To Stand in the Presence of the Ancients! – Enheduanna, Part 2 by Janet Maika’i Rudolph

Yesterday I wrote about the priestess/scribe Enheduanna and her warrior/king father Sargon. I posited their connection to the codification of patriarchy. They did not invent it, as war and the diminution of women had been happening in some circles. I do wonder, however, if they furthered it along to a point of no return.

Another king of the time, Urukagina from circa 2350 bce[1] codified laws under the guise of reformation.  Some of his reforms were progressive in that they sought to protect the poorer classes against aristocracy and the priesthood.  But they also were clear to let women “know their place.” Here are the translated words from his laws:

“If a woman to a male has spoken . . .[bad] words(?) which exceed (her rank?), onto the teeth of that woman a baked brick shall be smashed, and that brick will be hung at the main gate.”

As Amanda Foreman noted these laws “embedded patriarchal power within the definition of individual liberty.” This is a situational value we still face today.

And so I wonder about Sargon’s priestess/scribe daughter, Enheduanna. How did she feel about her father’s exploits? She helped his efforts by working to unify the religious beliefs of the area. She was clearly not afraid to speak out herself, as the volume of her writing indicates.

Enheduanna lived in a temple in Ur. After the death of Sargon in 2279BCE, another military general tried to take control. He had Enheduanna thrown out of her temple and exiled. Before her exile, she was physically abused and likely raped.

As a result of this, she wrote the piece which is considered her masterpiece called the “Exaltation of Inanna.”

In it, she writes of her suffering at the hands of the military force and pleads for help from Inanna. It almost has a Job type of feel. And it foreshadows later events such as the Pythia, the oracle and her fall on the mountain of Delphi. In that case, invading armies pillaged the famous site and by some accounts, abused the oracle herself, the Pythia.

Enheduanna writes of her experience:[2]

My life is in flames
He made me walk through the brambles on the mountain
He stripped me of the crown correct for a high priestess
She goes on crying out to Inanna
I who spread over the land the splendid brilliance of your divinity
You allow my flesh to know scourging.

Eventually Enheduanna’s nephew defeats the forces that had expelled Enheduanna, and she is able to return to her temple. She writes praise for Inanna’s intervention which she felt allowed for her rescue. She only lived for a few more years after this.

One of the tenets of this exhibit is that the seals of the time period reflect the writings of Enheduanna. There are other scholars who believe the images are based on creation myths. This much is apparent, there are a surfeit of images and words which are very violent indicating an emerging world order where “might makes right.”

Here is Enheduanna writing about Inanna’s vengeance on her behalf:

They dare not stand before your terrible gaze.
They dare not confront your terrible countenance.
Who can cool your raging heart?They dare not stand before your terrible gaze.
They dare not confront your terrible countenance.
Who can cool your raging heart?
Your malevolent anger is too great to cool [ . . . ]
Once you have extended your province over the hills,
vegetation there is ruined.
Their great gateways are set afire.
Blood is poured into their rivers because of you,
and their people must drink it.[3]

I feel that she could have been describing politicians today – malevolent anger indeed.

And this brings me to the cylinder seal I use on the cover of my own book. It is dated to Enheduanna’s time period. The scholars who mounted the exhibit describe the lower section as a birth scene with a woman kneeling and acting as midwife while the upper register shows a battle between lions and a nude man protecting two four-leggeds. This is connected by their research to Enheduanna’s comment about her writing which she likens to giving birth:

“with ‘it is enough for me, it is too much for me!’ I have given birth, oh exalted lady, (to this song) for you.”[4]

In the world of shamanic principles, that is my own world, this image can be seen differently. Most in my shamanic community, which includes midwives, feel that women would not have given birth on their backs in that time. It is only with the advent of modern-day medicine that this position was instituted. There are no tools for handling a birth (basin of water, wrappings, knife for cutting the cord). This was also in a time period where artisans were not shy about showing women with big bellies and breasts, neither apparent in the “birthing” woman.

There are possible other explanations. The two most prominent are a shamanic healing or a woman seeking out a vision. The kneeling woman could be the healer or shamanic guide.

