ishtar

Let’s Spell it Out

January, 2011

January 2nd: The Birth of the Goddess Inanna/Ishtar in Ancient Sumeria

“Isis, Astarte, Deanna, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna…”

Who is this Goddess?

Inanna and Ishtar are essentially two sides of the same coin.  Inanna came first, the goddess of the Sumerians.  Ishtar came after, the goddess of the Babylonians and Assyrians.  She was found in either her original form or in another form around the world including in Arabia, Armenia, Canaan, Carthage, China, Cilesia, Crete, Egypt, Ephesia, Greece, India, Israel, Japan, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Phrygia, and Pontus.

Some say that she was the daughter of Anu, the Mesopotamian creator god, similar to the Greek Zeus, while others claim that she was the daughter of the Moon god Sinn.

She was often depicted as winged, wearing a starred rainbow necklace, with burning eyes (the symbol of the spiritual light) and a burning navel (the symbols for the fertility of the land and her people).  Because of her descent to and return from the Underworld, she is linked with Demeter, and to further this connection, she is often shown with ears of corn (grain) sprouting from her shoulders.  This associated her as the Mother Earth Goddess with the fertility of the land; it is from her that the world received nourishment.  This goddess, as Sharrat Shame, the Queen of Heaven, ran the natural world; she was in charge of wool, the rain, meat and grain.  In this aspect, her worshippers gave her offerings of Kamanu, sacrificial cakes.

Inanna was known as the One With Many Names.  Variations of her name include Anna, Nana, Inninna, Nina, Nanna or Nin-me-sar-ra (the Lady of a myriad of Offices).  Later, she was transformed into Ishtar during the Mesopotamian periods. She was Ma in Pontus and Mama in Sumeria.  She was called Kwan Yin in China and Kwannon in Japan.  In Canaan and Israel, she was called Aschera, Ashara, Ishara, Ashtart, Ashtaroth, Ashtoreth and Astarte.  In Crete she was called Ariadne.  Libyans knew her as Neith.  Armenians called her Anaites.  In Cilesia she was called Ate.  To the Assyrians she was also known by other names including Anatis, Anat and Atagatis/Ataigates.  In Cypress, she was called Aphrodite.  In Greece she was known as Nix, then Hemera, then Gaea, then Aphrodite and Athena.  In Egypt, she was called Mut, then Nut, then Hathor and then Isis.  In Phoenicia and Carthage, she was known as either Astarte or Tanit/Tanith.  In Phrygia, she was Cybele.  Indians called her Inda.  The Ephesians knew her as emis/Diana.  There are also other names for her, including Anatu, Anunit, Atar, Athtar, Gumshea, Irnini, Mylitta and Eshter.

Because she was many things to many people, she held many titles.  As the goddess of the heavenly Upperworld, she was known as the Lady of Heaven, the Queen of Heaven, the Ruler of the Heavens, the Goddess of the Moon, the Shinning One, the Torch of Heaven and Earth, the Mother of All Deities, the Leader of Hosts, and the Possessor of the Tablets of Life’s Records.  As the goddess of the earthly Middle-World, she was called the Great Mother, the Great Goddess, the Bestower of Strength, the Light of the World, the Opener of the Womb, the Producer of Life, the Creator of the People, Guardian of the Law, Righteous Judge, Framer of All Decrees, Forgiver of Sins and the Lawgiver.  As the goddess of physical love, she was known as the Goddess of Love and the Goddess of the Evening.  A the Goddess of War, she was called the Guardian of Law and Order, the Lady of Victory, the Lady of Sorrows and Battles and the Lady of Battles and Victory.  As the goddess of the mysterious Underworld, she known as the Source of the Oracles and Prophecy and the Lady of Vision.

It’s possible that the worship of Inanna-Dumuzi and the worship of Ishtar-Tammuz was the seed for many other forms of worship.  In 1700 BCE, the worship of Isis, her husband Osiris and their son Horus is comparable.  Later, in 1500 BCE, the worship of Astarte (or Aschera) and her son Baal took place with the Canaanites, the Hebrews and the Phoenicians.  Another example took place in 900 BCE in Phrygia (what we today call Turkey) with the worship of Kybele (Cybele) and Atties (Attis).

“To the Lady of Heaven and Earth, who receives prayers,

who harkens to the petitions, who accepts beseechings;

To the merciful goddess who loves righteousness;

Look upon me O Lady, so that through thy turning toward me

the heart of thy servant may become strong.”

INANNA

Pronounced “ee-NAH-nah”, her name means “Queen of Heaven”.

Inanna was the Sumerian Mother Earth Goddess who was likely the “ancestor” of the Mother Goddess of Paleolithic and Neolithic deities.  Some speculate that she likely descended from the Creator Goddess Nammu, the Mesopotamian goddess of the watery depths.  Inanna’s sanctiry was at the Eanna temple which was in the city of Unug (Uruk).  Her shrines date as far back as 4500 BCE and Inanna’s stories were recorded on Sumerian cuneiform (wedge-shaped) tablets that date back as much as 3200 BCE.  These tablets are from the most ancient civilized literature that we know of and are from the region that we currently call Iraq and the Middle East.  What we know of this culture comes from archeologists and scholars and there is still much to learn as more Sumerian artifacts are being discovered.

Depending on who you ask, Inanna is either the daughter of the Moon God Nanna or the God of Heaven An (Anu).  She is the sister of Sun God Uta and the Storm God Iskur.  Inanna is the handmaiden of An and is attended by a minor goddess named Ninsubar.

Inanna is usually shown with wings, wearing a horned crown and a tiered skirt.  As a Goddess of War, she had weapon cases at her shoulders.  As a goddess of the harvest, ears of corn were there instead.

Inanna was a goddess of light and love, life and death, and the Morning and Evening Star, which is the planet Venus.  The stone Lapis Lazuli was sacred to her.  She was also the Queen of the Moon and was associated with the planet Uranus with the title Queen of the Universe.  Inanna’s Holy Lap held the Waters of Life; the life-blood that pumped through the Mother Goddess’ veins which were rivers, springs and wells.  As the Lady of Prosperity, Inanna brought fertility to her matriarchal people and bounty to the land.  She did this through her Sacred Marriage to the vegetation god Dumuzi.  She granted rain and healing and possessed great power over the destinies of both cities and lovers.

In 2350 BCE, the daughter of the king Agade, Enheduanna, wrote a lengthy hymn to Inanna.  Called “The Exaltation of Inanna”, it told the story of her struggle with Nanna the god of the Moon as well as the High God An finally accepting her.

She is probably best known for her journey into the Underworld where she overcame great adversity.  Inanna became a goddess of transformation during this ordeal; she worked through fear and conquered death itself.  Because of this experience, she is able to come to the aid of humans who find themselves in a tight spot.

Inanna was the precursor for the goddess Ishtar.

ISHTAR

Her name means “Star of Heaven”.

Ishtar, also known as Ashar or Astarte, was also the Great Mother goddess, in this case in Babylon and Assyria.  She was worshipped form 2500 BCE to 200 AD.  The Assyrians took Ishtar for their own goddess, both as a Goddess of War and as a wife for the god Asshur, the father of the Assyrians who named themselves after him.  In Babylon, Ishtar’s consort was the vegetation god Tammuz.

The name Ishtar is Semitic for the goddess Inanna of Sumeria.  According to legend, she was the either daughter of the Great God Anu or the Moon God Sinn and the sister to the Sun God Shamash.  She was considered the benevolent creator of the human race by the Babylonians and she held her massive breasts to prove it.  To show her generosity to her people, she was depicted as pouring life-giving water form a jar that never emptied.  She was called the Green One and the Mistress of the Field.  Like Inanna, she too was the Goddess of the Morning and Evening Star (Venus).  This linked her with the sexual healing of the temple “prostitutes” (sacred “prostitution” was part of the religion as Ishtar was the courtesan of the gods”).  Ironically, she was also considered an eternal virgin and fought with anyone who tried to take her virginity.

Ishtar was the patroness of the temple priestesses.   During matriarchal times, here were 180 shrines dedicated to Ishtar and women arrived daily to pry, meditate and socialize with one another.  Also similar to Inanna, Ishtar was associated with the planet Neptune and water, the Moon, and the planet Uranus with the title the Lady of Heaven.   She was also considered a “wise old woman” as a judge and counselor, and her people strove to emulate her in their courts and in their everyday lives.

Also like Inanna, Ishtar was a goddess of many dualities; love and war, water and fire, life and death, positive and negative, tears and joy, enmity and fair dealing, and the lighting and extinguishing fires.  She was the Giver of All Life as well as the Destroyer.  In her Goddess of Love aspect, physical love or sex to be precise, she was depicted either fully or partially nude.

