Religion Wiki
This is Inanna on the Ishtar Vase in the French museum Louvre.
This is Inanna on the Ishtar Vase in the French museum Louvre.
Queen of Heaven
Goddess of Love, War, Fertility and Lust
Abode Heaven
Symbol Sky, Clouds, Wars, Birth & Skin
Consort Dumuzi
Parents Nanna or Sin and Ningal
Siblings Utu, Ishkur and Ereshkigal
Children Lulal and Shara
Babylonian equivalent

Inanna (Sumerian Inannasumerianblack.png DINA NA; Akkadian DINGIRINANNA DINANA ) is the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare. Alternative Sumerian names include Innin, Ennin, Ninnin, Ninni, Ninanna, Ninnar, Innina, Ennina, Irnina, Innini, Nana and Nin, commonly derived from an earlier Nin-ana "lady of the sky", although Gelb (1960) presented the suggestion that the oldest form is Innin (DINNIN) and that Ninni, Nin-anna and Irnina are independent goddesses in origin.[1] Her Akkadian counterpart is Ishtar. It has also been suggested that Innana has an ancient non-Sumerian origin, related to the Hurrian Goddess Hannahannah.


As early as the Uruk period (ca. 4000 to 3100 BCE) it would appear Inanna was associated with the city of Uruk. The famous Uruk Vase, found in a deposit of cult objects of the Uruk III period, depicts a row of naked men carrying various objects, bowls, vessels, and baskets of farm produce, and bringing sheep and goats, to a female figure facing the ruler, ornately dressed for a divine marriage, and attended by a servant. The female figure holds the symbol of the two twisted reeds of the doorpost signifying Inanna behind her, while the male figure holds a box and stack of bowls, the later cuneiform sign signifying En, or high priest of the temple.

She figures prominently in one of the earliest legends, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, in something like a kingmaker role, transferring her personal abode and favour, and thus hegemony, from the court of Aratta's king to that of Uruk.

Seal impressions from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3100-2900 BCE) show a fixed sequence of city symbols including those of Ur, Larsa, Zabalam, Urum, Arina, and probably Kesh. It is likely that this list reflects the report of contributions to Inanna at Uruk from cities supporting her cult. A large number of similar sealings were found from the slightly later Early Dynastic I phase at Ur, in a slightly different order, combined with the rosette symbol of Inanna, that were definitely used for this purpose. They had been used to lock storerooms to preserve materials set aside for her cult.[2]

Inanna's name is commonly derived from Nin-anna "Queen of Heaven" (from Sumerian NIN "lady", AN "sky")[3], although the cuneiform sign for her name (Borger 2003 nr. 153, U+12239 𒈹) is not historically a ligature of the two. In some traditions Inanna was said to be a granddaughter of the creator goddess Nammu or Namma. These difficulties have led some early Assyriologists to suggest that Inanna may have been originally a Proto-Euphratean goddess, possibly related to the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah, accepted only latterly into the Sumerian pantheon, an idea supported by her youthfulness, and that, unlike the other Sumerian divinities, she at first had no sphere of responsibilities[4] The view that there was a Proto-Euphratean substrate language in Southern Iraq before Sumerian is not widely accepted by modern Assyriologists[5].


Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were many shrines and temples dedicated to Inanna. The temple of Eanna, meaning "house of heaven" or "house of An"[6] in Uruk[7] was the greatest of these, where sacred prostitution was a common practice. The god of this fourth-millennium city was probably originally An. After its dedication to Inanna the temple seems to have housed priestesses of the goddess. The high priestess would choose for her bed a young man who represented the shepherd Dumuzid, consort of Inanna, in a hieros gamos or sacred marriage, celebrated during the annual Akitu (New Year) ceremony, at the spring Equinox. According to Samuel Noah Kramer in The Sacred Marriage Rite, in late Sumerian history (end of the third millennium) kings established their legitimacy by taking the place of Dumuzi in the temple for one night on the tenth day of the New Year festival.[8]

