Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Inanna (life/spring) and Ereskigal (death/autumn)

Posted by Fredsvenn on September 27, 2014

Anu existed in Sumerian cosmogony as a dome that covered the flat earth; Outside of this dome was the primordial body of water known as Tiamat. Anu had several consorts, the foremost being Ki (earth), Nammu, and Uras. By Ki he was the father of, among others, the Anunnaki gods. By Uras he was the father of Nin’insinna.

According to legends, heaven and earth were once inseparable until An and Ki bore Enlil, god of the air, who cleaved heaven and earth in two. An and Ki were, in some texts, identified as brother and sister being the children of Anshar and Kishar. Ki later developed into the Akkadian goddess Antu (also known as “Keffen Anu”, “Kef”, and “Keffenk Anum”).

In the astral theology of Babylonia and Assyria, Anu, Enlil, and Ea became the three zones of the ecliptic, the northern, middle and southern zone respectively. The purely theoretical character of Anu is thus still further emphasized, and in the annals and votive inscriptions as well as in the incantations and hymns, he is rarely introduced as an active force to whom a personal appeal can be made. His name becomes little more than a synonym for the heavens in general and even his title as king or father of the gods has little of the personal element in it.

A consort Antum (or as some scholars prefer to read, Anatum) is assigned to him, on the theory that every deity must have a female associate. But Anu spent so much time on the ground protecting the Sumerians he left her in Heaven and then met Innin, whom he renamed Innan, or, “Queen of Heaven”. She was later known as Inanna/Ishtar. Anu resided in her temple the most, and rarely went back up to Heaven. He is also included in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and is a major character in the clay tablets.

Nanna (Sumerian: DŠEŠ.KI, DNANNA) is a Sumerian deity, the son of Enlil and Ninlil, and became identified with Semitic Sin (Akkadian: Su’en, Sîn), the god of the moon in the Mesopotamian mythology. The two chief seats of Nanna’s/Sin’s worship were Ur in the south of Mesopotamia and Harran in the north.

His wife was the goddess of reeds, Ningal (“Great Lady”), who was the daughter of Enki and Ningikurga. She is chiefly recognised at Ur, and was probably first worshipped by cow-herders in the marsh lands of southern Mesopotamia.

Together, Nanna and Ningal got the siblings Utu/Shamash (“Sun”), the rain god Ishkur, Inanna/Ishtar and Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld.

Inanna is the Sumerian goddess of warfare, love, fertility, sexuality, fertility, and her worship included sacred prostitution. While Inanna was associated with the planet Venus, which at that time was regarded as two stars, the “morning star” and the “evening star”, Ereshkigal is the sister and counterpart of Inanna/Ishtar, the symbol of nature during the non-productive season of the year.

Inanna is never considered to have a permanent spouse, although Dumuzi, associated with the contiguous first constellation, Aries, is her lover. Gugalanna (lit. “The Great Bull of Heaven” <Sumerian gu “bull”, gal “great”, an “heaven”, -a “of”), who represent the constellation known today as Taurus, was the first husband of the Goddess Ereshkigal, however, her husband typically is the plague god, Nergal, who is connected with the planet Mars.

Inanna – Ninana

In every ancient Mediterranean civilization, it was a goddess who transmitted to humans the gift of making music. In Sumer it was Inanna (Ninana); in Egypt, Hathor (Ashera); in Greece, the nine-fold goddess called the Muses, and so on.

Inanna (Innin, Ennin, Ninnin, Ninni, Ninanna, Ninnar, Innina, Ennina, Irnina, Innini, Nana and Nin), the Sumerian goddess that later became known as Ishtar, is the Sumerian goddess of warfare, love, fertility, sexuality, fertility, and her worship included sacred prostitution.

She is also associated with rain and storms and with the planet Venus, regarded in astral traditions as the morning and evening star. She was associated with the eastern fish of the last of the zodiacal constellations, Pisces. It lies between Aquarius to the west and Aries to the east. The ecliptic and the celestial equator intersect within this constellation and in Virgo.

She is never considered to have a permanent spouse, although Dumuzi, associated with the contiguous first constellation, Aries, is her lover. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh points out Inanna’s infamous ill-treatment of her lovers. In the epic “Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld” she is responsible for sending Dumuzi to the Underworld.

