"Lady of all the divine powers, resplendent light, righteous woman clothed in radiance, beloved of An and Urac! Mistress of heaven, with the great pectoral jewels, who loves the good headdress befitting the office of en priestess, who has seized all seven of its divine powers! My lady, you are the guardian of the great divine powers! You have taken up the divine powers, you have hung the divine powers from your hand. You have gathered up the divine powers, you have clasped the divine powers to your breast. Like a dragon you have deposited venom on the foreign lands. When like Ickur you roar at the earth, no vegetation can stand up to you. As a flood descending upon those foreign lands, powerful one of heaven and earth, you are their Inanna."
- from the "Exultation To Inanna" ancient Sumeria, author unknown
As we head towards the new year, our culture grows more and more oriented toward the mysteries of the feminine. The Goddess is a powerful driving force of civilization, fickle but mostly fair, at times directing fierce lust and vengeance. She implores women to adorn themselves with facial make-up like sexual warpaint. She encourages lust and want, both representing an urge toward that as well as representing a force that absorbs and gains power from such emotions. In the truest sense, she is immortal, a lust that is never satiated that is fed over centuries over the bodies of humans who underestimate the fleeting nature of mortal existence. She is the Goddess that governs our world and our culture, the secret myth revealed upon itself through the daily existence of men.
In the East, she is known as Kali, the destroyer. Her blood-red lips and extended tongue have become the logo for the British rock band The Rolling Stones, a once-relevent, now geriatric group of men doomed to live out their adolescence until death. She smiles and laps up the returns. Hell's Angels stabbing a man to death in a crowded melee, attempted statutory rape at a friend's house, acting like an idiot on Saturday Night Live, she watches over and protects her investments. What might seem like a harmless rock and roll band works as an agent of social change with the Goddess' own seal of approval. Her earliest names are Lili, Lilitu, Loli/Lola, Inanna, Ishtar. Her reoccurring motifs are the owl and the crescent moon. Her temple is sacred prostitution, sexual exploration, homosexuality, transformation of the human form. An alchemical relationship with the human body. If Wilhelm Riech had been a little less paranoid, a little more of a team player (like Kinsey was), he would have gone far in the furthering of her goals. Instead, he remains one of the only people to have their written works burned by the United States Government.
In Mesopotamian culture the Lilitu were said to be demons that caused unwanted sexual feelings to arise... Pazuzu was a wind spirit whose power was able to chase away the Lilitu, harpy-like female beings with human-bird hybrid bodies. These demonic, lustful characters seem to be the inspiration for the Hebraic character of Lilith, who actually emerges from a parodic text written by someone from that culture. A famous image, called the Burney Relief, depicts a female figure whose identity is disputed. Her breasts are bare, and she has wings and the feet of a bird. Owls are by her side and in her hand is a rod with a ring in the middle. She grips it and stares directly ahead at the viewer...
Inanna and Ishtar are the names that were given to the Goddess in two manifestations of the Mesopotamian culture, and in Greek and Roman civilizations many of her attributes co-incide with those of Aphrodite and Venus (respectively). The eight-pointed star is her symbol, possibly due to the appearance of Venus as it occulted the Sun during ancient times. The moon is often depicted as her symbol, and culturally-relevant imagery ranging from Katy Perry sitting on a crescent moon to the Virgin Mary with the crescent at her feet seem to reference her power. In Jean Genet's memoir of living among the Palestinians, he mentions seeing a procession of individuals carrying a banner of a virgin with a crescent moon, and falsely assuming it to be the Virgin Mother of the Christian pantheon. He was surprised to discover that she was a local deity of the nearby community of fishermen, and that she was "Our Lady Of The Lake." As Isis, she gave birth to a saviour God/man long before the emergence of the Roman Catholic faith. Some say that an Assyrian queen named Semiramis is the basis for these myths, but it seems that she is yet another persona of history to be swept up into the character of Our Lady. Her ancient power predates historical conjecture.
She is a symbol of new life, and as such also the destruction of the old way. Those who stick stubbornly to the old ways will perish, not understanding how to exist in the environment of the future. She will provide opportunities for growth and change, and it is up to the individual to heed the lessons.
"If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,
I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living."
- Ishtar's dialogue to the gatekeeper of the Underworld in the myth of Her descent into the Underworld.
Much like the Christian promise that the dead shall rise again at the end of time, the Goddess is in control of the undead legions. The weak of mind can be swayed by her guile, and she is never short of fodder for her Army. In the "Exultation Of Inana," she is descibed as the lady who rides upon a beast. In the Christian Book of Revelations, it is said that there is a lady in Heaven (the Virgin Mother Mary ala Isis) whose foot is on the head of the serpent, crushing it. One is also reminded of the story of Europa and the bull- a woman ravaged by a "sea bull," creating an unholy union of human and monster that apparently spawned the European peoples according to some obscure lore. She has always encouraged singing and praise, with the out-loud recitation of prayer being a powerful way to connect to the Goddess. She consumes the sorrow and praise of her worshippers and gives back in the form of love and understanding.
