The erotic songs of Inanna

The Sumerian love goddess Inanna is often confused with the Babylonian love goddess Ishtar, but I will leave the academics to argue about who came first and where, because I’m much more interested in the archaeological and literary evidence for sacred love magic at that time, in the Fertile Crescent.

There is much erotic imagery in the 4,000 year old songs about Inanna, the Queen of Heaven, that refer to the Divine Marriage ritual. This one, attributed to her, comes from the Isin-Larsa period (2017-1763 BCE) in Uruk, in which the EN-priest or king would engage in sexual congress with Inanna’s representative from the ranks of ENTU-priestesses.

There would have first been a royal procession to the giparu, Inanna’s temple, and the whole ritual would have concluded with a rich and lavish wedding feast.

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 plough my vulva?
Who will plough my high field?
Who will plough my wet ground?
As for me, the young woman,
Who will plough my vulva?
Who will station the ox there?
Who will plough my vulva?
I bathed for the wild bull,
I bathed for the shepherd Dumuzi,
I perfumed my sides with ointment,
I coated my mouth with sweet-smelling amber
I painted my eyes with kohl.
He shaped my loins with his fair hands,
The shepherd Dumuzi filled my lap with cream and milk
He stroked my pubic hair,
He watered my womb.
He laid his hands on my holy vulva,
He smoothed my black boat with cream
He quickened my narrow boat with milk,
He caressed me on the bed.
Now I will caress my high priest on the bed,
I will caress the faithful shepherd Dumuzi,
I will caress his loins, the shepherd ship of the land,
I will decree a sweet fate for him.

Here Inanna sings about how she is preparing her vulva – the Boat of Heaven – for her lover, Dumuzi, the wild herdsman archetype, who is also referred to as a wild bull, which around that time, was the animal most associated with rampant fertility. However, this may also be a reference to the astrological age of Taurus, which is just coming to an end when these songs were composed.

The shepherd and his crook is an image that has persisted to this day for heads of religions, as a requisite accoutrement and symbol of leadership.

The boat is also Isis’s barque, and the horn puts me in mind of the object held in the hand of the Venus of Laussel, carved at least 20,000 years before Inanna’s time.

Venus of Laussel – carved into a limestone rock shelter in south-western France, thought to be 25,000 years old.

In Sumerian erotic love poetry, much is made of the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli as a metaphor for dark, glossy pubic hair, and also gates, doors and windows as portals representing the female vulva as an entry to a place where the worlds of the seen and the unseen, of the magical and the mundane, intermingle. Ishtar’s Gate, the eighth gate of Babylon, was made from lapis lazuli.

Ishtar’s Gate. You can read more about Ishtar, the holy whore of Babylon, here:

According to Simo Parpola and R M Whiting, in Sex, Magic and the Liminal Body in the Erotic Art and Texts of the Old Babylonian Period:

“In one hymn, for example, the goddess stands at a doorway which is narrow and made of lapis lazuli. The careful inclusion of the doorway no doubt alludes to Inanna’s unopened vagina. As we have seen, lapis lazuli is an ideation for glossy black hair, which in erotic poetry can refer to pubic hair.

“When Dumuzi enters, he either breaks her parapet, at her insistence – or, in a later work, the door bolts themselves fly open in rejoicing. In short, Dumuzi’s arrival at her metaphoric threshold is far from an ordinary event; it signifies instead transition and expansion.

“In the following Sumerian hymn in which the goddess anticipates sex with Dumuzi … the mark of the vulva is again present amidst a number of double entendres. The imbrications of bed with female body shows through in the imagery of wet lapis lazuli grass, strewn on the bed, which the poet has declared as Inanna’s own.

“The grass is reminiscent of her pubic hair that elsewhere in the erotica of this period is likened to plant matter that needs “watering” or to wet, grassy surfaces that should be ploughed. The imagery of the bed covered with wet lapis lazuli evokes the excited, hair-rimmed vagina and transforms the bed into a giant vulva ready for Dumuzi’s plough.

When they erect my wondrous bed for him,
May they spread it for me with wet lapis lazuli grass!
May they make the man enter my heart!
May they make enter for me there my Ama-ushum-galanna!
May they place my hand in his hand for me!
May they place his heart with my heart for me!

