Europe is burning. Out of control heatwaves and wildfires, once the preserve of dry brushlands, are now bringing a new wave of terror to the historic capitals of Western civilisation. The UK broke its own temperature record in eighteen separate places on the same day. Soaring temperatures, bringing with them destructive weather events, are the new normal, a new normal that poses a threat to human civilisation as well as life on Earth.
Elsewhere, the twin forces of War and Plague bring with them Famine and Death. Global trade routes, already under immense strain from the Covid-19 pandemic, are further threatened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine which also served to cut off a quarter of the world's grain supply. It's no wonder that the world of today has an apocalyptic feel to it, or that billions of people find themselves without answers, without purpose, alienated by a vast global machinery that only seems to move money from place to place and attend to the whims of the elites, rather than the needs of the masses.
How do we, as Sumerians, approach the global crisis? Was it sent by the gods? The answer from a Sumerian perspective is an unequivocal NO. It is humans who were given custodianship over the Earth, to rule as we see fit, and the gods who laid out a model of good governance and good society to follow. Civilisation was intended to be a place of sanctuary, a place where all would be provided for and be elevated to express their potential in turn, and where the forces of the numinous divine found in nature would continue to express themselves in the new forms that they took in the fabric of human society.
Nisaba, Lady of the Good Grain, came to oversee writing, invented as a means to keep track of food supplies and then of civic adminisration. Inana, Queen of the Date Palm, claimed authority over the storehouse gate wherein the dates would be heaped up, and of the fecund powers of nature that caused not just the crops but also the cities to flourish. The flourishing of civilisation is therefore to be understood as a joint endeavour between humans and gods.
"May 'There is enough, there is enough' be your blessing, and may 'There is none' be your abomination."
- fragment of a balbale poem to Inana
The covenant of civilisation that was made at Eridu c. 5500 BCE between a small group of migrants, most likely having their origins in the Upper Euphrates Valley, and the manifestation of Enki that they met in the sweet waters of the Persian Gulf, provided that the gods would give everything that the cities needed to thrive in return for being given a place of honour in the midst of those cities, and a share in the spoils of civilisation, which humans were otherwise free to use for their own fulfillment.
The peoples of Mesopotamia understood that the blessings of the gods were not automatic, and weren't to be taken for granted. The ancestral memory of the Sumerians contained 200,000 years of nomadic, hunter-gatherer life, which was a cruel life where each day brought a new struggle to survive, and small bands of humans wandered the Earth perpetually searching for their next meal. They understood that civilisation had to be taken care of, good order established, and the principles of the gods upheld, because these were the things that had brought them out of the state of nature in the first place, and without those things, they would easily fall back to the state of nature again.
"Heaven is far, earth is most precious, but it is with heaven that you multiply your goods, and all the lands breathe under it."
- Instructions of Šuruppak, c. 2500 BCE
Dignity, justice, and equity are part of the divine order of the universe, and when human rulers administer their domains in a way that strips people of their dignity, fails to secure justice, and breeds inequity, that is understood as a withdrawal from the covenant of civilisation. If we take the work of the gods and the splendours of civilisation for granted, we can hardly demand the acquiescence of the divine to the destruction of the world order. Unfortunately, that's where the historical trends have led us. The reverence of the divine spark found in every facet of nature and civilisation was transformed over millennia into the worship of gods who represented nothing more or less than the sum total of the empires that wore their image irreverently while conquering and crushing the lands around them. The Babylonian and Assyrian empires at their height were exactly this - imperial endeavours bent on world conquest, usurping the name of the gods to do so, and a distinction must accordingly be drawn between the social, political and religious characteristics of the first great imperial age, which began in the aftermath of the Bronze Age Collapse in the 13th century BCE, and that of the age of the first Sumerians, who emerged on that marshy plain full of hope, awe and wonder.
Even late in Mesopotamia's independence, the principles of the divine order were well understood. The Instructions to a Prince, written about 800 BCE, begins: "If a king does not heed justice, his people will be thrown into chaos, and his land will be devastated. If he does not heed the justice of his land, Ea [Enki], king of destinies, will alter his destiny and will not cease from pursuing him." The style of the Instructions is that of a Babylonian omen text, following an if-then formula, suggesting that its author was all too aware of the fate that had befallen unjust kings in the past.
