-And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, “Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
-With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
-So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
-And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
-And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, The Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth.”
Who was this woman who raised the ire of the author of Revelations and the Angels? Was she a city, as some have hypothesized? Is she a figure of prophecy, yet to come when the world reaches its ‘End Times’? Or has she already existed in our past?
To gain a better understanding of this woman, we must look at both her description and her crimes carefully and juxtapose them with known females of history. It will become apparent that there is one woman or group of women for whom the epitaph ‘The Great Whore’ is a perfect description—though for a different reason than one might initially assume.
“The pattern is a common one,” said Jane Schaberg, author of The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene, “the powerful woman disempowered, remembered as a whore or whorish”, in what she calls ‘harlotization’. But what if the woman or women in question were ‘whores’ and proud of it? What if they delighted in what they did and enjoyed power and acclaim as a result?
To start with, let’s look at the word used in Revelations in the original Greek:
Pornes, which is transliterated as:
1. a prostitute, a harlot, one who yields herself to defilement for the sake of gain. Any woman indulging in unlawful sexual intercourse, whether for gain or for lust
2. an idolatress (metaphorically)
While Revelations used the word Pornes to describe the woman, the Greek word ‘Horos’ means "dance", “dance of”, or “dance from” in the Greek language. This has a connection to the priestesses and their rites as well.
When I began studying the works of authors such as Zecharia Sitchin, Laurence Gardner, Micheal Baigent and Arthur Waite, hoping to understand as much as I could about the Anunnaki, their own belief system and mythology, and the enigmatic Serpent Cult and Dragon Court before I began writing my own fictional series, I was quickly drawn to the accounts of the Sacred Women, or priestesses, known as ‘Hors’ according to some authors. Laurence Gardner described them thus:
“The Scarlet Women were so called because of their being a direct source of the priestly Star Fire. They were known in Greek as the hierodulai (sacred women) - a word later transformed (via medieval French into English) to 'harlot'. In the early Germanic tongue, they were known as horês, which was later anglicised to 'whores'. However, the word originally meant, quite simply, 'beloved ones'. As explained in good etymological dictionaries, these words were descriptions of high veneration and were never interchangeable with such definitions as prostitute or adulteress. Their now common association was, in fact, a wholly contrived strategy of the medieval Roman Church in its bid to denigrate the noble status of the sacred priestess.”
We read about these women in other parts of the bible and in historical texts. Rahab, for example, is one such woman clothed in scarlet that aided Joshua and the Israelites in the conquest of Canaan and was rewarded for it. Some have been lauded, others reviled, yet all were held in high esteem.
But who was the originator of the Scarlet Priestesses? The earliest deities were Sumerian and thus it is within their mythology we must look.
Minoan Snake Priestess
The Mythological Origins of Inanna
The Mythological Origins of Inanna
If we study the mythology of Sumer, we find a Goddess within the Anunnaki ranks, clothed in scarlet, courtesan, ruler and power-monger, a golden chalice filled with blood a symbol of her womb and the associated fertility rites of her temple. Her name was Inanna. She was known to the Hebrews as Anath, the Syrio-Phoenicans as Astarte, the Akkadians worshipped her as Ishtar,—but in all she was known as the Queen of Heaven, Goddess of Love and War, ruled by Venus. She is veiled in all her forms, yet rather than the veil protecting her modesty; it is drawn across her face to heighten her mystery and sensuality.
Inanna was both Queen of Heaven and the Goddess of Love and War (war was also known as the ‘Dance of Inanna’, which demonstrates her proficiency on the battlefield and in combat).
Part of a seal showing Inanna and a lion
She was mistress of her temple and rituals, its priests, eunuchs, and prostitutes; warfare and weapons; justice and courts; music and arts; masonry; woodworking and metal working; leatherwork and weaving; scribe-ship and mathematics.
She was above all associated with sexuality: her cult involved sacred prostitution; her holy city Uruk was called the “town of the sacred courtesans”; and she herself was the “courtesan of the gods”.
But even for the gods Inanna’s love was fatal. In her youth the goddess had loved Dumuzi, shepherd-king and god of the harvest, and — if one is to believe Gilgamesh — this love caused the death of Dumuzi.
