Tracing the origins of the Venus archetype led me back to the first stories ever recorded, back to ancient Sumeria and INANNA.
In this article, I introduce you to one of the earliest known female deities in recorded history. Inseparably connected to the planet Venus, Inanna is the root for understanding womanhood, sexuality, and the cycle of life.
- A single card
- Greek and Roman deities
- Back to the beginning
- Inanna’s dual nature
- Inanna’s epithets and titles
- Inanna’s queenship and the ‘me’
- Goddess of sexuality
- Associations and symbols
- What does she look like?
- Meeting darkness
- Inanna vs. Persephone
- Venus in astrology
- Back to the tarot
- Final thoughts
1. A single card
Some time ago, I came across a post on social media about the Empress tarot card. For me, this post was the call to take on a journey far back in time. It was also the entrance of a deep rabbit hole into a world of symbols and meanings that would deepen my understanding of how astrology reflects life on Earth.
As you may know, each card of the tarot has its astrological association. The Empress card is linked to planet Venus (Golden Dawn Tradition). If you are familiar with traditional astrology, you also know that planets have other signs of dignity besides their two domiciles, signs where they are said to be in their exile (aka detriment, antithesis), fall, or exaltation. There also is one of the twelve places for each traditional planet in an astrological chart that is said to be its joy.
Considering dignities, the twelve signs of the zodiac that Venus can be located in, and that color her character in an astrological chart, plus all other factors like aspects, sect, etc., I started to wonder how you possibly could get the different meanings of Venus as well as her many shades depicted in only one single card? Or asked differently, how does your understanding of planet Venus affect how you interpret the Empress card?
As I looked at cards from different tarot decks, I saw that some were straightforward, depicting a specific theme, others were more versatile in the symbolism they contained. Of course, it is impossible to express all Venus ever can mean and look like in one single card. The question is about the core symbolism. So, what is the essence of Venus?
2. Greek and Roman deities
When studying traditional Hellenistic astrology, one gets introduced to the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon and their Roman counterparts. The primary deities associated with planet Venus in the Western world are the Greek Aphrodite (picture left) and the Roman Venus (picture right).
There are other figures from Greek mythology that are associated with parts of the female archetype, such as Persephone, Demeter, Artemis, Athena, Hera, etc. In modern times, these goddesses’ names were given to asteroids.
However, unlike the asteroids, planet Venus can be seen with the naked eye and its cycles have been observed for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks called it the ‘Star of Aphrodite.’ They could have associated any other deity with this planet, but they didn’t.
I can understand why the use of asteroids and theoretical points that carry the names of other female deities has become so popular in modern astrology. Especially Lilith seems to fascinate many. This may have to do with the gradual simplification of the symbolism and nature of Venus over the centuries.
Although Aphrodite/Venus is a descent of Inanna, the goddess of love and war, over time, she has been stripped off some character traits. Nowadays, she is known to us as a deity associated almost exclusively with love and beauty. Anything missing?
3. Back to the beginning
During my search after the earliest symbolism and deity associated with planet Venus, I found that it all starts with Sumer (modern-day southern Iraq), an ancient civilization founded in the Mesopotamia region of the Fertile Crescent situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Mesopotamia is considered one of the cradles of civilization. It is a place of many firsts. Some of the Sumerian inventions were the wheel, writing and literature, farming implements, cities, schools, maps, mathematics (base 60 system), the concept of time, the zodiac, the calendar, medicinal drugs, and surgery.
The Sumerian pantheon consists of several deities, of which Inanna (also spelled Inana) is one of the most significant ones. Inanna was worshipped in Sumer at least as early as the Uruk period, which began roughly 4000 BCE. Her main sanctuary was the temple Eanna (Sumerian: 𒂍𒀭𒈾 É-AN.NA, House of Heavens) at Uruk, the world’s first big city. Uruk is identified with the biblical Erech. It is the present-day Warka in Iraq.
4. Inanna’s dual nature
Inanna’s name literally means Queen of Heaven. She has many titles of which Evening Star and Morning Star are the most interesting ones from an astrological perspective.
“Inanna’s name may derive from the Sumerian phrase nin-an-ak, meaning “Lady of Heaven”, but the cuneiform sign for Inanna (𒈹) is not a ligature of the signs lady (Sumerian: nin; Cuneiform: 𒊩𒌆 SAL.TUG2) and sky (Sumerian: an; Cuneiform: 𒀭 AN). These difficulties led some early Assyriologists to suggest that Inanna may have originally been a Proto-Euphratean goddess, possibly related to the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah, who was only later accepted into the Sumerian pantheon.” Source: Wikipedia. Inanna, 26 May 2021.
Inanna’s association with the planet Venus, who appears as Morning and Evening Star, relates to her dual nature. Inanna unifies opposites, which is expressed in her title as Goddess of Love and War. This polarity informs further her associations with desire and sensuality, as well as straightforwardness, political and judicial power, as we shall see.