One version of the star symbol of Inanna/Ishtar


Inanna's symbol is an eight-pointed star or a rosette.[9] She was associated with lions — even then a symbol of power — and was frequently depicted standing on the backs of two lionesses. Her cuneiform ideogram was a hook-shaped twisted knot of reeds, representing the doorpost of the storehouse (and thus fertility and plenty).[10]


Inanna is the goddess of love and is one of the Sumerian war deities: She stirs confusion and chaos against those who are disobedient to her, speeding carnage and inciting the devastating flood, clothed in terrifying radiance. It is her game to speed conflict and battle, untiring, strapping on her sandals. [11] But she is also seen among people: When the servants let the flocks loose, and when cattle and sheep are returned to cow-pen and sheepfold, then, my lady, like the nameless poor, you wear only a single garment. The pearls of a prostitute are placed around your neck, and you are likely to snatch a man from the tavern. [12] Despite her association with mating and fertility of humans and animals, Inanna was not a mother goddess, though she is associated with childbirth in certain myths[13]. Inanna was also associated with rain and storms and with the planet Venus [14] as was the Greco-Roman goddess Aphrodite or Venus.


Inanna and the Mes

According to one story, Inanna tricked the god of culture, Enki, who was worshipped in the city of Eridu, into giving her the Mes. The Mes were documents/tablets which were blueprints to civilization. They represented everything from truth to weaving to prostitution, granting power over, or possibly existence to, all the aspects of civilization (both positive and negative). Inanna traveled to Enki's city Eridu, and by getting him drunk, she got him to give her hundreds of Mes, which she took to her city of Uruk. Later, when sober, Enki sent mighty Abgallu (sea monsters, from ab, sea or lake + gal, big + lu, man) to stop her boat as it sailed the Euphrates and retrieve his gifts, but she escaped. This story may represent the historic transfer of power from Eridu to Uruk.

Inanna's descent to the underworld

The story of Inanna's descent to the underworld is known from a poem on a relatively intact set of tablets.

In Sumerian religion, the Underworld was conceived of as a dreary, dark place; a home to deceased heroes and ordinary people alike. Based on their behavior, it was believed, they could be afforded better treatment or positions in the underworld.

Inanna's reason for visiting the underworld is unclear. The reason she gives to the gatekeeper of the underworld is that she wants to attend her brother-in-law Gud-gal-ana's funeral rites. Gugalana was the Bull of Heaven in The Epic of Gilgamesh, killed by Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

In this story, before leaving Inanna instructed her minister and servant Ninshubur to plead with the gods Enlil, Nanna, and Enki to save her if anything went wrong, because everyone that went to the Underworld never came back.

Inanna dresses elaborately for the visit, with a turban, a wig, a lapis lazuli necklace, beads upon her breast, the 'pala dress' (the ladyship garment), mascara, pectoral, a golden ring on her hand, and she held a lapis lazuli measuring rod. These garments are each representations of powerful mes she possesses. Perhaps Inanna's garments, unsuitable for a funeral, along with Inanna's haughty behaviour, make Ereshkigal suspicious[15].

Following Ereshkigal's instructions, the gatekeeper tells Inanna she may enter the first gate of the underworld, but she must hand over her lapis lazuli measuring rod. She asks why, and is told 'It is just the ways of the Underworld'. She obliges and passes through. Inanna passes through a total of seven gates, at each one removing a piece of clothing or jewelry she had been wearing at the start of her journey, thus stripping her of her power.

When she arrives in front of her sister, she is naked. "After she had crouched down and had her clothes removed, they were carried away. Then she made her sister Erec-ki-gala rise from her throne, and instead she sat on her throne. The Anna, the seven judges, rendered their decision against her. They looked at her -- it was the look of death. They spoke to her -- it was the speech of anger. They shouted at her -- it was the shout of heavy guilt. The afflicted woman was turned into a corpse. And the corpse was hung on a hook."