La Belle Dame sans Merci-- Frank Cadogan Cowper (1946)
But she was also loved by the common people, if this ancient account is anything to go by:
“They come to her with…they bring disputes before her.
She renders judgment to the evil and destroys the wicked;
She favors the just, determines a good fate for them…
The good lady, the joy of Anu, a heroine she is;
She surely comes forth from Heaven…
She is mighty, she is trustworthy, she is great;
She is exceeding in youthfulness …”
So what went wrong? How did she come to be feared and reviled? For starters, she is depicted as demanding and capricious, both when it comes to giving and rescinding her favour. The Descent of Inanna, one of the epic poems about her, relays how she, while married to the Shepherd-King Dumuzi (a tradition of the Dragon Court exemplified by both the Pharaohs’ shepherd’s crook and Jesus saying, “I am the good shepherd”) sought to seduce the hero Gilgamesh, who promptly spurns her, reminding her of all the lovers she has had and then who had met with bad ends when she grew tired of them. Inanna, upon hearing this, falls into a “bitter rage” and appeals to her father-god Anu in tears over the insults Gilgamesh has heaped upon her. Anu’s answer is that she has only gotten what she deserved through her “abominable behaviour” and Inanna in return demands that Anu give her Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven (and her brother-in-law through her sister Ereshkigal), that she might avenge herself on Gilgamesh and threatens that, if she does not get her way, she will break the doors of the underworld open, “there will be confusion of people, those above with those from the lower depths. I shall bring up the dead to eat food like the living, and the hosts of the dead will outnumber the living”).
When she finally gets her way, she orders Gugalanna to destroy Gilgamesh. As a result, 300 young men who have nothing to do with the fracas are slain. Gilgamesh is forced to defend his people and kills Gugalanna.
Not showing the slightest remorse for her role in her brother-in-law’s death, she arrives at Ereshkigal’s city to attend his funeral
The gatekeeper hurried to tell Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld
When the news of her arrival was brought to Ereshkigal, “her face turned pale…her lips turned dark.” Ereshkigal had no intention of allowing Inanna in as a fellow mourner yet she had to comply with the law. Ereshkigal told the gatekeeper to let Inanna enter, “according to the ancient decree”.
The gatekeeper lets Inanna into the underworld, opening one gate at a time. At each gate, Inanna has to shed one article of clothing, which may have been her items of office:
1) The SHU.GAR.RA on her head.
2) “Measuring pendants,” on her ears.
3) Chains of small blue stones, around her neck.
4) Twin “stones” on her shoulders.
5) Golden cylinder, in her hands.
6) Straps, clasping her breast.
7) The PALA garment clothed around her body.
When she finally passes the seventh gate, she is naked. In a rage, Inanna throws herself at Ereshkigal, but Ereshkigal orders her servant Namtar to imprison Inanna and unleash sixty diseases against her. When it became apparent that Inanna was not a problem that would go away, Ereshkigal hastily convened a court of seven Anunnaki judges and sentenced to death by being hung on a stake. Thanks to the intercession of Enki, she was saved and was able to make a full recovery, yet, according to the laws of the underworld and the payment of restitution, it was decided that someone must be found to take Inanna’s place and so the demons of the underworld accompanied her to find a substitute. The demons look at Inanna’s sons and her servants, but she does not agree to any of them going in her stead because they are dressed in mourning for her. But then she spies her husband Dumuzi (he of the sacred marriage rite) sitting on his throne in splendid garments. Her anger aroused, she decrees that he is to take her place. Try as he might escape, he is eventually caught and brought to the Underworld.
Yet through it all, she retains her belief in her right to do as she pleases, whenever she desires, even though those around her fall, including her own brother-in-law, leaving an unborn child without a father and her sister a grieving widow. That same woman, so self-assured, so demanding, capricious and ambitious would go on to decide to conquer the Earth and rule over all, supplanting the other Anunnaki, and declaring herself the Supreme Deity, a “Great Queen of Queens.” Announcing that she “has become greater than the mother who gave birth to her…even greater than Anu …”
…in Erech, aiming to dismantle this symbol of Anu’s authority:
“The heavenly kingship was seized by a female…
She changed altogether the rules of Holy Anu,
Feared not the great Anu.