The polar nature of Inanna is also informed by her title as Queen of Heaven and Earth, indicating her rulership over two opposite realms, the heavenly realm “above” and the material realm “below”.
We could also consider heaven and earth as symbols of the elements air and earth. Air (masculine/yang energy) corresponds to the mental plane, including our sense of right and wrong. It governs, i.a., our ideologies and values, which are the foundation of our actions. The element earth (feminine/yin energy) has to do with physical reality. Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, masters the mind as well as the five senses. Interestingly, Venus’s two domiciles are associated with the air and earth elements. Libra ♎︎ is air; Taurus ♉︎ is earth.
Side note about polarities: Masculine energy is usually considered to be active, whereas feminine energy is said to be passive or receptive. This depiction may be insufficient and even wrong. Think of polarity as energy oscillating between “pushing” and “pulling.” Ever pulled open one of those heavy doors that you can find in some old buildings? That’s active action! Feminine energy isn’t about an object that is acted upon. In the door illustration, the door can be opened either through masculine energy (pushing) or feminine energy (pulling). The side on which you stand in relation to the door determines which one of the two energies you will use. Energy is always active. The difference is that masculine energy is directing away from its center (pushing). It is going out—actively. Feminine energy is directing towards its center (pulling). It is taking in—actively. Btw, did you know that Inanna’s mascara is called “Let a man come, let him come”? Her pectoral is called “Come, man, come.” Speaking of drawing towards…
The stories about Inanna draw a vivid picture of the complex and often seemingly contradictious nature of this most popular and important Mesopotamian deity. Inanna is ambitious, fearless, intense. An excellent example of her fiery nature is the story where she fights and destroys a mountain (read here). Inanna is not afraid of conflicts; she attracts them. Yet, Inanna is compassionate, seeking justice and keeping in mind the well-being of her people. Inanna combines equally masculine and feminine energies.
Below are two hymns to Inanna, one to her as Lady of the Evening (Evening Star Venus) and the other as Lady of the Morning (Morning Star Venus). Reading these hymns, you get a picture of how different Inanna/Venus is depicted in her two phases. Note that in the Evening Star hymn, we read what the Sumerians, including the animals, do. The Morning Star hymn, on the contrary, tells us what Inanna does.
5. Inanna’s epithets and titles
Below are some of Inanna’s epithets and titles found in the stories and hymns about her. These help getting a better picture of Inanna’s multifaceted nature.
Lady of Heaven • Queen of Heaven and Earth • Morning and Evening Star • Lady of Battle • Goddess of the Fearsome Divine Powers • Mistress of All the Lands • Lady of Largest Heart • Great Fierce Storm • Lady of All the Divine Powers • Resplendent Light • The Maiden • Righteous Woman Clothed in Radiance • Guardian of the Great Divine Powers • Lady Who Rides Upon a Beast • Destroyer of the Foreign Lands • Impetuous Wild Cow • Great Queen of Queens • Issue of a Holy Womb for Righteous Divine Powers • Life-Force of the Teeming People • Deep-Hearted, Good Woman With a Radiant Heart • True Goddess Fit for Divine Powers • Great Lady of the Horizon and Zenith of the Heavens • Great Exalted Lady • Great Light • Heavenly Lioness • Joy of Sumer • Holy Torch • Awesome Lady of the Annuna Gods • First Daughter of the Moon • Loud Thundering Storm • Proud Queen of the Earth Gods • Supreme Among the Heaven Gods • Radiant Star • Honoured Counselor • Ornament of Heaven • Joy of An • Amazement of the Land • Lone Star • The Brave One
6. Inanna’s queenship and the ‘me’
Inanna’s title as Queen of Heaven and Earth speaks of her huge territory of rulership, which extends to all that is, the above and the below. Using elemental symbolism, she not only rules over matters of the finite terrestrial realm but also over those pertaining to the intellect and the divine, heavenly realm.
We get some practical understanding of what Inanna’s rulership includes by looking at the holy ‘me‘—the divine powers or universal decrees of divine authority. In Sumerian thought, the ‘me’ governed the universe from the day of its creation and kept it operating (similar to the concept of ma’at in Egyptian thought). The ‘me’ are also called the gifts, blueprints, or arts of civilization.
Inanna received the ‘me‘ from Enki, God of Wisdom, during a drinking competition (which she obviously won). According to Samuel Noah Kramer, the ‘me’ include more than one hundred cultural elements. Below is a list of those listed in the book Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer himself.