This tells us that in the Mesopotamian worldview, it's the administrator of the land - in this case, the king - who is responsible for its fate. When we look at the world around us today, and we look upon the faces of those who administer the nations of the Earth, we see careless administration, we see indifference to crisis and suffering, and we see maniacs as bent on conquest as were the most tyrannical of the Assyrian kings. We have seen throughout history the creation and entrenchment of an elite political class, administering the earth while being entirely detached from the consequences or the people they claim the authority to rule over. For the West, the Arab world and their various colonies, this was achieved through the promotion of a vicious, all-conquering monotheism. Between the Enlightenment age and the present day, this monotheism has, in large parts of Christendom, been superseded by a secular state religion in which the state and its political class stand alone, supreme, in control of mass media and news corporations, demanding devotion and obeisance while blinding itself to the human suffering taking place within its borders.
Such religious and political control of the information sphere has been used to sever the connection of much of the world to their spiritual roots. With the development of capitalist modes of production, it is the Holy Dollar that has taken its place on the altar of society, such that the only worthwhile work to a capitalist order is the work that yields profit. The cause of human dignity and human fulfillment is directly opposed to the fanatical capitalist mentality of maximising profit, and so these two forces have inevitably collided in a dialectic of their own throughout the period of industrialisation and through to the modern day.
It behooves us, as Sumerians, to state the following:
The global capitalist order is fundamentally broken. Heavily militarised, it lurches from crisis to crisis under the inept leadership of the political elite. These waves of crisis threaten all life on Earth and are a matter of direct concern for the immediate future of civilisation.
The Sumerian faith concerns itself with the good order of society. It must, in that sense, concern itself with politics, in the modern sense; the ancient Sumerians would not have seen the administration of a city or a nation based around the greater good of all its inhabitants as anything other than one of the functions to which a rightly ordered society must dedicate itself. In contrast, a society organised around the thirst for profit and conquest has come at the cost of human dignity and manifest experience of spirituality.
Once we recognise the existing order of society as being unfit for purpose and unacceptable to human dignity, we must then turn our thoughts to what should replace it. The one great global movement against the existing order - Soviet-style communism, rooted in orthodox Marxism - achieved nothing more than the creation of a new political class, its goals the same conquest and entrenchment, where the secular state took its place on the altar of the nation and professed a dangerous, anti-spiritual, eugenicist scientific-materialism as the pseudo-religious order of the land. The administrators of that system had their own role in dragging the world through oscillating periods of crisis.
The Sumerian faith is an orthodox faith with long-established tenets. Among those ancient tenets are depictions of what a just society should look like. These tenets are not mere religious dogma - they are the lessons of a people, learned in the ongoing struggle for survival and the blood and suffering of countless generations, and expressed in the records kept by the Sumerians themselves that they may serve as a guide to future generations. It is eminently clear that our existing society falls well short of every benchmark, and that the modern Sumerian faith should concern itself with what the good order of a modern society should look like.
Society and technology have changed immeasurably since the last documents were written in the Sumerian tongue. However, the basic principle that new technology should be used for the betterment of human lives translates losslessly across the years. Technological growth should be pursued just as it was during the Ur III period, which was the greatest technological boom in history until the Industrial Revolution. While automation is fundamentally desirable, it must be pursued in such a way that the labour burden on humans is diminished. The world is likely to face many ethical and societal questions around automation in the coming decades, and if automation is not used to reduce the labour burden, it will invariably be used to boost the profits hoarded by the elites.
Society must be structured in such a way as the Earth is given proper reverence and is taken care of in a manner befitting such a precious natural gift. A matter of immediately pressing concern is the climate crisis, and so the goal for the future must be nothing less than 100% sustainable, emission free energy, to be achieved as soon as possible. Future technology may permit for essentially unlimited amounts of energy to be generated at negligible cost, and such technology should also be the subject of proper study and inquiry. Aside from the climate crisis, proper care must be taken of local ecosystems. Pollution is a direct affront for the divine. All our natural resources must be safeguarded on the understanding that they are not our sole property: we are holding them in trust for the gods and for future generations.
The restoration of human dignity is also fundamental. Society must count it as an obligation and a blessing to be able to provide for the wellbeing of all the people who constitute it. A society not relentlessly centred around profit will be able to dedicate time and attention to the arts, which are themselves a manifestation of the divine creative spark present in all human beings. All people should be able to find employment in a way that they are directly connected to the fruits of their labours, which serve a part of the collective endeavour to continually improve the condition of society and all its inhabitants.
The spiritual needs of humanity should be considered an integral part of human dignity. The numinous power of the gods found in nature has been transformed by the co-operative effort of the human and divine endeavour into the terrain of the city, the suitable dwelling on Earth for humans and gods alike, and the divine powers woven into every facet of civilisation must be respected and revered. The ideal future society would give the gods a place of honour at the centre of it, as was the case for the vast majority of settled human history.