She seized the E.Anna from Anu—
that House of irresistible charm, enduring allure–
On that House she brought destruction;
Inanna assaults its people, makes them captive …”
Eventually the others were able to repel her and the human generals she had picked to wage war on her behalf, though many of the Anunnaki had seen their strongholds utterly destroyed and never forgave her for it, including Enlil, who according to some was Jehovah (which would explain his rage in both the books of Jeremiah and Revelations). Agade forever remained desolate…her father Nanner came forth to fetch her back to Sumer while
‘Her mother Ningal proffered prayers for her,
greeted her back at the temple’s doorstep …’
“Enough, more than enough innovations, O great Queen! …”
‘and the foremost Queen, in her assembly, accepted the prayer …’
The Era of Inanna was over, though the damage had been done. Always equated with licentiousness, hedonism, ambition and ruthlessness, she was both venerated as an object of desire and repudiated for her selfishness. It is these characteristics which would come through the priestesses who served her and her temples, including one who may have brought to life the myths by choosing a lover who would fight alongside her and seek to conquer the world.
The Sacred Priestesses
What do we know of the Sacred Priestesses and their temples? What was the star fire they used in their ceremonies? According to many authors and researchers, it was the priestesses’ menstrual blood that was fed to the King, granting him longevity and wisdom. These priestesses were clothed in scarlet gowns (symbolic of blood) and had great political power and wealth, not least of which was because a King could not be crowned unless the High Priestess
agreed to his claiming the throne and a fertility rite was enacted between the two.
Frank Dicksee (Pre-Raphaelite Painter, 1853-1928)
The High Priestesses had the same status as kings: It is Inanna (or her earthly representative, the High Priestess of Uruk/the land) again in the Courtship that decrees the fate of the king/Dumuzi and that he had to be first accepted by her to rule the land as her consort. It is worth noting that though Inanna instituted the custom of “Sacred Marriage”, sexual rites whereby the priest-king was supposed to have become her spouse—it was only for one night. A text, attributed to King Iddin-Dagan:
“The male prostitutes comb her hair…
They décor the neck with coloured bands…
Their right side they adorn with woman’s clothing
as they walk before the pure Inanna…
Their left side they cover with men’s clothing
as they walk before the pure Inanna.
With jump ropes and coloured cords, they compete before her…
The young men, carrying hoops, sing before her…
The maidens, Shugia priestesses, walk before Inanna…
They set up a bed for my lady,
They cleanse rushes with sweet-smelling cedar oil;
For Inanna, for the King, they arrange the bed…”
The words that consecrate the king spoken by Inanna/ the High Priestess are the following:
“In battle, I am your leader
In combat, I am your armour-bearer
In the assembly, I am your advocate
In the campaign, I am your inspiration
You, the chosen shepherd of the holy shrine
You, the king, the faithful provider of Uruk,
You, the light of Anu’s great shrine
In all ways, you are fit
To hold your head high on the lofty dais
To sit on the lapis lazuli throne
To cover your head with the holy crown
To wear long clothes on your body
To bind yourself with the garment of kingship
To race on the road with the holy sceptre in your hand
And the holy sandals on your feet
You, the sprinter, the chosen shepherd
In all ways, I find you fit
May your heart enjoy long days.
That which Anu determined for you – may it not be altered
That which Enlil has granted – may it not be altered
You are the favorite of Ningal
Inanna holds you dear …”
The attending minister would then proclaim:
“My queen, here is the choice of your heart,
the king, your beloved bridegroom.
May he spend long days in the sweetness of your holy loins.
Give him a favourable and glorious reign.
Grant him the king’s throne, firm in its foundations.
Grant him the shepherd’s staff of judgment.
Grant him the enduring crown
with the radiant and noble diadem.
From where the sun rises to where the sun sets,
From north to south,
From the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea,
From the land of the huluppu-tree to the land of the cedar,
Let his shepherd’s staff protect all of Sumer and Akkad.
As the farmer, let him make the fields fertile,
As the shepherd, let him make the sheepfolds multiply,
Under his reign let there be vegetation,
Under his reign let there be rich grain.