A form similar to the Burney Relief is what has been called the "Snake Goddess" of Knossos, a threatening Kali-like woman holding aloft a pair of snakes... researchers have connected the statue to artwork of both Astarte as well as Venus, but the exact identity of the deity depicted in the image is not known.
Some have traced the Goddess Worship cult back to the wife of Babylonian king Nimrod, Queen Semiramis. Semiramis was initially a brothel-keeper in a town called Erech, where she met Nimrod, and the two of them rose to power together somehow after founding a religious system based around astronomy. Semiramis was the controller of the religious hierarchy that was developed under Nimrod's rule, and she taught of a great serpent that was the world's creator, a powerful force of energy behind all things. The concept of the Lilith/Lilitu is different in many ways from the Goddess imagery that is directly associated with Inanna, Ishtar, and Semiramis, but both figures share certain animal symbolism as well as similar poses depicted in their carved effigies.
"You are bound and sealed,
all you demons and devils and liliths,
by that hard and strong,
mighty and powerful bond with which are tied Sison and Sisin....
The evil Lilith,
who causes the hearts of men to go astray
and appears in the dream of the night
and in the vision of the day,
Who burns and casts down with nightmare,
attacks and kills children,
boys and girls.
She is conquered and sealed
away from the house
and from the threshold of Bahram-Gushnasp son of Ishtar-Nahid
by the talisman of Metatron,
the great prince
who is called the Great Healer of Mercy....
who vanquishes demons and devils,
black arts and mighty spells
and keeps them away from the house
and threshold of Bahram-Gushnasp, son of Ishtar-Nahid.
Amen, Amen, Selah.
Vanquished are the black arts and mighty spells.
Vanquished the bewitching women,
they, their witchery and their spells,
their curses and their invocations,
and kept away from the four walls
of the house of Bahram-Gushnasp, the son of Ishtar-Hahid.
Vanquished and trampled down are the bewitching women --
vanquished on earth and vanquished in heaven.
Vanquished are their constellations and stars.
Bound are the works of their hands.
Amen, Amen, Selah."
- exorcism of Lilith found on a Persian bowl.
Warrior-like strength and magical witchery is a common theme in the early variations of the Goddess, keeping her in line with the concept of the Lilitu. Female power was scorned as demonic in a brutal society where patriarchical domination was the family structure and incest was a common reality. Lilith seems like an amorphous fiction, a transforming demonic force that represents the fears of a society that wished to demonize the female power of sexuality and extra-sensory perception. She is inhuman, and her power owns the night, seeping into everyone through their dreams and fantasies.
The earliest representation of the Goddess seems to be Inanna, a Sumerian figure. As in the Burney Relief, Inanna is depicted with her arms extended forward, palms flattened and fingers all pointed upward. An early depiction of her is on the Uruk Vase, where she is being brought food and drink by a cadre of naked men (not unlike Mae West). In her time, Inanna was referred to as the "Queen Of Heaven," much like the Catholic Virgin Mary... she has been at times associated with a Hurrian Goddess named Hannahannah, possibly being a variation or development of the same persona. The eight-pointed star, later associated with Venus, first became used as a symbol specifically for Inanna during the Sumerian period- it is thought that the symbol was an approximation of the appearance of Venus (the planet) somehow occulting the sun during an historical celestial event. She is called both the "Morning Star" as well as the "Evening Star" due to her prominent location in the sky, names that are also at times associated with Lucifer. Similar to Lucifer, Inanna has both light and dark qualities: she is considered the Goddess of both physical lust and violence, as well as both growth and destruction. She is associated with childbirth and lustful activity, but not marriage. One of the most important factors that Inanna had on her side was knowledge... she got a great deal of knowledge from a particular incident involving Enki, the hero of the Epic Of Gilgamesh.
Back in the time of ancient Sumerian civilization, the Gods (off-planet beings? inter-dimensional entities? humanoids from the deep? there are many interpretations) supposedly kept all of their knowledge stored in archives called "Mes." Inanna was able to subdue Enki by getting him drunk and managed to make off with many of his Mes, giving her a vast amount of knowledge that had been previously unavailable to her people before then. It seems that Enki had gaurded the Mes very closely in order to retain his power, and Inanna's act of thievery was a significant advancement in the Democratization of sacred knowledge similar to Prometheus' theft of fire. Despite attempting to defeat her and retain the Mes using the aid of sea monsters, Enki was ultimately at a loss and Uruk would have the knowledge that he had so closely gaurded. A significant myth involving Inanna's descent into the underworld is used by the Sumerian people as an explanation for the seasons, similar to the story of Persephone in Greek Mythology. Ironically, in this story it is Enki who saves Inanna, despite her theft and deception. Her descent is marked by hard-headed and forthright action, and her reward is a violent death at the hands of Ershkegal, a hag-like manifestation of the Underworld who acts as a deliberator of mortality. In the end, Inanna ascends back to the land of the living, resurrected much in the manner of the disappearance and re-emergence of Venus in the sky... her story is an eternal saga of death and rebirth that acts as a lesson of mortality and a reminder of our connection to the spirit world.