Inanna’s name derives from Lady of Heaven (Sumerian: nin-an-ak). The cuneiform sign of Inanna; however, is not a ligature of the signs lady (Sumerian: nin; Cuneiform: SAL.TUG2) and sky (Sumerian: an; Cuneiform: AN).

Inanna can be considered the most prominent female deity in ancient Mesopotamia. As early as the Uruk period (ca. 4000–3100 BC), Inanna was associated with the E-Anna temple at the city of Uruk, her main centre.

She was associated with lions – even then a symbol of power – and was frequently depicted standing on the backs of two lionesses. With wings and serpents adorning her shoulders we can see a trace of the ancient Neolithic Bird and Snake Goddess. The eight pointed star or a rosette is her symbol as well. Her cuneiform ideogram was a hook-shaped twisted knot of reeds, representing the doorpost of the storehouse (and thus fertility and plenty).

She also is one of the Sumerian war deities: “She stirs confusion and chaos against those who are disobedient to her, speeding carnage and inciting the devastating flood, clothed in terrifying radiance. It is her game to speed conflict and battle, untiring, strapping on her sandals.” Battle itself is sometimes referred to as “the dance of Inanna.”

Inanna has a central role in the myth of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta. A major theme in the narrative is the rivalry between the rulers of Aratta and Uruk for the heart of Inanna. Ultimately, this rivalry results in natural resources coming to Uruk and the invention of writing.

The text describes a tension between the cities: The lord of Aratta placed on his head the golden crown for Inana. But he did not please her like the lord of Kulaba (A district in Uruk). Aratta did not build for holy Inana (sic.; Alternate spelling of ‘Inanna’) — unlike the Shrine E-ana (Temple in Uruk for Inanna).

The famous Uruk Vase (found in a deposit of cult objects of the Uruk III period) depicts a row of naked men carrying various objects, bowls, vessels, and baskets of farm produce, and bringing sheep and goats, to a female figure facing the ruler. This figure was ornately dressed for a divine marriage, and attended by a servant.

The female figure holds the symbol of the two twisted knots of reeds of the doorpost, signifying Inanna behind her, while the male figure holds a box and stack of bowls, the later cuneiform sign signifying En, or high priest of the temple. Especially in the Uruk period, the symbol of a ring-headed doorpost is associated with Inanna.

In various traditions, her siblings include the sun god Utu, the rain god Ishkur, and Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld.

Ereshkigal

In Mesopotamian mythology, Ereshkigal (DEREŠ.KI.GAL, lit. “great lady under earth”) was the goddess of Irkalla, the land of the dead or underworld. Sometimes her name is given as Irkalla, similar to the way the name Hades was used in Greek mythology for both the underworld and its ruler. It was said that she had been stolen away by Kur and taken to the underworld, where she was made queen unwillingly.

The goddess Ishtar refers to Ereshkigal as her older sister in the Sumerian hymn “The Descent of Inanna” (which was also in later Babylonian myth, also called “The Descent of Ishtar”). Inanna/Ishtar’s trip and return to the underworld is the most familiar of the myths concerning Ereshkigal.

Ereshkigal, just like Hel in the Norse mythology, was the only one who could pass judgment and give laws in her kingdom. The main temple dedicated to her was located in Kutha.

Hel is a being who presides over a realm of the same name, where she receives a portion of the dead. In Babylonian mythology, Irkalla (also Ir-Kalla, Irkalia) is the underworld from which there is no return. It is also called Arali, Kigal, Gizal, and the lower world. Irkalla is ruled by the goddess Ereshkigal and her consort, the death god Nergal.

Irkalla was originally another name for Ereshkigal, who ruled the underworld alone until Nergal was sent to the underworld and seduced Ereshkigal (in Babylonian mythology). Both the deity and the location were called Irkalla, much like how Hades in Greek mythology is both the name of the underworld and the god who ruled it.

Hades (from Ancient Greek Hāidēs; Doric Aidas) was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. Eventually, the god’s name came to designate the abode of the dead. In Greek mythology, Hades is the oldest male child of Cronus and Rhea considering the order of birth from the mother, or the youngest, considering the regurgitation by the father. Aita (also spelled Eita in Etruscan inscriptions) is the name of the Etruscan equivalent to the Greek Hades, the divine ruler of the underworld.