In the marshland may the fish and birds chatter?
In the canebrake may the young and old reeds grow high,
In the steppe may the deer and wild goats multiply,
In the orchards may there be honey and wine,
In the grasslands may the lettuce and cress grow high,
In the palace may there be long life.
May there be floodwater in the Tigris and Euphrates,
May the plants grow high on their banks and fill the meadows,
May the Lady of Vegetation pile the grain in heaps and mounds.
O my Queen of Heaven and Earth,
Queen of all the universe,
May he enjoy long days in the sweetness of your loins.”
As beautiful as the vows were, one wonders what sort of leverage a priestess might have had over one seeking to be crowned king, and what happened to those the priestesses refused as consorts. Considering the amount of wealth the temples enjoyed, it is not hard to imagine some priestesses awarding the crown to the highest bidder and, in the case of Rahab and Joshua, changing their mind when they pleased. As they were part of a conglomerate of sorts that could crown and depose kings without being regarded as traitors to the state, one might imagine the list of their enemies to be rather long. As they only had to spend one night with the King and yet held leverage over him throughout his reign, it cannot have been easy for the Queen and other royal wives and concubines to accept the High Priestess’s status over them (unless the priestess chose to marry the King and become Queen—it does happen in the old tales and the choice is always hers), and that may be the basis for many of the tales throughout the world of these beautiful women coming from the sea, marrying the King and then eventually being driven away from him through the jealousy and gossip of the royal harem.
Certainly the priestesses made the most of it while they were in power, their temples becoming the first known banks, with Kings and rulers able to make deposits, travel with letters of credit and take out loans.
The Crystal Ball—John William Waterhouse.
Now what if, for the sake of argument, a High Priestess saw that the cult was starting to lose its power? Perhaps the families of the men not chosen to be king or the royal wives and their extended relatives had grown too numerous that there was talk of following other Gods and finding other methods to consecrate the crown, which would remove the cult of Inanna from power. What would an astute woman in that position do?
If we discount Inanna the Goddess as a mythological figure, then what of Sargon and his conquests? Could there have been a high priestess of old who called herself Inanna after her goddess, engaged the services of an unknown warrior and together they waged war on the world and built their own empire?
Certainly that would explain Sargon’s conquests with Inanna by his side and their reputed (by some) daughter Enheduanna, the first author and poet, who also became High Priestess and who wrote personal devotions to Inanna, such as: 'The Great-Hearted Mistress’, The Exaltation of Inanna’, and 'Goddess of the Fearsome Powers’ along with many other literary texts. These hymns to Inanna did much to cement the Goddess’s position in the hierarchy of the Mesopotamian Pantheon, raising her to a Supreme Deity, which, of course, benefitted Sargon and his family.
From a seal depicting their victory
If a priestess had gained domination as she desired, what would then have been the response from the kingdoms that had been overcome? One might imagine that the Kings and royal courts would have been most displeased with this Priestess and her emissaries telling them what to do and they would have looked upon the scarlet-clad women with disfavour, shunning them for their ‘immoral behaviour’. It is not hard to imagine her response: ordering that all the women in the land serve in her temple one day a year (or one time before they are married, according to a different account), thus giving her priestesses back their power by making all the women ‘whores’.
The fifth century BCE Greek historian Herodotus was the first to report this custom to a European audience. As Herodotus (History1: 199) tells it:
“The Babylonians have one most shameful custom. Every woman born in the country must once in her life go and sit down in the precinct of Aphrodite [=Ishtat], and there consort with a stranger. Many of the wealthier sorts who are too proud to mix with others, drive covered carriages to the precinct, followed by a goodly train of attendants, and there take their station. But the larger number seat themselves within the holy enclosure with wreaths of string about their heads, -and here there is always a great crowd, some coming and others going; lines of cord mark out paths in all directions among the women and strangers pass along them to make their choice. A woman who has once taken her seat is not allowed to return home till one of the strangers throws a silver coin into her lap, and takes her with him beyond holy ground. When he throws the coin he says these words: “The goddess Mylitta prosper thee.” (Aphrodite is called Mylitta [=an Akkadian title of Ishtar/Inanna meaning she who brings about birth] by the Assyrians.) The silver coin may be of any size; it cannot be refused, for that is forbidden by the law, since once thrown it is sacred. The woman goes with the first man who throws her money and rejects no one. When she has gone with him, and so satisfied the goddess, she returns home, and from that time forth no gift, however, great will prevail with her. Such of the women are as tall and beautiful are soon released, but others who are ugly have to stay a long time before they can fulfil the law. Some have waited three or four years in the precinct. A custom very much like this is found also in certain parts of the island of Cyprus. (Herodotus, 1942 : 107-8, trans. George Rawlinson).”
