Inanna is the five–thousand year old epic of the Sumerian goddess (it predates the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament by two millennia).
Through voice, gesture, and song, Diane Wolkstein brought to life the oldest known recorded story the 4,000 year old epic of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love and fertility. Deciphered from cuneiform tablets from ancient Iraq, the inspiring myth of Inanna recounts the emergence of the goddess into womanhood, her search for wisdom, her courtship, marriage, descent into the Underworld, and rebirth.
Diane’s retelling, first published in book form by HarperCollins in 1983, has become one of her most recognized works — not to mention one of her most cited (most notably in Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ best–seller Women Who Run with the Wolves). The book, co–authored with Samuel Noah Kramer, is one of the few of her books to have remained in print over the last three decades, and it is frequently referenced in mythology and goddess spirituality circles (and in one unusual example, during a Yom Kippur service conducted at a Unitarian Universalist congregation on Long Island, New York in 2014).
It has also inspired people to become storytellers, as it did Regina Ress, who wrote in the pages of The Quest (Spring 1990):
“Inanna first called to me seven years ago from the pages of Merlin Stone’s classic When God Was a Woman. The word itself leaped off the page. I found myself singing her name aloud. I did not know her story, merely her name, her intoned essence, ‘IN-NA-NA! IN-NA-NA! IN-NA-NA!’ became my chant, summoning forth a deep response of strength and exultation.”
Eventually, Regina Ress would come into possession of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Story and Hymns from Sumer, and the chant she had created for herself “fleshed itself out into a magnificent being… one of the world’s most passionate and compelling myths, it gives us permission to stride, to rage, to glory in our bodies, to ask for help, to take our power.”
Diana offered her own description during her last keynote speech, at the 2012 Singapore International Storytelling Festival:
“The five–thousand–year old wisdom story of Inanna… fascinated me, for she, Inanna, the Great Goddess, dared to make the most heroic of journeys; she dared to descend to the Great Below to see who she was.
“…The myth has five sections. The young Inanna rescues a tree from the Euphrates River. The queen Inanna then brings the attributes of civilization [the Mé] from the God of Wisdom to her city. The woman Inanna engages in a luscious courtship and marries. The spiritual warrior Inanna leaves her husband and city and descends to the Great Below [the Underworld]. When she enters the Great Below, the Realm of the Dark Queen [Erishkegal], the Dark Queen fastens on [Inanna] the eye of death, utters against her the words of wrath, and fixes her on a hook on the wall. The God of Wisdom rescues and frees Inanna by offering compassion to her grieving selves and encouraging her to acknowledge and release all the wounded, dark, and suffering parts of herself… Offering compassion to ourselves enables us to offer compassion to others.”
These short media fragments from Menopause: The Magical (Telesummit) (2011), offer more of her insights into why the epic matters to modern women.
In the years that followed the book’s publication, Diane Wolkstein’s performances of Inanna remained in demand throughout her storytelling career, with well–received performances in New York (the United Nations, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Open Center), London (the British Museum), and Melbourne to name but three cities. Inanna has appeared in numerous translations and musical adaptations, (including an unauthorized operatic treatment by Louis Andriessen and Hal Hartley) — itself a testament to her ability to retell this ancient epic in a language and on a level easily accessed and appreciated by modern–day audiences.
Diane Wolkstein often performed Inanna in a staged production accompanied by musician Geoffrey Gordon. The partnership would continue until Mr. Gordon’s sudden death in the summer of 2012. Mme. Wolkstein had later planned to have her telling of Inanna re–scored by a cousin, Nathaniel Wolkstein, in time for a Norwegian storytelling festival; the plan died along with the storyteller in late January 2013.
Performance video excerpts ©2007 Cloudstone Productions.