The specific form of the political administration of the future society should be a matter for the local inhabitants. A Sumerian perspective would suggest that a localised form of governance based on city-states would be preferred, interconnected through a globalised system of trade but with a backup focus on the capacity for local self-sufficiency in case of emergency. It would also suggest that a place be found in the civic administration for respected members of the local community as well as spiritual and faith leaders, likely under an office of executive power. This office need not belong to a king, as some of the earliest Sumerian city states had their chief administrative position (ensi) as an elected one.
Although the establishment of such a society might seem like a distant dream, it is important and necessary to set out the principles of good governance, as understood by the ancients in line with the divine order of the Universe, in order to set out a means of comparison with how society is laid out and administered in the modern day. The Sumerian faith is a faith based around civilisation and the entire history of the human effort, and teaches us to scrutinise the way our society is administered and its relationship with the divine, the natural world, and the human lives that it claims dominion over, and further to work and pray for the good administration of the Earth to be set in place as a precondition for the liberation of humanity and freedom from scarcity.
Lady of the highest heaven,
In whose presence An may tremble,
Queen of gate, and rod, and key,
Of earth and sky, of land and sea,
O Inana, may your name,
May your glory and your fame,
Yet be lifted ever higher,
Fuelling passion and desire,
May the hearts of every nation,
In a grand conflagaration,
Yet be stirred with holy power,
For to bring the day and hour,
When, like Ebih, all the tyrants,
Bitter thieves and landed pirates,
Bow down low, and their foundations,
Be condemned to ruin of ages.
𒆬 𒊩𒌆𒈨𒈬 𒍠𒊩
I’ve had a few people reach out and ask me lately about the status of the Ishtar Gate project. I want to reassure people that the website is not dead. A range of personal and life issues, as well as other personal projects that I've been carrying out, have meant that I haven’t been able to devote much time at all to this site in months, which has been a regret of mine, but my own spiritual work and journey continues.
My methods for ascertaining my path remain the same as ever. I pray for growth, awareness, and the wisdom to carry out the will of the Anuna gods on Earth. The move that I have made has been kind to me, and has allowed me to make some profound personal connections in the wider Pagan community. I do have further plans for the Ishtar Gate site and it is my intention to begin reworking much of the content on the site shortly.
My reflections, lately, have led me to consider the topic of loss. As I write this, it is the night of 29/30 June in the western hemisphere, the new moon which equates to the last day of the Sumerian month of Sig Ga. The new moon is a solemn time in our faith, occasioning the rite of 𒆠𒋧𒂵 kisiga (Akk. kispu). On this day, it is appropriate to pour out libations to the blessed dead of our families and communities.
In the earliest days of settled civilisation, a family would bury their dead beneath their home. The grave acted as a gate to the nether world, and a libation pipe would be installed so that offerings could literally be poured into the grave for the family’s ancestors in the nether world. An ancestor’s spirit would retain their individuality for as long as their names and deeds were spoken of, and if their needs were satisfied (through libations), then - as their spoken memory faded to obscurity - so too would their spirit, amalgamating with those of the immediate family or clan. Over the course of a civilisation, families and clans come and go, rise and fall, and in the process, a yet further course of amalgamation would occur, resulting in the “cultural spirit” (Akk. kimtu rapaštu) which holds the ancestral memories of an entire people.
In honouring the glorious dead during the kisiga rite, I am always sure to keep the cultural spirit of the Mesopotamian peoples in my heart and pour out offerings to them in turn. The Mesopotamian cultures consisted of humans and were, therefore, imperfect. Some of their cultural practices would seem unthinkable to us today, and it is always important to acknowledge that fact, because we have learned and advanced much as a species in the millennia since the Sumerian city states. However, it is through the collective cultural effort to build a relationship with the immanent and numinous divine, to make careful record of their observations, and to detail the chronology of their society, that we are able to draw upon their experience in our own relationships with the deities that humans first encountered in our meteoric technological boom that started in the Ur III period and which continues to the present day.
The night of kisiga is a night of mourning. We mourn those close to our hearts who had the greatest impact on our lives, and we pledge to keep their memories alive, but so too do we mourn those we never had a chance to know or even to read about. The Sumerians were proud of their own forms of individual expression, such as the cylinder seal, which served as the ancient equivalent to a signature. They were not restricted to the rich - everyone would own one, from kings down to enslaved persons and labourers, and their construction, design and engravings were just as unique as the individual experience is.
When we mourn all that is lost at kisiga, we mourn the myriad lost human experiences, the fragmentary tablets and tales that are untold and unknown to us, the trail-blazers and pioneers whose names were lost to history, the past that we never knew and the hopeful futures that were sacrificed on the altar of that selfsame history.