The aedes was the dwelling place of a god. It was thus a structure that housed the deity’s image, distinguished from the templum or sacred district. Aedes is one of several Latin words that can be translated as “shrine” or “temple”. For instance, the Temple of Vesta, as it is called in English, was in Latin an aedes. See also the diminutive aedicula, a small shrine.

The term “Hades” in Christian theology (and in New Testament Greek) is parallel to Hebrew sheol (“grave, dirt-pit”), and refers to the abode of the dead. The Christian concept of hell is more akin to and communicated by the Greek concept of Tartarus, a deep, gloomy part of Hades used as a dungeon of torment and suffering.

Ereshkigal is the sister and counterpart of Inanna/Ishtar, the symbol of nature during the non-productive season of the year. Ereshkigal was also a queen that many gods and goddesses looked up to in the underworld.

She is known chiefly through two myths, believed to symbolize the changing of the seasons, but perhaps also intended to illustrate certain doctrines which date back to the Mesopotamia period. According to the doctrine of two kingdoms, the dominions of the two sisters are sharply differentiated, as one is of this world and one of the world of the dead.

One of these myths is Inanna’s descent to the netherworld and her reception by her sister who presides over it; Ereshkigal traps her sister in her kingdom and Inanna is only able to leave it by sacrificing her husband Dumuzi in exchange for herself.

She is the mother of the goddess Nungal, a goddess of the underworld. Her son with Enlil was the god Namtar (meaning destiny or fate), a hellish minor deity, the god of death, and minister and messenger of An, Ereshkigal, and Nergal. With Gugalana her son was Ninazu, a god of the underworld, and of healing, and the father of Ningiszida. Unlike his close relative Nergal, he was generally benevolent.

Allatu (Allatum) is an underworld goddess modeled after the mesopotamic goddess Ereshkigal and worshipped by western Semitic peoples, including the Carthaginians. She also may be equate with the Canaanite goddess Arsay, according to texts the third daughter of Baal at Ugarit.

Namtar

Namtar, the son of Enlil and Ereshkigal, was considered responsible for diseases and pests. It was said that he commanded sixty diseases in the form of demons that could penetrate different parts of the human body; offerings to him were made to prevent those illnesses.

To some they were the spirit of fate, and therefore of great importance. Apparently they executed the instructions given him concerning the fate of men, and could also have power over certain of the gods. In other writings they were regarded as the personification of death, much like the modern concept of the Grim Reaper.

In the story of Ishtar’s Descent to earth, acting as Ereshkigal’s ‘messenger’, Namtar curses Ishtar with 60 diseases, naming five of the head, feet, side, eyes, and heart, after she arrives to earth. He was married to the underworld goddess Hušbišag.

Nergal

The other myth is the story of Nergal, the plague god. Once, the gods held a banquet that Ereshkigal as queen of the Netherworld cannot come up to attend. They invite her to send a messenger and she sends Namtar, her vizier. He is treated well by all but disrespected by Nergal.

As a result of this, Nergal is banished to the kingdom controlled by the goddess. Versions vary at this point, but all of them result in him becoming her husband. In later tradition, Nergal is said to have been the victor, taking her as wife and ruling the land himself.

It is theorized that the story of Inanna’s descent is told to illustrate the possibility of an escape from the netherworld, while the Nergal myth is intended to reconcile the existence of two rulers of the netherworld: a goddess and a god.

The addition of Nergal represents the harmonizing tendency to unite Ereshkigal as the queen of the netherworld with the god who, as god of war and of pestilence, brings death to the living and thus becomes the one who presides over the dead.

The name Nergal, Nirgal, or Nirgali was a deity worshipped throughout Mesopotamia (Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia) with the main seat of his worship at Cuthah represented by the mound of Tell-Ibrahim. He is the son of Enlil and Ninlil.

Nergal is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the deity of the city of Cuth (Cuthah): “And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal” (2 Kings, 17:30). According to the rabbins, his emblem was a cock and Nergal means a “dunghill cock”, although standard iconography pictured Nergal as a lion.

Nergal actually seems to be in part a solar deity, sometimes identified with Shamash, but only a representative of a certain phase of the sun. Portrayed in hymns and myths as a god of war and pestilence, Nergal seems to represent the sun of noontime and of the summer solstice that brings destruction, high summer being the dead season in the Mesopotamian annual cycle.