On the other side of the coin, as the Goddess of War, she was famous for being a fierce warrioress and took the protection of her people very seriously.  Sometimes she even had a bad temper and was feared by the other gods, causing them to tremble in their sandals.  Ishtar possessed a litany of weapons and one of her totems was the lion, which represented the power of her ferocity.  Ishtar was called the Lady of Battles, the Queen of Attack, The Lady of Victory, Queen of Hand-to-Hand Fighting and the Guardian of Law and Order; all linking her to the planet Mars.

Worship of Ishtar spread throughout the Middle East including Egypt and Greece.  The Egyptians revered her healing powers and Emenhotep III used a statue of her to heal his abscessed tooth.  Her power was quite extensive; she was known as the Possessor of the Tablet’s of Life’s Records and she was the one the people called upon for overcoming obstacles.

Ishtar was also known for communicating with her people, and their leaders, through dreams.  It was believed that Ishtar was an oracle and gave prophecy and secret knowledge through dreams.  The Assyrians knew that the deities could speak to humans while they slept, sometimes through symbolism, sometimes with a clear message.  While some dreams were thought to be the work of demons, most dreams came to the person through divine will.  It was said that the gods stood at the head of the sleeping person, which leads one to believe that the gods entered the body of the dreamer through their head.  Another theory was that the god would carry the soul after it left the body.  Either way, Ishtar’s ability to communicate with her people is likely due to her association with the Moon which brings illumination and enlightenment to the darkness of the night.  The kings of Babylon and Assyria relied on these divine dreams to properly rule their country.  With the help of the gods, these leaders planned battle or building their cities.  As the goddess of War, Ishtar came to Asshurbanipal, the king of Assyria, in a dream when he was feeling poorly about an upcoming battle the she herself told him to wage on a neighboring land.  In this dream, Ishtar not only promised to lead the march, but also promised victory.

The Gifts of Inanna to the World

The Sumerians believed that it was the goddess Inanna who gave to humans the gifts of arts, culture and civilization.  Sarasvati of India has a similar story.  These gifts were called the “me”, pronounced “may” which translates as “mother-wisdom”.  These arts included 100 things including speech, reading and writing, truth, emotions, music, architecture, ritual, procreation, lovemaking rejoicing and lamentation.  Before Inanna gave these things to her people, they were actually kept away from the primitive humans who resided in the harsh Fertile Crescent.

But, these gifts were not actually Inanna’s to give.  She had to get these treasures from her father Ea/Enki, the God of Wisdom and the possessor of the Tablets of Destiny.  Inanna left her domain at Unug and traveled in her Boat of Heaven, which was made of reeds, to her father’s palace hall in the watery abyss beneath the city of Eridu, where she was welcomed with a feast of food and drink.

What happens next is dependent upon which version of the story you believe.  One is that Ea/Enki was generous and gave Inanna everything that she wanted.  The other is that Inanna gave him cup after cup of wine until he was drunk enough for her to trick him into giving her the gifts.  Either way, Inanna quickly packs the gifts into her boat and sets sail for home, the city of Erech.  She made it safely home by the time Ea/Enki had recovered from his hangover the following day.  Ea/Enki was not pleased about what happened and sent his messengers to play seven tricks on Inanna to try to retrieve the gifts.  Instead of giving them back, she stood her ground and refused.  Because of this, she actually receives more gifts including playing the tambourine and drums as well as perfect execution of the “me”.

Totems of Inanna and Ishtar

LIONS

The lion is an ancient guardian of the thresholds of consciousness.  This is an excellent totem for Inanna/Ishtar since she is a Shamanic goddess who travels through the three worlds.

As the Goddess of War and the protector of her people, the winged Ishtar held a bow and quiver of arrows and rode in a chariot that was drawn by seven lions (symbolic of the seven Chakra gateways) or sat on a lion throne made form lapis lazuli.  Sometimes, in lieu of a chariot, she rode on the back of a lion.  Also, there were times that her chariot was drawn by goats instead of lions.  Ishtar was sometimes shown standing on the back of a lion, or in the company of two lions.  Sometimes the lion that Ishtar is with is not of the full-grown variety; instead it is shown as a lion cub.  And, any warrior needs a weapon, and Ishtar held a ceremonial double-headed mace/axe/scimitar that was embellished with the heads of lions and was an ancient symbol for the power of the matriarchal goddess.

SNAKES, SERPENTS AND DRAGONS

Again, in her aspect of Warrior Queen, Ishtar held a labrys, scepter or a staff with either one or two snakes coiled around it.  In this aspect, the snake stood for the ability to take a life.

It seems that this staff/scepter started out with only one snake and then ended up with two.  The healing god Ningishzide, who goes back to Mesopotamia, was a lover of Inanna/Ishtar.  He carried a single-serpent wand, but this snake had two heads and both male and female sex organs in the one body.  This kind of Mesopotamian snake was called a Sachan, and was Ningishzide’s symbol.

Regardless as to how many snakes, there were, the staff, which became the healing caduceus of Hermes, was a symbol of Inanna/Ishtar’s power to grant life, to heal, or to take life away.  Before it became the Greek caduceus, this staff had a solar disc on top with two snakes that looked like horns (see below for “cow”).  Later, Hermes came to own the staff, by this time it had two snakes intertwined around it, and this was his symbol as the Psychopomp, the Conductor of Souls.

Inanna/Ishtar as the Goddess of Love, was known for her power of fertility, which was shown by her caduceus wand.

Inanna/Ishtar was known as the Eye Goddess and she had Eye Temples.  One of the oldest of these Eye Temples, dating back to about 3000 BCE, is at Tell Brak in eastern Syria.  Found inside were thousands of figurines of the Eye Goddess, each with staring, wide, owl-like eyes which are coiled like snakes.  It is thought that these eyes that stare are eyes that see justice.  It was Inanna/Ishtar, along with Tiamat, who beheld the “me” (pronounced “may”), which were the Sumerian tablets of the Law (before Marduk stole them).

A larger version of the serpent, Ishtar was shown with dragons by her sides when she was in her aspect of the Goddess of War or when protecting her people.  Inanna was one of the three main deities involved with a major battle between good and evil.  The evil was known as he dragon Kur.

DOVES

Inanna, the precursor to Ishtar, was shown with a dove along with the serpent.  Since ancient times, the dove and serpent have been linked with the art of prophecy as well as the birth-death-rebirth process.  Together, these two animals are connected of the Tree of Life; the dove being a representative of the Upperworld realm and the serpent being a representative of the Underworld realm.

While Inanna/Ishtar’s double-axe was decorated with lions, and represented the ability to either give life or to take it away, the white dove symbolized the ability to give life.

The dove can be worn as a symbol that protects the wearer from death, fire and lightening.  Perhaps the protection magic comes from Inanna/Ishtar, who fiercely protected her people.

The dove is sacred to Inanna/Ishtar, as well as to those goddesses who descended from her like Aphrodite and Venus, goddesses of love and fertility.

SCORPION

As stated above, the lion-axe could either give life or take it away and the dove symbolized the ability to grant life.  The scorpion, like the snake, was quite the opposite and stood for the taking of a life.  Ishtar was known as the Scorpion-Tailed Mother (Ishara Tamtin) because the scorpion was associated with many aspects of her.  Scorpions ere very important to the ancient Sumerians because they believed that there were Scorpion-Men who were the guardians of the Mountains of the Eats, the Twin Gates and the Gateway of the Sun.

COWS

Like Isis and Hathor of Egypt and Io and Ionia, Inanna/Ishtar was a Cow Mother Goddess.  She, like Kybele/Cybele, was pictured with bovine horns or as cows with lunar horns.  Inanna/Ishtar, because of her association with the Moon, is also linked to the horns of a bull.  These bull horns also link her to fertility, due to their similarity in shape to the fallopian tubes.  Some myths have Inanna/Ishtar giving birth to bulls or golden calves.

FISH

In her aspect of the Goddess of love and fertility, Ishtar’s rites involved fish and it was common for her initiates to eat it.  The fish was a universal symbol for the Great Mother Goddess.  It was drawn by using two crescent moons with the ends touching.  In this form, it represented female genitalia, but after the Christianization of Rome, the symbol was altered.  The Romans were unwilling to give up their Pagan practices, so the story of the fish was rewritten.  One end of the fish symbol, the ends of the lines of the crescent were extended so show a fishtail.  Female Christians were called nuns because of the Hebrew letter “Nun” which translates to “fish”.

