The Exultant Myth Cycle of the Sumerian Goddess Inanna

Five thousand years ago, in the V-shaped land bordered by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the southern part of that war-torn place we now call Iraq, there lived a people called the Sumerians. They worshipped many Gods and Goddesses, but the most powerful and cherished of them all, was their Goddess Inanna. For even back then, that land was a hot, arid landscape, with no trees, no stone, no minerals- seemingly a place doomed to poverty.Using an ingenious system of irrigation, they transformed their harsh land into a prosperous Garden of Eden. Though they had their wars, they had more peace and there was enough stability in the Kingdom to allow them to flourish brilliantly.

They developed the first system of writing and built the first urban centres. Sumer became 'the cradle of civilisation'. Inanna, Goddess of Love, Sexuality and Fertility reigned supreme for over a thousand years.Inanna's portfolio was immense:
In the Heavens she was the Morning and Evening Star
Bringer of the Life Giving Rains and when angry, a loud and thundering storm.
On Earth she was Queen of all the Earth Gods and as well as being Goddess of Fertility she was also Goddess of Love, the Family and Sexual Desire.
She was even the Goddess of specific sexual arts like the kissing of the phallus.

She was the Goddess of the Cult Prostitute and the Street Prostitute
The Goddess of Truth but also of Deceit
The Goddess of War but also of Healing
She was Goddess of the Artisan, The Musician the Singer and the Scribe.In ancient times the high priestesses would perform this myth cycle over seven days and nights, including mating with the King to establish his virility, earn his Divine Right of Kingship from the Goddess and ensure the fertility the land. For the first thousand years of their civilisation, the Sumerians were farmers and so each year at the sacred rite, Inanna mated with and married the King, who was a farmer. Then came the Akkadians, the northern invaders, who were shepherds with different ways.

So the myth changed and Inanna began marrying the shepherd Dumuzi, who usurped the farmer. However Dumuzi retained some functions of the vegetation God who died and was reborn each year, as a reflection of the cycles of nature.Dumuzi's descent helped resolve two facts that were theologically perplexing for the Sumerians: that the King who was meant to be divine and not die, did in fact die like a mortal.

But if he were vegetation God this could be accepted as all knew the Vegetation God died each year. Also how could their deities allow all vegetable life to be decimated in the hot, summer months? The myth explains that they must merely wait for the Gods return and reunion with his Goddess, then life will again flourish.There are other reasons why Dumuzi descends to the Underworld. He was perhaps also a reminder to those in power, that it is wise to remain humble and reverent towards the divine 'Source'.

Otherwise, one can become obsessed with power, riches and glory.If Dumuzi's fate seems unfair, it may help to consider that in a sense, Inanna did take her fair share of time descending downwards, as Gesht-inanna can be seen as another aspect of Inanna.Jenni's re-telling of Inanna was directed by Neal Cameron in 1991 for her graduating performance at the Drama Action Centre in Sydney. Neal Cameron was director of the Woodford Fire Event from the festivals inception until recently. Over the years Jenni has performed Inanna at folk festivals and concerts and her telling has changed a little as her understanding of the myth has changed. Most of the text Jenni uses is as originally translated by Kramer and Wolkstein, but she has added a few contemporary touches in the hope of making the tale as accessible as possible, without losing its original richness or power.

Sources:.Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her stories and Hymns from Sumer, Harper and Row, New York, 1983 Excerpted from J. Elder, The Descent of Inanna: Magic is the art and science of changing consciousness at will. www. See also, Starhawk's The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religions of the Great Goddess, Harper Collins, San Fransisco, 1979,1989) and her version of Inanna for children in: Starhawk, Diane Baker & Anne Hill, Circle Round: Raising Children in the Goddess Traditions, Bantam, New York, 1998.By Jenni Cargill 2004.

.If you want a recording for your child/grandchild/students that will ignite their imaginations, check out award winning CD "Wonder Tales of Earth and Sea" by dynamic Australian Storyteller Jenni Cargill.

At her site you can listen to free samples of the CD,order copies of her CD's, download free stories and articles and find loads of storytelling links.


By: Jenni Cargill

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