- High priesthood
- The noble, enduring crown
- The throne of kingship
- The noble sceptre
- The staff
- The holy measuring rod and line
- The high throne
- The princess priestess
- The divine queen priestess
- The incantation priest
- The noble priest
- The libations priest
- Descent into the underworld
- Ascent from the underworld
- The kurgarra
- The dagger and sword
- The black garment
- The colorful garment
- The loosening of the hair
- The binding of the hair
- The standard
- The quiver
- The art of lovemaking
- The kissing of the phallus
- The art of prostitution
- The art of speeding
- The art of forthright speech
- The art of slanderous speech
- The art of adorning speech
- The cult prostitute
- The holy tavern
- The holy shrine
- The holy priestess of heaven
- The resounding musical instrument
- The art of song
- The art of the elder
- The art of the hero
- The art of power
- The art of treachery
- The art of straightforwardness
- The plundering of cities
- The setting up of lamentations
- The rejoicing of the heart
- The rebellious land
- The art of kindness
- The secure dwelling place
- The craft of the woodworker
- The craft of the copper worker
- The craft of the scribe
- The craft of the smith
- The craft of the leather maker
- The craft of the fuller
- The craft of the builder
- The craft of the reed worker
- The perceptive ear
- The power of attention
- The holy purification rites
- The feeding pen
- The heaping up of hot coals
- The sheepfold
- The bitter-toothed lion
- The kindling of fire
- The putting out of fire
- The weary arm
- The assembled family
- The kindling of strife
- The giving of judgments
- The making of decisions
There is an interesting story about how Inanna got her throne and bed. This story features the great Sumerian hero Gilgamesh who, according to Samuel Noah Kramer is the forerunner of the Greek Heracles. A click on the picture below brings you to the story on my YouTube channel.
7. Goddess of sexuality
Female deities are often represented in a maternal role. Inanna, although to some extent associated with fertility, is, according to most sources and ancient Sumerian literary texts I’ve read, never depicted as a mother goddess. Her role as wife also differs from the norm as she doesn’t seem to be concerned with tasks that other wives usually perform. Inanna is not a housewife. Besides, her marriage is atypical since her husband Dumuzi spends half of the year in the underworld. Later more about that.
Sometimes, however, you see Inanna’s name showing up in lists of mother goddesses. Maybe her numerous roles, versatile nature, and the many offices she holds lead some to see her as a kind of mother figure? Personally, I feel Inanna is not a mother goddess, at least not in the traditional sense, and not from a lineage point of view. Inanna is not a creator deity.
For those seeking a mother goddess in the Sumerian pantheon, there is Ninhursag/Ninmah/Nintu, who is identified with Ki, the Earth herself. That being said, this doesn’t mean that Inanna couldn’t take on the role of a mother archetype in your personal life. Your astrological birth chart sheds light on that topic.
What sticks out with Inanna is that she is fully aware of her sexual energy, which she also embraces. Besides a victorious warrior and a righteous judge, she is depicted as a skillful lover. Reading her stories and hymns, it is no surprise that Inanna is said to be the patroness of sex workers. It is usually held that sacred prostitution was a part of Inanna’s/Ishtar’s cult.
“When I sit in the alehouse, I am a woman, and I am an exuberant young man. When I am present at a place of quarrelling, I am a woman, a figurine brought to life. When I sit by the gate of the tavern, I am a prostitute familiar with the penis; the friend of a man, the girlfriend of a woman.” (Inana I, 16-22)
Inanna’s title as Goddess of Love is, in fact, primarily related to sexual love. In her thesis, Let’s talk about sex: a study into the sexual nature of the goddess Inanna (2015), Alexandra Louise Lowe deals with Inanna’s title as Goddess of Love and how the use of the word ‘love’ distorts Inanna’s nature as the goddess of sexuality and sexual desire. Inanna’s delight in sexual activities is shown, for example, in the following passage:
“You have captivated me (?); of my own free will I shall come to you. Lad, let me flee with you — into the bedroom. Man, let me do the sweetest things to you. My precious sweet, let me bring you honey. In the bedchamber dripping with honey let us enjoy over and over your allure, the sweet thing. […] I know where to give physical pleasure to your body — sleep, man, in our house till morning. I know how to bring heart’s delight to your heart — sleep, lad, in our house till morning.” (Šu-Suen B, 7-12 and 18-21)
Something else remarkable is said about Inanna in one of the listings of her powers: “…to turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man, to change one into the other, to make young women dress as men on their right side, to make young men dress as women on their left side, to put spindles into the hands of men […], and to give weapons to the women; …” (Išme-Dagan K, 21-24). The same statement is listed in another text: “To turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man are yours, Inana.” (Inana C, 120) Apparently, Inanna has the power to cross gender boundaries affecting the gender behavior of the people.
Inanna’s temple personnel performed rites, including cross-dressing. There are the kurgarra (or kurgarru) and galatur, which were, according to the Sumerian version, created by Enki to rescue Inanna from the underworld. They are said to be neither male nor female. The kurgarra are listed as one of the ‘me’. The texts mention further assinnu and gala priests. The gala sang hymns in the feminine dialect eme-sal.
Christopher E. Ortega, in his presentation Inanna Ishtar: Reinforcer of Heteronormativity, or Legitimizer of Non-Heteronormativity? states: “Therefore, some of Inanna’s earliest temple personnel displayed same-sex behavior and took on transgender, non-heteronormative identities.” He summarizes: “Inanna’s myths and her professional cult personnel may have offered a safe ideological and social space for those who did not fit the larger societal construction of gender and sexuality.”