SPIDER

The spider is one of the most powerful totems, found throughout the world to be a symbol of the Great and Terrible Mother.  In this aspect, Ishtar is the Weaver of Fate; similar to Atargatis of Babylon, Athena and the Fates to the Greeks, Neith of Egypt and Holda and the Norns to the Norse.

OTHER ANIMALS

  • The Sumerians connected both Ishtar and Astarte, her “descendant”, with the Dolphin.
  • As the Goddess of Fate and the keeper of the Karmic Records, Inanna/Ishtar was associated with hunting dogs and perhaps she passed them down to emis/Diana.
  • The hedgehog was an emblem of Ishtar in her aspect of the Great Mother Goddess.
  • The woodpecker is a bird of fecundity and is a bird of Ishtar as the Goddess of fertility.  In the Babylonian language, the word for woodpecker translates to the “Axe of Ishtar”.

Symbols of Inanna and Ishtar

The worshippers of Inanna/Ishtar preserved many of the ancient symbols of the Paleolithic and Neolithic goddesses by passing them onto her.

REEDS

The earliest symbol for Inanna/Ishtar was a curved bundle of reeds tied together in three different places and streamers coming off of it.  It wasn’t until the Sargonic period (2700-2350 BCE) that the goddess’ symbol changed to that of a rose or a star.

THE ROSETTE AND THE STAR

Rose: The rose is one of the many flowers representative of the Goddess.

Like Amaterasu of Japan and Iamanja of Brazil, Inanna/Ishtar had a rose or a rosette as her symbol.  The rose is one of many symbols for the goddess in general, and has been used to invoke her, but it is also the symbol for the Sun.  Flowers in general, and roses in particular are a symbol of the vulva or womb (cauldron) of the Goddess, out of which pours the waters of creation.  Later, flowers like the rose or the lotus would be painted on the heads of frame drums.

Some date the rosette as a symbol for Inanna/Ishtar as far back as 3000 BCE.  During the Middle-Assyrian period (1350-1000 BCE), rosettes were found in her temple in the city of Ashur.

Before the stylized rosette, older and more ‘crude’ representations of the rosette were made from seven dots, linking Inanna/Ishtar to the seven Chakra gateways, with six dots circling around one center dot.  These dots, which date back to the earliest periods of Sumerian culture, were actually representations of stars, linking Inanna/Ishtar to the Pleiades.  Later, this circle of dots was changed to a completely different formation; two rows with three dots each and one dot between the two rows placed at one end.

Star: The star was a symbol of Inanna/Ishtar that had many variations.  In fact, the Zodiac was called the Girdle of Ishtar.

Perhaps the best known version of the Star of Ishtar is the planet Venus, which is both the Morning Star and the Evening Star.  In the morning, Inanna/Ishtar was worshipped with offerings.  As the Morning Star, called Dilbah, Inanna/Ishtar dressed herself in armor and rode in her lion-drawn chariot at dawn to hunt both animals and humans.  In the evening, Inanna/Ishtar was seen as a harlot and patron of the temple “prostitutes”.  As the Evening Star, called Dib, Inanna/Ishtar was called the glad-eyed goddess of desire whose song is sweeter than honey, wine or pure cream.

To go into further detail of the seven-pointed rose-star, sometimes called the septagram, the number seven has many layers of meaning.  The sacred number of seven was adopted by Christianity and can be found in the Bible many times.  It is found in the story of the apocalypse, the book sealed with seven seals, which is really a metaphor for the realization of the inner and outer, which is birth of both the body and the soul.  The seven-pointed star is also called the elven Star and has been linked to the Faeries.  It has connections to the seven magickal planets, and as previously mentioned, linked to the seven stars of the Pleiades.  The number seven is associated with Netzach of the Cabbalistic Tree of Life and in the magick of Qabalah, seven is the number of the Venusian goddesses like Inanna/Ishtar and Astarte.

Venus (and sometimes Mars) was represented by a star with either seven or eight points or petals, depending on the school of thought.  The eight-pointed variety is a type of star that has two four-pointed stars laid overtop one another, and dates back as a symbol of Inanna from the pre-historic period through the Neo-Babylonian period.  Because the eight-pointed star is two stars of four points each, some believe it to be a symbol of the balance between the physical and the non-physical (matter and spirit or the inner and outer bodies) as well as a balance between male and female.  Due to its link with the Queen of Heaven, it also represents spiritual enlightenment.  The people of ancient Babylon used this star on their boundary stones to protect their land.  Magicians used it in talismanic magic, it is found on The Star card of the Tarot and later it was used by the Masons.  The eight-pointed star was almost always used as a symbol to represent the goddess Inanna/Ishtar in the Near East up until the time of Christ.

After Inanna/Ishtar had the eight-pointed for 3000 years, it became the Star of Bethlehem or the Star of the Magi for Christ’s birth.  It’s no wonder that they would “adopt” this sign, as the eight-rayed star is a symbol of hope.  The three Magi, or three wise men, during the story of the birth of Christ, brought gifts to him in the manger.  This is because there were Magi who brought gifts to Dumuzi/Tammuz the Shepherd, the son of Inanna/Ishtar the Holy Shepherdess and Keeper of the Cow Byre in his birthplace.

Sometimes the eight-pointed star was doubled to a sixteen-pointed star and was used to represent Inanna/Ishtar.

To this day in the same region of her worship, the Star of Ishtar (or Star of Venus) is drawn with five points (a Pentagram) and is placed next to a crescent Moon on the flags of many Islamic countries.

The planet Venus is also connected to the Pentagram, the five-pointed star; because that is the shape it “draws” in the sky during its celestial travels.  It is also linked to the sacred apple (see below) and was called the Star of Ishtar before it was known as the Star of Isis.  Because of its connection the Mother Earth Goddess or Mother Nature, the goddess form pre-Neolithic times, it has been associated with goddesses such as Kore (Persephone) and The Morrigan of the Celts.

BULL HORNS AND THE CRESCENT MOON

Like other goddess, Inanna/Ishtar was linked to the cow because the horns of a bull resemble the crescent Moon.  She was even known as the heavenly Cow.  These horns, called Inanna’s Gateposts, also resemble the fallopian tubes and the vulva, further linking her to fertility.  Worshippers of Inanna/Ishtar would recreate these gateposts at the entrances of caves or grain storehouses because that was ere they kept the bounty of the Mother Earth Goddess (in her womb).  Inanna’s vulva was literally called the Door to the Underworld.  Called the First Daughter of the Moon, Inanna/Ishtar was shown with either a crown of a crescent Moon or a crown of seven bull horns.

FRUITS AND GRAINS

Because of her link to the sacrificial Vegetation God, Inanna/Ishtar is linked to the apple and wheat, which is also called “corn”.

The apple and the apple tree goes as far back to Inanna/Ishtar, if not before Her inception, and continued to be linked with the Goddess including Aphrodite, Hera, Athena, Pomona, Freya and Cerridwen.  One could argue that this symbol, along with the story of the Goddess of Sovereignty mating in Sacred Marriage with the King of the Land for the good of the kingdom, survived form the time of Inanna/Ishtar through history to the time of the hurian legend’s Isle of Avalon (the land of apples).  The apple is linked to the element of Water and the planet Venus.  When cut crosswise, the apple reveals what the druids call the Star of Knowledge.  According to Druidic lore, the apple tree is the keeper of all knowledge, linking it to the Tree of Life which was “borrowed” for the story of the Garden of Eden.

Because of her link to the Harvest Lord, Inanna/Ishtar is a Harvest Goddess honored at Mabon (the Autumnal Equinox) and is Corn Goddess like that of Demeter, Ceres and Isis.  Grain was so sacred to Inanna/Ishtar that bread ovens were installed in her shrines or attached to her temples.  Sacred cakes that were used in the temple rituals were baked so her worshipers could crumble them and leave the pieces as offerings for her doves.

THE TREE OF LIFE AND CREATION

The Tree of Life, or Axis Mundi, dates at least back to the time of Inanna, if not before.  It was known to the Greeks as well as to the Celts and Norse.  Its roots are in the Underworld, it bares fruit upon the Middleworld which we call Earth and its branches reach up into the heavens of the Upperworld.

Inanna was the goddess of the date palm tree, the original Tree of Life, the sacred tree of Mesopotamia, which was often shown on top of a mountain.

The date palm was chosen to be the Axis Mundi because Inanna/Ishtar’s consort Dumuzi/Tammuz, who was the god of the date harvest.  Inanna’s worshippers made sure to always have a living tree, the sacred Halub Tree, growing inside her temple compound in Uruk, and to take special care of it.