The time between the settlement of Eridu and the present day is a blip constituting maybe one or two per cent of the time anatomically modern humans have walked the Earth. The technological revolution launched in Uruk never stopped, but at each stage of our development, presented with the opportunity to use our ever expanding technological prowess in the fight for human dignity, we have chosen instead base militarism and barbarism. This, too, we mourn at kisiga, for a society given all of our resources should be ashamed that we have not defeated fear and want, as was the dream of the first people to taste of the sweet waters at the mouth of the two great rivers, who saw that Land to be the perfect place to settle a city that could feed and support a thousand, no, ten thousand families in peace and abundance.
Some time between the first city-states and the conquest of Sumer by Sargon of Akkad, warfare went through certain stages of development: first a means of defense, then an unfortunate economic necessity, and then a way of life. By the time of the Babylonian and - particularly - Assyrian Empires, warfare had become the very means by which the state kept itself in existence, and the military strongmen who held the reins of power in those states set their sights not on providing for their people but on the subjugation of the entire world.
With the rise of the militaristic state also came the subordination of all the gods of heaven before the new concept of the national god. Aššur in Assyria and Marduk in Babylon were no longer present only in their temples and holy sites, but everywhere the boundaries of those nations might reach. As the states absorbed more territory, so too must the national gods absorb more functions; if the empire was to subjugate the known world, so too must the national gods integrate all the functions of the lesser gods into their own. A fervently henotheistic culture developed, particularly in Assyria, where the solar iconography of Aššur became emblematic of the god’s presence.
It was one small step from there to the invisible iconography of Yahweh, national god of Israel, a nation locked in opposition and defiance to Assyria. The only way for the Israelites to explain the Assyrian yoke in terms of their own theology was if Aššur was in fact subject to Yahweh and being used as a tool of divine punishment, which is why Assyria is described as the rod of Yahweh’s anger in the Israelite scriptures (Isaiah 10:5). History would have it that the Christian offshoot of the Israelite faith - with a new and aggressive missionary zeal - therefore came into being with a highly militaristic outlook, set on utilising state power, first of Rome, then of the post-Roman kingdoms, to impose its form of universal monotheism upon every tribe of people that it encountered.
The only way to understand the Sumerian and Abrahamic faiths is therefore as a part of the same historical current. Anything less is historical blindness. Although religiosity in general is in decline in much of the West, the entrenched systems of Abrahamic power still dominate most countries in the world, and the decisions of courts and governments worldwide should serve to make this clear.
We - as part of the first century of modern day Sumerians - must understand our political realities in light of the will of the Anuna gods, which is the will for equity, fairness, and dignity. Anything else is to be understood as a betrayal of a civilisation’s duty to all of its inhabitants as well as to itself. On this night, we mourn those in our civilisation whose stories are never told, those who are marginalised or erased by conflict or outright hostility to their lived experiences, those who are robbed of their dignity by a society that fails to heed a billion plaintive cries for help.
Not only have many been failed by modern civilisation but that civilisation is in peril. I do not believe this to be an alarmist thing to say, but a grim acceptance of reality. That’s not to say that “the end is nigh” - the experience of the ancients tells us that the fall of a civilisation is like a slow landslide in motion, in which society contracts, turns inwards, loses cohesion, and grapples with crisis after crisis that it is too paralysed to fend off.
The ancients would have been able to see the warning signs, but Westernised society is beset by a certain kind of exceptionalism that leads people to think “it can’t happen here”. The collapse of a civilisation takes hundreds or even thousands of years, and all the while, people live “normal” lives, only with ever increasing prices, shortages of goods, a backdrop of conflict and discord in the world. It is our responsibility as Sumerians to be aware of the historical context in which we sit, and the cycle of civilisation that so many advanced societies have followed before us.
A collapse is never inevitable. Society has weathered worse crises than the one we find ourselves in at this time. However, we must not blind ourselves to the urgency of the situation, and we must be ready to declare our intentions for a better future society, whatever direction this one takes.
O, bright lady of the morning,
Ever may your colours dawning,
Stir our hearts to deed and passion,
That all souls shall know compassion.
Bride who makes the morning’s light shine,
By your grace may Utu assign,
Dignity to every nation,
May your songs of adoration,
Call your beauty to the hillsides,
So your youthful splendour still shines,
In the human soul forever -
Lady of the dawn, Šerida!
A warrior queen stands in a grove surrounded by the armed men and women of her tribe. She raises her hands and invokes the name of her Lady, the Queen of Heaven, the impetuous mistress of battle, for the cause of victory, survival, and preservation of her people.
