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ISHTAR

Babylonian Goddess of War

Goddess Ishtar




This Akkadian/Babylonian Great Goddess represents a later and more complex development of the Sumerian Innana, and her son/lover Tammuz plays the role of the vegetation-god. She is not only an embodiment of sexuality and fertility, a "Lady of Battle" and a goddess of healing, but it is also she who bestowed the ancient kings with the right to rule over her/their people. Her fame reached into the Hittite and Hurrian lands of Anatolia, to Sumeria, Egypt and to the Assyrians. Here especially - in Assyria and Egypt - she was revered as a goddess of Battle and is depicted with bow, quiver and sword; her prowess is symbolised by her lioness-steed.

In other sacred texts Ishtar is described as having "sweet lips" and a "beautiful figure" and it is clear that she takes much pleasure in love. Significantly, when she descends to the Netherworld all sexual activity ceases everywhere on earth. In this aspect her familiar and symbolic animal is the dove. Ishtar was also thought to rule the menstrual/ovarian cycle.

In the Old Testament her worship is regarded as an abomination, and it is Ishtar's worshipers and her ishtarishtu (sacred prostitutes) who were to be found even at the doors of the Hebrew god's great temple, much to the consternation of his priests and prophets. As well as being renowned for her powers of creation, divine rulership, prophesy and desire, Ishtar was also regarded as a healer and we know that her effigy once was transported all the way to Egypt in order to heal the then sick Amenhotep III.

In her earliest manifestations she was associated with the storehouse and thus personified as the goddess of dates, wool, meat, and grain; the storehouse gates were her emblem. She was also the goddess of rain and thunderstorms-leading to her association with An, the sky god-and was often pictured with the lion, whose roar resembled thunder. The power attributed to her in war may have arisen from her connection with storms. Inanna was also a fertility figure, and, as goddess of the storehouse and the bride of the god Dumuzi-Amaushumgalana, who represented the growth and fecundity of the date palm, she was characterized as young, beautiful, and impulsive-never as helpmate or mother. She is sometimes referred to as the Lady of the Date Clusters.

Ishtar's primary legacy from the Sumerian tradition is the role of fertility figure; she evolved, however, into a more complex character, surrounded in myth by death and disaster, a goddess of contradictory connotations and forces-fire and fire-quenching, rejoicing and tears, fair play and enmity. The Akkadian Ishtar is also, to a greater extent, an astral deity, associated with the planet Venus. With Shamash, the sun god, and Sin, the moon god, she forms a secondary astral triad. In this manifestation her symbol is a star with 6, 8, or 16 rays within a circle. As goddess of Venus, delighting in bodily love, Ishtar was the protectress of prostitutes and the patroness of the alehouse. Part of her cult worship probably included temple prostitution. Her popularity was universal in the ancient Middle East, and in many centers of worship she probably subsumed numerous local goddesses. In later myth she was known as Queen of the Universe, taking on the powers of An, Enlil, and Enki.

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