Sometimes the Queen of the Earth’s tree was a cedar, sycamore, olive, acacia or an apple tree.  The animals that resided in the Tree of Life as totemic aspects of the Goddess as the Mistress of the Wild Beasts or Mother Nature.  As previously mentioned, Inanna/Ishtar had both a bid and a snake.  The bird, regardless as to which type, is the animal of the heavenly Upperworld.  The snake or serpent is the animal of the mysterious Underworld.  Because Inanna/Ishtar traveled through all three worlds, she is the queen of all three realms and the Tree of Life the interconnects them.

Later, the living tree was replaced by a wooden staff that was decorated with precious gems and trips of metal.  The Tree of Life is also represented by the human spinal column as that is the channel for the life-energy that some call Chi.  This is where the seven main Chakras reside and many people use this energy centers for consciousness raising techniques.

RAINBOW NECKLACE

Inanna wore a starred rainbow necklace, similar to the one worn by Freyja, which links her to physical love.  Ishtar wore this necklace as well and she was known as the “Lady of the Rainbow”.  This rainbow necklace is what she would hang out in the sky after a thunderstorm or a flood.

COPPER

Copper was associated with Inanna and Ishtar as the Queen of Heaven as well as the goddesses that evolved from them; Astarte, Isis and Venus.  It is a metal of healing because it acts as a conduit for spiritual healing energy.  For an added boost, it is combined with quartz crystals.

NUMBERS AND LETTERS

The ancient Babylonians set aside certain numbers, those between one and sixty, for their gods.  Ishtar had two main sacred numbers; usually the number fifteen and sometimes the number eight (see the “star” entry above).

Both numbers and alphabetical letters were considered to be one of gifts form Inanna/Ishtar.  Her priestesses were trained in their use and special castes of tablet-writing priestesses were dedicated to one of the aspects of Inanna/Ishtar, Mari-Anna.  Due to the goddess they served, they were called maryanu.  It is thought that these priestesses were also mothers because only women who had giving birth were allowed inside the inner sanctuary of the temple.

THE SQUARE

The Earth Square is a symbol of the four corners of the Earth as well as the four guardian spirits who hold up the sky.  In ancient Babylon, these spirits were called the Four-Cornered Gods.   To the magician, Shamash was in front, Nergal was to the right, Sinn was behind and Ninib was to the left.  The Babylonians also used totemic animals when representing these guardian spirits; Ishtar’s lion, Marduk’s bull, Nergal’s eagle-headed dragon ad the man of Enlil.

THE PRIMORDEAL OCEAN

The ocean is considered the place of origin of the human race.  Each one of us had their genesis in the sea of our mother’s womb.  The Ocean has been a symbol of the Great Mother Goddess and her womb in many ancient cultures.  This symbolism began with Inanna and then spread to other goddesses including Isis, Aphrodite/Venus, Yemoya-Olokun and finally the Virgin Mary.

THE GIRDLE OF THE GODDESS

The girdle is a tool of the goddess, particularly known to Venus.  It can be found in the form of an apron on a temple worker and it is still found in the Masonic tradition.  In magickal circles, the girdle of the priestess is an item that has fallen out of practice.  In the Descent of the Goddess, Inanna/Ishtar has a breastplate (or breast cups) the she relinquishes at the fourth gate of the Underworld.   This is an item that not only serves as protection, but also enhances the wearer’s feminine beauty.

The Great Rite

The Great Rite, also called the Sacred Marriage or the Hieros Gamos,  can be dated as far back as Inanna of ancient Sumeria, around 2600 BCE, if not before.  Today, the Great Rite is often done symbolically, and is often used during a Handfasting ceremony, either with a wand or a blade placed momentarily inside of a cup or chalice.  This is a metaphor for the joining of male and female energies.

Back in Sumerian history, the Great Rite was not done symbolically.  The city-state king, called the Beloved Husband of Inanna/Ishtar, would actually untie with the goddess Inanna through the Entu, a special High Priestess of the Goddess.  The Entu resided in a gipar, a special place in the temple.  The practice of wedding the king of the land with the goddess of sovereignty was passed down throughout history and can be found in the hurian legend of Avalon and Camelot.  The Entu would call the Goddess’s energy into her body so the king could mate with her so he could bring prosperity and fertility to his kingdom.

Inanna was often shown standing on top a sacred mountain, a symbol of her holy sanctuary built at her temple.  It was at this sanctuary that the Sacred Marriage between the king, acting as the priest-magician, and the goddess through her High Priestess, took place every year.

One of the most famous kings was King Solomon and some believe that he worshipped Astarte, which is a version of Inanna/Ishtar.  The famous “Song of Solomon”, one of the books in the Hebrew Bible written by him, is a invocation to the Goddess.  Some speculate that he and the Queen of Sheba practiced a form of the Sacred Marriage.

Holy Feast Days of the Goddess

03/21: the Vernal Equinox, also known as Ostara (named after Astarte) is on or around the 21st of March.  The Mediterranean forebear of this holiday is the festival of Eostre which was later Christianized into Easter.  This holiday has its origins in honoring the goddesses Ishtar and Astarte with the theme of fertility and it is likely that the Sacred Marriage took place at this time.  It’s also no accident that the Christian Easter, where Jesus is dead for three days and three nights before being reborn, is used to replace Ostara due to the story of the Descent of the Goddess where she is dead for three days and three nights before being reborn.  The rites of Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi/Tammuz were celebrated at this time

04/22: the Festival of Ishtar in Babylon; she is honored this day by people lighting candles.

06/02: The holy day of Shapatu, the Sabbat of Ishtar.  The temple priestesses, or temple “prostitutes”, called the Qadishtu, partook in sacred sexual celebrations where they look lovers.

06/21: The Midsummer Solstice, also known as Litha, falls on or around the 21st of June.  This holy day is ruled by the queens of heaven including Inanna, Ishtar, Urania, Hera, Juno, Amaunet and Frigga.  The rites of Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi/Tammuz were celebrated at this time.

06/23: the Feast of Ishtar and the Feast of Tammuz, her consort.  The Feast of Inanna honored her rebirth after her death in the Underworld.

06/24: Feast of Ishtar

08/04: The Festival of Inanna and the Festival of Ishtar

08/05: Festival of Ishtar

08/17: Festival of Ishtar

08/21: The Festival of Inanna and the Festival of Ishtar

10/07: the Sumerian New Year honoring the goddesses Ishtar and Astarte

The Queen of the Moon

As previously mentioned, both Inanna and Ishtar were associated with the Moon, either the Full Moon or the Crescent Moon.  As the Moon Goddess, the Moon’s waxing and waning ruled the cyclical birth-death-rebirth of the land.  Each month, on the night of the Full Moon, a joyous temple celebration was held in her honor.  It was called the Shapatu, or Full Moon Sabbat.  The rites of this Sabbat were called the sacred Qadishtu which is a Sumerian word that means “set apart” or “taboo”.  The priestesses, called Isharitu, which is another word meaning “set apart” or “taboo”, were known as the Temple “prostitutes” who look men as their lovers for the purposes of sexual healing and for the men to commune with the goddess.

These priestesses were the purveyors of the mysteries of the union of the God and Goddess.  They worshipped the goddess through pleasure.  They initiated others into the ways of sacred sex and sex magick; teaching men how to pleasure their wives.

The Greeks had a name for these priestesses, which was Hierodule of Heaven, which translates to “servant of the sacred”.

The Descent of the Goddess

THE CAST OF CHARACTERS

So far, you have already met Inanna and Ishtar, the leading lady of this story.  But there are also others who play important roles, so let’s examine them now.