Sumerian texts include stories of a so-called Sacred Marriage rite. The ceremony is thought to enact the Sacred Marriage of Inanna and her consort, the shepherd god, Dumuzi (the biblical Tammuz). The ritual involved the king representing Dumuzi and the High Priestess impersonating Inanna.
The couple Dumuzi and Inanna is associated with fertility. Thus, the Sacred Marriage ceremony can be interpreted as a fertility rite ensuring the fertility of the land. It can also be seen as a way to legitimize the king’s right to rule, as the ceremony makes the king Inanna’s spouse. Pleasing Inanna sexually was the requirement for the king to be granted long life and sovereignty and the land to be fertile and prosperous. The extent to which the Sacred Marriage rite was celebrated in literal terms, including the sex act, is a huge debate.
My vulva, the horn, the Boat of Heaven, is full of eagerness like the young moon. My untilled land lies fallow. As for me, Inanna, Who will plow my vulva? Who will plow my high field? Who will plow my wet ground? As for me, the young woman, Who will plow my vulva? Who will station the ox there? Who will plow my vulva? […] Make your milk sweet and thick, my bridegroom. My shepherd, I will drink your fresh milk. Wild bull, Dumuzi, make your milk sweet and thick. I will drink your fresh milk. Let the milk of the goat flow in my sheepfold. Fill my holy churn with honey cheese. Lord Dumuzi, I will drink your fresh milk.‘The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi’. Wolkstein, D., Kramer, S. N., & Williams-Forte, E. Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1983.
8. Associations and symbols
Inanna’s primary symbols are a hook-shaped knot of reeds and the eight-pointed star. The lion, the rosette, as well as the dove, are also associated with her.
The first picture from the left in the picture gallery below displays the top register of the sacred Warka Vase (also called Uruk Vase), one of the earliest surviving examples of narrative art in Mesopotamia, dating ca. 3000 BCE. The scene depicted shows a nude male presenting offerings to Inanna during a religious ceremony. Behind the figure representing Inanna stand two reed bundles (doorposts). The reed doorpost is Inanna’s oldest symbol.
The fourth picture shows a boundary stone of Meli-Shipak II, dating to the twelfth century BCE. It depicts the eight-pointed star on the left top alongside the crescent moon of Inanna’s father Nanna/Sin (the Moon god), and the solar disk of her brother Utu/Shamash (the Sun god).
Inanna was incorporated into later cultures. She is associated with Ishtar (Akkadian), Sauska (Hittite), Astarte (Phoenician), as well as the Greek Aphrodite, and Roman Venus, already mentioned above.
9. What does she look like?
Inanna is described in ancient texts as having a fierce face, serious brow, and flashing eyes. In 1939, a marble head of a woman, dating ca. 3100 BCE, was discovered by a German archaeological team in Uruk (Warka). It is the first almost complete and life-sized representation of the human face. The head was found in the Eanna district of the city. It is named Mask of Uruk, or Lady of Uruk, and is believed to depict the head of Inanna. The face of the head shows a stern and severe expression.
Another often shown representation of Inanna/Ishtar comes from the Akkadian period, c. 2334–2154 BCE. It is from a cylinder seal that depicts her as a heavily armed winged warrior goddess. In this depiction, Inanna wears a horned crown and her royal garment. She is equipped with weapons on her back. Her right foot, exposed, is placed on the back of a lion that she holds on a leash.
The third picture in the gallery above shows a clay mold from ca. 2000-1750 BCE and its modern impression. It depicts Inanna/Ishtar nude holding her breasts with her hands and wearing a horned crown. On her back, she has a pair of wings (or a cloak). Her feet are talon-like.
To show you how queens adorned themselves in Sumer, below a picture of Queen Puabi’s headdress and jewelry from ca. 2450 BCE discovered in the ancient site of Ur. The jewelry is made of lapis lazuli, carnelian, and gold. Isn’t this a beautiful example of excellent craftsmanship? I wonder in what ways they may have adorned the Lady of Uruk, the embodiment of Inanna, as it were.
10. Meeting darkness
The most famous myth of our determined and passionate goddess, Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld, features Inanna visiting her sister Ereshkigal’s domain, Kur (the Sumerian Underworld). According to her own words, the reason for her visit is her sister’s husband’s, the Bull of Heaven Gugalanna, funeral that she wants to attend. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, we read that Inanna herself is responsible for his death.
Side note: According to Samuel Noah Kramer, the word Kur has three different meanings. The primary meaning is ‘mountain,’ from which developed the meaning of ‘foreign land’. Kur also came to mean ‘land’ in general. Kur as Underworld represents a cosmic concept in which it is conceived as empty space between the earth’s crust and the primeval sea. Kur is also the monstrous creature living at the bottom of the “great below.” In this sense, it corresponds to some extend to the Babylonian Tiamat.
On her way to Kur, Inanna, equipped with the seven divine powers, has to pass seven gates. On each gate, the chief gatekeeper of the underworld, Neti, removes one of the symbols of Inanna’s queenship: the shugurra (crown of the steppe), the small lapis lazuli beads, the twin egg-shaped beads, the pectoral, the golden bracelet, the lapis-lazuli measuring rod and measuring line, and the pala dress (garment of ladyship). Finally, Inanna is left naked.