She is Queen Boudicca, leader of the Iceni, an indigenous people of Britain. The year is 60 CE, and the Iceni kingdom has just been usurped by the Romans in the course of their invasion of Britain. Upon the death of the king, Prasutagus, the Romans fail to honour their treaties and the will of the king, instead annexing and looting the kingdom, subjecting the late king's wife - Boudicca - and their two daughters to physical and sexual violence.
When Suetonius, the Roman governor of Britain, was attempting to put down resistance to Roman occupation on the island of Anglesey, in modern Wales, Boudicca and the Iceni seized their chance for rebellion. With her appeal to heaven, Boudicca leads the Iceni and allied tribes in wholesale destruction of Roman colonies in Britain. The cities that would later become Colchester, London, and St. Albans are burned and razed, the Roman 9th (Spanish) Legion routed, and for a moment, the course of history wavers as Roman control of Britain hangs in the balance.
Suetonius, hearing news of the revolt, returned to gather the Roman legions in Britain. Despite being heavily outnumbered, his forces met Boudicca's for a decisive battle - the location is still unknown - where Roman military discipline and organisation allowed them victory in spite of Boudicca's overwhelming numbers. 80,000 Britons would be killed, and Boudicca poisoned herself rather than surrender to the inevitable Roman retribution.
Despite her ultimate defeat, Boudicca lives on to the present day as a British folk hero. Her exploits and resistance are taught in schools and her statues stand in major cities, including London, which she once had burned to the ground. Many accounts, however, leave out mention of the goddess Andraste, to whom Boudicca appealed before she commenced her revolt.
It is natural to wonder about the character of Andraste, the goddess venerated by this warrior queen and her people. Regrettably, the Celtic Britons left behind very little in the way of written records; much of what we can glean must come from Roman sources, naturally inimical to the Britons.
The Roman historian Cassius Dio, writing a century and a half after the fact, describes Boudicca's speech - likely embellished, as Boudicca would have spoken neither Latin nor Greek - in which she calls upon Andraste for "victory, preservation of life and liberty" against the Romans; Dio later describes sacrifices and banquets being held in honour of the goddess Andate (sic) alongside his depictions of gory retribution visited upon Romans, particularly Roman noblewomen, by the Britons.
It was customary for Roman historians to embellish the negative traits and barbaric character of their enemies, but we nonetheless get a picture of Andraste as a goddess not only of battle but of retribution; these characteristics instantly draw to mind comparisons with Inana, particularly in that one reason for Boudicca's personal fury towards the Romans, namely the sexual assault against her daughters, is reminiscent of Inana's fury against the gardener Šukaletuda, who had violated her, and in retribution for which Inana turns the waters of the Land into blood and decrees Šukaletuda's destruction.
The name Andraste (also Andate, Andarta) naturally invites comparisons with that of Astarte, the name under which Inana was venerated in ancient Phoenicia and the Levant. Phonetic similarity does not, on its own, lend itself to a temporal relation, but the similarities appear on more than just a surface level, so much so that a relationship between Andraste and Astarte has been proposed elsewhere in the historical record.
Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn, an early Dutch linguist who laid the foundations for our understanding of the Indo-European language family, wrote in Originum Gallicarum liber ("book of the origins of the Gauls") in 1654 that, drawing upon the summary of Dio's work prepared by 11th century Byzantine monk Joannes Xiphelinus, he believed Astarte to have been introduced to the Gauls - who, as Celts, shared a linguistic bond and common body of worship with the Britons - by the Phoenicians.
In his 1845 work, Crania Britannica, anthropologist Joseph Barnard Davis also explores this hypothesis; he references Polybius' Histories, from which it is known that the Gauls venerated by 223 BCE a warrior goddess with the epithet of "immovable"; Polybius equates this goddess with Minerva, but Andraste, whose name translates similarly, seems much more likely. Davis further infers that the epithet Belisama, originally of Andraste, was adapted as a name of Minerva by the Romans, but that this title ultimately derives from Akkadian belet šame - Queen of Heaven.
Davis also claims that a Phoenician temple to Astarte existed in Gades (now Cádiz, Spain); the city was founded by the Phoenicians around 1100 BCE and references to the same temple also exist in Roman historiography. Inana, under her various names and titles, was one of the most widely venerated deities across the Mediterranean, and with numerous Phoenician colonies being founded on the Iberian coast in the first half of the first millennium BCE, it's not difficult to envision worship of the Queen of Heaven being adapted by their Celtic and Gaulish neighbours. Phoenicia was, after all, a major mercantile and trading power of the age, and the fire, passion, and reverence of Inana spread like wildfire along other known trade routes of the ancient and pre-classical world.