Ereshkigal: In the story of the Descent of the Goddess, Ereshkigal, pronounced “uh-RESH-kig-gull”, is by far the most important character, second to Inanna/Ishtar.  The “kigal” portion of the name means “great earth”.  She had black hair and eyes of stone.  Ereshkigal had counterparts in other cultures; Nephthys in Egypt, Persephone in Greece, Kali in India and Hel in northern Europe.  In fact, it was the name of the Norse Underworld goddess Hel that the Christians used to name their version of the Underworld.   While Inanna/Ishtar is the Queen of Heaven (the Upperworld) as well as the queen of the Earth (Middle World), Ereshkigal is the queen of the seven realms of the Underworld, called Irkalla or the Land of the Dead.  Like Inanna/Ishtar, she began in Sumeria and found hr way to Babylon.  Although they are polar opposites, they are sisters as well as two sides of the same coin.  While Inanna/Ishtar brought life and pleasure to her people, Ereshkigal ruled over dark magick, revenge, retribution, death, destruction and regeneration.  Inanna/Ishtar was the Waxing Moon and the Full Moon, while Ereshkigal was the Waning Moon and the Dark Moon.  While Inanna/Ishtar was the Mother and Lover, Ereshkigal was the Crone.  Ereshkigal embodies the destructive aspects of the goddess.  Inanna/Ishtar must descend into the Underworld to confront and acknowledge her Shadow Self.  Of the two goddesses, Ereshkigal is older than Inanna/Ishtar and her name is found in some of the oldest Sumerian writings.  She was called the Queen of the Souls and ironically, the Most Merciful One.  Although she was greatly feared, she was also worshipped because of the mystical knowledge that she possessed.  If one were to journey to the Underworld and return again like Inanna/Ishtar did, one could obtain the same power and knowledge that Inanna/Ishtar gained.  Ereshkigal ruled her realm alone until society changed form matriarchal to patriarchal.  This is when a male god comes along, conquers her and forces her to be his wife.  Since the people would not give up on worshipping Ereshkigal, she instead has to share her throne.  Before Ereshkigal was known by this name, she was a benevolent Goddess of the Seed-Grain called Ninlil.  As a seed, Ninlil begins dormant deep in the soil.  She gestates, sprouts and blooms.  She is the birth-death-rebirth cycle personified and she does all of this on her own; without anyone’s help.  After Ninlil becomes Ereshkigal, the story changes and Inanna is not able to escape the depths of the Underworld under her own power.  She has to call upon Enki’s help or remain in the Underworld un-reborn for all eternity.

Dumuzi/Tammuz: And here we have the third most important character in the story; in most versions of the story, it is because of Dumuzi/Tammuz that Inanna/Ishtar must descend into the Underworld and confront her sister Ereshkigal.  Wearing a beard of lapis lazuli, he started out in Sumeria as Dumuzi, sometimes spelled Damuzi or Daimuz, but his worship was much older than that.  He was known as the Wikld Bull and was the husband, lover and brother of Inanna.  Her Only Begotten Son, the Son of the Blood and the Anointed One.  He is the god of the harvest and fertility.  Like Dionysus, he is the sacrificial god who dies and travels to the Underworld only to be resurrected through the love of Inanna.  Like Inanna and Ereshkigal, Dumuzi also made his way to Babylon.  Here, he was called Tammuz or Tammouz, the Hebrew version of the Syrian Adonis.  Like Dumuzi before him, he too was the god of the harvest and fertility and was called the Green One.  He was Ishtar’s son, and once he grew to manhood, he became her husband.  When he died and was trapped in the Underworld, nothing on Earth would grow; the land became barren and men did not impregnate women.  This is why Ishtar had to travel to the Land of the dead to rescue him because to do so was to also rescue her people.

Nergal: Nergal is the god who became the God of the dead once he forced Ereshkigal to be his wife.  Before that his title was the God of War and he led the others gods in battle.  To increase the population of the Underworld, be brought war and disease to the Middle World (Earth).

SINN: Sinn, or Sin, the consort of Ningal and enemy of evil-doers, was known by a few different names.  In Sumeria, he was called Nannar, the Assyrians called him Nanna and Sinn was the name he went by in Mesopotamia.  He was the Lord of the Calendar, the Moon God and the Lord of the Diadem (Full Moon crown).  He was also the god of Mount Sinai, the Mountain of the Moon.  Some say that he was the father of Inanna/Ishtar and Shamash the Sun God, and the three of them made a holy trinity with him at the top.  Others say that while he was the father of Shamash, he was really the daughter of Ianna (Nanna).  Traveling in a sky-boat of the Crescent Moon, he was associated with destiny, predictions, wisdom, secrets, decisions and the destruction of evil.

AND TOGETHER THEY ARE ONE

The ancient Sumerians had a story as to how Inanna and Dumuzi came to be wed.  It correlates as to the seasons of the land upon which they lived.  Inanna had two different suitors; a farmer named Enkidu and a shepherd named Dumuzi.  Both competed for her; wooing her and binging her lovely gifts.  Inanna’s brother thought that Enkidu the farmer was a much better choice, but Dumuzi created the softest wool, so he own the goddess’ hand.

Inanna also chose the mortal Dumuzi as her consort because he was a virile, young shepherd.  To perform the rite of sacred marriage with such a man would ensure the prosperity and fertility of her people and their land.  Male and female energies as well as the energies of Heaven and Earth would blend together for the betterment of all.  In her song of feminine desire Inanna cries out to Dumuzi:

“My vulva, the horn,

The Boat of Heaven

Is full of eagerness like the young moon

My untilled land lies fallow.

As for me Inanna,

Who will plow my vulva?

Who will plow my high field?

Who will plow my wet ground?”

After proving himself in Inanna’s bedchamber, Inanna made him the Shepherd and king of the land.

WHY SHE MAKES THE DESCENT

In one version of the myth that dates back to an ancient poem from Nippur, the spiritual and cultural center in Sumer, Inanna/Ishtar makes a trip to the Underworld in the middle of her reign as the Queen of Heaven and Earth.  Inanna/Ishtar made a trip to the Underworld out of either curiosity or out of ambition; it is said that she was either obsessed with the Underworld because she wanted to test her powers against those of her sister and see if she could conquer the Underworld realm.  Inanna/Ishtar must have known of the dangers involved in making such a trip, so she asks her prime minister, Ninshuba, to keep watch.  If Inanna/Ishtar did not return after three days, Ninshuba should assume the worst, and begin the ceremony of mourning and appeal to the high gods for their aid in rescuing her.  Ninshuba was to also beat the drum to form a rhythmic link between the worlds.  Not surprisingly, Ereshkigal didn’t take kindly to this invasion and condemned Inanna/Ishtar to death.

There is another version of the story where Dumuzi/Tammuz isn’t the villain, but instead he is one of the heroes.  While Inanna/Ishtar was a new bride, she finds out that Ereshkigal had just lost her husband.  Inanna/Ishtar feeling badly, wish to console her sister and makes the trip to the Underworld even though her loved ones advise her not to.  Ignoring their pleas, she makes the descent only to find Ereshkigal in her most terrible aspect, that of the Destroyer, and Inanna/Ishtar is hung up on a hook.

In the more popular version of the story, similar to the Egyptian Osiris, one day Dumuzi was tragically gored by a boar and died as a result of his wounds.  The same happened between Ishtar and Tammuz; every year during the hot month of Tammuz (which is our July-August) Tammuz would die after being gored by a boar.  For as long a he resided In the Underworld, back on Earth (the Middle World), all life would wither and die as well.  Inanna/Ishtar mourned her dead husband while women on Earth keened for him, a ritual to bring him back.  Inanna/Ishtar had no choice but to go after him not to only mend her broken heart but also to repair the damage done to the world.

THE GATEWAYS

To reach the Underworld, Inanna/Ishtar had to pass through the Seven Gates of the Underworld, symbolic of the seven major chakras of the human body.  At each of these gates, the gatekeeper stops her and demands an item worn by her because she could only enter the Underworld naked and unadorned.  Each one of these items is an element of the “me”; the representations of civilizations and cultural identity.  This is also symbolic of the Moon as Inanna/Ishtar was the Queen of the moon and the Light of the World.  As the moon darkens or wanes, so the Goddess was stripped of her of her possessions.  It was not easy for Inanna/Ishtar to give these items up as they were courting gifts for her lover Dumuzi/Tammuz.

In another version of the story, Inanna/Ishtar is adorned with seven veils, likely each one a color of the rainbow and the Chakras.  AT each gate, she relinquishes a veil to the Gatekeeper, eventually to be naked.

First Gate:

  • The Chakra color that corresponds to this gate is Violet.
  • The Guardian/Gatekeeper/Custodian/Demon of this gate forces the Goddess to surrender her belt or sandals.  By doing this, she relinquishes her Will.

Second Gate:

  • The Chakra color that corresponds to this gate is Indigo.
  • The Guardian/Gatekeeper/ Custodian/Demon of this gate forces the Goddess to surrender her bracelets or jeweled anklets.   By doing this, she relinquishes her Ego.

Third Gate:

  • The Chakra color that corresponds to this gate is Blue.
  • The Guardian/Gatekeeper/ Custodian/Demon of this gate forces the Goddess to surrender her robe.  By doing this, she relinquishes her Mind.

Fourth Gate:

  • The Chakra color that corresponds to this gate is Green.
  • The Guardian/Gatekeeper/ Custodian/Demon of this gate forces the Goddess to surrender her Breastplate/Breast Cups.  By doing this, she relinquishes her Sex Role.