When Inana arrived at the palace Ganzer, she pushed aggressively on the door of the underworld. She shouted aggressively at the gate of the underworld: “Open up, doorman, open up. Open up, Neti, open up. I am all alone and I want to come in.” (Inana’s descent to the nether world, 73-77)
Each time Neti takes an item from Inanna, she asks, “What is this?” Each time Neti answers: “Be satisfied, Inana, a divine power of the underworld has been fulfilled. Inana, you must not open your mouth against the rites of the underworld.”
Stripped off her identity, Inanna comes before Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. Inanna makes her rise, and instead, she sits on Ereshkigal’s throne. After this, we read the Anuna, the seven judges present in the underworld, “looked with the look of death,” “spoke with the speech of death,” and “shouted with the shout of heavy guilt” to Inanna. Inanna dies. Her corpse is hung on a hook. Inanna’s ambition to expand her queenship to the domain of her sister was her death sentence. But this is not the end.
Before heading to Kur, Inanna had instructed her minister Ninshubur to plead with the gods Enlil, Nanna, and finally Enki for her rescue. After Inanna had been three days and three nights in the underworld, Ninshubur makes the round starting with Enlil, who would not help. Nanna refuses as well. Both respond to Ninshubur: “My daughter craved the great heaven and she craved the great below as well. Inana craved the great heaven and she craved the great below as well. The divine powers of the underworld are divine powers which should not be craved, for whoever gets them must remain in the underworld. Who, having got to that place, could then expect to come up again?”
Finally, Ninshubur goes to Enki, God of Wisdom, who creates two sexless beings, the kurgarra and the galatur, to rescue Inanna. To the kurgarra he gives the food of life (or life-giving plant). The galatur he gives the water of life. Enki instructs the kurgarra and galatur to head to the underworld to mourn with Inanna’s sister Ereshkigal, whom they will find in great pain.
As Enki had predicted, they find Ereschkigal in agony like a woman giving birth. The kurgarra and galatur mourn with her. Wondrous about such compassion, Ereshkigal grants them a boon. They ask for the corpse of Inanna, which Ereshkigal permits them to take. As instructed by Enki, the kurgarra and galatur sprinkle the food of life and the water of life on the corpse. Inanna arises. Still, this is not the end.
As Inanna is about to ascend from the underworld, the Anuna seize her: “Who has ever ascended from the underworld, has ascended unscathed from the underworld? If Inana is to ascend from the underworld, let her provide a substitute for herself.” Accompanied with several creatures of the underworld, “who know no food, know no drink, eat no flour offering and drink no libation,” Inanna ascends to the upper world.
The demons attempt to take Ninshurba, who is the first they meet, sitting and mourning the absence of Inanna at the door of the underworld. Inanna responds: “This is my minister of fair words, my escort of trustworthy words. She did not forget my instructions. She did not neglect the orders I gave her. She made a lament for me on the ruin mounds. She beat the drum for me in the sanctuaries. She made the rounds of the gods’ houses for me. She lacerated her eyes for me, lacerated her nose for me. (1 ms. adds 1 line: She lacerated her ears for me in public.) In private, she lacerated her buttocks for me. Like a pauper, she clothed herself in a single garment.”
The same happens when the demons are about to take Shara and Lulal. Both had been mourning, like Ninshurba, the descent of Inanna. Now, as Inanna returns, they threw themselves before her feet. The one whom the demons eventually take to the underworld as a substitute for Inanna is her husband Dumuzi, who sits by the great apple tree in the plain of Kulaba “clothed in a magnificent garment and seated magnificently on a throne.” He does not mourn. Inanna looks at Dumuzi with the “look of death,” speaks to him with the “speech of anger,” and shouts at him with the “shout of heavy guilt.” She says: “How much longer? Take him away.” So Inanna gives Dumuzi into the hands of the demons of the underworld.
Dumuzi at first escapes but got eventually caught by the demons. A friend of his revealed his hiding place. Dumuzi’s sister, Geshtinanna, knew her brother’s hiding place, too, but wouldn’t expose it to the demons. She bitterly grieved the loss of her brother, as did Inanna! The end of the story is that Dumuzi stays half the year in the underworld. His sister, Geshtinanna, in turn, spends the other half in the underworld.
“You will go to the underworld half the year. Your sister, since she has asked, will go the other half. On the day you are called, that day you will be taken. On the day Geshtinanna is called, that day you will be set free.”Inanna speaking to Dumuzi in ‘The Descent of Inanna‘. Wolkstein, D., Kramer, S. N., & Williams-Forte, E. Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1983.
11. Inanna vs. Persephone
As you may have noticed, the story of Inanna’s descent into the underworld shares similarities with the later Greek myth of Persephone and Hades, with which it often gets associated relating Persephone to Inanna. However, there are crucial differences. A significant difference is that Persephone got dragged down into the underworld, while Inanna consciously sets out for it.