Nergal was also the deity who presides over the netherworld, and who stands at the head of the special pantheon assigned to the government of the dead (supposed to be gathered in a large subterranean cave known as Aralu or Irkalla). The conception formed of him as a god of the dead acted in making him feared rather than actively worshipped.

In this capacity he has associated with him a goddess Allatu or Ereshkigal, though at one time Allatu may have functioned as the sole mistress of Aralu, ruling in her own person. In some texts the god Ninazu is the son of Nergal and Allatu/Ereshkigal.

Ordinarily Nergal pairs with his consort Laz. Standard iconography pictured Nergal as a lion, and boundary-stone monuments symbolise him with a mace surmounted by the head of a lion.

Nergal’s fiery aspect appears in names or epithets such as Lugalgira, Lugal-banda (Nergal as the fighting-cock), Sharrapu (“the burner,” a reference to his manner of dealing with outdated teachings), Erra, Gibil (though this name more properly belongs to Nusku), and Sibitti or Seven.

A certain confusion exists in cuneiform literature between Ninurta (slayer of Asag and wielder of Sharur, an enchanted mace) and Nergal. Nergal has epithets such as the “raging king,” the “furious one,” and the like. A play upon his name—separated into three elements as Ne-uru-gal (lord of the great dwelling) — expresses his position at the head of the nether-world pantheon.

In the late Babylonian astral-theological system Nergal is related to the planet Mars. As a fiery god of destruction and war, Nergal doubtless seemed an appropriate choice for the red planet, and he was equated by the Greeks either to the combative demigod Heracles (Latin Hercules) or to the war-god Ares (Latin Mars) — hence the current name of the planet.

In Assyro-Babylonian ecclesiastical art the great lion-headed colossi serving as guardians to the temples and palaces seem to symbolise Nergal, just as the bull-headed colossi probably typify Ninurta.

Nergal’s chief temple at Cuthah bore the name Meslam, from which the god receives the designation of Meslamtaeda or Meslamtaea, “the one that rises up from Meslam”. The name Meslamtaeda/Meslamtaea indeed is found as early as the list of gods from Fara while the name Nergal only begins to appear in the Akkadian period.

Amongst the Hurrians and later Hittites Nergal was known as Aplu (Apollo), a name derived from the Akkadian Apal Enlil, (Apal being the construct state of Aplu) meaning “the son of Enlil”. As God of the plague, he was invoked during the “plague years” during the reign of the Hittite king Suppiluliuma, when this disease spread from Egypt.

The worship of Nergal does not appear to have spread as widely as that of Ninurta, but in the late Babylonian and early Persian period, syncretism seems to have fused the two divinities, which were invoked together as if they were identical.

Being a deity of the desert, god of fire, which is one of negative aspects of the sun, god of the underworld, and also being a god of one of the religions which rivaled Christianity and Judaism, Nergal was sometimes called a demon and even identified with Satan. According to Collin de Plancy and Johann Weyer, Nergal was depicted as the chief of Hell’s “secret police”, and worked as an “an honorary spy in the service of Beelzebub”.

Ereshkigal and Gugalana

Ereshkigal rules the underworld in some versions of the myths by herself, sometimes with a husband subordinate to her named Gugalana (lit. “The Great Bull of Heaven” < Sumerian gu “bull”, gal “great”, an “heaven”, -a “of”), a Sumerian deity as well as the constellation known today as Taurus, one of the twelve signs of the Zodiac.

Taurus was a constellation of the Northern Hemisphere Spring Equinox from about 3,200 BCE. It marked the start of the agricultural year with the New Year Akitu festival (from á-ki-ti-še-gur10-ku5, = sowing of the barley), an important date in Mespotamian religion. The death of Gugalanna, represents the obscuring disappearance of this constellation as a result of the light of the sun, with whom Gilgamesh was identified.

In the time in which this myth was composed, the Akitu festival at the Spring Equinox, due to the Precession of the Equinoxes did not occur in Aries, but in Taurus. At this time of the year, Taurus would have disappeared as it was obscured by the sun.

