The Goddess in the Tree – part 2

Inanna, ca 2200 BCE

Inanna in Sumerian, from a seal ca 2334-2154 BCE.  Artist rendition: Samantha Rudolph

In the last post, I discussed the images of the Egyptian Isis in the tree.   Egypt was south of the land of Israel. The land north of Israel also had a goddess who lived in a tree. That land was Sumeria and Her tale is told in the Saga of Gilgamesh.

The great Sumerian Queen of Heaven Inanna finds the tree which had been sprouted from the seed of creation.  As it had begun to grow, it was torn from its roots by a great flood. Inanna recovered the tree from the waters and took it to plant in the center of her own garden.

After Inanna planted the tree, she planned to let it grow until it was big enough to chop down to make a bed and a throne. But her plans were thwarted when a “snake who could not be charmed” nested in the roots, an anzu bird built its nest in the branches, and Lilith, generally thought to be an evil female demon, took up residence in the trunk.[i] As the story progresses, Inanna calls upon Gilgamesh, the part human/part god Sumerian hero to come and cut down the tree. When he does so, the snake, bird, and Lilith all escape.

One of the first things to notice about the huluppu tree is that it was planted by one goddess (Inanna) and another is living in its trunk. The goddess in the trunk is identified as Lilith in her only extant appearance in Sumerian mythology. In Biblical times she came to be identified as a demon who stole babies or seduced men to their doom. Her lineage, however, is much older. Words etymologically connected with Lilith’s name are the Libyan lilu (water), Lithuanian liete (to pour) and lyti (to rain). To Ariel Golan these “suggest that Lilith of the Ancient East was a vestige of the goddess of heavenly moisture, older than Sumerian mythology, i.e., the Great Goddess.”[ii]

Lilith, ca. 1800 BCE

This is a Sumerian image of Lilith from about 1800BCE.

Look at the “coincidences” between Inanna and Lilith. Both were known as Great Goddesses. Various interpretations of Lilith’s origins name her a goddess of the wind or storms, the “hand or hand maiden of Inanna,” “beautiful maiden,” and as a goddess of fertility. Both are connected with lions, wings, rain, and moisture.

Lilith was once known as a great goddess in her own right.   What is she doing inhabiting a tree? Notice that in both the images of Inanna and Lilith, they are shown with wings. Is it any coincidence that a bird, with their most prominent feature of wings, sits atop the very tree in which a goddess resides?  That she also, is known for her wings?  The same wings that adorn birds?  More on this in future posts.

Next up: Now that we’ve seen goddesses living in trees in the cultures both north and south of Israel, wouldn’t it make sense for thhere be a goddess living in a tree in the holy land itself? (Hint: There is).

[i] This story is from the Gilgamesh cycles; Kramer and Wolkstein.

[ii] Golan, Myth and Symbol, 228.

Related Posts