Saturday, May 30, 2015

Inanna's Descent (I'm on a mythology kick right now)!

I’ve been reading about Inanna, a Sumerian Goddess.  This is the best summary I can give, and I borrowed heavily from Dan Sewell Ward at and first heard about Inanna from Richard Carrier.

The most popular myth about Inanna was that she willingly gave up her possessions and went to the underworld, possibly to attend a funeral, but once she was there she was forced to take off all her clothes, and suffering and humiliated, with her hair wrapped around her head, and she was hung on a peg on a wall (a form of crucifixion).  So Inanna dies and is reborn, which is quite unusual (possibly the first god/goddess to do so) so she was told someone had to come down to the underworld in her place.  It is also part of the story that Inanna becomes rather demonic, but still has feelings for people.  It seems as if some negative characteristics are added to the storyline which don’t always fit!

Inanna brings many people from the dead with her, and then goes searching for the right person to send to the underworld in her place.  As she looks around she notices that many people are still mourning her death, but notices that her husband (Dumuzi – later known as Tammuz) is the only one not mourning that she had died.  He is wearing fancy royal clothes and jewelry, so she decides he is the one she will send to the underworld in her place. 

Dumuzi begs the sun god, Utu, to save him, and he is transformed into a snake (always a serpent somewhere), but that only hides him for so long.  He is then sent to the underworld, but his sister, Geshtinanna shows her love and willingness to sacrifice her current life by switching off with Dumuzi every six months.  So for six months Dumuzi is in the underworld, and the other six months of every year, Geshtinanna is in the underworld.  Here we have one myth’s explanation for the changing of seasons, and Dumuzi/Tammuz becomes known as the God of vegetation!

The myths of Inanna were most likely created anytime between 1900 BC and 3500 BC, but could have been created even earlier.  When they were first made up, they were pre-patriarchal myths.  But by the time they were written down, the myths showed the assaults of the patriarchy, with Inanna’s gradual weakening in power and loss of status.  
Inanna’s story is also known as the Babylonian Ishtar’s Descent, but Ishtar’s tale is told with only 145 lines whereas the original story it came from is “Inanna’s Descent,” and is told with 415 lines.  The difference is attributed to the patriarchy, as it steadily eroded the power and significance of the Goddess during the second millennium BC.