Inanna, Queen of Heaven & Earth Brings Gifts, by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photoIn the early 1990’s I discovered the compelling story of Inanna, the ancient Sumerian Goddess, translated and retold in the book, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Kramer.  I was inspired to create a series of paintings from Inanna’s story.  

The Huluppa Tree, painting by Judith Shaw
The Huluppa Tree, oil on canvas on plywood

The Sumerians invented the first system of writing, the cuneiform system, to record the stories of their deities, hymns, laments, and historical events  The stories of Inanna and hymns to Inanna are an important part of the Sumerian literature.

For the Sumerians the world was created

“when heaven had moved away form earth
When earth had separated from heaven
and the name of man was fixed.” …..
When… Erishkigal was given the underworld for her domain.”

Death enters the story and with it the need to find a meaning in life. Enki, God of Wisdom, God of Waters, sets sail for the underworld. Here he is buffeted, battered and bruised but he does not turn back. That struggle between male and female, between the conscious and unconscious realms, between the God of Wisdom and the Queen of the Underworld, births a tree, a Huluppa tree.

Inanna in Her Garden, painting by Judith Shaw
Inanna in Her Garden, oil on canvas

The stage is set for the epic tales of the Sumerian deities to begin. We first see Inanna when She rescues the Huluppa Tree from the waters of chaos and plants it in her garden.

Inanna, known as the Goddess of the Morning and Evening Star was the daughter of the Moon God, Nanna and Ningal, Enki’s daughter. The Semites knew Her as Ishtar.

Inanna encompasses all aspects of life. She was maiden, queen, lover, wife and She who descended into the Underworld and was reborn. She is described as radiant, thundering, destructive, defiant, judgmental, kind, generous, peaceful, healing, erotic, decisive, discerning, wise, transcendent, loving, fertile, joyous, and ever youthful.

Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, painting by Judith Shaw
Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, oil on canvas

With the help of her mortal brother Giglamesh (who later earns an epic tale of his own), Inanna overcame her youthful struggles and fears symbolized by a snake, the Anzu-bird and Lilith housed in the tree. Only once these were removed could Her throne and royal bed be fashioned from the Huluppa tree and Her queenship begin.

“Inanna placed the shugurra, the crown of the steppe, on Her head.”

She decides to visit her grandfather, Enki in his city Eridu, located where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers converge with the Persian Gulf.

Enki hosts Inanna with a feast and much drinking. 

“Enki and Inanna drank beer together
They drank more beer together.
They drank more and more beer together.”

As the evening wore on Enki became more and more generous, offering the me – the sacred culture of Sumer – to Inanna. 

“In the name of my power! In the name of my holy shrine!
To my daughter Inanna I shall give
The high priesthood! Godship!
The noble, enduring crown! The throne of kingship!”

“Inanna replied:  I take them!”

And with the second toast

“In the name of my power! In the name of my holy shrine!
To my daughter Inanna I shall give
Descent into the underworld! Ascent from the underworld!
The art of lovemaking! The kissing of the phallus!”

Fourteen times Enki toasted Inanna and offered her the me.  Fourteen times she accepted.

The me encompassed things of value to the Sumerian priesthood and civilization –  the dagger and sword, the loosening and binding of the hair, the standard, the quiver, the art of forthright speech, the art of slanderous speech, the art of song, … and with those things that concern humanity – the art of the hero, the art of power and treachery, the rejoicing of the heart, the art of kindness, the secure dwelling place, the craft of the scribe, the smith, the leather maker, the perceptive ear, the sheepfold, fear, dismay, the assembled family, procreation, the giving of judgments, the making of decisions.

With this last me, the making of decisions, Inanna gained the strength and ability to perceive and take action.  She acted and immediately departed with the me.

Inanna painting by judith shaw
Inanna & the Gifts in Her Boat of Heaven, pastel on paper with beeswax

Shortly after Inanna set off for Uruk, Enki sobered up and regretted his generous act.  He sent the enkum-creatures to take and return the holy me to him. 

Inanna resisted, calling on her sukkal, Ninshubur, for help. With a slice of the hand and an earth-shattering cry she sent the enkum-creatures back to Eridu.

Ninshubur, probably pure spirit, represents Inanna’s inner spiritual resources and relates to Inanna’s aspect as Morning Star.  Ninshubur, Queen of the East, is most likely associated with the sun. Her solar powers are able to quash Enki’s powers associated with water.

