Inanna, the paradox … Inanna, the whole …

Rassouli..LightDance

Artist: Freydoon Rassouli*

‘…the very being of this goddess infuses and vivifies all nature and natural processes. She is the divine in matter. As such, she sustains the ebb and flow, the relentless paradoxical reality of the natural world. She exists between blessing and curse, light and dark, plenty and want, goodness and malevolence, life and death. Harsh as her reality may seem, it is the Real every living being must encounter. And she is thedivine in matter. Implicit in her presence is a divine plan, a sacred order and meaning. Enigmatic as the plan may be, it is inferred by Inanna’s careful attention to the workings of the world and the people in it. ….

We can think of Inanna, with her complex mix of characteristics, as an attempt to bring together the seemingly chaotic forces of the universe into one unifying, and therefore orienting personification.

She embraced the full continuum of authority from the darkest to the most brilliant. A creature of earth as well as heaven, she reflected paradoxical human nature.’

— Betty De Shong Meador, Inanna: the Queen of Heaven and Earth

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For more beautiful images from this artist, visit  http://www.rassouli.com

Inanna — Queen of Heaven and Earth

Goddess Inanna was worshipped primarily in ancient Mesopotamia or Sumer. The daughter of the Moon-God Nanna and Goddess Ningal, she was described as the ‘mountain born.’ She was a warrior goddess. But her power encompassed far more than just winning in battles. She was one of the most worshipped and revered goddesses in the ancient Sumerian pantheon. She is described in contemporary literature as ‘greater than the great gods,’ as the ‘queen of heaven and earth.’ She was also the only deity in the pantheon that accommodated opposites and reflected both light and dark, terror and love, destructiveness and creativity. She is the goddess of war and at the same time the goddess of all kinds of love. From the love for one’s child to the erotic love for one’s partner are all within Inanna’s domain.

In her iconography, she is depicted as a lady with lions/lionesses at her feet. Her lion/lioness is the symbol of her unrestrainable power. She holds in her hand the Sumerian symbols of fertility, plenty and prosperity. She is also represented by an eight-pointed star. She is associated with the planet Venus and is named the Morning and Evening Star.

Terracotta Plaque depicting Inanna; southern Iraq (1800 and 1750 BC)

Terracotta Plaque depicting Inanna; southern Iraq (1800 and 1750 BC)

Inanna is unbound by the social rules of behaviour and she transcends our ideas of good and bad. She guides us to confront the fact that we are capable of both great good and great evil; that the capability for evil does not live outside of us, but in us. She is the unified manifestation of all that is pleasurable, beautiful, kind, loving, uplifting and bright with all that is painful, ugly, harsh, cruel, downgrading and dark.

Another ancient depiction of Inanna.

Another ancient depiction of Inanna.

‘Inanna’s presence draws us into the realm of the inner life. She is the guide who insists we face our shadowy contradictions, that we own who we really are in all our painful and wonderful complexity. As the goddess of paradox, she is the model of unity in multiplicity. Each of us reflects a bit of her discordance within ourselves. Each of us is burdened with the chore of gathering our many conflicting pieces together into a semblance of order and congruence.’ (Betty De Shong Meador, Inanna: Lady of Largest Heart, page 22)

Inanna was revered, loved, feared and worshipped for thousands of years in the ancient Sumer, that is, (roughly) modern-day Iraq. Of course, now her religion and worship are a thing of the past. But she still lives on and captures our imagination.

A Modern depiction of Inanna

A Modern depiction of Inanna

In these pages, I will attempt to unearth her myth and literature. I will journey to the heart of Inanna’s religion and try to understand the love her worshippers had for her. She is one of the most prominent manifestations of the divine feminine. And she shares many characteristics with the Indian Great Goddesses – she rides lions, just like the goddesses, Durga and Sheranvali; she is a paradox of light and dark, terror and love, just like the Indian goddesses Kali and Durga; and she is the ‘mountain born,’ just like the goddess Parvati. Sheranvali’s name literally means ‘the lion rider’ and Parvati’s name literally means ‘of the mountain.’ So I see Inanna as another facet of the universal divine feminine, the ancient creatress, the Primal Power. Here I will share my journey to her with you.

