After having read the book Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth, I’m left with and incomplete sense of what the people of Sumer where really like. However, I do feel as if I have come to know them better. I believe mythologies that are important to people can reveal quite a bit about the kind of people they were and the things they felt were important. First, it is plain that they were farming and herding people. All the offerings given up to Inanna were centered on things that a farming and herding community would have. Additionally, Inanna herself was a fertility Goddess, her sexuality meant the blossoming of the world. She married a Shepard. Thus, I conclude that the plants and animals are very important if the Sumerians would put a fertility Goddess and a Shepard to rule over them, if only in myth and religion.
According to the cultural notes (at the back of the book), they lived in agricultural cities. The temple was the central building of their city. This makes since because so much of their survival depended on the crops growing well and the animals being healthy. It was believed that the deity governing the city also owned that city, putting the temple and those who served as religious leaders; at the center of the culture.
The important role of the Goddess implies a stronger female role in society, perhaps matrilineal. It also suggests the importance of the female energy. Reproduction and creation seem very valued. The feminine force of creation through reproduction was at the center of their culture; Inanna was fertile, which allowed them to prosper. Because of the importance of the feminine power, I suspect that the majority of those serving in the temples were women and thus held a high and important social role. According to the culture notes at the back of the book, women had many rights. Women could own property, do business and serve as a legal witness. These rights were probably enjoyed because of the feminine role in their religion. How could you treat women badly when you believed your fate was held in the hands of a Goddess?
Law and justice came through as powerful ideas in this collection of myths. The Me are laws that even the gods must obey. When Inanna went to the underworld, she had to abide by the rules governing that realm, despite her great power and status as a goddess. Laws were documented on the clay tablets and records of court cases were also marked down. The courts system described in the culture notes seems very similar to the system we have today. One person (for us the judge and for them the governor) presided over the case and a group of people (jury/judges) decided upon the ruling. Each party was allowed to present their case. These trials could even set a legal precedence like today.
One negative part of Sumerian society was the active practice of slavery. Even this is present in the Inanna myth. All the gods and goddesses had servants of some kind that had to obey them. Additionally, the Sumerians believed that their fate was determined by the gods and thus, in a way, they were all already slaves. Perhaps that explains the acceptance of slavery in their society. People could become slaves several ways: sold as a child by the parents, sentenced by the court or a temporary slavery to repay a debt. Slaves did have rights even thought they were treated badly. They could own property and do business. They could even buy their freedom.
Marriages were arranged. Even Inanna’s marriage was arranged. She expressed the desire to take the farmer as her husband, but her brother Utu, said that she shouldn’t have the farmer, but should have the Shepard. While no one directly forced her to marry the Shepard, she was strongly pushed that direction. Even Inanna’s mother encouraged her to marry the Shepard despite Inanna’s misgivings and apparent fear.
When considering why the Goddess was worshipped for so long, I kept finding myself also considering the reasons she is important today and the aspects of her story that speak to me. I think these three issues are really tied together. Her ability to transcend time and speak to me today is why she was worshipped for so long and is why she remains such an important force today. So, I will discuss these ideas together.
The Goddess was complete and whole in a way I have never encountered in other deities or mythologies. She was centered and balanced, having both sides of every polarity with in her: She was both feminine and masculine, she was both loving and hateful, and she was both of the light and of the darkness. Her masculinity was expressed through her courage and strength in confronting and overcoming problems. She carried the double headed axe. Her feminine nature was largely expressed through her fertility and creative capacity. She was the protective father and the compassionate mother. She showed great love for Dumuzi, but also hatefully condemned him to the underworld. She was a goddess of heaven that descended and acquired the powers of the darkness. She was duplicity at its best, balanced and whole. In a sense, all humans share this duplicity. Within us all are the various polarities of the universe and one of the challenges that we continue to struggle with even today is the acceptance and eventual balance of these opposing forces.
I believe this exploration of the polarities is what has given the Goddess her true power. Her mythology delves into the fundamental nature of humanity. In modern times, we explore these same ideas through movies and philosophy. The movies Flatliners and White Noise are about people who are drawn to the after life and who would attempt to explore the underworld with out dying. According to Dostoevsky in Notes from the Underground “man needs only one thing – his own independent desire, whatever that independence might cost and wherever it might lead. And as far as desire goes, the devil only knows…” (pg 19). Hence, humanity cannot help but explore and attempt to reach further into the darkness of the underworld and the unknown in general. This is a trait strongly represented in Inanna. She followed her own desires, her own passions regardless of the costs to others. She took the Me, with no consideration of what the consequences might be. She went down to the underworld, with no regard for the people she was leaving behind. She condemned Dumuzi without compassion for the suffering he would endure. Additionally, Inanna is passion. She is driven by the passion of living and understanding. She doesn’t hesitate to gather more knowledge or power. She loves fully and strongly; she strikes her vengeance just as clean. What she chooses to do, she does completely, allowing herself to merge into the new role and fully know the role she is under taking. Kierkegaard believed that passion was fundamentally important in human nature, more important even then our rationality or intellect. “It is a retrogression to become objective; and even he who is lost through passion has not lost so much as he who lost passion, for the former had the possibility” (A Kierkegaard Anthology, pg 255). The Goddess is passion and a full embrace of her dichotomy. Through that passion she has the potential. Fertility and creative force draw their power from the passion of the soul.
The fundamental dichotomy of the human soul has not yet been fully understood and thus allows the Goddess to transcend time to speak to us even today. “Can a man possessing consciousness ever really respect himself?” (Notes from the Underground, pg 12). In knowing that we contain all the dark elements of the universe within ourselves, how can we come to accept, love and respect ourselves? The Goddess explores the necessity of this human dichotomy. Through her mythology, we see a universal law, the Me, that dictates the importance of balance in the universe. Balance is so important that the gods themselves are required to follow the rules of the Me. Humanity dreams of Utopia, where only goodness and light reign within the universe. This dream is an attempt to ignore the true nature of both humanity and the universe. “Of course, there is no way to guarantee… that [utopia] won’t be, for instance, terribly boring then (because there won’t be anything left to do, once everything has been calculated according to tables); on the other hand, everything will be extremely rational. Of course, what don’t people think up out of boredom! Why, even gold pins get stuck into other people out of boredom, but that wouldn’t matter. What’s really bad… is that for all I know, people might even be grateful for those gold pins” (Notes from the Underground, pg 18). Dostoevsky is suggesting that a utopia is impossible. As Kierkegaard stated, the loss of passion for the pursuit of rationality weakens the human soul. Utopia many be rational and safe, but it would be void of all passion; void of all humanity. It is our darkness that allows us to have light. How can people show compassion if there is no suffering in the world?
“Let us at this point agree that in our meditation we shall not let ourselves be disturbed by the fact that there is a great deal to bee seen in existence which is ludicrous and preposterous; let us simply see whether [or not] it is necessary…” (A Kierkegaard Anthology, pg. 90).