Enki then sent five more creatures of increasing power to retake the me which were each repelled by Ninshubur for Inanna. In their defeat, Inanna acquired their shamanic powers.

Inanna returns to Uruk a hero who obtained the treasure, a shaman with the power to protect her community, and a true Queen/Mother offering nourishment, both physical and spiritual, to her people.

Inanna and the gifts painting by judith shaw
Inanna and the Gifts of Civilization, watercolor on paper

The power of the feminine is seen when, as the me are being unloaded, suddenly more me appear; me not given by Enki.  “The art of women” and related feminine attributes plus “the perfect execution of the me  were given. The ancient texts are unclear as to where these me came from. 

Sumer was one of the earliest patriarchal societies yet the Goddess would not be denied.  Enki, Father God of Wisdom provided Inanna with the Gifts of Civilization.  Upon arrival, mysteriously and suddenly, the feminine gifts arrived. These feminine gifts included the ability to perfectly perform all the other me.  Inanna, Queen of Uruk, Goddess of the Morning and Evening Star, provided the balance of feminine and masculine powers and gifts to the people of Uruk. In Her fullness she is the Goddess of Love, that divine force of life imbued in all.

“My Lady looks in sweet wonder from heaven
The people of Sumer parade before the holy Inanna.
The Lady Who Ascends into the Heavens, Inanna, is radiant.
Mighty, majestic, radiant, and ever youthful –
To you, Inanna, I sing!”

Sources: Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer.  All quotes from the ancient texts are from this book.

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now.  Celtic-Goddess-Oracle-cards-by-judith-shawYou can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!

Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life.  Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork.  She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time.  She is now in the editing stage of her deck of Celtic Goddess Cards, which should be released this summer. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.



Author: Judith Shaw

Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of her manifestations, which of course includes the flora and fauna of our beautiful Earth. Judith has exhibited her paintings in New York, San Francisco, Mytilene Greece, Athens Greece, New Orleans, Santa Fe NM, Taos NM, Albuquerque NM, Houston TX and Providence RI. She has published two oracle decks - Celtic Goddess Oracle and Animal Wisdom Oracle and is hard at work on an illustrated fairytale - Elena and the Reindeer Goddess.

18 thoughts on “Inanna, Queen of Heaven & Earth Brings Gifts, by Judith Shaw”

    1. Sara, even though I have written about Inanna several times for different reasons I also discovered new details and nuances with this writing. Her story is so full!


    2. Hello, my name is Faith Freeman and I am an Undergraduate Student at Antioch University in Los Angeles, California, USA. I am seeking an individual’s personal opinion of their thoughts of the poem/myth of “Inanna’s Decent to the Underworld”. I chose this myth as my class topic, because this story interest me tremendously after reading it for the first time, in my Humanities, Literature Studies Class, by Professor Rosa Garza-Mourino, MA -Director of Internships Antioch University, Los Angeles. If there is one person that would like to converse with me about your personal viewpoints of the myth or facts of this myth… (Question and Answer) Maybe why is resignates or defines a belief in your life? please contact me by email or messenger on Facebook. I would love to hear your thoughts.

      Faith Freeman
      Antioch University
      Bridge Program Student


  1. How beautifully and powerfully your paintings bring the stories to life! Thank you for sharing them here!


  2. It’s amazing how your paintings glow. I’m sure it’s not just painterly technique; it’s also inspiration, yes?

    Some years ago, I attended a ritual in which we were via guided visualization through Inanna’s journey. It was sad and thrilling and triumphant.


    1. Barbara, Yes I would say there is definitely inspiration involved. Often I feel that the paintings I do are not “mine” but that I am a channel through which the images flow.

      Was your ritual around Inanna’a descent and return? Her story is really amazing and She is the bright light of the Sumerian pantheon.


  3. I was always drawn to Ereshkigal. What ‘s SHE doing, down there, in her own realm, completely independent of any me’s, let alone ones obtained from a sky god? Creating the world of real things, maybe? The protons to shepherd the electrons? The rocks from matter seeking its own? Transforming themselves in their own good time into beaches where from to watch the humans imagine gods to placate?

    So, I name my compost heap Ereshkegal, and I never ask her questions. And she does me the most astounding favors, ones I would never know to ask for.

    Liked by 1 person

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