While Herodotus may have been a sensationalist and writing from a Greek perspective, it is interesting that the author of the article goes on to say, “This practice is part of what people think of when they think of sacred prostitution. If that practice did, in fact, take place it would have been rather late in the historical record. If it took place late in time, then it might not be representative of the practices of the Old Babylonians or Sumerians.” ---thus giving some credence to the theory it was a High Priestess acting as Inanna who implemented the practice, rather than the Sumerian Goddess herself.
What is never explained is what happened if pregnancy was the result—sacred prostitution did not create sacred children. Though the people of the land may have unwillingly accepted an edict for the women to serve at the temple, they would not have accepted children from such a union. It may be that those who equate Inanna with child sacrifice do so because of the prevention of pregnancy or the termination of one—both of which were abhorrent to patriarchal societies.
This all matches the description of the woman in Revelations and the lament of Jeremiah, in which Jehovah speaks of playing the harlot and the ‘blood of innocents’ being in her skirts—which many have hypothesized referred to contraception or abortion. As Anath (Astarte/Inanna) held power in Israel until the return from captivity in Babylon, it stands to reason that many of the cult’s practices in other countries were also performed in Israel.
But, as with all who seek political gain, eventually the wheel of fortune turns and those who had power lose it. Eventually, the cult lost its power and societies veered towards patriarchal based structures, with priestesses and prostitutes given clear laws to follow and only allowed to operate in consigned quarters. Wives and daughters came to be given guidelines on how they were to live and behave, with serious consequences for those who broke the rules and the dichotomy between the ‘wife’ and the ‘whore’ materialized, becoming entrenched in the mind-set of countless generations since.
A quick glance through the websites dedicated to her and the fictional books being released about her reveals an interesting trend: Inanna portrayed as the Goddess of Love but in the role of mother and wife, not lover. This may be based on confusing the Sumerian Goddess Inanna with Nin-kharsag—two very different women with very different stories.
While seeking to restore Inanna to her glory is laudable (I myself am fascinated by her), it should be remembered that she was not the motherly type or faithful wife and would not have wanted herself to have been represented that way. She gloried in her feminine powers and charms and used it to the fullest extent she could. She was bold, ruthless and seductive and as such should be remembered for that. If she is honoured, it should be for her skill in manoeuvring her way through the political ranks and doing what many others wished they could do: conquer the earth and become the Supreme Deity.
D. Burnstein (2004) Secrets of the Code, Weidenfield and Nicholson
Genesis of the Grail Kings, Laurence Gardner, Bantam, 2005
J.Heath (2208) The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics, University of California Press.
Bertman, S. (2003). Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. NewYork, NY: Oxford University Press
Black, J., and Green, A., (1992). Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An illustrated Dictionary. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Bottero, J (1992). Mesopotamia, writing Reasoning and the Gods. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
ETCSL Oxford University, (2003). http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/ Retrieved April 17, 2009, from http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.4.07.4, http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.1.3.1, and http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text= t.5.6.1
Faraone, C., and McClure, L., (2006) Prostitutes and courtesans in the ancient world. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Foster, B., (1995). From Distant Days, Myths Tales, and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia. Bethesda, MD: CDL Press
George, A., (1999). The Epic of Gilgamesh. London, England: Penguin Press.
Jacobsen, T., (1976). The Treasures of Darkness, a History of Mesopotamian Religion. London, England: Yale University Press.
Leick, G., (2001). Mesopotamia, the Invention of the City. London, England: Penguin Pr