“Between the period of the earliest female figurines circa 4500 BC., a span of a thousand years elapsed, during which the archaeological signs constantly increase of a cult of the tilled earth fertilized by that noblest and most powerful beast of the recently developed holy barnyard, the bull – who not only sired the milk yielding cows, but also drew the plow, which in that early period simultaneously broke and seeded the earth.

Moreover by analogy, the horned moon, lord of the rhythm of the womb and of the rains and dews, was equated with the bull; so that the animal became a cosmological symbol, uniting the fields and the laws of sky and earth.”

Utu

Utu (Akkadian rendition of Sumerian UD “Sun”, Assyro-Babylonian Shamash “Sun”) is the Sun god in Sumerian mythology, the son of the moon god Nanna and the goddess Ningal (“Great Lady/Queen”), a goddess of reeds in the Sumerian mytholog. His brother and sisters are Ishkur and the twins Inanna and Ereshkigal. His center cult is located in the city of Larsa.

Utu is the god of the sun, justice, application of law, and the lord of truth. He is usually depicted as wearing a horned helmet and carrying a saw-edged weapon not unlike a pruning saw. Marduk is spelled AMAR.UTU in Sumerian, literally, “the calf of Utu” or “the young bull of the Sun”.

It is thought that every day, Utu emerges from a mountain in the east, symbolizing dawn, and travels either via chariot or boat across the Earth, returning to a hole in a mountain in the west, symbolizing sunset.

Every night, Utu descends into the underworld to decide the fate of the dead. He is also depicted as carrying a mace, and standing with one foot on a mountain. Its symbol is “sun rays from the shoulders, and or sun disk or a saw”.

The sun god is only modestly mentioned in Sumerian mythology with one of the notable exceptions being the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the myth, Gilgamesh seeks to establish his name with the assistance of Utu, because of his connection with the cedar mountain.

Gilgamesh and his father, Lugalbanda were kings of the first dynasty of Uruk, a lineage that Jeffrey H. Tigay suggested could be traced back to Utu himself. He further suggested that Lugalbanda’s association with the sun-god in the Old Babylonian version of the epic strengthened “the impression that at one point in the history of the tradition the sun-god was also invoked as an ancestor”.

Ishkur

Adad in Akkadian and Ishkur in Sumerian and Hadad in Aramaic are the names of the storm-god in the Babylonian-Assyrian pantheon. All three are usually written by the logogram dIM. The Akkadian god Adad is cognate in name and functions with northwest Semitic god Hadad.

In Akkadian, Adad is also known as Ramman (“Thunderer”) cognate with Aramaic Rimmon which was a byname of the Aramaic Hadad. Ramman was formerly incorrectly taken by many scholars to be an independent Babylonian god later identified with the Amorite god Hadad.

The Sumerian Ishkur appears in the list of gods found at Fara but was of far less importance than the Akkadian Adad later became, probably partly because storms and rain are scarce in southern Babylonia and agriculture there depends on irrigation instead.

Also, the gods Enlil and Ninurta also had storm god features which decreased Ishkur’s distinctiveness. He sometimes appears as the assistant or companion of one or the other of the two.

When Enki distributed the destinies, he made Ishkur inspector of the cosmos. In one litany Ishkur is proclaimed again and again as “great radiant bull, your name is heaven” and also called son of An, lord of Karkara; twin-brother of Enki, lord of abundance, lord who rides the storm, lion of heaven.

In other texts Adad/Ishkur is sometimes son of the moon god Nanna/Sin by Ningal and brother of Utu/Shamash and Inanna/Ishtar. He is also occasionally son of Enlil.

Adad/Ishkur’s consort (both in early Sumerian and later Assyrian texts) was Shala, a goddess of grain, who is also sometimes associated with the god Dagan. She was also called Gubarra in the earliest texts. The fire god Gibil (named Gerra in Akkadian) is sometimes the son of Ishkur and Shala.

Adad/Ishkur’s special animal is the bull. He is naturally identified with the Anatolian storm-god Teshub. Occasionally Adad/Ishkur is identified with the god Amurru, the god of the Amorites.

Inanna and Ninshubur

Inanna’s personal assistant is Ninshubur, the sukkal or second-in-command of the goddess Inanna in Sumerian mythology. A goddess in her own right, Ninshubur can be translated as ‘Queen of the East’, and she was said to be a messenger and traveller for the other gods. As Inanna was associated with the planet Venus, Ninshubur was said to be associated with Mercury, as Venus and Mercury appear together in the sky.

