Inanna/Ishtar was easily the most popular goddess during Mesopotamian times. Her home city was Uruk but her worship spread quite far. She is quite popular among neo-pagans but it seems that she has largely been misunderstood in regards to her aspects. Many pagans these days view her as a fertility goddess but, really, she isn’t. She is a goddess of love (both sexual and emotional) and war. She has no children and certain hymns/stories even suggest or outright say that she is sterile. Ninhursaga is the closest to being a fertility goddess and was often even called “mother” by many Sumerians. Many people believe that the “Sacred Marriage” is a fertility rite, but that is simply not supported by the facts. The Sacred Marriage hymn talks about Dumuzi and Inanna sleeping together while the rest of the people celebrate in her honor. It makes no mention of her becoming fertile. However, it’s meant to ensure that he can be fertile, but never with her. Considering other works, such as her descent into the underworld, it’s more likely that this rite is about Inanna making his kingship official. After this, she must “set him free”, in order to actually marry and have children and do his duty as king. So, after the rite, their relationship ends.
One of the biggest myths where Inanna/Ishtar is involved is the Epic of Gilgames. Ishtar asks Gilgames to become her lover, which he refuses. This pisses her off and she responds by sending the Bull of Heaven to kill him. However, Gilgames and his companion, Enkidu, kill the Bull of Heaven.
There is also the story of her descent, which is easily the most popular of her myths. For whatever reason, Inanna descends into the underworld. Some versions say it is because she wishes to grieve with her sister, Ereshkigal, over the death of the Bull of Heaven. Some say it was because she simply heard the “call” to do so. Some say it’s because she wished to steal Ereshkigals knowledge, her mysteries over death and rebirth. I think it’s likely a mix of these. The exact reason behind her travelling doesn’t matter so much as what happened while she was there though. Once she arrived at the first gate, she was told that she could enter but that she had to follow the ancient “laws” which forced her to strip herself of a piece of her power (represented by clothing) as she passed each gate. Once she arrived, Ereshkigal sent upon her 60 disease, killing her. After the waters of life were sprinkled over her, she did come back to life. While this is an important story, it can be a bit misleading. The Mesopotamians didn’t believe in reincarnation. They believed that when you died, you went to the underworld, which was just a generally bleak place. There were some things that you could do to make it a bit better, but it wasn’t really possible for it to be enjoyable, but I’ll get into that in a later post. So, while Ishtar is brought back to life in this story, that’s not the belief about our human spirits.
Ishtar (I call her by this name because it is simply how she presented herself to me) is actually my personal goddess, so I’ve dedicated myself to her and like to do a re-dedication each year. This ritual, which I am going to share with you, is adapted from a traditional hymn titled “The Holy Priestess of Heaven”. I will explain the specifics of the ritual as I go. I apologize if I forget to explain something!
Dedication to Inanna/Ishtar
You should bathe and be nude for the ritual, or garbed very simply. Dressing up for the ritual is inappropriate as we must appear humble before the gods. Also, before starting the ritual, you must wash the feet of the statue or whatever you’re using to represent Ishtar. In ancient times it was expected for a host to bathe the feet of their guests, it is a show of hospitality. You are inviting the gods into your home and it is expected. To not do so is -extremely- disrespectful. After this is done, you may begin to address the god.
I say, “Hail!” to the Holy One who appears in the heavens! I say, “Hail!” to the Holy Priestess of Heaven! I say, “Hail!” to Ishtar, Great Lady of Heaven!
Holy Torch! You fill the sky with light! You brighten the day at dawn!
I say, “Hail!” to Ishtar, Great Lady of Heaven!
Awesome Lady of the Annuna Gods! Crowned with great horns, You fill the heavens and earth with light!
I say, “Hail!” to Ishtar, First Daughter of the Moon!
Mighty, majestic and radiant. You shine brilliantly in the evening, You brighten the day at dawn, You stand in the heavens like the sun and moon, Your wonders are known both above and below, To the greatness of the Holy Priestess of Heaven, To you, Ishtar, I sing! To you, Ishtar, I dedicate myself!
Queen of Heaven, I dedicate to you this statue, to stand for you in a place of worship. Please accept these offerings and be sated. I dedicate this statue (second, smaller, statue or smaller candle) to your altar, to represent me, your humble priestess, so that I might worship Your Greatness at all times.
This is when I would dip my fingers into the beer and rub it over the statues lips, or anoint whatever object you’re using. The statue or item you use is meant to act as a vessel for the god and should be treated with as much care and respect as would be given to the actual god. The second statue is meant to actually represent you. It is meant to stand in as you, for when you aren’t directly worshiping at the altar, as a symbol of eternal worship. This would be the time to dedicate any other items or religious symbols to the altar and the god. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your offerings and what you say, so long as you stay respectful and humble.
I dedicate myself and this altar to you, Great Lady of Heaven.
So, “Anunna” essentially refers to the major deities. Many of the major gods are often depicted as wearing a horned-cap which is basically a display of their superiority. A god that wears such a cap is very important.
If you’re interested in creating an altar in Ishtar’s honor, there are many symbols that you might like to include. Her animal is the lion, often depicted with one on each side of her. Her most common symbol is an eight pointed star. The sign post is another one of her symbols, though not as popular. (hard to explain, will try and include pictures in a future post for reference but it is the symbol used to represent the name “Inanna”) There is also the concept of a sukkal, which is basically a servant to a god. However, while a servant, these sukkals often have greater power than the god they serve. Inanna’s sukkal is named Ninshubur and it would be appropriate to also have a statue or something to represent her, as she is a sort of guardian to Inanna.
There is so much that I could say and share about this wondrous goddess, but I will save some of it for my future posts.
-Myths From Mesopotamia – translated by Stephanie Dalley -Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia by Jeremy Black and Anthony Green -Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer