Enheduanna: Priestess, Author, Inspiration

This Mother’s Day, it is fitting that a blog honoring women’s creativity and spirituality celebrate Princess Enheduanna.  She is the first person we know of to sign her literary work and, delightfully enough, her most cited poem is a hymn to the Goddess Inanna.  Her poetry to Inanna is also considered to be the first to use the first person to express her own feelings of relationship to the Divine. She is truly a mother of women’s creativity and spirituality.

We even know a bit about Enheduanna, though she lived 4300 years ago.  According to Christiane Inmann’s Forbidden Fruit: A History of Women and Books in Art, Princess Enheduanna was the high priestess at a temple in Ur and she wrote poems praising her father, the Akkadian King Sargon who conquered Sumer, as well as Inanna.  She was quite well-known, with her work appearing in 35 different cities in ancient Babylon.

How different was the fate of the Princess Enheduanna from those of so many women poets, artists, and other creators after her who were forced to be nameless in their own time and ours.  “Anonymous Was a Woman,” says the bumpersticker and all too often it is true. How powerful is the simple act of signing our name to expressions of our souls!  Because the work of so many millions of women creators is nameless, it is lost to us.  An essential legacy of the women who created that work is also lost to us.

As I think about Edheduanna, I realize the importance of taking credit for my work and encouraging other women to do the same. It can be so easy to not take credit for our work, especially if it is not considered to be “art,” or if we work in an environment that does not encourage women to be forceful, or if we prefer to stay in the background. Owning your work gives it power. A work whose author is known is tied to the force of a human being.  It is an expression of a particular life and so has a history and a meaning that an anonymous work does not. When you make a new recipe for rose geranium apple cake, call it “Emily’s Rose Geranium Apple Cake.”  When you contribute an idea to a meeting, say “I think we should…” rather than “has anyone thought about…?”

Putting your name on your work means not only by claiming authorship, but also proclaiming its existence and importance to the world. So often we second-guess whether anyone will want to read or see or hear what we create and it may never see the light of day. If it truly expresses you, it is worthy and deserves your time and effort to be experienced by others. From now on, when I write something I love, I will make sure that it finds a home in some publication or this blog.

When we sign our work, we form connections with other women.  I love to buy clothes from places that sell clothing created by women artisans in cooperatives and one reason is that each piece usually has a tag saying which cooperative or woman made it.  Instead of just being a consumer, I am now someone who is in an economic, social, and political relationship with a human being.  I can imagine her hands embroidering the designs and her mind feeling a sense of satisfaction at its beauty.

Signing our work helps create women’s history. For how many millennia have girls grown up thinking that they are not as naturally brilliant as men because there were fewer  historical works of genius with women’s names on them, though they surely existed? While we may think that a spontaneous photograph or a knitted scarf are not worth bothering to put our name to, to someone in the future it may become an important inspiration and link to the past.  My great-grandmother churned out quilts to sell, but never signed them.  Only because my grandmother pinned a label on one of them with the information that it was made by her mother do I have something that I cherish as a work not only of great beauty, but a link to my own past and the perseverance and creativity of my ancestress.

When Edheduanna wrote about her own spiritual experience, she put her name to her work in a deeper and richer way than simply etching her name in the tablet.   She declared that what went on in her soul was worthy of being known throughout her world and down through time. She did not wait for someone to tell her what to feel or hesitate, wondering if what she had experienced and written was good enough, but knew that her own thoughts and feelings were of lasting and unique importance, as, indeed, are those of us all.

Edheduanna’s Mother’s Day gift to all of us is the encouragement to be proud of what we feel, believe, and create and to say so by making sure that everyone now and into the future knows that it is part of our lives and experience. Long before anyone told us not to be overly sure of or loud in our self-proclamations of our own spiritual wisdom, Edheduanna invited us to give ourselves the gift of owning our own spirit and its works for ourselves and all the women who come after us.

By Carolyn Lee Boyd

Carolyn Lee Boyd’s essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in a variety of print magazines, internet sites, and book anthologies. Her writing explores goddess-centered spirituality in everyday life and how we can all better live in local and global community. In fact, she is currently writing a book on what ancient and contemporary cultures have to tell us about living in community in the 21st century. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com, where you can find her writings and music and some of her free e-books to download.

1 comment

  1. This blogpost has been marked in my rssfeed because I keep reading and re-reading it. Although you’ve posted this almost a year ago, it still inspires me to be proud of my work! Everything I make that I’m proud of, gets a signature. Paintings, knitting, papers, all work related documents. All this work is part of me, I loved making it or doing this and by marking it with my signature I know that I can put it online, give it away and still it will be part of me.
    So I guess all I want to say is thank you, for writing such an inspiring blogpost!

    Thank you for this wonderful comment. I’m so glad the post has helped inspire you. I so appreciate your letting me know.

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