Ninshubur accompanied Inanna as a vassal and friend throughout Inanna’s many exploits. She helped Inanna fight Enki’s demons after Inanna’s theft of the sacred me. Later, when Inanna became trapped in the Underworld, it was Ninshubur who pleaded with Enki for her mistress’s release.

Though described as an unmarried virgin, in a few accounts Ninshubur is said to be one of Inanna’s lovers. In later Akkadian mythology, Ninshubur was male. In “A hymn to Nergal” Ninshubur appeared as the minister of the underworld. Due to similarities between the two, some believe the later Hermes to have been based in part on Ninshubur.

Inanna and Nanna/Sin

In different traditions Inanna is the daughter of Anu or she is the daughter of the moon god Sin (Akkadian: Su’en, Sîn) or Nanna (Sumerian: DŠEŠ.KI, DNANNA), the god of the moon in the Mesopotamian mythology of Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia.

Nanna is a Sumerian deity, the son of Enlil and Ninlil, and became identified with Semitic Sin. The two chief seats of Nanna’s/Sin’s worship were Ur in the south of Mesopotamia and Harran in the north.

The original meaning of the name Nanna is unknown. The earliest spelling found in Ur and Uruk is DLAK-32.NA (where NA is to be understood as a phonetic complement). The name of Ur, spelled LAK-32.UNUGKI=URIM2KI, is itself derived from the theonym, and means “the abode (UNUG) of Nanna (LAK-32)”.

The pre-classical sign LAK-32 later collapses with ŠEŠ (the ideogram for “brother”), and the classical Sumerian spelling is DŠEŠ.KI, with the phonetic reading na-an-na. The technical term for the crescent moon could also refer to the deity, DU4.SAKAR. Later, the name is spelled logographically as DNANNA.

The Semitic moon god Su’en/Sin is in origin a separate deity from Sumerian Nanna, but from the Akkadian Empire period the two undergo syncretization and are identified. The occasional Assyrian spelling of DNANNA-ar DSu’en-e is due to association with Akkadian na-an-na-ru “illuminator, lamp”, an epitheton of the moon god. The name of the Assyrian moon god Su’en/Sîn is usually spelled as DEN.ZU, or simply with the numeral 30, DXXX.

He is commonly designated as En-zu, which means “lord of wisdom”. During the period (c.2600-2400 BC) that Ur exercised a large measure of supremacy over the Euphrates valley, Sin was naturally regarded as the head of the pantheon.

It is to this period that we must trace such designations of Sin as “father of the gods”, “chief of the gods”, “creator of all things”, and the like. The “wisdom” personified by the moon-god is likewise an expression of the science of astronomy or the practice of astrology, in which the observation of the moon’s phases is an important factor.

His wife was Ningal (“Great Lady”), who bore him Utu/Shamash (“Sun”) and Inanna/Ishtar (the goddess of the planet Venus). The tendency to centralize the powers of the universe leads to the establishment of the doctrine of a triad consisting of Sin/Nanna and his children.

Sin had a beard made of lapis lazuli and rode on a winged bull. The bull was one of his symbols, through his father, Enlil, “Bull of Heaven”, along with the crescent and the tripod (which may be a lamp-stand).

On cylinder seals, he is represented as an old man with a flowing beard and the crescent symbol. In the astral-theological system he is represented by the number 30 and the moon. This number probably refers to the average number of days (correctly around 29.53) in a lunar month, as measured between successive new moons.

An important Sumerian text (“Enlil and Ninlil”) tells of the descent of Enlil and Ninlil, pregnant with Nanna/Sin, into the underworld. There, three “substitutions” are given to allow the ascent of Nanna/Sin. The story shows some similarities to the text known as “The Descent of Inanna”.

Nanna’s chief sanctuary at Ur was named E-gish-shir-gal (“house of the great light”). It was at Ur that the role of the En Priestess developed. This was an extremely powerful role held by a princess, most notably Enheduanna, daughter of King Sargon of Akkad, and was the primary cult role associated with the cult of Nanna/Sin.

