The Ever-Abiding Love & Sex Goddess

Lilith/Inanna/Ishtar/Ereshkigal plaque, 19th-18th century BCE — Old Babylonian Period, British Museum (the figure was originally painted red, perhaps giving rise to the Scarlett Woman/Whore of Babylon biblical trope.)

Patricist literary tradition holds that the Epic of Gilgamesh and Enkidu is the oldest epic poem in existence, but there is one that is far more ancient, from an earlier Sumerian civilization. In the liturgy and literature of Inanna in the form of a long poem called ‘The Descent of Inanna,’ the titular goddess descends into the Underworld to observe the funeral rites of her avatar and divine consort Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven slain by Gilgamesh and Enkidu, and to visit her sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Dead. This liturgy is the origin of the ritual ‘Dance of the Seven Veils,’ whereby a veil, or divine garment of the Goddess’ regalia, is shed at each of the seven thresholds of the Underworld before she is finally granted entry, naked as the day She was born.

Inanna unveiling, with Her 8-pointed star (Venus)

“The Descent of Inanna describes, as the title suggests, the ancient Sumerian goddess Inanna’s descent into the underworld — Inanna being the daughter of Nanna, and the Sumerian goddess of love, beauty, fertility, and wisdom, among other things. Although The Descent of Inanna is a short work (it runs to little over 400 lines, making it a little shorter than a poem like The Waste Land), it contains many of the elements we associate with epic poetry (such as the descent into the Underworld), and elements of the story are found in the later myths of the descent of Ishtar and the Greek story of Persephone and Hades.” (https://interestingliterature.com/2018/05/the-first-epic-poem-the-descent-of-inanna/?fbclid=IwAR0k6cIcE_dGlLb5bLHyWiihFN_jKMzQ5zGvxQEpe9zNWIa9XJLNPB2YnBo)

The warrior hero gods challenging the Great Goddess Inanna

This section of Wolkstein’s translation, with its obvious and abundant sexual metaphors, makes it clear that Inanna is a Goddess of sex and sexuality:

‘My vulva, the horn,
The Boat of Heaven,
Is full of eagerness like the
young moon.
My untilled land lies fallow.
As for me, Inanna,
Who will plow my vulva?
Who will plow my high field?
Who will plow my wet ground?

Inanna/Ishtar with Her lover and spouse, Damuzi
Inanna/Ishtar with Her lover and spouse, Damuzi

Dumuzi courteously replies that he would be more than happy to plow Inanna’s vulva for Her:

At the king’s lap stood the rising cedar.

Inanna then sings:
‘He has sprouted; he has burgeoned;
He is lettuce planted by the water
He is the one my womb loves best…
My honey-man, my honey-man sweetens me always.

My lord, the honey-man of the gods,
He is the one my womb loves best.
His hand is honey, his foot is honey,
He sweetens me always.[…]

Make your milk sweet and thick, my bridegroom.
My shepherd I will drink your fresh milk.
Wild bull, Dumuzi, make your milk sweet and thick.
I will drink your fresh milk.
Let the milk of the goat flow in my sheepfold.
Fill my holy churn with honey cheese.
Lord Dumuzi, I will drink your fresh milk’

Scenes of Inanna often show her nude, especially if portrayed with her lover and/or spouse, Damuzi. ‘The Iconography of Inana/Ištar is as varied as her characteristics….Attributed to early Sumerian history, the so-called “sacred marriage” ceremony celebrated the marriage of Inana (represented by her high priestess) and Dumuzi (represented by the ruler) during the New Year’s festival to ensure prosperity and abundance (Szarzyńska 2000: 63). Practiced in the late third and early second millennium BCE, the sacred marriage rite, which may have “have been only an intellectual construct, rather than an event in real life”, nevertheless served to express the relationship between the king and the divine world (Jones 2003: 291). Accordingly, that many third-millennium rulers described themselves as her spouse, points to Inana’s significant agency in wielding political power (Westenholz 2000: 75)…In human form as the goddess of sexual love, Inana/Ištar is often depicted fully nude. In Syrian iconography, she often reveals herself by holding open a cape. The nude female is an extremely common theme in ancient Near Eastern art, however, and although variously ascribed to the sphere of Inana/Ištar (as acolytes or cult statuettes), they probably do not all represent the goddess herself. A sound indication of divine status is the presence of the horned cap.’ (http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/inanaitar/)

Inanna/Ishtar with Her lover and spouse, Damuzi

‘There is, arguably, a persistent commonality between these two natures of Inana/Ištar: her sexuality. The young Inana of Sumerian poetry, who says “Plough my vulva, man of my heart” Leick 1994: 91) is no less desirous than the Inana/Ištar portrayed in Gilgameš: “Let us enjoy your strength, so put your hand and touch our vulva!” (Dalley 2000: 79).’

Inanna/Ishtar with Her lover and spouse, Damuzi, in their arbour beneath a bough of the Tree of Life. He is handing Her the sceptre of rule.
Inanna/Ishtar with Her lover and spouse, Damuzi

‘The Descent of Inanna’ includes some of the most erotic courtship language ever encountered, presented in a rhythmic verse form with repeating refrains, as if crafted to be sung or chanted in ritual or sacred theatre and temple choreography. It is very obviously the model for ‘The Song of Solomon’ in the Old Testament, venerating the eroticized body and lauding reciprocal sexual pleasure:

‘She has sprouted, she has burgeoned, she is well-watered lettuce, my shaded garden of the desert, richly flourishing, she is well-watered lettuce, my grain lovely in beauty in its furrows, she is well-watered lettuce; my first-class fruitful apple tree, she is well-watered lettuce.’ (Dumuzi-Inanna E, 1–4)

I'm a writer/researcher/arts educator on Vancouver Island and all round global citizen who loves humans even though we're such a phenomenal pain-in-the-ass.