Persephone was taken to the underworld against her free will. She even got tricked by Hades to stay there for the third part of the year (later writers say one half) by eating a few pomegranate seeds. Inanna, on the other hand, had planned to visit the underworld. She prepared herself for this journey by putting on the garments and jewelry representing her status, identity, and role in the upper world. Knowing that she may never get back to the upper world without help, she even made plans for her rescue. Unlike the young girl Persephone, Inanna descends into the underworld as a grown-up woman with life experience; and as queen.
Both stories have to do with the change of the seasons and, therefore, vegetation. But whereas in the myth of Persephone and Hades the cause for the change of the seasons is the grief of Persephone’s mother Demeter who refuses to let anything grow until her daughter was back, in Inanna’s case the cause is the cyclical absence of her spouse Dumuzi, who, instead of Inanna, is the one returning to the underworld over and over again. Inanna descended and ascended from the underworld only once.
Persephone is made queen through her abduction to the underworld. She became part of the dark realm herself. Her destiny was to become the wife of the God of the Underworld, whose burning desire for her was the initial reason for her abduction. Once tasted the food of the underworld, Persephone has not much saying in where she spends her time. Persephone also, unlike Inanna, did not die in the underworld.
Inanna went through a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She visits the underworld, where she dies and gets resurrected. Richer, through the experience of death and rebirth, she ascends back to her own realms, heaven and earth. What strikes me is that after ascending to the upper world, Inanna does what is said of her in the Morning Star hymn. She makes judgments over the behavior of her people. Going through the experience of being judged and punished herself, Inanna, now purified, gained the power to send someone else to the underworld.
The stories of Persephone and Inanna are stories of different kinds of transformation. They are worth studying both. There is also Ereshkigal’s point of view and how she got to be Queen of the Underworld that is an interesting topic to ponder. Btw, Samuel Noah Kramer associates Ereshkigal with Persephone.
If you are interested in diving into the myths of Inanna, I recommend getting a copy of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, Harper & Row, 1983. This book is the result of the joint work of folklorist Diane Wolkstein and assyriologist Samuel Noah Kramer. Besides stories and hymns about Inanna and insightful commentaries on them, the book includes many pictures of Sumerian art with annotations.
12. Venus in astrology
Venus in astrology is a so-called personal planet and the general significator of partnership and marriage. Venus is also associated with aesthetics, values, pleasure, sexual desire, fine arts and craftsmanship. Further she represents women in general (Mars represents men).
Additionally, in a woman’s birth chart, Venus signifies her view of femininity and how she expresses herself as a woman. In a man’s natal chart, Venus informs, besides the general significations, the type of woman he is attracted to. Since we all have a feminine (as well as masculine) side to us, Venus in anyone’s chart can be interpreted as a symbol of their feminine side, not only the traits projected onto a potential spouse but expressed by themselves.
As mentioned, Inanna and her dual nature are associated with the cycle of the planet Venus. Below some general information about the Sun-Venus-Earth relations and the two phases of Venus.
♀️ The Sun and Venus align every 9 ½ months. Each time Venus crosses paths with the Sun, she alternates between Morning Star (Greek Phōsphóros, meaning “light-bearer”) and Evening Star (Greek Hésperos, meaning “western”). Venus is at the time of writing this article (June/July 2021), in her Evening Star phase. 🌟
♀️ Interior (aka inferior) conjunction means Venus is between the Sun and the Earth. Venus appears as Morning Star after going through an interior conjunction. Exterior (aka superior) conjunction means Venus is behind the Sun, as seen from the perspective of the Earth. Venus appears as Evening Star after going through an exterior conjunction. The video below shows the two last and the upcoming alignments of the Sun, Venus, and Earth as seen from space.
♀️ During 8 years, Venus goes through 5 synodic cycles forming a 5-pointed star (a pentagram ⛤) in the sky. In other words, every eight years Venus and the Sun conjoin close to the zodiacal degree and the same phase position where they were in the previous cycle. The points on the ecliptic Venus conjoins the Sun are called Venus Star Points (VSP). The length of a synodic cycle is 19 months / 1.6 years / 584 days.
♀️ A synodic cycle is usually counted from one interior conjunction (from which Venus emerges as Morning Star) to the next. One can also count a synodic cycle from one exterior conjunction (from which Venus emerges as Evening Star) to the next, which means that in actuality, Venus forms two five-pointed stars in the sky simultaneously, one built of Morning Star Points and another one of Evening Star Points.
In this picture, you see the pattern Venus forms in relation to Earth dancing around the Sun. It is the same pattern seen in flowers like the rose 🌹, which is strongly associated with Venus. Hence, the pentagram of Venus is also called ”Venus flower” or ”rose of Venus.”
♀️ Venus also has a 4 year / 48 months cycle. Every four years, Venus makes a conjunction with the Sun in the same Star Point position as she did four years prior. But this time, the conjunction makes Venus emerge in her opposite phase. For example, the previous conjunction took place in March 2021 in Aries (at 5°50′). It was an exterior conjunction from which Venus emerged as Evening Star. The next conjunction in Aries will be in March 2025, but this time it will be an interior conjunction, after which Venus will become a Morning Star.