Ishtar is the Babylonian and Akkadian manifestation of the spirit of Inanna, and it was in her courts that the temples of Sacred Prostitution were opened. Babylon has become synonymous with decadence and a certain level of debauchery, and it was under the auspices of the priests of Ishtar that this reputation was developed. Like Inanna, her gate was marked with lions and the eight-pointed star. Her descent into the Underworld was much more victorious than Inanna's, with Ishtar threatening to raise the dead in order to take what she believes is hers. As she descends into the Underworld, all sexual activity on the Earth ceases completely, suggesting that the Babylonian people believed that She was inherently tied into the current of all sexual energy on the Earth. This connects directly with the stories of the energy-symbolic serpent that Inanna's religion seems to refer to, a concept of "dragon energy" that sees the serpent as a symbolic representation of a more intangible energetic concept. Together, Ishtar and Inanna form the very core of the "Queen Of Heaven" concept that outlines the basic tenets of the Goddess.
She next shows up as the naked Mediterranean deity known as Astarte (also translated to Ashtaroth and mistaken for a demonic entity). Astarte is known for fighting off Ba'al, a similar role to the "Queen Of Heaven" in Revelations who fights off the serpent. Largely recognized as a nature deity, Astarte is the early predecessor to the Wiccan Mother Goddess talked about by many practitioners of modern witchcraft. On her head rests a crescent that acts as horns, and on her belly is a jewel that shines like fire.
Simultaneously, the lady seems to have split into the Greek and Egyptian pantheons as Aphrodite and Isis, respectively. The warlike qualities are reduced in these instances (and in Ancient Greece carried on with the image of Athena, who also bears the owls that are symbolic of Ishtar), and both Goddesses are played up in their connection to sensitivity and amorous love, perhaps due to the increasingly peaceful nature of civilization. As culture becomes less desperate and more focused on mutual understanding, the nature of the Goddess and her gifts of survival become less horrific. Greek culture had a creature called the Lamia who served much the same purpose as the Lilitu of ancient times, a cruel and sexually obsessed beast. The Lamia were known for ravaging humans for their sexual energy as well as seeking to eat the flesh of children. In many ways, as the Goddess became kinder and less bloodthirsty, the villanous aspects of Her were continuously represented in these demonic female creatures who thrived on the night-time prooduction of sexual energy. Connected to the Goddess' unending cup of kindness is the error of want that is hungry for the errant and fallen dreams of man and woman alike.
A gruesome myth is reflected in this story. Some believe that the earliest states of humanity were completely brutal and violent, with humans living cannibalistically and consuming one another for energy. It is believed that the early lords of man were deeply connected to the sexual current of power in the world, and that the Goddess in some way is symbolic of the tapping into that current. These readings of the myths of Inanna see her as interrupting a conspiracy of blood-drinking, cannibalistic high priests who dominated humanity like cattle. She managed to attain power and use her authority to benefit humanity with knowledge and a way out of pyramidal slavery, but thus was acheived through suffering and certainly no easy victory. It could be that her son (Tammuz, Horus, Christ) is the key to the alchemical union, a living product of humanity and divinity that in many versions of the myth must carry on his mother's suffering, at times for the sake of human good.
THE COSMIC CRUCIFIXION
In the Norse pantheon, Nanna is the wife of Balder, who is the Christ figure (the son of a God who dies due to the mechanations of a devil-like figure... the whole world is said to have wept at Balder's death) of that belief system. Suffering seems to be a constant necessary fact of living in this world, and often the Goddess and her loved ones suffer immensely for their actions in favor of sharing knowledge and love with humanity. Just as Lilith sends erotic thoughts and fantasies through dreams, Ishtar/Inanna sends knowledge and thoughts of sympathy and understanding during slumber. She rules the night and it reflects her passions. The Sumerians believed that Inanna gave them all of the things necessary for civilization including the awareness of speech, reading, art, agriculture, all forms of communication and sharing, the attributes that elevate humanity beyond animalistic desire... there are similar stories in India of a Goddess incarnation known as Sarasvati who brought similar gifts to humanity, elevating us from the simian level and educating our species for a life beyond slavery during a pivotal juncture in human development.
"At your battle-cry, my lady, the foreign lands bow low. When humanity comes before you in awed silence at the terrifying radiance and tempest, you grasp the most terrible of all the divine powers. Because of you, the threshold of tears is opened, and people walk along the path of the house of great lamentations."
Her gifts are the power of feminine sexuality and the awareness of self. When opened to the light of awareness, superstition and phobia become illuminations of ones own fears. There are no barriers with Her, but there is a journey of strength and understanding that comes with an awareness of suffering. As the pain of birth is reflected in every waking moment, so is Her kindness, Her love, Her understanding, Her infinite fury, Her infinite wisdom, potency, and sense of awareness. She is a union between the spiritual and natural world that defines humanity's very existence, and if there is any meaning to be found in the pain of this world, Her story has given us the key to unlocking it.