Love, sex, and fertility have gone hand in hand since the beginning of time. In ancient Sumeria these three attributes were part of the goddess Inanna. She was also the goddess of warfare. A goddess of heaven and earth, Inanna was well loved by the Sumerian people and has counterparts in many other cultures as well. The goddess Ishtar is considered the Babylonian version of Inanna. Her symbol is that of an eight pointed star and her animal symbol is a lion. Her temples were filled by priestesses who practiced the act of sacred prostitution. The high-priestess would choose a man for her bed to act as Dumuzi, Inanna's husband. Often the men to take the role of Dumuzi in the temple were kings.
Descent Into the Underworld
One of the most well known of the Inanna myths is that of her descent into the underworld, which was ruled by her sister Ereshkigal. When approaching the gates to the underworld she tells the gatekeeper that if he doesn't open them, she will force them open and bring the dead to eat the living. In order to enter Inanna then had to pass through the seven gates of hell. At each gate she was made to leave one article of clothing behind as she proceeded. By the seventh gate she was left naked and angry and seats herself on Ereshkigal's throne. The seven judges are upset by this and turn Inanna into a corpse and hang her dead naked body on a hook.
Although she had been killed, this was not the end of Inanna. Before she went to the underworld Inanna told her minister Ninshubur to ask for help from the gods Enlil, Nanna and Enki if she did not return. After three days of not returning, Ninshubar followed her orders and approached Enlil, Inanna's grandfather, for help. He refused saying that it was her own fault. Next Ninshubar went to Nanna, the father of Inanna, who also refused by saying it was a mess she gotten herself into. After being refused by the first two gods Ninshubar went to Enki for help. Enki was very upset by the news of Inanna's death and created two creatures called gala-tura and kur-jara to go to Ereshkigal and ask for Inanna's corpse. They would then take the food and water of life and sprinkle it on the body.
When the two sexless figures made by Enki arrive in the underworld they find Ereshkigal experiencing pains like those of a woman in labor and she offers them what they want if they can take away her pain. They take Inanna's body but leave without taking away the goddess of the underworld's pain. Gala-tura and kur-jara revive Inanna, however, she is followed by demons and told that she can't go free until she finds someone to take her place in the underworld.
Once out of the world of the dead the first person Inanna and the demons come across is the priestess Ninshubar who throws herself at the feet of the goddess. The galla demons tell Inanna they will take Ninshubar to the underworld in her place, but Inanna won't let them, saying that she is her constant support and saved her life.
The next person they came across was Inanna's son, Shara. He was dressed in soiled clothing and threw himself at her feet. The galla said they would take him but Inanna refused yelling that he is her son, and she will never give Shara to them. They then came across her son Lulal, also dressed in soiled clothing. He threw himself at her feet and the galla said they would take him. She refused.
When Inanna and the galla arrived in Inanna's city they found her husband, the shepherd Dumuzi, sitting on his throne dressed in his best clothing enjoying himself while Inanna was still believed dead in the underworld. This angered the goddess and Inanna tells the galla demons to take him. They proceed to do so but Dumuzi's sister asks that the demons take her instead. It is decided that Dumuzi and his sister will each spend half of each year in the underworld.
Other Inanna Myths
The goddess Inanna appears in many other myths including the epic of Gilgamesh when she asks the hero to marry her. He refuses and points out to the goddess the sad fates of all her previous lovers. This angers Inanna and she goes to heaven to complain to the god An and demands she be given the Bull of Heaven or she will bring the dead to life. She is given the Bull which she then sends to attach Gilgamesh and Enkidu, his friend. They kill the bull causing Inanna to curse the pair saying she will "lash their entrails to their sides" should she ever be able to lay her hands on them. She then gathers the prostitutes from her temples together and they mourn the loss of the Bull of Heaven.
Inanna is known to want her way, and to punish those who refuse. She manipulates those around her in order to achieve her goal. An example of this is when Inanna approaches the god Enki and brings him out to drink. Once he is drunk she is able to convince him to give her hundreds of Mes. The Mes give the owner power over the aspects of culture they represent. Once sober, Enki tries to stop Inanna and take the Mes back but fails.
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