It was so fitting to talk about priestesses and goddesses of Ancient Mesopotamia at a place which was co-founded by a woman whose stunning painting hung to my side as I spoke. The Theosophical Society was founded in late 1875 in New York City by Russian noblewoman Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott.
The first Russian woman to be naturalized as an American citizen, Madame Blavatsky was widely traveled and she published Isis Unveiled, a book outlining her Theosophical world-view. She described Theosophy as “the synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy,” proclaiming that it was reviving an “ancient wisdom” which underlay all the world’s religions.
The Theosophical Center of Detroit, located in Berkley, was filled with an engaging audience who listened to me speak about an important aspect of my ancestry that is often omitted from history. I first read from my memoir, Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School (pg 164-165):
From Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World (Book 1) page 163 to 164
What history books say regarding the role of women in ancient Mesopotamia is true. Most girls were trained from childhood for the traditional roles of wife, mother, and housekeeper. They learned how to grind grain, how to cook and make beverages, especially beer, and how to spin and weave cloth for clothing. But in early periods, women could own, purchase, and inherit property and engage in business for themselves. High status women, such as priestesses and members of royal families, were taught to read and write and were given significant administrative authority. A number of powerful goddesses were worshiped, and in some city states they were the primary deities.
Kubaba, a Sumerian Queen, is the world’s first recorded woman ruler in history. She was a former tavern-keeper, one of many occupations that were open to women in Mesopotamia. Kubaba was said to have reigned peacefully for one hundred years. Her symbols were the mirror and the pomegranate.
Enheduanna is the world’s first recorded writer. She wrote and taught about three centuries before the earliest Sanskrit texts, 2000 years before Aristotle and 1,700 before Confucius. She was the daughter of the great Mesopotamian king Sargon of Akkad and the high priestess of the temple of Innana, known as Ishtar, and Nanna, the Akkadian moon god, in the center of her father’s empire, the city-state of Ur.
Enheduanna had a considerable political and religious role in Ur. She wrote during the rise of the agricultural civilization, when gathering territory and wealth, warfare, and patriarchy were making their marks. She offers a first-person perspective on the last times women in Western society held religious and civil power. After her father’s death, the new ruler of Ur removed her from her position as high priestess. She turned to the goddess Inanna to regain her position through a poem that mentions her carrying the ritual basket:
It was in your service that I first entered the holy temple,
I, Enheduanna, the highest priestess. I carried the ritual basket,
I chanted your praise.
Now I have been cast out to the place of lepers.
Day comes and the brightness is hidden around me.
Shadows cover the light, drape it in sandstorms.
My beautiful mouth knows only confusion.
Even my sex is dust.
Enheduanna lived at a time of rising patriarchy. It has been written that, as secular males acquired more power, religious beliefs had evolved from what was probably a central female deity in Neolithic times to a central male deity by the Bronze Age. Female power and freedom sharply diminished during the Assyrian era, the period in which the first evidence of laws requiring the public veiling of elite women was made.
I also shared with this wonderful audience my ancestor’s history of rich powerful females, as I often do in my books. This includes Inanna, the goddess of Sumerians who is known as Ishtar for Babylonians and Assyrians. She chose to leave position and all her possessions behind to go to the underworld which her sister was goddess of. To do so, she had to pass the seven gates (kundalini chakras) to meet her death and return to life.
There’s Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer. She symbolizes the role of women in brewing and preparation of beverages in ancient Mesopotamia. But this was not a light matter. Beer consumption was an important marker for societal and civilized virtues. Did you know that the oldest recipe for brewing beer comes from the land of Mesopotamia and that the straw was first developed by the Babylonians?
Back to Kubaba – the only queen on the Sumerian King list and one of very few women to have ever ruled in their own right in Iraqi history. She is believed to have fortified the city against invaders and made it strong. After her death she was worshiped as a goddess. Yet in later generations, Mesopotamians decided it was unnatural for a woman to uphold traditional men’s roles and provided this omen to make sure no other woman dares to so improperly cross that line again: “If an androgyny is born, with both rod and vagina – omen of Kubaba, who ruled the country. The country of the king shall be ruined.”
Ironically, the country of “the king” was ruined because of her absence. The thirst to wipe away the feminine energy, “her story”, in the Middle East has succeeded, causing that region to become so imbalanced that, no matter how much U.S. and international intervention, it seems unable to heal.
Yet I believe what the Dalai Lama once said, that “the Western women will save the world.” Yes, she will bring her story back to life.