Fifth Gate:

  • The Chakra color that corresponds to this gate is Yellow.
  • The Guardian/Gatekeeper/ Custodian/Demon of this gate forces the Goddess to surrender her starred-rainbow necklace.  By doing this, she relinquishes her Illumination.

Sixth Gate:

  • The Chakra color that corresponds to this gate is Orange.
  • The Guardian/Gatekeeper/ Custodian/Demon of this gate forces the Goddess to surrender her earrings.  By doing this, she relinquishes her Magick.

Seventh Gate:

  • The Chakra color that corresponds to this gate is Red.
  • The Guardian/Gatekeeper/ Custodian/Demon of this gate forces the Goddess to surrender her thousand-petaled crown called a diadem.  By doing this, she relinquishes her Godhood.

It was only when the Goddess was completely naked, stripped of her magical powers, defenseless and extremely vulnerable that she could enter the eternal cave-like realm of the Underworld.

THE ORDEAL IN THE UNDERWORLD

Ereshkigal is hardly a sympathetic character in this story.  After Dumuzi/Tammuz dies from his wounds and finds himself in the Underworld, the queen Ereshkigal not only held him prisoner but tortured him as well.  Even when Inanna/Ishtar asked her sister to release Dumuzi/Tammuz, Ereshkigal showed no mercy and would not release him.  Instead, she called upon Namtar, the Sumerian fate goddess known as the Plague Bringer to imprison Inanna/Ishtar and torture her with three plagues.  These three plagues correlate to the three days and three nights that Inanna/Ishtar was dead before being revived.    In another version of the story, it was Gallas, the Host of Demons who held Inanna/Ishtar captive.

In some variations of this story, Inanna/Ishtar must stand naked before the seven Underworld Judges called the Anunnaki.  The Anunnaki had evolved from being benevolent to malevolent by the time of this story.  They were better tempered than Ereshkigal, and sentenced Inanna/Ishtar to death and she was left for dead for three days and three nights.

Now we can examine how Inanna/Ishtar got free from this prison.  If Inanna/Ishtar was not freed, she would have been left un-reborn for all eternity.  The Moon God Sinn and the Sun God Shamash wanted to help Inanna/Ishtar and so they asked the Great God of Water and Wisdom, Ea/Enki, for his help.  Ea/Enki sent Asushu-Namir, his messenger with a powerful spell filled with magick words that forced Ereshkigal to free both Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi/Tammuz.  Inanna/Ishtar being dead for three days and three nights had to be brought back to life.  Ea/Enki creates two strange beings, Kurgarra/Kurgurra and Galaturra/Kalaturra, from the dirt beneath his fingernails, just for the purpose of helping Inanna/Ishtar.  They sprinkle her with the Waters of Life and feed the Food of Life, which brought her back.  Some say that it was the Waters of Life, symbolic of the much needed rain, that also revived Dumuzi/Tammuz, so he could bring life back to the Earth and allow the seeds to sprout again.

THE RETURN OF THE GODDESS

In the version of the story were Inanna/Ishtar descended to the Underworld on her own, without the need to save Dumuzi/Tammuz; she is freed only to be forced to find a someone to take her place.  The demons follow her as she travels back to the Upperworld.  Along the way, the demons snatch up various gods, including Shara and Latarrek, to take back to the Underworld, but Inanna/Ishtar refuses to let the demons take them because all of these gods had done right by her.  Finally, when Inanna/Ishtar gets back to her holy city of Erech, she finds that Dumuzi/Tammuz is not the grieving widower, in fact he is celebrating, and instead he and his sister Gestinanna assume the throne in her absence.  Instead of tending his flocks, he is wearing the royal robes.  To get her sweet revenge, Inanna/Ishtar looked at Dumuzi/Tammuz with the Eye of Death, forcing him to die in her place, and the demons took him.  He would spend six month out of each year in the Underworld, a balance of justice and forgiveness.  You see, Inanna/Ishtar does not need to have a consort, she chooses to have one and she also chooses to only have him for half of the year.  In this version, we can see that this correlates to the barren month when the sun is so hot that there is no rain and no crops grow.  It turned out that Gestinanna followed her brother down to the Underworld and took his place for the other half of the year, the half that Dumuzi/Tammuz spent on earth to play the part of the God of Vegetation.

In the more popular version of the story, Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi/Tammuz made their way back through each of the gates.  At each gate, she regains both her possessions and hr magickal powers.  The Moon waxes from Dark to Full.  Now Inanna/Ishtar has the power of not just Heaven (the Upperworld) and earth (the Middle World) , but also of the Underworld as well.  She is the Queen of the Tree of Life and all three of its realms.  Joy and life returned to Earth as the rains fell at the Autumnal Equinox and the Sacred Marriage was celebrated once again.  But, the cycle had to repeat itself every year, so Ea/Enki decreed that Dumuzi/Tammuz must spend part of each year in the Land of the Dead.

THE FACES OF THE GODDESS

It is important to note that all of the female characters in this story are really different aspects of the same Goddess.  Ereshkigal represents the dark forces of death while Inanna/Ishtar, her younger sister, represents love and sexuality.  Ninshubar, Inanna/Ishtar’s attendant, is Inanna/Ishtar’s conscious aspect that provides the rhythm for Inanna/Ishtar to return to consciousness.  Gestinanna, Dumuzi/Tammuz’s sister, is the caregiver aspect of Inanna/Ishtar, willing to sacrifice herself for the ones she loves.

THE MEANING OF THE STORY

There is more than lesson to be learned from this myth.

Inanna/Ishtar’s choice to journey from the Heavens to the Underworld is symbolic of her choice to turn her mind from conscious to the unconscious or from the “above” to the “below”.  Inanna/Ishtar made this journey to the deepest part of her soul during a phase in her life that we would equate to a “midlife crisis”.  This is the shamanic sacrifice of her very own persona so she could gain deep wisdom.  Afterwards the conscious and the unconscious are united and the goddess has a brand new identity.  We humans must not fear giving up our symbols of worldly power when doing so provides us with spiritual initiation and rebirth of the soul.

Her death in the Underworld is also a metaphor for the death and rebirth experience.  This is what has been recreated during initiation rites since before the time of the Mystery Schools and were found in the Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone, the Orphic Mystery Schools and the Mythraic Cults.  This type of initiation rites can be even found today within Catholic communion or the with the Shamans of Siberia.   Due to the extreme solitude, their practices have changed very little since the time of the Stone Age.  The initiate undergoes a “death” and lie inanimate in an isolated location for three to seven days before they are restored to ordinary consciousness.  We humans go through a “death” on a regular basis.  After intercourse, the deflated penis is a “little death” and the female equivalent is the process of giving birth.

Another message Inanna/Ishtar has for us is that she is willing to “rescue” us humans from the abyss so that each of us can be reborn into a new life.  This is a metaphor for the birth-life-death-rebirth process, or reincarnation.  The worshipers of Inanna/Ishtar would bury their dead in containers called the pitus which was shaped like a stomach and the deceased had to be in the fetal position.  The dead were placed into the earth in this manner so that the Great Mother Earth Goddess could give them new life.

Like many other descent stories, Inanna/Ishtar returns more powerful and wiser that she was before she made the trip.  Jungian therapists see this as a metaphor for the feminine side of the Shadow Self.  Mystics, on the other hand call it the Dark Knight of the Soul.  Either way, Inanna/Ishtar is like the human initiate who descends into the mysterious depths who returns triumphant.  In everyday modern life, we can see how the Descent of the Goddess mirrors when we humans move from one phase of life to another.

In Inanna’s version of the story, she requests that Ereshkigal release him.  However, when the story becomes Ishtar’s, Ishtar has the gumption to threaten to bust the door open and release the dead if Tammuz is not released.  Ishatr shows us how to grow as a person and to not be too timid when the situation requires a little backbone.

The Sacred Drum of the Goddess

Throughout the ancient Mediterranean, nearly all cultures believed that it was the Goddess who gave the gift of music and the cultural arts to humankind.  The Greeks said it was the nine-fold goddess called the Muses, in Egypt is was Hathor and in Sumer, it was Inanna.