Indeed, given the Phoenicians' renown for trade, exploration and commerce, their proximity to the Celtic peoples, the longevity of their city-states and empires (Phoenician presence in Iberia extended some nine centuries) and what we know from the written record of the way reverence of the Queen of Heaven spread through the ancient world, it would almost seem more surprising had the Celts not had extensive exposure to her worship and her mythology.
I also find it interesting that Boudicca herself is described with the same warlike zeal and fury; she is described by Dio thus: "in stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh". (Loeb Classical Library translation; text in the public domain.) Dio describes Boudicca releasing a hare herself, for the sake of augury, which alongside the invocation of the Goddess may indicate that her office also implied a priestly function. Whether this is the case or not, Boudicca is remembered for her avenging fury which instantly draws the stories of Inana to mind; on further examination, it is surprising how deep the connection may run.
As Sumerian Reconstructionists, the study of history underpins our understanding of our faith. We are therefore bound to treat history cautiously and with respect; there is therefore an important disclaimer to be added here that we have precious little historical evidence of Celtic culture and beliefs, and no primary written sources. Our understanding of Andraste is pieced together from limited Roman sources, and so we lack an indigenous Celtic perspective on their Goddess.
As far as I am aware, the roots of Andraste have received almost no coverage in modern scholarship, and other possibilities do exist; it is entirely feasible that a chance archeological discovery could validate or overturn this idea.
Nonetheless, there is no denying what we do know of Andraste and Boudicca are tantalisingly evocative of Inana in her irresistible warrior aspect, and a potential connection is discreetly hinted at in the historical record. Those who are devoted to Inana strive for an ever more complete understanding of her character, and in encountering the legendary and historical character of Boudicca, is it any wonder that our minds are drawn to the awe-inspiring avenging power of our Goddess?
Queen of Heaven, quick to anger,
Fierce tempest of the heavens,
Suen's daughter bathed in moonlight,
Living source of righteous fury,
May the nations know your power,
May your awesome wrath inspire,
May you stir the hearts of many,
To resist the greedy few.
Your name on Earth shall live forever,
Your deeds proclaimed in every tongue,
Your shrines and holy dwellings treasured,
"Your praise is sweet", be ever sung.
The cuneiform writing for Inana's name is 𒀭𒈹 d.MUŠ3, and unlike the names of many deities, this is not a phonetic spelling of her name. Enlil, for example, is written 𒀭𒂗𒆤 d.EN.LIL2, where en means "lord" and lil "wind, spirit, breath of life", so where did Inana's sign come from and how does it help explain her character?
To explain, we must look to where Inana was first worshipped, the city of Uruk, a city ancient even by Sumerian standards. Records grow incredibly sparse the further back in written history we go, and it's in 4th millennium BCE Uruk, near the dawn of writing, that the worship of Inana is first attested in the historical record.
We know from textual and religious evidence that the Lady of Myriad Domains grew and acquired her powers over time, and the text of Inana and Uruk tells of her first triumphant entry into that city, when she chose it as her own and took the divine powers of heaven into it in a grand procession.
We also know that in the earliest days of her worship in Uruk, she fulfilled two vital functions, one spiritual as the Queen of Heaven, and one temporal as the Lady of the Storehouse. The earliest evidence we have for such a function being attributed to Inana is a beautiful 4th millennium BCE vase called the Warka Vase, which depicts Inana standing in front of a storehouse gate, flanked by the ceremonial doorposts composed of tied bundles of reeds.
The storehouse was a focal point of Sumerian economic activity at the time. It was a room or building in a temple complex where surplus food would be stored, so that it might be distributed in times of need. To the early Sumerian, this was an incredible development. The presence of the storehouse guarded against famine and starvation. Permanent settlements were a relatively recent innovation - before this, humans had spent a hundred thousand years as nomadic hunter-gatherers, never sure where our next meal would come from. The early Sumerian would have been truly thankful for the bounties of civilization, promising food and shelter for all, allowing for the pursuit of knowledge and human advancement like never before, and would have thought it right to worship the deities who lifted them so rapidly from that pre-civilized state.
It is these storehouse gateposts that became forever associated with Inana through the symbol 𒈹. Early cuneiform was written vertically, so when turning the symbol 90 degrees clockwise, the symbolism of a bundle of reeds erected in the ground and tied together starts to reveal itself. This is made clearer still when looking at how the symbol developed from a drawing of the gatepost through the proto-literate period.
