The Goddess Ishtar

ISHTAR is the name of the chief goddess of Babylonia and Assyria. She appears under various names, among which are Nan, Innanna, Nina and Anunit. Ishtar is celebrated and invoked as the great mother, as the mistress of lands, as clothed in splendour and power, one might almost say as the personification of life itself.

She has two aspects as goddess of life. She brings forth, she fertilizes the fields, she clothes nature in joy and gladness, but she also withdraws her favours and when she does so the fields wither, and men and animals cease to reproduce. In place of life, barrenness and death ensue. She is thus also a grim goddess, at once cruel and destructive. We can, therefore, understand that she was also invoked as a goddess of war and battles and of the chase. In myths symbolizing the change of seasons she is portrayed in this double character, as the life-giving and the life-depriving power.

The most noteworthy of these myths describes her as passing through seven gates into the nether world. At each gate some of her clothing and her ornaments are removed until at the last gate she is entirely naked (thus the relevance of her representation as a stripper in the Sandman:Brief Livescollection.) While she remains in the nether world as a prisoner (whether voluntary or involuntary it is hard to say) all fertility ceases on earth, but the time comes when she again returns to earth, and as she passes each gate the watchman restores to her what she had left there until she is again clad in her full splendour, to the joy of mankind and of all nature.

Closely allied with this myth and personifying another view of the change of seasons is the story of Ishtars love for Tammuz, symbolizing the spring time. As midsummer approaches her husband is slain and, according to one version, it is for the purpose of saving Tammuz from the clutches of the goddess of the nether world that she enters upon her journey to that region.

In all the great centres Ishtar had her temples, bearing such names as E-anna, heavenly house, in Erech; E-makh, great house, in Babylon; E-mash-mash, house of offerings, in Nineveh. Of the details of her cult we as yet know little, but there is no evidence that there were obscene rites connected with it, though there may have been certain mysteries introduced at certain centres which might easily impress the uninitiated as having obscene aspects. She was served by priestesses as well as by priests, and it )vould appear that the votaries of Ishtar were in all cases virgins who, as long as they remained in the service of Ishtar, were not permitted to marry.

In the astral-theological system, Ishtar becomes the planet Venus, and the double aspect of the goddess is made to correspond to the strikingly different phases of Venus in the summer and wintel seasons. On nionuments and seal-cylinders she appears frequently with how and arrow, though also simply clad in long robes with a crown on her head and an eight-rayed star as her symbol. Statuette, have been found in large ntimbers representing her as naked with her arms folded across her breast or holding a child. Together with Sin, the moon-god, and Shamash, the sun-god, she is the third figure in a triad personifying the three great forces of nature, moon sun and earth, as the life-force.


in the 1911 Encyclopdia

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