Cult of Ishtar

by Esteban

” … In all probability Ištar, the spouse of Tammuz, is best known from her descent into Hades in quest of him when with Persephone (Ereš-ki-gal) in the underworld.

In this she had to pass through seven gates, and an article of clothing was taken from her at each, until she arrived in the underworld quite naked, typifying the teaching, that man can take nothing away with him when he departs this life.

During her absence, things naturally began to go wrong upon the earth, and the gods were obliged to intervene, and demand her release, which was ultimately granted, and at each gate, as she returned, the adornments which she had left were given back to her. It is uncertain whether the husband whom she sought to release was set free, but the end of the inscription seems to imply that Ištar was successful in her mission.

In this story she typifies the faithful wife, but other legends show another side of her character, as in that of Gilgameš, ruler of her city Erech, to whom she makes love.

Gilgameš, however, knowing the character of the divine queen of his city too well, reproaches her with her treatment of her husband and her other lovers–Tammuz, to whom, from year to year, she caused bitter weeping; the bright coloured Allala bird, whom she smote and broke his wings; the lion perfect in strength, in whom she cut wounds “by sevens”; the horse glorious in war, to whom she caused hardship and distress, and to his mother Silili bitter weeping; the shepherd who provided for her things which she liked, whom she smote and changed to a jackal; Išullanu, her father’s gardener, whom she tried, apparently, to poison, but failing, she smote him, and changed him to a statue (?).

On being thus reminded of her misdeeds, Ištar was naturally angry, and, ascending to heaven, complained to her father Anu and her mother Anatu, the result being, that a divine bull was sent against Gilgameš and Enki-du, his friend and helper.

The bull, however, was killed, and a portion of the animal having been cut off, Enki-du threw it at the goddess, saying at the same time that, if he could only get hold of her, he would treat her similarly. Apparently Ištar recognised that there was nothing further to be done in the matter, so, gathering the hand-maidens, pleasure-women and whores, in their presence she wept over the portion of the divine bull which had been thrown at her.

The worship of Ištar, she being the goddess of love and war, was considerably more popular than that of her spouse, Tammuz, who, as among the western Semitic nations, was adored rather by the women than the men. Her worship was in all probability of equal antiquity, and branched out, so to say, in several directions, as may be judged by her many names, each of which had a tendency to become a distinct personality.

Thus the syllabaries give the character which represents her name as having also been pronounced /Innanna/, /Ennen/, and /Nin/, whilst a not uncommon name in other inscriptions is /Ama-Innanna/, “mother Ištar.”

The principal seat of her worship in Babylonia was at Erech, and in Assyria at Nineveh–also at Arbela, and many other places. She was also honoured (at Erech and elsewhere) under the Elamite names of Tišpak and Šušinak, “the Susian goddess.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 72-5.