The significance of the sacred union of Inana and her consort Dumuzi to the maintenance of human life and civilization is also revealed upon closer examination of the early form of worship at Uruk. As depicted on the Warka vase, Dumuzi appears in his aspect called Ama-ušum-gal-ana, his symbol the date palm cluster, while offerings of fruits and grains are carried to Inana in her role as Lady of the Storehouse. The joining together of Dumuzi's life- and fertility-giving gifts and Inana's power of the storehouse, allowing for the sustenance of the community, are also a metaphor for the fertility of the Land, which it is hoped will be ensured by their union.
The storehouse also stands for a key moment in human history, because it represents the first step by which scarcity can be defeated. Scarcity is a great quickener of human ills, for a casual glance through history reveals a nigh endless list of wars and calamities that have been instigated for want of resources. A world where every person has enough to survive and thrive is a world that is free to prosper. Furthermore, it is the intention of the gods that humanity provides for ourselves such that the whole world can constantly celebrate and enjoy the blessings and riches of the Land. This is the reason why one of the many epithets of Babylon was Uru-uĝbi-ezen-zalzal, where the people continually rejoice.
We have a power in our hands, in our modern world, that was unthinkable to the Sumerians. We have reached a level of technological advancement that, through automation, it would be possible to solve the problem of scarcity forever and permit billions of human beings to rest from their labours, and yet, wealth is permitted to settle in the hands of a tiny minority who fill their own private storehouses with hoarded riches. A proverb from Ur shows this greed for what it is:
𒃻𒌇 𒃻 𒀠 𒁲 𒃻𒈪𒉭 𒀭𒊏𒄰
To be wealthy and demand more is to speak abominations unto one's god!
The ancient world faced the constant specter of famine, disease, raids and invasions. The ancients knew, on a primal level that we can scarcely comprehend today, the truth of the adage that every civilization is three missed meals away from chaos. One of the reasons why Sumerian society was able to flourish was the commitment to ensuring the welfare of the collective. This is even more remarkable when considering that even despite the Sumerian commitment to communal welfare, theirs was never a society truly free of worry for the future. A mere six thousand years hence, our advancements in technology, medicine, and building global peace - while far from perfect - give us the power to harness the fruits of the Earth sustainably, responsibly, and for the wellbeing of every human. That we do not do so is, in the eyes of the Sumerian, an unforgivable shame.
To follow a Mesopotamian path in the modern day brings with it the inevitability and the responsibility of being aware of human history on a far greater scale than is generally taught in our schools. We observe that the decline of a civilization is not a one-off, violent event; Rome didn't fall in a day, and nor did Babylon, and while these cities were sacked by invaders, this was after a centuries-long period of decline and instability, division and infighting, often accompanied by external factors such as climate events and plagues. While we should be careful to avoid hyperbole, the parallels to our modern age are difficult to miss.
We should therefore pray for the guidance and wisdom of our gods so that their blueprint for a good society may one day be realised on Earth, and be alert to historical trends so that we may be well informed in what the tablet of history tells us of an increasingly uncertain future. We find hope and aspiration towards a better future in the sacred marriage of Inana and Dumuzi, and the vast untapped potential that the Earth holds for the betterment of humanity.
Holy Inana, lady of the myriad domains,
Lady who fills the good storehouses of the Land,
Lady who provides for the abundance of the people,
May your storehouses be piled high with fruits and grains,
May your holy union with Dumuzi forever bless the Land,
May the Land ever bring forth good grain to sustain humanity.
Queen of Heaven, you brought forth the divine powers to your people in Uruk,
May their splendour never fade, may your hymns and blessings never cease.
May your storehouses be piled high with gold and lapis lazuli,
May the prosperity of the Land ever be ensured by your hand,
May your festivals and celebrations carry on without end.
In this age of civilization, with your name restored to glory,
May we yet see an end to hunger and strife,
An end to bitterness and quarrel,
And the unity of the human race,
In pursuit of a future of abundance,
A future that sings your praises,
Lady most honoured among the Anuna gods,
Holy Inana, your praise is sweet!
Silima hemenzen - peace be upon you all.
This is the tentative first post of an experiment I'm running, where - when I'm struck by the inspiration - I intend to publish a series of short articles on how I practice my Sumerian faith, and the lessons I read into the world around me through the lens of that faith.
After all, learning about the faith and history of Mesopotamia has changed my worldview in innumerable ways, and top of the list would be my view of our place in the history of civilization and the human species. The Mesopotamian underpinnings of our civilization's scientific and spiritual foundations are almost too numerous to list, but the history we are taught is narrow and selective, and we are not taught of our connection to the roots of history.
This is important to us as Sumerians because we are taught that civilization is a gift of the gods. A time without civilization was fresh in the cultural memory of the Sumerians - a time in our human ancestry when we lived a nomadic existence as hunter-gatherers of no fixed abode, forever on the move, searching for the next source of food and shelter, as it had always been.
