Innin, Nin-ana, Queen of Heaven, Lady of Myriad Offices, Nin-kur-ra-igi-ga; “the queen who eyes the highland”
Family & Other Connections
Inanna was a Sumerian goddess.
Inanna’s parents were Anu or Nanna and Ningal. She was sister to Utu, Ishkur and Ereshkigal. She had a personal servant named Ninshubur and was consort – though not wife – to Dumuzi.
Information & Stories
Inanna appears in several myth stories and fragments, the most famous of which is Inanna’s descent into the underworld. In this story Inanna decides she will visit the underworld, ostensibly to attend the funeral rites of Ereshkigal’s husband. She dresses herself up in finery including jewels, mascara and a lapis lazuli measuring rod. These items are said to represent powerful mes (documents or tablets that granted power over all aspects of civilisation) that Inanna possessed.
Inanna instructed her servant Ninshubur to go to the gods Enlil, Nanna and Enki and plead for them to save her if anything were to go amiss. She then began her descent into the underworld; a place which those who enter can never leave again.
To reach Ereshkigal, Inanna must pass through seven gates, and at each one the gatekeeper demands she must remove one item of clothing or jewellery thus leaving her naked and powerless when she finally comes face to face with her sister. Nonetheless she makes Ereshkigal get up, and sits on the throne herself. Then the Anna, the seven judges, give their decision against her;
“They looked at her — it was the look of death. They spoke to her — it was the speech of anger. They shouted at her — it was the shout of heavy guilt. The afflicted woman was turned into a corpse. And the corpse was hung on a hook.”
After three days had passed and Inanna had not returned, Ninshubur did as instructed and demanded the gods save her. Enlil and Nanna refuse, saying that it was Inanna’s own fault, but Enki is sympathetic and fashions two figures named Gala-Tura and Kur-Jara using dirt from beneath the gods’ fingernails. He sends these to appease Ereshkigal and ask for Inanna’s body, which they are then to sprinkle with the food and water of life.
The figures go down into the underworld and find Ereshkigal suffering agonising pain. She offers to give them anything at all in exchange for relief, but they ask only for Inanna’s body. Once Inanna is revived Ereshkigal sends demons out of the underworld with her, saying that she is not free until someone has taken her place in the underworld.
The first person Inanna and the demons encounter is Ninshubur, but Inanna sees that her servant obeyed her well and has been mourning her, and forbids the demons from taking her. Next they come to Cara and Lulal, but they have also both been mourning Inanna and so she says the demons cannot take them either. Finally they find Dumuzi, Inanna’s consort. Despite Inanna having been in the underworld, Dumuzi has not been mourning her but is instead dressed in fine clothing and lounging beneath a tree. Inanna becomes enraged and condems him to take her place in the underworld.
In some versions of the story Dumuzi tries to escape his fate, receiving help from the gods in an effort to hide or disguise himself. Eventually he is found, but his sister begs for mercy and offers to take his place. An agreement is reached whereby Dumuzi spends six months a year in the underworld each year, but trades places with his sister for the other six. In typically unpredictable fashion, Inanna mourns for Dumzi when he is in the underworld each winter and at this time of the year her powers of fertility wane until he is released.
Inanna was the goddess of love, or perhaps lust; it was not marriage that was sacred to her, but illicit affairs and sexual adventure. Inanna is also associated with mating and fertility, but she is not a ‘mother’ goddess. She was also the goddess of war, stirring chaos and confusion amongst the enemy. She was also associated with rain and storms, which can be compared to the tempest of a battle.
Inanna was also known as the Lady of Myriad Offices, and was seen as a mediator who could calm – and enflame – passions;
To pester, insult, deride, desecrate- and to venerate- is your domain, Inanna.
Downheartedness, calamity, heartache- and joy and good cheer-is your domain, Inanna.
Trembling, affright, terror- dazzling and glory- is your domain, Inanna.
Inanna was a hugely important figure in Mesopotamia, and there has been discovered evidence for her worship dating back to the Uruk period, at 4000 to 3100 BCE. Her primary temple of worship was Eanna (“House of Heaven”) at Uruk, although there were shrines and temples sacred to her all along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Sacred prostitutes, feminine men and even aesexual and hermaphroditic people would have been particularly involved in the ritual practises and worship of Inanna at her temples.
As a Goddess of both love and war, Inanna was quite a complicated character, thought to be erratic in her movements. It is interesting to compare this to Venus – the morning and evening star which Inanna was associated with. Of all the heavenly bodies that could be observed at the time Inanna’s worship was widespread, Venus alone makes similarly erratic, confusing movements across the sky. Some myths featuring Inanna can be seen to describe through her actions the movements made by Venus across the sky.
Battle was sometimes known as the “dance of Inanna”.
Inanna is unusual in being a strong and independant female figure in an otherwise patriarchal pantheon.