. These rituals were highly sensual. And in these symbolic marriages, Inanna is the jewel- focal point.

So there it is. I think my big take away from the book was a revaluation of Goddesses and the Nature of women. It is a token of modernity I think to separate a woman’s soul from her carnality. Better minds than mine have had much to say about souls without flesh being ghosts, and bodies without souls being beasts. The material comfort a woman enjoys reflects the successful Providence of her husband. The barometer for measuring a society’s worth. Inanna is said to be an exceedingly ancient form of Goddess. Among the earliest. While I don’t believe this is true, and there are far older to find, I can see why She might provide a missing link. I understand it is a dead horse being beaten to point out that before the advent of subverted Christendom one did not apologise for their nature. But here we are. Inanna represents to me a force of nature, uncensored, unmitigated. She is not unlike some of the older Irish Goddesses who themselves were earthy creatures. And one wonders if the Vanir themselves were not unlike Inanna – after all, we know they struggled with the conventions of the Æsir who unlike them had many taboos and superstitions which balanced the license of the Vans.

What I don’t understand is the end of Dumuzi. I’ve read elsewhere that he is a character similar to Baldur/Bældæg, Manon and Persephone/Proserpine in that his return from Kur/Underworld is seasonal. And that his interplay with Inanna forms a cosmic drama overlaying the earthly. But this book made no attempt in the core text to illustrate this. So perhaps I might lean on the kindness of better read souls than mine in this new arena to clarify things below in comment, if the spirit so moves you. Dankeschön.

3 thoughts on “(Book Review) Inanna: Queen of Heaven And Earth; Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer

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