Sumerian Inanna, Babylonian Ishtar, cognate of Levantine Astarte and Greco-Roman Venus and Aphrodite, she is both the regal Queen of Heaven, mistress of the sky (Anu), and the goddess of libido and sexuality.
She is the evening and the morning star, the protectress of the flocks, who out in the rough sheepfold drinks from the trough with the animals. She seats the children of the afflicted on her lap, takes part in the sacrifice to the dead at New Year and joins An and Enki in the pronouncement of justice. ... Like a homeless woman roaming the streets, she picks up strangers for company; as a harlot she goes to the tavern to find a man; or as the wife of Dumuzi she spends the night in her chamber, rejoicing in his arms. Her relationship with Enlil was apparently neutral Leick 2001, p 157
Her planet was Venus, both the morning and evening star, dimorphic like herself: a merger of Sumer's compassionate fertility goddess Innana and Akkad's war goddess Ishtar. Her center of worship was at Uruk. Her attribute is an upright bundle of reeds with a looped top. Inanna originated in the Uruk era, but little else is known besides a few pictorials including the Uruk vase. In the Early Dynastic era she was a heroic 'lady of the battle' who helped kings gain office. As different notions merged, by the Ur III period she had a libidinous personality. The Ur III king Shulgi (2094-2047) became her sexually skillful consort.
Inanna became associated with urban centers' carefree sexuality, in contrast to the traditionalism of small towns and tribes, or the strictness of government. Uruk invented the austere bureaucracy and central control of urbanism, but along with city life also came sexual freedom and a relaxed erotic atmosphere. Inanna represented this spectral, liberal, extramarital sexuality, including transexuality, homosexuality and prostitution. Indeed, non-heteronormative beings were created by Enki to rescue Inanna from the underworld. Inanna frequented alehouses and taverns, where men could meet single women. She prowled the streets of Kullab for sexual adventure. A passage from the Late Babylonian poem of Erra describes Uruk, where downfall was bestowed upon those who oppressed Inanna's follower's abominable acts.
Even Uruk, the dwelling of Anu and Ishtar,
city of prostitutes, courtesans, and call-girls
whom Ishtar deprived of husbands and kept in their power,
Sutean men and women hurl abuse;
they rouse Eanna, the party-boys and festival people
who changed masculinity to femininity
to make the people of Ishtar revere her.
The dagger bearer, bearers of razors, pruning-knives and flint-blades,
who frequently do abominable acts to please the heart of Ishtar:
you set over them an insolent governor who will not treat them kindly,
who persecuted them and violated the rites. Dalley 1989, p 305
Inanna at Uruk
Anu and Inanna were the chief deities of Uruk.
Anu represents patriarchal authority. He was called the 'father of all the gods' and invariably he heads the lists of deities that the ancient Mesopotamian scholars were forever compiling and copying. But as we have seen, Uruk An is not the only deity. He shares the patronage of the city with a goddess -- a goddess whose scintillating personage is vividly described in numerous hymns and songs, narratives and myths. Leick 2001, p 57
Inanna at Nippur
Though Uruk was her primary home, Inanna also had a center of worship at Nippur. It was meager at first, but in the Ur III era Shulgi ordered her temple comprehensively rebuilt and enlarged. From the Ur III era onward she had a significant temple there. However, the Ur III priests struggled to define her in all her complexity.
Inanna's Trip to the Underworld
Inanna was ambitious, and her trip to the underworld is framed in Sumerian and Akkadian texts as a bid to extend her influence. She ventures to visit her pale sister, perhaps an alter ego, Ereshikigal. She eventually reaches her sister, divested of all her insignia, naked and vulnerable. A struggle ensues and she is rendered lifeless. The effect on earth is devastating.
No bull mounted a cow, no donkey impregnated a jenny,
no young man impregnated a girl in the street
the young man slept in his private room
the girl slept in the company of her friends. Dalley 1989, p 158
Enki finds a solution to restore Inanna. He creates beings outside established gender categories, who can penetrate the underworld. They persuade or trick Ereshikigal into handing over Inanna, who is restored when Enki sprinkles onto her Water of Life. She is allowed to leave, but must find a substitute to take her place among the dead. Inanna quickly finds one, when she comes upon her husband Dumuzi not only failing to mourn her absence, but wearing nice clothing, enjoying himself under a tree, having taken her throne. Inanna, displeased, decrees that the demons shall take him - and herself uses the same "look of death" previously used upon her by Ereshkigal. Dumuzi flees to escape his fate, but a fly informs Inanna and the demons where he is.
However, Dumuzi's sister, out of love for him, begged to be allowed to take his place. It was then decreed that Dumuzi spend half the year in the underworld, and his sister take the other half. Inanna eventually regrets sending her husband to the underworld and begins to miss him. The fertility that she controls with her godly powers begins to fade when she misses her husband during the 6 months that he is in the underworld a year. This infertile time corresponds to the fall and winter months. When her husband's sister is in the underworld and Dumuzi is with Inanna, everything is filled with love and with life; this time corresponds to Spring and Summer.
A number of texts refer to Inanna's cult and festivals, and the different phases of the moon and the heliacal appearance and disappearance of the planet Venus called for special celebrations. Her ritual personnel also incorporated a contingent of transsexuals and perhaps homosexuals, as well as numerous women who escaped the narrow bonds of patriarchal marriage in the service of the love goddess. Leick 2001, p 59
p 57-60, 157
Dalley, S. 1989. Myths from Mespotamia.