Saraswati… in you and me…

‘In you and me, Saraswati flows through that moment when we choose a creative path or make an intention. She lives in the ever-new creative instant when inspiration arises within the field of your consciousness. When an idea takes form, you can find her as the inner impulse that comes from somewhere deeper than your ordinary mind, ready to dance on your tongue. She undulates in the stillness before the notes come forth as your power to make connections between apparently disparate things, as the power to understand language, as intelligence in all its forms, as insight and rhetoric, and as the intuitive knowing that lets your recognise your own awareness as the field of enlightenment.. .

At her subtlest, Saraswati lives in that pulsing space at the root of sound, where silence gives birth to creative possibility. A hymn to Saraswati, by the Tantric sage Abhinavagupta praises this subtlest form of Saraswati like this: “No one knows your nature, nor is your inner reality known. You are the whole universe and you exist within it.”‘ – Sally Kempton, Awakening Shakti (Sounds True Inc 2013)

Artist: Danny O'Connor

Artist: Danny O’Connor

Saraswati – Awesome Voice of Thunder, Voice of Heaven…

In the Hindu pantheon, Saraswati (or Sarasvati), referred to as the Mother, is the goddess of knowledge and wisdom; of learning; of words and expression. Only her blessings can give one the gift of language and knowledge. She is a peaceful aspect of Adya Shakti, the Primal Mother, the Ancient Creatress. In her currently worshipped form, Saraswati holds the symbols of learning in her hands (including a musical instrument, Veena, and the Vedas), wears white and rides a white swan. She is also often depicted with a peacock.

Modern popular depiction of Ma Sarawati

Modern popular depiction of Ma Sarawati

In the ancient Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, she is a celestial river – one of the seven sister rivers (sapta-sindhu). She is ‘horrendous in her vehemence … her impact knows no end, roaring, she moves on … [the] daughter of lightning, the voice of thunder …she… rules over all intuition.’[1] 

‘Sarasvati, a flowing onrush of creative power, is a form of the great goddess. She pours out from the source, full-fledged. She is the ineluctable impetus of creative intuition, awesome voice of thunder, the voice of Heaven. She is all movement, the vehement river of creative thought.’[2]

Her slightly different manifestation is the Vedic goddess Vak or Vac (literally, word or speech). In Sanskrit, Vak literally means ‘speech.’ Called the ‘Mother of the Vedas (the most ancient Hindu scriptures),’ Vak is also described as fierce and commanding; she strides and carries with her the other gods; wind is her breath. And most surprisingly she is described as the mother of her own father.

‘…she is the Great Goddess, exceeding axis of the cosmos, creator of the Father in Heaven, her own father, up on high. … “The heavenly oceans flowed from her and then the Word, the Aksara, the creative syllable”’[3]

'The Commander' by Freydoon Rassouli*

Artist: Freydoon Rassouli*

In the Rig Veda, Vak declares –

‘I am the sovereign power (over all the worlds … and the first among those to whom sacrificial homage is to be offered; the gods in all places worship but me, who am diverse and permeate everything. … I pervade heaven and earth. I give birth to the infinite expanse overspreading the earth.’ [4]

She is celebrated and worshipped all over modern India in homes, schools, colleges and universities. Saraswati’s blessings is still sought after by every seeker of knowledge and wisdom.


