One of the most distinctive elements of the Goddess's preparation for the Quršu was that of bathing and beautification rituals.
BATHING & ANNOINTING IN PERFUMED OIL
In one of the Inanna hymns, the Goddess (likely played by a priestess singer) performs the ritual preparation for the quršu ritual:
"I bathed in water, scrubbed myself with soap,
I bathed with water of the pure ewer,
Scrubbed myself with soap of the bright bowl,
Anointed myself with the good oil of the bowl.." (9)
The earliest recipe for soap comes from Mesopotamia and was recorded on a clay tablet, combining cassia oil with alkali (from ashes) and water. However it's likely that the type used for the ritual was made of animal fat mixed with ashes, and over time and in different geographical locations associated with worship of the sex Goddess, other types of soap ingredients may have been used including with a base of olive oil. (A modern soap still made today in Syria combines olive oil and laurel oil.)
The sacred oil used for anointing the head was likely made from a base oil fragranced with myrrh or other precious fragrances.
Both soap and oil were stored in beautiful vessels. Many exquisite bowls have been excavated from archaeological sites, including bowls carved from calcite found in the so-called Royal Tombs of Ur, which had been transported an impressive distance, treasured for their beauty.
Vessel of Winged Goddess or Priestess pouring on a vessel from Marion
Archaeologists are unsure of the bath vessel used in Mesopotamia. However in Cyprus at the Sanctuary of the sex Goddess Aphrodite, an actual bath was excavated from beneath the sanctuary floor. (I had the privilege of viewing the original bath for my research, which is on display at the Sanctuary of Aphrodite Museum at Kouklia, Paphos on the island of Cyprus.)
Bath from Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Kouklia, Cyprus
In mythology, Aphrodite was born from the foam of the castrated genitals of Uranus which were severed by Cronos. Her name "Aphrodite" combining "aphros" foam (linked to semen) with the Greek word for "born".
Lekythos of Aphrodite emerging from foam (Wikicommons / public domain)
The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite narrates the bathing ritual at Paphos:
"...there the Graces bathed her and rubbed on her
A holy oil that blooms on the undying -
She kept this heavenly-sweet perfume handy." (10)
The association of the Goddess naked and bathing endure through the ancient world, in sculptures, on pottery and other artifacts.
Painting of Aphrodite transported in shell from Pompeii (Wikicommons / public domain)
Perfumes made at Cyprus went out around the ancient world. Remnants of perfume bottles and mixing jugs were found in Pyrgos in an ancient factory that had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1850 BCE. They were analysed to discover 14 fragrances native to the Mediterranean. If you're curious as to what ingredients ancient perfumers were using, the analysed extracts from Pyrgos included anise, pine, coriander, bergamot, almond and parsley. (11)
EROTIC POWER & BEAUTIFICATION
The next part of the preparation was dressing in a sacred garment, and beautification by way of kohl eye liner and cosmetic, arranging the hair, and putting on of stunning jewelry which had ritual significance.
The dress is referred to as the royal garment(s) of the "queenship of heaven". (12) Suffice to say would have been beautifully crafted and visually impressive.
Ludovisi throne main panel of Aphrodite with the Hours / priestesses
The kohl eye liner translates directly as "come man come", which gives an indication to the erotic power it was believed to hold. It was drawn out of a bottle and applied across the eyelid with a stick like applicator, and remains popular in the Middle East even today.
One of the hymns of Inanna describes the beautification process:
"I painted my eyes with kohl,
The upright hair on my nape I straightened,
My hanging hear I washed...
The hair of my head was disheveled - I straightened it,
My locks were loosened - I tightened them,
Tossed them to the sides of (my) nape.
A golden bracelet I fastened on my hand,
Small lapis lazuli beads I tied on my neck,
Their knob I laid upon my neck sinews." (13)
A Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite also describe a similar process of beautification and adorning with jewellery:
"On the shore the Hours in their gold headdresses
Met her with joy, draped her in sacred clothes,
And crowned her deathless head with intricate gold;
And in her ears, already pierced, went earrings:
Flowers of precious gold and mountain copper.
They hung her tender neck and silvery breasts
With necklaces of gold, just like the Hours wear
Themselves when in gold diadems they visit
Their Father's house to join enticing dances." (14)
Mirror of Women Bathing with Goddess sculpture behind (Wikicommons / public domain)
SYMBOLS OF SEX: THE STAR-ROSETTE, THE BOAT OF HEAVEN & THE BIVALVE SHELL
The ancient star-rosette flower symbol, (amalgamating the star or Venus with the flower) features on jewellery and artifacts linked to the sex Goddess. The Homeric hymns describe the "Hours" or priestesses wearing flowers of gold. I was fascinated to see actual gold diadums impressed with star-rosette symbols on the island of Cyprus, showing the continuity of this Goddess symbolism transmitted across thousands of years and across cultures.
Gold diadum with star-rosettes from Cyprus
Gold earrings in the shape of the "sacred boat (or horn) of heaven", formed like the vulva, have been excavated from multiple sites within Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. These unequivocally link beautification and jewellery to female sexuality and the vulva.
The Ur tombs also revealed cosmetics stored in bivalve shells, the shell chosen presumably because of its resemblance to the vulva and labia. This early connection between beautification and the vulva is continued by depictions of Aphrodite's arrival on a shell across from the sea to Cyprus.
Cosmetics in bivalve shells from Ur
Much of the familiar Classic imagery of Aphrodite and Venus, the symbolism and myths, have their ancient origins thousands of years further back in time from the ancient Goddess Inanna / Ishtar and the quršu sex ritual involving bathing and beautification.
(9) Sefati, Yitschak Love Songs in Sumerian Literature (1998) Bar Ilan University Press, see Dumuzi-Inanna C lines 3-6, p.135
(10) Ruden, Sarah (translated by) Homeric Hymns (2005) Hackett Publishing, see "Homeric Hymn 5 - To Aphrodite" lines 61-63
(11) Roach, John "Oldest perfumes found on Aphrodite's Island" (2007) in National Geographic News, March 29, 2007, Viewable at: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/03/070329-oldest-perfumes.html
(12) Sefati, Yitschak Love Songs in Sumerian Literature (1998) op cit. see Dumuzi-Inanna C line 7, p.135
(13) ibid. Dumuzi-Inanna C lines 9-11, 13-18, p.136
(14) Ruden, Sarah (translated by) Homeric Hymns (2005) op cit. see "Homeric Hymn 6 - To Aphrodite" lines 5-13, p.67