BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

A lively discussion of ancient and modern Pagan literature -- including children's books, graphic novels, science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries -- along with interviews, author highlights, and profiles of Pagan publishers.

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On Inanna

Inanna is a very old Goddess.* She is one of the oldest Deities for whom we have a name and a record of worship -- and that worship lasted all the way up to the conversion of the Near and Middle East to first Christianity, then Islam. Today, Inanna (or Ishtar, in the Akkadian) is an immensely popular Goddess among Pagans, especially solitaries and those who practice Goddess Spirituality.

There are a number of resources available to those who are interested in Inanna, ranging from the densely academic to the poetic to children's books.**

In that first category can be found In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture, and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth by Tikva Frymer-Kensky. Controversial and iconoclastic, this text chronicles the gradual marginalization of Goddesses in the Sumerian and Akkadian pantheons, which Frymer-Kensky contrasts with the more egalitarian monotheism of very early Judaism. You may not agree with her conclusions, but the book will still make you stop and think. 

The Book of the Goddess Past and Present: An Introduction to Her Religion, edited by Carl Olson, reads as a bit dated -- but, having been published in 1983, it was one of the first popular-scholarly texts on The Goddess/Goddesses. It includes Judith Ochshorn's essay "Ishtar and Her Cult." Similarly, the anthology Goddesses Who Rule includes Beverly Moon's fascinating article "Inanna: The Star Who Became Queen." David Kinsley's The Goddesses' Mirror covers a wide-range of Deities, including a chapter on "Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth." Similarly, Anne Baring and Jules Cashford's magnum opus The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image includes the lengthy chapter "Inanna-Ishtar: Mesopotamian Goddess of the Great Above and the Great Below." While Women and Goddess Traditions in Antiquity and Today, edited by Karen L King, does not include any essays specific to Inanna, it does include an entire section on the Near East; sometimes, a bit of cross-cultural comparison can be useful and insightful.***

If it is primary source material that interests you, consider Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns From Sumer. A collaboration between Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer and poet-folklorist Diane Wolkstein, this text collects all the known tales, hymns, and poem fragments concerning or featuring Inanna. Adapted, reworked, and woven together by Wolkstein, they are passionate, lilting, wild tales of ambition, deception, lust, and devotion.   

Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna by Betty De Shong Meador is another collection of translations -- here, though, Meador includes biographical and cultural information, helping to orient the reader in the Sumer of Enheduanna. 

If you are looking for something more unusual in the poetry field, consider Humming the Blues: Inspired by Nin-me-sar-ra, Enheduanna's Song to Inanna by Cass Dalglish. This jazzy, hip-hop-y, feminist (re)interpretation of Enheduanna's praise-poems will have you tapping your feet and humming along. I can almost hear Aretha Franklin belting out some of these to a lively tune.

If you are looking for something more visual, check out Inanna's Tears by Rob Vollmar and mpmann. Originally a webcomic, then a single-issue comic book series, the entire story was eventually released as a hardcover. With its washed-out gray and brown color scheme, occasional flashes of frightening red, and thick-lined art, Inanna's Tears looks almost like someone took ink and tracing paper to an ancient Sumerian relief; the art works perfectly with the story. And said story includes everything from gender (de)construction and religious authoritarianiam, to political machinations and unrequited love, to natural disasters -- oh, and the invention of writing. 

If your interest falls more along the lines of a devotional, consider Into the Great Below: A Devotional for Inanna and Ereshkigal, edited by Galina Krasskova. [Full disclosure: I do have a couple of poems in this volume.] There are plenty of short essays, poems and hymns here to enjoy yourself or use as part of a rite in Her honor. 

Finally, there are a few children's books featuring Inanna; perfect gifts for the budding little Pagan in your life. One is The Revenge of Ishtar by Ludmila Zeman, the second volume of The Gilgamesh Trilogy. The Goddess here is no sweet and lovely maid; she is lusty, proud, and violent when crossed. A good book to read when discussing the value of Not Irking the Gods. 

In contrast to the above, there is Ishtar and Tammuz: A Babylonian Myth of the Seasons by Christopher J Moore and Christina Balit. To put it mildly, Moore's rendition of the myth is ... odd. He plays fast and loose with the source material. On the other hand, Balit's illustrations are vibrant, brilliant and beautiful. Buy it for the artwork, and recite your own (more accurate) retelling to young audiences.

So, there you have them: a few of the books available about Inanna. I am sure that I missed quite a few good books, so please post a comment or shoot me an email. The world needs to know about good books -- especially books about Goddesses like Inanna.


*Yes, I know I am linking to a wikipedia article. Consider that your *starting* point.

** If you are in the mood for some good escapist Golden Age fantasy, look no further than A. Merrit's The Ship of Ishtar.

*** I would love to discuss Rosemary Radford Ruther's Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History at length here, but my copy seems to have gone poof. Most annoying.

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Sunday, 06 January 2013

    Thanks for this! I've been dedicated to Inanna for decades now and continue to be thrilled when new information emerges. During my sabbatical last year, I undertook to adapt a series of praise-songs from "Lady of Largest Heart." I use them in my private devotionals.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Thursday, 10 January 2013

    @Byron: you're welcome. :) And if you find any new books or articles about Her, please let me know.

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