The Frame Drum plays an important role in the story of the descent of the goddess Inanna/Ishtar.  During matriarchal times, the drum was a sacred instrument used by Her priestesses for the purposes of spiritual transformation.  In most traditions of shamanism, the sound that the frame drum produces puts the Shaman in a trance state that allows them to travel through the three worlds of the Tree of Life; the Upperworld of the Heavens, the Middle World of the Earth and the Underworld.  It is the beat of the drum, which is the heartbeat of Mother Earth, that maintains the link between our world and the next.  Similar to what Ninshubar did for Inanna/Ishtar, the Shaman’s assistant will take the drum from the Shaman and take over the act of the drumming to maintain the link between the worlds while the Shaman travels through them.  If the assistant didn’t do this for the Shaman, it is believed that the Shaman would be lost in the Underworld forever, like Inanna/Ishtar would have remained dead and imprisoned forever without the drumming of Ninshubar.

These Shamanic practices have been traced to cultures as far back as

the Paleolithic period.  Scholars used religious texts from Sumer to trace the evolution of the Goddess and the initiation practices.  The story of the Descent of the Goddess was a central theme to many of the Mystery Schools that came after the worship of Inanna/Ishtar; including the rites of Aphrodite and Adonis, Demeter and Persephone, Ariadne and Dionysus and Isis and Osiris.  This descent story was so vial to life because of its message; a means of understanding the birth-life-death process as well as the changing of the seasons.

The purpose of the temple rituals was to keep the people of the city in touch with both Mother Nature, the Mother Earth Goddess, as well as the processes of Nature; the cyclical energies of the yearly seasons.  With these rhythmic rituals, the populace could comprehend and remember these teachings of these Sumerian priests and priestesses.  Inanna was a shamanic Rain Goddess who could either give or withhold the needed rain.  The clouds were called her sky-breasts and the thunderstorms were the manifestations of her wrath.  The priesthood used the frame drum in a manner of sympathetic magick to mimic the lion-like roar of the thunder.

The frame drum was a vital component as well; regardless as to which tradition, the frame drum was the instrument that invoked the required trance states that was necessary for transformation.

The frame drum played an important role when it came to the ceremonies of death.  Along with the flute, the frame drum was used in the funerary rites of the populace and the dead were interred with figurines of drum-playing priestesses to help facilitate their rebirth.

Inanna had a major temple in Uruk, called the House of Knowledge or the House of Heaven.  Beneath it was a underground sanctuary that symbolized the Underworld and Inanna’s womb.  The spiritual leader of this temple, called the En, was not required to be female.  Some theorize that this is where the initiations took place.  The En of this particular temple was man while the En of the temple of the Moon god Nanna, called the Ekishnugal, was a woman.  Inanna’s temple was acoustically designed to enhance the effect of the rhythmic drumming rituals and it acted like a transformer that amplified the drumming and chanting.  In 2380 BCE, the En of the temple Ekishnugal was a woman by the name of Lipushiau.  Her grandfather was the King Naramsin and she was the player of a small frame drum called the balag-di.  This kind of frame drum was used along with liturgical chanting.  Although Lipushiau was not the first player of the balag-di, she was however the first named drummer in history.

At some point, the frame drum must have been replaced by the hourglass-shaped drum (called a Tabla in Arabic) because of how offerings were made to her.  Around 2500 BCE, offerings to Inanna were placed on hourglass-shaped altar and perhaps those offerings were previously placed on an actual drum.  By placing these offering on either a drum or an altar shaped like a drum, the implication is that the drum was a central theme to the life of the worshippers.

Along with the drum, signing and other musical instruments including the harp, lyre and flute were used to invoke the benevolence of the Gods.  These priests and priestesses, called Kalu, sang hymns, liturgies and psalms.  The singers and musicians had three years of training for their priesthood and it is thought that the High Priestesses underwent a longer course of study.

As previously mentioned, there were temple priestesses who came to be called temple “prostitutes”.  The priestesses of Inanna, Ishtar, Cybele, Aphrodite and Hathor all played the frame drum.  They did so to increase their powers of feminine attraction.  Beer was also used to attain a state of euphoria and ecstasy because it was a divine intoxicant that was imbibed ritualy.  The combination of drumming, chanting and beer was used for thousands of eyars and later it became the beer tavern.

After the shift from matriarchal to patriarchal times, the Goddess of Love became the Goddess of War and the drum took on a new function.  The progress of a battle campaign was known as the Dance of Inanna.

The Seven Chakras

As previously seen, the number seven plays a prominent role in the myth of the Descent of the Goddess.  The seven gates of the Underworld are actually a metaphor for the seven Chakras, the seven levels of the Ziggurat (a massive, terraced temple-tower) which was seen as the seat of the power of Inanna/Ishtar, and the seven levels of consciousness.  As Inanna/Ishtar passes through each gate to the deep below, she is also descend from the highest level of divine consciousness to the lowest, most primitive level of consciousness.  At each gate, Inanna/Ishtar must surrender to the gatekeeper aspect of the “me” until her personality structure is completely dissolved.

Mary, Mother of Jesus

As previously mentioned, one of the names for Ishtar was Mari-Anu and it doesn’t take much to see the connection between Ishtar and Mary and between Tammuz and Jesus.  The name “Mary” comes form the word “mare” or “mere” which means the cosmic sea which is the source of all life.  It is no wonder that the name for the Mother Goddess would be “Mary” or “Meri”.  In another variation of the Descent of the goddess, it was Meri or Merti who mourned the death of the god Osiris.  Christianity took the parts of the story of the Descent of the Goddess that they wanted and deemed the rest to be evil.

Let’s analyze the correlations of Ishtar and Mary:

  • Ishtar is a goddess that gives birth to a divine child, who is also her brother and lover, who grows up to become the savior.  Ishtar had many lovers and was the goddess of physical love.  Mary was stripped of all of her sexuality and divinity was a virginal human.  However, both were the Mother of God.
  • Ishtar and Mary both give birth to their son only to lose him to death.
  • Mary’s Assumption is not that different than Ishtar assuming her place as the Queen of Heaven.

Let’s analyze the correlations of Inanna/Ishtar, Tammuz and Jesus:

  • Inanna/Ishtar is the one who first dies for three days and nights, only to be resurrected after conquering death, which gives her people hope.  She is the one who taught her people the birth-death-rebirth process.  The death of the goddess is the same as the “death” of the Moon at the end of its cycle.  Jesus is the savior who dies for three days and three nights, is also resurrected and ascends to the havens.  This death-rebirth story in an aspect of ancient initiation practices.  Both Inanna/Ishtar and Jesus sacrifice themselves for another person (or a group of people).
  • Tammuz dies and is sent to the Underworld only to be saved and reborn.  Jesus also dies, and after three days is resurrected.

The Scent of a Goddess

The Sumerians and later the Babylonians used incense while worshipping their deities.  It is possible that the Sumerians may have fumed juniper berries to Inanna before the Egyptian had organized religion.  The Babylonians also took this practice when they worshipped Ishtar.  Here are two recipes that you can use to make your own incense for the worship of this goddess.

Inanna Incense

  • 2 parts mixed cereal grains
  • 1 part date palm leaves
  • 1 part vine leaves
  • 1 part flax flowers
  • 4 parts myrrh
  • A few parts juniper oil
  • 3 parts crushed juniper berries
  • 1 pinch cinnamon powder

Ishtar Incense

  • 2 parts acacia resin
  • 1 part mixed cereal grins
  • ½ part date palm leaves
  • ½ part vine leaves
  • 1 part frankincense
  • A few drops frankincense oil (optional)

The Spell

This is so much of a spell, but a way for you to maintain your health on many levels.  You will be transforming energy, just as you would during a spell, but you will be transforming the energies of your Chakras to a balanced state.  All you will need is about 20 minutes and seven stones.

The seven major chakras of the human body lie in the center line of the spinal column.  Chakra is the Sanskrit word for “wheel” and each one is seen as a spinning disc.  These funnel-shaped swirling vortexes both absorb and distribute a subtle energy called the life-force, prana or chi.  Each one is a gateway, similar to the Gateways of the Underworld, between the various dimensions.  Each chakra has its own function for maintaining health.  These chakras should always be balanced and aligned.  An unbalanced chakra can be caused by an lack of balance in the physical, emotional, mental or spiritual aspects of the person.

Here is a quick reference as to which stones you can use for each chakra:

  • Root Chakra: a Red stone, like tumbled garnet
  • Sacral Chakra: an Orange stone, like tumbled carnelian
  • Solar Plexus Chakra: a Yellow stone, like tumbled citrine
  • Heart Chakra: a Green stone, like green aventurine
  • Throat Chakra: a Blue stone, like blue lace agate
  • Third Eye Chakra: an Indigo stone, like tumbled lapis
  • Crown Chakra: a Violet stone, like tumbled amethyst

You can balance your chakra energies with just a few simple steps:

Step #1: cleanse your crystals to ensure that they are ready for use.

