Inanna is the Sumerian mother Goddess, queen of heaven and ruler of the cycles of the seasons and fertility. She was also called Nina; the name Inanna may be a derivative of Nina. She was the most widely known goddess in the later periods of Sumer. The most important legend involving her is that of the sacrifice of the divine king for the fertility of the land, and his descent to the underworld. The myth is similar to that of Ishtar, the Babylonian and Assyrian mother goddess with whom Inanna became identified.
Inanna’s son-lover-consort was Damuzi (also spelled Dumuzi and Daimuz), who, after proving himself upon her bed in a rite of hieros gamos, or sacred marriage, was made shepherd of the land by her. Once, Inanna walked down the steps of death to the underworld, the Land of No return, or Irkalla. She was taken captive by the Gallas, a host of Demons, and was freed only by promising that she would substitute another life for her own. She returned to heaven to search for the sacrificial victim. She considered, but rejected, a loyal servant and two minor gods, Shara and Latarrek.
When she entered her own temple at Erech, Inanna was shocked to find Damuzi dressed in royal robes and sitting on her throne, instead of out tending his flocks. He seemed to be celebrating her absence rather than mourning it. Enraged, she looked at him with the Eye of Death, and the Gallas dragged Damuzi off to the underworld. Each year, Inanna mourned his death, which brought winter to the land.
From about 2600 b.C.e., to post-Sumerian times, the kings of Sumer mystically identified themselves with Damuzi and were known as the “beloved husbands” of Inanna. At the New Year, an important rite of hieros gamos was performed between the king and the high priestess of Inanna, who represented the goddess.
Queen of Heaven; The One Who Is Joy; The One Who Roams About; The Lady of Battle and Confl ict; Lady of Victory; Opener of the Womb
Inanna is the original name of this Sumerian spirit. Ishtar is the Semitic name for this goddess. Even in ancient times, the names were used interchangeably. They refer to the same spirit although they manifest slightly differently. Ishtar is Inanna taken to a greater extreme: she is more sexual, more violent, more aggressive; more volatile. They are the same, but Ishtar is just more so.
Inanna-Ishtar is the archetype of the Near Eastern fertility/war goddess. (Some scholars believe that other goddesses of this ilk—Astarte, Anat, and Aphrodite—are actually paths of Inanna-Ishtar.) She gives life and she takes it away. Inanna-Ishtar battles all day and loves all night.
If we were discussing spirits of modern Haitian Vodou rather than ancient Mesopotamia, Ishtar would be the Petro spirit to Inanna’s Rada. Ishtar is essentially the equivalent of “Inanna La-Flambeau.”
Inanna-Ishtar is the supreme spirit of love, war, fertility, childbirth, and healing. She can cause and cure disease, bestow and withhold children. Her influence extends over humans, plants, and animals. In particular, she provides or withholds the spark of desire that initiates all procreative action and fertility.
• Inanna-Ishtar provides joy
• Inanna-Ishtar controls sexually transmitted diseases. She can heal them but may also bestow them as a mark of her displeasure and punishment.
• Inanna-Ishtar can kill or bless with a glance.
Inanna-Ishtar was no obscure cult spirit but was once worshipped in a major state-sponsored, organized religion. As society became increasingly patriarchal, Inanna-Ishtar fell from favor. The goddess in the guise of a sexy, young, independent warrior-woman was no longer considered an appropriate role model. A theme of disrespect towards her permeates the Epic of Gilga mesh, which dates from the third millennium BCE.
Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq)
A beautiful, young woman, lavishly dressed and bejeweled. She may be thousands of years old, but she consistently appears youthful. The Empress card in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck is based on her image. She is also known to manifest as a fig tree. Inanna-Ishtar sits on a lion throne and holds a double serpent scepter.
Crown of stars; lapis lazuli necklace; pitcher
Dolphins, lions, snakes, scorpions, hedgehogs; she owns seven hunting dogs; seven lions draw her chariot; she rides a fire-breathing dragon.
The center of her veneration was Uruk (the name Iraq may derive from this ancient city); her shrine at Khafajah, Iraq, dates from approximately 4000 BCE.
Incense; wine, artisanal beer, and sweet baked goods, especially if you bake them by hand and form them in her images (once upon a time, ancient cake molds were manufactured); but most of all absolute, unconditional adoration, devotion, and loyalty. She is a volatile, unpredictable, temperamental spirit, especially in her path as Ishtar. Well-maintained altar or artistic tributes should be pleasing.
- Ezili La Flambeau
- Ogun La Flambeau
- Rada Spirits
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.
Note: Since the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians and others all shared essentially the same pantheon and belief systems, these articles are all combined under the Mesopotamian mythology / deities / legendary creatures category.