[1] Stella Kramrisch, ‘The Indian Great Goddess’ (1975) 14 History of Religions, pages 235, 246
[2] same as above
[3] same as above, page 247
[4] Kartikeya C Patel, ‘Women, Earth and the Goddess: A Shakta-Hindu interpretation of Embodied Religion’ (1994) 9 Hypatia, pages 69, 75
* Title of featured artwork: ‘The Commander’ by Freydoon Rassouli. For more paintings by Rassouli, visit www.rassouli.com

She stirs… in us…

The goddess stirs…. she stirs in us. The primal power, the divine feminine, the ancient creatress, the great mother — she has various epithets. She has different forms and attributes in different cultures in different times. She has been loved, worshipped, revered, feared and cherished in various ways for many thousands of years. The earliest archaeological evidence of goddess worship has been unearthed and dated as far back as 29,000 B.C.

Until about 2000 years back, worship of the divine feminine was part of most cultures in the world. From South Asia to Middle East, from Africa to Europe, from the Americas to the Far East — the religion of the goddess existed and thrived. She existed alongside male gods who were depicted as her son, father or consort or brother. Under polytheistic religious structure, there was not much trouble in the co-existence of multiple mythologies, in the co-existence of multiple divinities, in the co-existence of competing spiritualities without strife.

Detail from ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Sandro Boticelli

Detail from ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Sandro Boticelli

But in the last couple of thousand years, the worship of the feminine principle has been despised, demonised and discredited, her worshippers have been attacked, injured, slaughtered and her religion has almost been wiped out from the face of the earth.

But not everywhere.

She has thrived in some cultures and her religion has kept pace with changing times. What we commonly call Hinduism, or more accurately, Sanatan Dharma, alive in South Asia, provided the perfect platform where the worship of the goddess could thrive and grow without interruption, without fear. Here the feminine divinities have co-existed with their male counterparts for ages until the modern times. They are depicted in mythology and religion as immeasurably powerful, primally creative, and definitively imperishable. They indeed are the personification of power itself, not power in the narrow patriarchal sense, but in the broad sense of power to create, to sustain, and to withdraw the whole universe; the power to become all and nothing at the same time.

When we look at the history of the worship of the divine feminine all over the world — when we discover the rich mythologies that sustained the symbolic realms of our foreparents, when we read hymns written by our ancestors about the Goddess, the Mother, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, the Primal Power. the Mountain Mother, the Lady of Largest Heart, the Mother of Speech, the Source of All Knowledge — we realise how much of it have been lost; how much of the spiritual wisdom about the power of the goddess and the coexistence of the feminine and masculine divine principles, accumulated by our foreparents and protected in their hearts, have been lost on us.

Artist: Anna Dittman

Artist: Anna Dittman*

Her religion in the ancient forms survive in very few places in the modern world. India and Nepal are two of the most prominent among them. The traditions of the goddess lives unbroken in the hearts, homes, culture, mythology and temples of the people in these parts of the world.

Devi (goddess) Durga, as worshipped in today’s India

Devi (goddess) Durga, as worshipped in today’s India

In most places where the goddess lived, like the Middle and Near East, the Americas and most of Europe, her touch had been wiped away. But even in the loss, among the blurry clouds of forgetting, memories of Her have survived. And once again we can hear her stirring. She is waking again – waking to the calls of her children.

The Lady of Avalon worshipped in the Glastonbury Goddess Temple in the United Kingdom

The Lady of Avalon worshipped in the Glastonbury Goddess Temple in the United Kingdom**

These pages are a tribute to all the forms she has ever taken to reach us and touch our lives. From Durga to Kali, to Anat and Inanna, from Frejya to Isis, from Cybele to Diana – let us know her and hear her voice. In these pages I will bring to you my experience of the life-long love of one of the most ancient forms of the goddess known to us. I will also document my journey to know more about the goddesses whose voices were silenced by violence and the ones who are rising again.

I hope these pages will become a resource for all current worshippers of the goddess to know more about her other forms and for those who are searching for her, to arrive at her love.

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* For more beautiful images by Anna Dittman, please visit http://escume.deviantart.com/

** For more information about the Glastonbury Goddess Temple in the UK, visit  http://goddesstemple.co.uk/