Step #2: lie down on your back comfortably on the floor.  You can use a yoga mat or a blanket to make yourself more comfortable.

Step #3: place the crystals on your body in the corresponding area:

  • The garnet on the Base Chakra which is at the base of the spine; you can either place it on the floor between the legs or on the pubic area.  This will balance your psychical energy, your sense of reality, your motivation and how practical you are.
  • The carnelian on the Sacral chakra which is at the sexual organs; you can place it on the lower abdominals below the navel.  This will balance your creativity as well as releasing the blockages that prevent enjoyment.
  • The citrine on the Solar Plexus Chakra which is located at the diaphragm; you can place it on the upper abdominals.  This will clear your mind, reduce anxiety and improve your self-confidence.
  • The green aventurine on the Heart Chakra which is located in the area of the physical heart; you can place it on the chest.  This will bring balance between you and the rest of the world as well as bringing calm and direction to your life.
  • The blue lace agate on the Throat Chakra which is located at the base of the throat; you can place it there.  This will bring peace and ease communication so you can express yourself.
  • The lapis on the Third Eye Chakra which is located between and just above the physical eyes; you can place it there.  This will increase understanding, access ideas more easily and promote both intuition and memory.
  • The amethyst on the Crown Chakra which is located at the crown of the head; if you are unable to place the stone on the head, you can instead set in on the floor just above the top of the skull.  This will integrate all the aspects of yourself- the physical, mental emotional and spiritual.

Step #4: Allow for about 20 minutes for your body to fully integrate the energies of the crystals.  If you feel that you need more than 20 minutes, feel free to take as long as you need.  Conversely, if your intuition tells you that you have finished before the 20 minutes is up, then go ahead and remove the crystals form your body.

Step #4: cleanse your stones once again and store them in a safe place.  The easy way to do both is to keep them in a glass container and place them in a sunny window.

Step #5: repeat the Chakra Balancing either on a regular basis or whenever you feel a little “out of sorts”.

SOURCES:

  • Animal Magick: The of Recognizing & Working With Familiars by DJ Conway
  • Ascension Magick: Ritual, Myth & Healing for the New Aeon by Christopher Penczak
  • Autumn Equinox: The Enchantment of Mabon by Ellen Dugan
  • Belly Dancing: The Sensual of Energy and Spirit by Pina Coluccia, Anette Paffrath and Jean Putz
  • Book of Hours: Prayers to the Goddess by Galen Gillotte
  • Book of Wicca: Bring Love, Healing and Harmony into your Life with the Power of Natural Magic by Lucy Summers
  • Candlemas: Feats of Flames by Amber K & Azrael Arynn K
  • Complete Book of Amulets & Talismans by Migene Gonzalez-Wippler
  • Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem & Metal Magic by Scott Cunningham
  • Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham
  • Deceptions and Myths of the Bible by Lloyd M Graham
  • Dictionary of Symbols by Carl G Liungman
  • Dreaming the Divine: Techniques for Sacred Sleep by Scott Cunningham
  • Encyclopedia of Gods by Michael Jordan
  • Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft by Rosemary Ellen Guiley
  • Exploring Candle Magick: Candle Spells, Charms, Ritual and
    • Divination

  • s by Patricia Telesco
  • Falcon Feather & Valkyrie Sword: Feminine Shamanism, Witchcraft & Magick by DJ Conway
  • Goddesses, Heroes and Shamans: The Young People’s Guide to World Mythology
  • Grandmother’s Secrets: The Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly dancing by Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi
  • Guidebook for the Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards by Doreen Virtue, PHD
  • Harem: The World Behind the Veil by Alev Lytle Croutier
  • Heal Yourself With Crystals: Crystal Medicine for Body, Emotions an Spirit by Hazel Raven
  • Healing With Crystals and Chakra Energies: How to Harness the Transforming Power Of Color, Crystals and Your Body’s Own Subtle Energies to Increase Health and Wellbeing by Sue and Simon Lilly
  • Ladies of the Lake by Caitlin and John Matthews
  • Lammas: Celebrating the Fruits of the First Harvest by Anna Franklin & Paul Mason
  • Lord of Light and Shadow: The Many Faces of the God by DJ Conway
  • Magical Aromatherapy: The Power of Scent by Scott Cunningham
  • Magical herbalism by Scott Cunningham
  • Magical, Mystical Creatures: Invite Their Powers into Your Life by DJ Conway
  • Magick For Beginners: The Power to Change Your World by JH Brennan
  • Magick of Folk Wisdom: A Source Book From the Ages by Patricia Telesco
  • Midsummer: Magical Celebrations of the Summer Solstice by Anna Franklin
  • Moon Magick: Myth & Magic,
    • Crafts

  • & recipes, Rituals & Spells by DJ Conway
  • New Book of Goddesses & Heroines by Patricia Monaghan
  • Ostara: Customs, Spells & Rituals For the Rites of Spring by Edain McCoy
  • Path of the Priestess: A Guidebook for Awakening the Divine Feminine by Sharron Rose
  • Rituals of the Dark Moon: 13 Lunar Rites for a Magical Path by Gail Wood
  • Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger Volume 1: Final Secret of the Illuminati by Robert Anton Wilson
  • Romantic Guide to Handfasting: Rituals, recipes & Lore by Anna Franklin
  • Silver’s Spells for Prosperity by Silver RavenWolf
  • Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones: Hoodoo, Mojo & Conjuring with Herbs by Stephanie Rose Bird
  • Storyteller’s Goddess: Tales of the Goddess and Her Wisdom from Around the World by Carolyn McVickar Edwards
  • Temple of High Witchcraft: Ceremonies, Spheres and The Witches’ Qabalah by Christopher Penczak
  • Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft: Shadows, Spirits and the Healing Journey by Christopher Penczak
  • Two Babylons by Rev. Alexander Hislop
  • Virgin, Mother, Crone: Myths & Mysteries of the Triple Goddess by Donna Wilshire
  • When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm by Layne Redmond
  • Wicca Handbook by Eileen Holland
  • Wicca Spellbook: A Witch’s Collection of Wiccan Spells, Potions and recipes by Gerina Dunwich
  • Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca and Neo-Paganism by Raymond Buckland
  • Witchcraft: A Mystery Tradition by Raven Grimassi
  • Witches Shield: Protection Magick & Psychic Self-Defense by Christopher Penczak
  • Witches Tarot by Ellen Cannon Reed

Gems of the Goddess

March, 2010

Ishtar – Goddess of Love and Sex

ishtar 2 Gems of the Goddess
Today we are going to discuss Ishtar, the Babylonian Goddess of Fertility, Love, War and Sex. She was likened to Venus, Aphrodite and Inanna.   Ishtar and her cult are associated with sexuality including sacred sex and prostitution.  Her symbol is the eight pointed star. Ishtar was known to have many lovers, however, she treated them cruelly.  Her love was known to tame wild animals and could be trouble for even the gods she consorted with in her travels.   Ishtar is known to be cruel and a punisher, not caring who she destroyed in her path to get what she wanted. One of the more popular myths regarding Ishtar is her decent into the underworld to get her lover Tammuz.   She was made to travel through seven gates to reach the Underworld.  At each entrance, she was made to remove a piece of clothing or jewelry.    When she finally reached Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, she was bare of everything but herself to ask for his return.   Ishtar did get Tammuz out and as she traveled back up through the seven gates, she retrieved her clothing and jewelry.  (Note:  This particular myth has many different endings – Ishtar traveling back alone, Tammuz not grieving her and sitting on a throne promising not to return and Ishtar having to chose someone to take Tammuz’s place in order to get him back.  The one I chose to highlight is the one that is the most positive.) In the story of Gilgamesh, Ishtar also tried to seduce Gilgamesh and make him her husband.  He rejected her and reminded her of her cruel and punishing behavior to those that got close to her.  She then told her father, Anu (the God of Air), who gave her the mystical bull of heaven to exact her revenge.  However, Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu, were able to kill the bull and brought his head to her.  Ishtar was so infuriated she sent illness to Enkidu, which killed him.  There are two important lessons from Ishtar.  The first is to find our true selves – being stripped down and tearing our self down and rebuilding it through strength and perseverance.  It reminds us not to quit, not matter what the challenge ahead. The second lesson is to understand the consequences of your own actions.  Acting cruel and heartless can cause the same actions to be performed back at you.  It may also result in you being alone or losing people in your life you want to keep.  Remind yourself Ishtar is teaching you how to treat others in order to build relationships and keep people with you, not tear them down.