Sin also had a sanctuary at the Assyrian city of Harran, named E-khul-khul (“house of joys”). The cult of the moon-god spread to other centers, so that temples to him are found in all the large cities of Babylonia and Assyria.

Inanna and An

In Sumerian mythology, Anu (also An; from Sumerian An, “sky, heaven”) was a sky-god, the god of heaven, lord of constellations, king of gods, spirits and demons, and dwelt in the highest heavenly regions.

It was believed that he had the power to judge those who had committed crimes, and that he had created the stars as soldiers to destroy the wicked. His attribute was the royal tiara. His attendant and minister of state was the god Ilabrat.

He was one of the oldest gods in the Sumerian pantheon and part of a triad including Enlil (god of the air) and Enki (god of water). In the astral theology of Babylonia and Assyria, Anu, Enlil, and Ea became the three zones of the ecliptic, the northern, middle and southern zone respectively.

By virtue of being the first figure in a triad consisting of Anu, Enlil, and Enki (also known as Ea), Anu came to be regarded as the father and at first, king of the gods.

Anu is so prominently associated with the E-anna temple in the city of Uruk (biblical Erech) in southern Babylonia that there are good reasons for believing this place to be the original seat of the Anu cult. If this is correct, then the goddess Inanna (or Ishtar) of Uruk may at one time have been his consort.

Anu had several consorts, the foremost being Ki (earth), Nammu, and Uras. By Uras he was the father of Nin’insinna. A consort Antum (or as some scholars prefer to read, Anatum) is assigned to him, on the theory that every deity must have a female associate. She was the first consort of Anu, and the pair was the parents of the Anunnaki and the Utukki.

Antu was a dominant feature of the Babylonian akit festival until as recently as 200 BC, her later pre-eminence possibly attributable to identification with the Greek goddess Hera.

But Anu spent so much time on the ground protecting the Sumerians he left her in Heaven and then met Inanna, or “Queen of Heaven”. Antu was replaced as consort by Ishtar or Inanna, who may also be a daughter of Anu and Antu.

According to legends, heaven and earth were once inseparable until An (sky) and Ki (earth) bore Enlil (time), god of the air, who cleaved heaven and earth in two.

An and Ki were, in some texts, identified as brother and sister being the children of Anshar and Kishar. Ki later developed into the Akkadian goddess Antu (also known as “Keffen Anu”, “Kef”, and “Keffenk Anum”).

Anu existed in Sumerian cosmogony as a dome that covered the flat earth; Outside of this dome was the primordial body of water known as Tiamat (not to be confused with the subterranean Abzu).

In Sumerian, the designation “An” was used interchangeably with “the heavens” so that in some cases it is doubtful whether, under the term, the god An or the heavens is being denoted.

The Akkadians inherited An as the god of heavens from the Sumerian as Anu-, and in Akkadian cuneiform, the DINGIR character may refer either to Anum or to the Akkadian word for god, ilu-, and consequently had two phonetic values an and il. Hittite cuneiform as adapted from the Old Assyrian kept the an value but abandoned il.

Inanna and sacred marriage

Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were many shrines and temples dedicated to Inanna. The House of Heaven (Sumerian: e2-anna; Cuneiform: E2.AN) temple in Uruk was the greatest of these, where sacred prostitution was a common practice.

In addition, according to Leick (1994) persons of asexual or hermaphroditic bodies and feminine men were particularly involved in the worship and ritual practices of Inanna’s temples (gala).

Ancient cuneiform texts consisting of “Hymns to Inanna” have been cited as early examples of the archetype of a powerful, sexual female displaying dominating behaviors and forcing Gods and men into submission to her.

Archaeologist and historian Anne O Nomis notes that Inanna’s rituals included cross-dressing of cult personnel, and rituals “imbued with pain and ecstasy, bringing about initiation and journeys of altered consciousness; punishment, moaning, ecstasy, lament and song, participants exhausting themselves with weeping and grief.”

The deity of this fourth-millennium city of Uruk was probably originally An. After its dedication to Inanna the temple seems to have housed priestesses of the goddess. The high priestess would choose for her bed a young man who represented the shepherd Dumuzid, consort of Inanna, in a hieros gamos or sacred marriage, celebrated during the annual Akitu (New Year) ceremony, at the spring Equinox.