If this is a shamanic healing ritual, then it could be seen something like Cranio-Sacral therapy that is used today. A person’s head and feet are supported so that channels of vitality within the body can be energized through a hands-on process. In the case of visions, notice the scorpion under the bench. Scorpions produce a toxin that has been used as a psychotropic. Thousands of years later a similar technique was used with serpent venom by the oracle in Delphi. This process is still used today in the form of ayahuasca or ketamine. 

In these cases, the upper register would be a gathering of power though physical action and/or the vision of the oracle. There are also other clear images such as the 8-pointed Star of Inanna and the cow/bull horns which were later a symbol of Isis in Egypt.

If this is, indeed, a vision or a healing, it would be representative of the power of the Underworld, Persephone’s realm, Inanna’s realm to affect life on Earth.

This was a time when myth was still very alive on the Earth. This is the theme I tap into in Desperately Seeking Persephone. When Persephone went into the Underworld, She blazed a sparkling pathway for those of us struggling with “underworld issues” such as depression, trauma, abuse, and distress. So, too, did Inanna. These two Goddesses took trips to the Underworld that had many commonalities. Their pathways are not only a guide through the Underworld but also teach us a way out or perhaps, more poignantly, through. I found that by comparing and contrasting their journeys, I have been able to deepen my understanding of what such a journey entails. The two Goddesses reveal different prisms, different aspects of the journey. Based on these templates, I describe my own life-trek which began with a childhood of abuse and trauma, and ultimately became a pathway to healing and freedom. You can pre-order my book for a limited time at a discounted price here.

I will close with a most excellent quote for our own Carolyn Lee Boyd. It is from an article she wrote for SageWoman.  The link to the article is in the footnotes: “What if the Underworld is a temple that we can visit while living? What if the Great Below is where we must venture to gain the power to become fully human?”[5]

[1] “I am Enheduanna” by Amanda Foreman, She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia ca 3400-2000 BC edited by Sidney Babcock and Erhan Tamur, pg. 26. (This is the official exhibit book from the Morgan Library exhibit. You can see some more of this exhibit at this link.)

[2] Ibid, pg 29

[3] “The Gaze of Ishtar: Frontaity and Fear in Akkadian Seals” by Majdolene Dajani, She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia ca 3400-2000 BC edited by Sidney Babcock and Erhan Tamur, pg 89.

[4]“Motherhood: Birth, Creation, and Nurturing,”  She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia ca 3400-2000 BC edited by Sidney Babcock and Erhan Tamur, pg 205, plate 79.  Translation attributed to C/AG

[5] Carolyn Lee Boyd, article in Sage Woman No. 93, “My Journey with Inanna

Author: Janet Rudolph

Janet Maika’i Rudolph. “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE QUEST.” I have walked the spirit path for over 25 years traveling to sacred sites around the world including Israel to do an Ulpan (Hebrew language studies while working on a Kibbutz), Eleusis and Delphi in Greece, Avebury and Glastonbury in England, Brodgar in Scotland, Machu Picchu in Peru, Teotihuacan in Mexico, and Giza in Egypt. Within these travels, I have participated in numerous shamanic rites and rituals, attended a mystery school based on the ancient Greek model, and studied with shamans around the world. I am twice initiated. The first as a shaman practitioner of a pathway known as Divine Humanity. The second ordination in 2016 was as an Alaka’i (a Hawaiian spiritual guide with Aloha International). I have written four books: When Moses Was a Shaman (soon to be available in Spanish), When Eve Was a Goddess, (now available in Spanish, Cuando Eva era una Diosa), One Gods. and my autobiography, Desperately Seeking Persephone.

10 thoughts on “To Stand in the Presence of the Ancients! – Enheduanna, Part 2 by Janet Maika’i Rudolph”

  1. This is fascinating, Janet. Inanna and her underworld journey have been very important in my own life as well as in my teaching. I look forward to your book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand Beth. I think that is why these myths are so important and have stuck around for so long. They resonate! On so many different levels and through so many experiences. We each have our piece of the story.


  2. Thank you for these powerful pieces, Janet. So much to consider! I have journeyed with Persephone and Inanna as well. I think we all experience times of descent and rising in our lives in which we need their stories to guide us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you and thank you for noting this about Persephone and Inanna. That is one of the reasons that I am putting this book out into the world – it is such a common journey. I believe that telling our stories is a way to keep these myths alive, vital and active in our lives in a way that is healing and nurturing.


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