“Clearly we are looking at a fundamentally mystical process couched in the terminology of mating. After all, sex itself does not bring abundance, or even necessarily joy; magic does. In these royal hymns of praise, the goddess grants the king divinity, the right of rule, long life as well as plenty for the land. The potency of the royal mythology depends to some degree on mimesis of the paradigmatic couple, Inanna and Dumuzi. Since the innate magical agency of these lovers continued to be well exploited into the 1st millennium, there can be no doubt that images of their love making would have been extremely potent.”

The song above is the oldest reference I’ve found to the philosophical concept of the all-important “heart-womb”, although now we’re hot on its trail, I expect more to be thrown across our paths soon!

There are also hundreds of terracotta plaques showing erotic engravings of Inanna and Dumuzi.

In the engravings from the taverns, known as the coitus a tergo drinking scenes, there is a conflation of three ideas – of sex, beer and apparent seizure. Inanna is often shown drinking beer while Dumuzi is having sex with her. This might seem rather odd if you’re taking these depictions literally.

What Sumerian translators decided was beer could well have been a more psychotropic sort of elixir, rather like the ayahuasca of the shamans of the Amazon.

In some of these engravings, Dumuzi is standing so erect as to appear almost like a stickman. We will understand more about this metaphor for erection in Part II, when we learn about what part of the anatomy actually needs to be erect in sacred sex rites – and it may not be what you think. Ithyphallic gods were always associated with initiation, across the whole Mesopotamian world. That’s why there are so many towers, obelisks and needles … it is about the djed, but that will have to be another story for another day.

This article was adapted from Chapter 6, The Songs of Inanna, from my book The Sacred Sex Rites of Ishtar.

Get The Sacred Sex Rites of Ishtar here on Amazon.


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4 thoughts on “The erotic songs of Inanna

  1. I’m not very well equipped to discuss the Fertile Crescent, as I’ve put off learning about it until very recently and have yet only one book dedicated to Inanna under my belt.

    That being said. Of the Venuses, I’ve found the most inspiration in Our Lady of Laussel. The horn being that reason. It strikes me that in primitive myth moving west, that there is a remnant of Her in the horn of Amalthea, the Cornucopia in Hellenismos. In Asatru Valhalla has a goat whose horn gives endless mead. Mead being a medium of inspiration. The Valkyries, exclusively, offer the Einherjar draughts of mead. Which only occurs after Odin has secured the selfsame from Gunnlod’s daughter (whom I believe is Sophia) in what has the hallmarks of a far more arcane ritual remembered as myth.

    I’ve come to believe that as myths spread out, a primordial Goddess (or her hypostatic priestess) has been continuously reevaluated, her personality splitting like atoms to become new Goddesses for new tribes asserting self definition.

    Which may or may not bear out with with you’re writing. Still, it doesn’t escape me that the most well defined of these primal Venuses tend toward the east. The Lady of Valletta, the Woman of Çätalhöyük, the nameless ones of Gobleki Tepi. And so on. Whereas the Western Venuses seem cruder, in many respects. Which leads me to wonder if they represent an earlier incarnation, or perhaps a fading memory being subsumed into the Proto Celtic and Germanic peoples (or Scythians, or whatever.)

    There’s my thought for the morning before I plant my wife’s big iron clothes lines she’s been after.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you. There has been a problem across the whole of the empire that was conquered by the Romans, but particularly across Europe, under whose jackboot the Celtic inspiration for the heart-womb goddess has been crushed … but not entirely. Look up Sheela na Gig. I shall have to give this august lady, whose image is still on many of our churches, her own dedicated article soon in the Herstory category! Otherwise, Sumer didn’t merit much interest from archaeologists until the Victorian times, when some of them were also excavating the tombs and pyramids of Egypt, where they were literally castrating the effigies of the ithyphallic Min so as not to offend Western sensibilities. So a lot of the Sumerian translations suffer greatly from this myopic – if not prudish – viewpoint and need to be revisited, as I attempt to do.


      1. I am familiar with Sheela. As much as a moderner can be. She makes me think of Baubo, speaking of Egypt. Prior to the Greeklings turning her into a vagina on stilts she seeks to have been one of a kind with the earlier, I’ll say endowed Venuses.

        Markale speaks a great deal of those kinds of castration. Very macabre. I wonder, before their taking in hand the Greeks, if Rome wouldn’t have been more amenable to ancient Goddess types. I think the proof is in the pudding. Bona Dea, Cybele cults, there’s an instinct that the hebraic demiurge can’t kill. I think.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I get all excited just reading these posts….cause I remember…..delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

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