Ereškigal's hate for Inanna could be referenced in a few other myths. Ereškigal is seen as an accidental 'black sheep' of sorts. She can not leave her kingdom of the Underworld to join the other 'living' gods, and they can not visit her in the Underworld, or else they can never return. Inanna symbolized erotic love and fertility, and contrasts with Ereškigal.

Three days and three nights passed, and Ninshubur, following instructions, went to Enlil, Nanna, and Enki's temples, and demanded they save Inanna. The first two gods refused, saying it was her own mess, but Enki was deeply troubled and agreed to help. He created two asexual figures named gala-tura and the kur-jara from the dirt under the fingernails of the gods. He instructed them to appease Ereškigal; and when asked what they wanted, they were to ask for Inanna's corpse and sprinkle it with the food and water of life. However, when they come before Ereshkigal, she is in agony like a woman giving birth, and she offers them what they want, including life-giving rivers of water and fields of grain, if they can relieve her; nonetheless they take only the corpse.

Things went as Enki said, and the gala-tura and the kur-jara were able to revive Inanna. Demons of Ereškigal's followed (or accompanied) Inanna out of the underworld, and insisted that she wasn’t free to go until someone took her place. They first came upon Nincurba and asked to take her. Inanna refused, saying she had helped her as she had asked. They next came upon Cara, Inanna's beautician, still in mourning. The demons said they would take him, but Inanna refused, for he had been there for her. They next came upon Lulal, also in mourning. The demons offered to take him, but Inanna refused.

They next came upon Dumuzi, Inanna's husband. He was sitting in nice clothing underneath a tree and enjoying himself, despite his wife supposedly still being missing in the underworld. Inanna, displeased, decrees that the demons shall take him - and herself uses the same "look of death" etc. that was previously used upon her by Ereshkigal. Dumuzi tried to escape his fate, but a fly told Inanna and the demons where he was. However, Dumuzi's sister, out of love for him, begged to be allowed to take his place. It was then decreed that Dumuzi spent half the year in the underworld, and his sister take the other half. Inanna eventually regrets sending her husband to the underworld and begins to miss him. The fertility that she controls with her godly powers begins to fade when she misses her husband during the 6 months that he is in the underworld a year. This infertile time corresponds to the fall and winter months. When her husband's sister is in the underworld and Dumuzi is with Inanna, everything is filled with love and with life; this time corresponds to Spring and Summer.

Interpretations of the Inanna descent myth

The union of Inanna and Ereshkigal

Additionally, the myth can be described as a union of Inanna with her own "dark side", her twin sister-self, Ereshkigal, as when she ascends it is with Ereshkigal's powers, while Inanna is in the underworld it is Ereshkigal who apparently takes on fertility powers, and the poem ends with a line in praise, not of Inanna, but of Ereshkigal. It is in many ways a praise-poem dedicated to the more negative aspect's of Inanna's domain, symbolic of an acceptance of the necessity of death to the continuance of life. It can also be interpreted as being about the psychological power of a descent into the unconscious, realizing one's own strength through an episode of seeming powerlessness, and/or an acceptance of one's own negative qualities, as it is by Joseph Campbell.

Another recent interpretation by Clyde Hostetter indicates that the myth is an allegorical report of related movements of the planets Venus, Mercury,and Jupiter; and those of the waxing crescent Moon in the Second Millenium, beginning with the Spring Equinox and concluding with a meteor shower near the end of one synodic period of Venus.

Related deities

Inanna is the daughter of the moon god Nanna, and sister to the sun god Utu and the rain god Ishkur.[10] Her sister is Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld.

As the goddess of the planet Venus, Inanna was identified by the Akkadians with their own Venus deity, who may have been male[16]. Although the Akkadian name for the goddess was Ishtar, the Akkadians used Sumerian as a religious language; so their hymns, written in Sumerian, use the name Inanna.

