On the publication day of Eruptions of Inanna, learn more about the thinking and process behind author Judy Grahn‘s queer reclamation of these ancient myths, as well as Grahn’s long and storied history of gay and lesbian activism.
What prompted you to write Eruptions of Inanna?
From my mid-twenties onward I have dedicated my work to providing inclusive origin stories to replace those that omitted me and the people I love, to give us a place to live in the world. I took on challenging the psychiatric establishment, the public presence of lesbians in the women’s movement, the necessity for anti-racism, the centrality of women in culture-making, the recovery of Gay presence in mythology and world-cultures, and more. Eruptions of Inanna is my opportunity to place both women and LGBTQ people in a sacred context—a poetic tradition that is more than four thousand years old. I’m really excited to share this.
What surprised you in the process of researching & writing this book? Were you ever surprised by your own responses to a new discovery? Were some sections of the book easier or harder to write than others?
I’m primarily delighted by what I learned from the research and writing. I had a strong hunch I could argue for the priestess of Inanna having written the core poetry and plot of the book of Job; I had no idea it would go so deep, revealing new sides to Inanna’s power as a natural element, and a stunning (to me) connection between her “head-overturned” trans people and the geological features. Then, spotting three distinctly different worldviews in the Epic of King Gilgamesh has set me to thinking that I need to write even more about that. Just as surprising and pleasing was my realization that menstrual powers play a part in two of the stories of Inanna. Overall, the book was a joy to write.
In Eruptions of Inanna, you bring together a variety of spiritual traditions. Will you give us a quick guide to the major stories that you engage in the book?
The poetic stories of Inanna, a goddess of love, eroticism, and justice, date back to over four thousand years ago, from the region of Mesopotamia. As a form of nature, she is protective of, and also takes the form of creatures, as well as of ghost, rainbow, and human being.
Her mythology contributed massively to biblical literature, from the great flood to the garden of paradise, to her death for three days and rebirth, and the theology of the Book of Job. She is a goddess of reincarnation and resembles the Indian goddess of life-energy, Shakti. In the hero’s journey “Epic of Gilgamesh” she is challenged as he seeks his own version of eternal life and then settles for what can be seen as secular humanism. Yet she never has left us, remaining a vital figure in current culture. I love best her stories of justice, her love of crafts, her ability to own the gender binary. She’s so contemporary!
What do you hope that Eruptions of Inanna will do, particularly for women and queer folx?
For people of integrity, who cherish and long for the sacred as the heart of life, the exclusions from, and even demonization of, women and LGBTQ people in sacred definition is beyond disappointing; it’s intolerable and must be corrected. The literature of Inanna and other ancient Mesopotamian deities directly fed as root sources the biblical stories many of us grew up with, and could not find ourselves held within. Certain stories and poems were not included, and getting them back is a much-needed restoration, inspiring, intriguing and frankly, sheer joy.
In your book, Another Mother Tongue, published in 1983, you wrote about the roles of queer and gender non-conforming people in ancient cultures around the world. Since then, conversations around gender, sexuality, and race have changed quite a bit. How has your thinking about gender, sexuality, and race changed over the years and what effect did that thinking have on your approach to writing Eruptions of Inanna?
Many more people have written and spoken up about queer and gender roles in different cultures, and the transgender, intersex, and two spirit identities and experiences have emerged to the forefront of activism since 1983. After Another Mother Tongue and while teaching women’s spirituality I became profoundly convinced that the exclusions and demonizing of certain categories of people in the central origin stories and definitions of “sacred” that permeate mainstream U.S. culture, isolate and devastate us, keep us defensive and way inside, grief-stricken. The forbidding and blaming, and broadly defining life as a battle between dark and light (which underpins the fantasy of white supremacy) creates a sense of loss and outsiderness that is so embedded and everyday, we might be on a fighting edge of anger, or conversely barely recognize what is wrong until the possibility of recovery, when the whole vista of life can dramatically open. Eruptions is such an opening.
The stories of this book have been percolating in your mind and your work for many years. How does this book relate to your other work?
I began searching for and describing central female powers including divinity, since as far back as 1972 and my She Who poems. Then I took an interest in Helen of Troy, learning that she had been a goddess, and this led me back to Inanna with a path built by authors and scholars who have translated her poetic stories. From my earliest poetry and articles, I have sought to use my work to help build places in life and thought for excluded people, including me, and my friends: as women, as LGBTQ people, as Indigenous people and people of color—so, for justice and making stories more whole, the stories of Inanna are a good fit.
When you imagine someone reading this book, in what contexts do you imagine them reading it & possibly discussing or sharing it with others?
All kinds of places, not only coffee shops, workshops and book clubs, but in religious gatherings where people want to expand definitions of sacred and understand the limitations of traditional religious teachings. And I’d love to see the stories of Inanna in psychology, literature, and mythology classes as useful philosophical contributions. I’ll be on the radio and several zoom interviews, as well as teaching the book as part of a course on Inanna, with my colleague Dianne Jenett, and sponsored by both Lilith’s Circle and Commonality Institute, which promotes my work.
What gives you hope these days? What examples do you see about the continued possibilities for change and transformation?
We are living through perilous times, but scary as the times are, they also present opportunities for much needed changes. People are restless as it becomes clear that our old stories of meaning and desire are proving to be at odds with our survival, let alone our happiness. We need new stories and philosophies that feed our needs and help us take better care of each other and our world. For me, the stories from Inanna’s literature fill that bill. Plus, she is very sexy!