It's no wonder, then, that with the advent of agricultural technology and the rise of the first cities, the people who lived at that time knew an appreciation for civilization, revered it, and vowed to treat it appropriately. In the modern faith, we too should treat each and every facet of our lives and our societies as a sacred relic; they are the me that Inana brought to Uruk, and those that all the gods brought to their own cities.
It is my belief that the dominant religious paradigms of the past two millennia serve to sever people from their spiritual link to the dawn of civilization. That the Abrahamic belief system teaches that the first cities were founded in shame when the first people were run out of Paradise, but that the Sumerian faith carries the distant spiritual memories of life before the first cities, and guides us to be mindful of what we have.
A passage of the Atrahasis Epic contains the phrase "for a myriad years, [the Igigi gods] bore the excess of hard work, night and day". This may reflect a cultural memory of pre-Neolithic times, as above, and this is spiritually significant because in the Sumerian worldview, human society was created as a reflection of divine society - if the Sumerians conceived of their gods labouring in the open air night and day, that's because there was a reflection of it on the Earth at one point in time.
In the Atrahasis tale, the Igigi gods use their resources and wisdom to create humanity to do the work the gods had tired of (tending the Earth). This doesn't imply that humans were created as slaves, for if the gods wished to have created a mindless slave race, they could simply have done so. Instead, we have inside us a wondrous, creative spark in the way of the gods themselves. We can invent, we can build up from nothing and form complex societies that grant us permanent food and shelter, and what a wonder that must have been to the early Sumerian, who knew what it took to raise that civilization from scratch. They may well have believed that the forces of technology and abundance were taking them towards a point where they could end their own dependence on labour and subsistence.
The Sumerian obligation to civilization, as touched on previously, was an obligation to treat each and every person in that civilization with due respect and dignity. Utu, spoken of as the pronouncer of equity and justice, is therefore central to the Sumerian vision of a just society. And what does that society look like? Like the one where the spiritual reminders of our pre-Neolithic past had been eradicated - one where scarcity, toil and want had been ended by innovation. It's a natural thing for us to strive for because we contain the breath of the Igigi gods who strive for the same thing.
We have the power to end scarcity at a stroke; it's right there within our grasp, as a species, to deliver dignity to every person on the planet, and commit to further to harness our modern technology to make yet more advancements that could benefit every human being beyond what we can conceive of right now, and yet, we don't. It's against the will of the people who have the power to make it happen.
Recognising our place on the grand tablet of history, as thought of in Sumer and Babylon, tells us that civilizations have not lasted forever, and that ruin is frequently promised to leaders whose stewardship is unjust and greedy, and that a civilization's decline is not a short, sharp shock but a period of centuries or more of disorder, instability and negligent leadership; severe climate trends and a breakdown of social cohesion often run alongside.
This would be the Sumerian answer to "why do bad things happen to people?" or "in the world?" - when humans were first uplifted to a higher technological state, we were granted luxuries most abundant, with the resources to make the process of working the soil ever easier and the fruits of the earth available to all, and we remembered what it was like to exist before those times. As long as we retained a spiritual link to our history and prehistory, we at least knew what we were striving for as a species. It seems no coincidence that this link was broken at the same time the prevailing spiritual thought turned to shame rather than innovation as being the marker of our link with antediluvian times.
Even so, we acknowledge when it is right to give thanks. Prevalent social trends resulted in the tales of our gods and the ideals of justice and order they upheld being blotted out from history for millennia, but we are thankful that we live in a time when their names have been brought up again, so that we may honour them.
Despite the troubled waves we're navigating in our current age, we are aware of our historical context on the grand scale. We are thankful that we have access to a modern industrialised society and a supply chain of goods and information unprecedented in human history, while we recognise where these resources are lost and misused.
In this way, we may glorify our gods, honour their providence, and share in the bounties of the Earth with them, and we become pioneers, as part of the first generations of a new Sumerian community. I am thankful for all those who bore witness to the testimony of our gods, in the ancient world and the modern, starting from scratch both times to establish the body of knowledge and experience available to us.
For the administration of justice,
For setting forth the days of the calendar,
Light of the World, Glory of the Heavens,
For ensuring the righteous fate of the people and the nations,
For illuminating the way to Truth,
Lord Utu, may you ever be crowned by radiance.
May your decrees be bestowed upon the Land.
May your people be led to wise decision, and ever to honour truth and equity.
Lord Utu - it is right to praise you!
All-shrines festival of the full moon, month of Apin Dua.