♀️ Below you see the Venus Star Points (VPS) of the years 2018-2022 in an astrological chart. The chart is set up for the previous conjunction of the Sun and Venus in Aries on March 26, 2021, location Helsinki, Finland. Note that the star in the graph is a hybrid of Evening Star Points and Morning Star Points. The points of this Venus Star are located in the signs Leo – Gemini – Aries – Capricorn – Libra.
There is a striking point indicated in the sign rulership scheme derived from the Thema Mundi, namely the polarity of Venus and Mars through their signs of rulership. The signs of Venus (Taurus ♉︎ and Libra ♎︎) oppose the signs that are ruled by Mars (Aries ♈︎ and Scorpio ♏︎). This is impressive as Venus is usually associated with love and Mars with war, the polarity Inanna is associated with.
Side note: There are interesting associations of Mars with the the Mesopotamian god Nergal, who, according to some later stories, became Ereshkigal’s spouse and ruled as God of the Underworld.
Signs in opposition to each other are two sides of the same coin. Although seemingly contradicting, they do complement each other being poles to one another. In fact, all on Earth is built on polarities. Astrology is making these polarities that create diversity and eventually make us understand oneness visible. Watch my video about this topic here.
The stories of Inanna and the cycles of her planet Venus remind us of the duality of life. Venus’s opposition to Mars through her signs in the Zodiac wheel may help grasp the full spectrum of femininity (and masculinity, for that matter!).
There is still much left to say about the polarity of Venus and Mars and their signs, their interaction in the zodiac wheel, and the symbolism of life on Earth. The Venus Star and its significance, especially in birth charts of individuals, has become a topic of great interest to me because it highlights the giving-receiving aspect of our interpersonal relationships. From the short time I have been studying the Venus Star Points in birth charts, I can already say the Venus Star bears much insight into one’s life.
13. Back to the tarot
After what I have learned about the first deity associated with planet Venus, I wonder what to make of the Empress card in the tarot. Is it the best card we can associate with Venus? What does the way the Empress is depicted in different tarot decks tell us? What has changed comparing the Empress as depicted in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck to cards from the Middle Ages?
The Empress is usually thought of as representing the feminine (the Emperor represents the masculine). However, the Empress is also associated to a huge part, and sometimes exclusively, with motherhood. But motherhood is not the same as femininity! In astrology, motherhood and femininity are often thought of as being represented by different planets. Motherhood and nurture are primarily symbolized by the Moon, although overlappings with Venus occur already in writings by astrologers of the Hellenistic period.
What to do now? One can revise one’s understanding of Venus and femininity or that of the Empress card. Of course, you can also look for other cards that represent Inanna/Venus and femininity in the tarot.
I have seen Inanna/Ishtar associated with cards like The Star (The Goddess Tarot Deck by Kris Waldherr), The Highpriestess (The Babylonian Tarot by Sandra Tabatha Cicero), and The Chariot (Dark Goddess Tarot by Ellen Lorenzi Prince). Another card sometimes associated with Inanna is Strength.
The Strength card from the Ansata Tarot fits well with the feeling one gets when reading about Inanna’s fiery, ambitious nature. I like that she’s depicted with dark, long, and open hair in this card. And look at her eyes!
A similar version of the Strength card comes from The Alchemical Tarot by Robert M. Place. In this card, like in the Ansata Tarot, a lady rides a lion, but here she holds a burning heart. Above the heart, you see the Sun and the Moon, which pour their essence into the flaming heart. This detail, only replacing the heart with a chalice, is seen in the emblem accompaning the Tabula Smaragdina plate in the Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer, aus dem 16ten und 17ten Jahrhundert (drittes Heft). The symbolism of the unification of poles (Sun-Moon) and the sense of calmness and control in this card is appealing.
The Strength card is associated with Leo ♌︎. Interestingly, Venus/Inanna and the constellation of the Lion have a close relationship in ancient omen texts, and as you know, Inanna is often depicted with lions. In an excerpt of Gavin White’s Babylonian Star-Lore, published on skyscript.co.uk, we can read the following:
“Regardless of its attribution to Latarak, the Lion is especially associated with the war goddess in both literature and art. The war goddess, known as Inanna in Sumerian and Ištar in Akkadian, is sometimes simply known as the ‘Lioness of Heaven’. Mythic texts reveal that her temple throne was supported by a pair of ferocious lions, but more often than not Inanna could be found on the battle-field where the roar of her sacred lion enunciated war – ‘the lion, the dog of Ištar, roared and did not stop roaring’. […] In astrology, Inanna’s sacred planet is Venus, whose appearance in the Lion naturally enough portends war – her aspect as morning or evening star indicates the theatre of battle: ‘If Venus stands inside the Lion in the east: in Elam there will be a battle’. ‘If in the west: in Akkad there will be a battle’. In fact the association of Venus and the Lion is so close that she is regarded as having her second exaltation or ‘secret place’ in the Lion: ‘If Venus reaches her secret place: good fortune will come to pass’ – She reaches the constellation of the Lion.”