Modern relevance

Since Inanna embodies the traits of independence, self-determination and strength in an otherwise patriarchal Sumerian pantheon, she has become the subject of feminist theory.[17] Indeed, in one analysis of "Inanna and the huluppu tree", the author points out how she was implicitly "tamed and controlled", even "demoted", implying her prior importance as a female role model.[18]



  1. I. J. Gelb, The Name of the Goddess Innin, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Apr., 1960), pp. 72-79.
  2. Van der Mierop, Marc, (2007), "A History of the Ancient Near East: 3,000-323 BCE" (Blackwell)
  3. Wolkstein, Diane and Noah Kramer, Samuel, "Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth" - a modern, poetic reinterpretation of Inanna myths
  4. Harris, Rivkah (1991), "Inanna-Ishtar as Paradox and a Coincidence of Opposites" (History of Religions, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Feb., 1991)), pp. 261-278
  5. Rubio, Gonzalo (1999), "On the Alleged "Pre-Sumerian Substratum" (Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Vol. 51, 1999 (1999)), pp. 1-16
  6. é-an-na = sanctuary ('house' + 'Heaven'[='An'] + genitive) [John Halloran's Sumerian Lexicon v. 3.0 -- see link below]
  7. modern-day Warka, Biblical Erech
  8. Encounters in the Gigunu
  9. Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary by Jeremy Black and Anthony Green (1992, ISBN 0-292-70794-0), p. 156, pp. 169-170.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Jacobsen, Thorkild. The treasures of darkness: a history of Mesopotamian religion. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1976.
  11. Enheduanna pre 2250 BCE "A hymn to Inana" ETCSL translation: t.4.07.3.
  12. "A hymn to Inana as Ninegala", ETCSL translation: t.4.07.4
  13. Fiore, Silvestro. Voices From the Clay: the development of Assyro-Babylonian Literature. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1965.
  14. Jacobsen, Thorkild. The Treasures of Darkness: a History of Mesopotamian Religion. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1976.
  15. Kilmer, Anne Draffkorn. How was Queen Ereshkigal tricked? A new interpretation of the Descent of Ishtar. Ugarit-Forschungen 3 1971, pp 299-309
  16. Deutch, Yvonne (ed). Man, Myth and Magic. New York : Marshall Cavendish, 1985.
  17. eg. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, 1992
  18. Stuckey, 2001


  • Enheduanna. “The Exaltation of Inanna (Inanna B): Translation”. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. University of Oxford Library. 2 December 2004.
  • Frymer-Kensky,Tikva. In the Wake of the Goddesses. New York: MacMillan, 1992.
  • Fulco, William J., S.J. "Inanna." In Eliade, Mircea, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion. New York: Macmillan Group, 1987. Vol. 7, 145-146.
  • George, Andrew, translator (1999) The Epic of Gilgamesh (Penguin Books) ISBN 0-14-044919-1
  • Inana's descent to the nether world: translation. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. University of Oxford Library.
  • Jacobsen, Thorkild. The treasures of darkness: a history of Mesopotamian religion. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1976.
  • Kramer, Samuel Noah (1988)History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Recorded History (University of Pennsylvania Press; 3rd edition) ISBN 978-0-8122-1276-1
  • Mitchell, Stephen. Gilgamesh:A New English Translation. New York: Free Press (Div. Simon & Schuster), 2004.
  • Stuckey, Johanna (2001) "Inanna and the Huluppu Tree, An Ancient Mesopotamian Narrative of Goddes Demotion" in ""Feminist Poetics of the Sacred", ed. Devlin-Glass, Frances and McCredden, Lyn, American Academy of Religion. ISBN 978-0-19-514468-0
  • Wolkstein, Diana & Kramer, Samuel Noah (1983) Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth (Harper Perennial) ISBN 0-06-090854-8

Further reading

External links

Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Inanna. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.