According to Samuel Noah Kramer in The Sacred Marriage Rite, in late Sumerian history (end of the third millennium) kings established their legitimacy by taking the place of Dumuzi in the temple for one night on the tenth day of the New Year festival.

A Sacred Marriage to Inanna may have conferred legitimacy on a number of rulers of Uruk. Gilgamesh is reputed to have refused marriage to Inanna, on the grounds of her misalliance with such kings as Lugalbanda and Dumuzi.

Inanna and the planet Venus

Inanna was associated with the planet Venus, which at that time was regarded as two stars, the “morning star” and the “evening star.” There are hymns to Inanna as her astral manifestation. It also is believed that in many myths about Inanna, including Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld and Inanna and Shukaletuda, her movements correspond with the movements of Venus in the sky.

Also, because of its positioning so close to Earth, Venus is not visible across the dome of the sky as most celestial bodies are; because its proximity to the sun renders it invisible during the day. Instead, Venus is visible only when it rises in the East before sunrise, or when it sets in the West after sunset.

Because the movements of Venus appear to be discontinuous (it disappears due to its proximity to the sun, for many days at a time, and then reappears on the other horizon), some cultures did not recognize Venus as single entity, but rather regarded the planet as two separate stars on each horizon as the morning and evening star.

The Mesopotamians, however, most likely understood that the planet was one entity. A cylinder seal from the Jemdet Nasr period expresses the knowledge that both morning and evening stars were the same celestial entity.

The discontinuous movements of Venus relate to both mythology as well as Inanna’s dual nature. Inanna is related like Venus to the principle of connectedness, but this has a dual nature and could seem unpredictable. Yet as both the goddess of love and war, with both masculine and feminine qualities, Inanna is poised to respond, and occasionally to respond with outbursts of temper.

Mesopotamian literature takes this one step further, explaining Inanna’s physical movements in mythology as corresponding to the astronomical movements of Venus in the sky.

Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld explains how Inanna is able to, unlike any other deity, descend into the netherworld and return to the heavens. The planet Venus appears to make a similar descent, setting in the West and then rising again in the East.

In Inanna and Shukaletuda, in search of her attacker, Inanna makes several movements throughout the myth that correspond with the movements of Venus in the sky. An introductory hymn explains Inanna leaving the heavens and heading for Kur, what could be presumed to be, the mountains, replicating the rising and setting of Inanna to the West. Shukaletuda also is described as scanning the heavens in search of Inanna, possibly to the eastern and western horizons.

Enheduanna

Enheduanna (2285–2250 BCE), also transliterated as Enheduana, En-hedu-ana or EnHeduAnna (“en” means high priest or high priestess, and “hedu” means adornment, so this name translates to “high priestess adornment of the god, An”), was an Akkadian princess as well as High Priestess of the Moon god Nanna (Sin) in the Sumerian city-state of Ur.

She was the first known holder of the title “En Priestess”, a role of great political importance that was often held by royal daughters. Enheduanna was an aunt of Akkadian king Narām-Sîn and was one of the earliest women in history whose name is known.

Regarded by literary and historical scholars as possibly the earliest known author and poet, Enheduanna served as the “High Priestess” during the third millennium BCE. She was appointed to the role by her father, King Sargon of Akkad. Her mother was Queen Tashlultum.

Enheduanna has left behind a corpus of literary works, definitively ascribed to her, that include several personal devotions to the goddess Inanna and a collection of hymns known as the “Sumerian Temple Hymns,” regarded as one of the first attempts at a systematic theology. In addition, scholars, such as Hallo and Van Dijk, suggest that certain texts not ascribed to her may also be her works.

Enheduanna was appointed to the role of High Priestess in what is considered to be a shrewd political move by Sargon to help cement power in the Sumerian south where the City of Ur was located.

She continued to hold office during the reign of Rimush, her brother. It was during the reign of Rimush that she was involved in some form of political turmoil, expelled, then eventually reinstated as high priestess.

Her composition ‘The Exaltation of Inanna’ or ‘nin me sar2-ra’ details her expulsion from Ur and eventual reinstatement (Franke 1995: 835). This correlates with ‘The Curse of Akkade’ in which Naram-Sin, under whom Enheduanna may have also served, is cursed and cast out by Enlil. After her death, Enheduanna continued to be remembered as an important figure, perhaps even attaining semi-divine status.

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