I can also find logic in associating Inanna with the Chariot. The Chariot is usually depicted being pulled by two different-colored creatures indicating that the Chariot driver controls two different forces at the same time.
Still, no other card in the Major Arcana of the Tarot is linked to administration and femininity as the Empress is. Empress (Herrscherin or Kaiserin in German, hallitsijatar or valtiatar in Finnish) is a title denoting leadership, control, and authority. Some older and a few contemporary tarot cards express this aspect better than the one of the traditional RWS (fourth picture left in gallery below) does, which IMHO looks too tamed. There is one card of the Empress by Grace Kwon (last picture in gallery below), which gives a sense of sensuality, confidence, and authority at the same time.
At this point, I want to give special thanks to Daniel Watts @visionary_sea for permitting me to use his visual interpretation of Inanna/Ishtar called Ishtar X Zion. You can see part of this powerful artwork in the header of this article. Can you see the firmness, depth, and courage this piece oozes? And look at these colors and the details! Go and see the complete work at https://visionarysea.com/ishtar-x-zion.
Which tarot card do you associate most with Inanna? Which deck is your favorite? Let me know in the comments section below.
Enheduanna (ca. 23rd century BCE) is the first author in the world who is known by name. She was the daughter of Sargon, who was the founder of the Akkadian empire. Enheduanna was a High Priestess of Inanna and the moon god Nanna (Akkadian Sin). She lived in Ur, the city mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the birthplace of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim patriarch Abraham, believed to have lived some time in the 2nd millennium BCE.
Clay tablet. Sumerian literary; hymn to Inanna, Nin-me-šár-ra, lines 1-46; not dated. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Among other writings, Enheduanna wrote three hymns: Inninsagurra ‘The Great-Hearted Mistress’, Ninmesarra ‘The Exaltation of Inanna,’ and Inninmehusa ‘Goddess of the Fearsome Powers.’ Below a beautiful musical presentation of ‘The Exaltation of Inanna‘ in Sumerian with German translation. For an English translation, see here.
15. Final thoughts
The myth of Inanna is a story of the co-existence and unification of opposites, and therefore of wholeness. Inanna unifies that which is different. She is the regenerative link between opposites. Already her titles, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Goddess of Love and War, tell us that Inanna’s essence is her integrative, unifying force.
Her myths can help us understanding and accepting the diversity and contradicting aspects of life and ourselves. Diving into Inanna’s stories—meeting the Goddess—may help us face and integrate what has been unjustly suppressed for all too long, on a personal and collective level.
May She richly bless us on this journey!
Sources and further reading
Sumerian literature online
Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI). https://cdli.ucla.edu/.
Black, J. A., Cunningham, G., Ebeling, J., Flückiger-Hawker, E., Robson, E., Taylor, J., and Zólyomi, G. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/. Oxford 1998–2006.
Anne O. Nomis: The History & Arts of the Dominatrix. Mary Egan Publishing & Anna Nomis, Ltd 2013.
Guttman, A. Venus Star Rising: A New Cosmology for the 21st Century. Sophia Venus Productions, 2011.
Kramer, S. N. History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man’s Recorded History. Thames & Hudson, London, 1958.
Kramer, S. N. Sumerian mythology: a study of spiritual and literary achievement in the third millennium B.C. Revised Edition. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972. Read online here.
White, Gavin. Babylonian Star-lore: An Illustrated Guide to the Star-Lore and Constellations of Ancient Babylonia, Solaria Publications, 2014.
Wolkstein, D., Kramer, S. N., & Williams-Forte, E. Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1983.
History with Cy. The Complete and Concise History of the Sumerians and Early Bronze Age Mesopotamia (7000-2000 BC). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szFjxmY7jQA. February 4, 2021.
History with Cy. Sumerian Religion Simplified. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa4szTWV9Bk. October 5, 2019.
Studies and papers
Lowe, Alexandra Louise. Let’s talk about sex: a study into the sexual nature of the goddess Inanna. http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/5854. University of Birmingham. M.Res., 2015.
Ortega, Christopher E. Inanna in Mesopotamian Religion and Culture: Reinforcer of Heteronormativity, or Legitimizer of non-Heteronormativity? Originally presented at the Spring 2015 western regional conference of The American Academy of Religion.
Hesiod, and Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1914.
Mark, Joshua J. Inanna. World History Encyclopedia, 15 Oct 2010. https://www.worldhistory.org/Inanna/. Accessed May 7, 2021.
Roibin. Haus der Inanna. http://www.inanna.de/inanna_home.html. Accessed May 31, 2021.
Wikipedia. Eanna. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eanna. Accessed May 7, 2021.
Wikipedia. Inanna. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inanna. Accessed May 7, 2021.
Ishtar X Zion, kindly provided by Daniel Watts | Visionary Sea