“There is another phase, however, to the character of the mother goddess which explains the references to the desertion and slaying of Tammuz by Ishtar. “She is,” says Jastrow, “the goddess of the human instinct, or passion which accompanies human love. Gilgamesh … reproaches her with abandoning the objects of her passion after a brief period of union.” At Ishtar’s temple “public maidens accepted temporary partners, assigned to them by Ishtar.”
The worship of all mother goddesses in ancient times was accompanied by revolting unmoral rites which are referred to in condemnatory terms in various passages in the Old Testament, especially in connection with the worship of Ashtoreth, who was identical with Ishtar and the Egyptian Hathor.
Ishtar in the process of time overshadowed all the other female deities of Babylonia, as did Isis in Egypt. Her name, indeed, which is Semitic, became in the plural, Ishtar·te, a designation for goddesses in general. But although she was referred to as the daughter of the sky, Anu, or the daughter of the moon, Sin or Nannar, she still retained traces of her ancient character.
Originally she was a great mother goddess, who was worshipped by those who believed that life and the universe had a female origin in contrast to those who believed in the theory of male origin. Ishtar is identical with Nina, the fish goddess, a creature who gave her name to the Sumerian city of Nina and the Assyrian city of Nineveh.
Other forms of the Creatrix included Mama, or Mami, or Ama, “mother,” Aruru, Bau, Gula, and Zerpanitum. These were all “Preservers” and healers. At the same time they were “Destroyers,” like Nin-sun and the Queen of Hades, Eresh-ki-gal or Allatu.
They were accompanied by shadowy male forms ere they became wives of strongly individualized gods, or by child gods, their sons, who might be regarded as “brothers” or “husbands of their mothers,” to use the paradoxical Egyptian term.
Similarly Great Father deities had vaguely defined wives. The “Semitic” Baal, “the lord,” was accompanied by a female reflection of himself–Beltu, “the lady.” Shamash, the sun god, had for wife the shadowy Aa.
As has been shown, Ishtar is referred to in a Tammuz hymn as the mother of the child god of fertility. In an Egyptian hymn the sky goddess Nut, “the mother” of Osiris, is stated to have “built up life from her own body.” Sri or Lakshmi, the Indian goddess, who became the wife of Vishnu, as the mother goddess Saraswati, a tribal deity, became the wife of Brahma, was, according to a Purana commentator, “the mother of the world … eternal and undecaying.”
The gods, on the other hand, might die annually: the goddesses alone were immortal. Indra was supposed to perish of old age, but his wife, Indrani, remained ever young. There were fourteen Indras in every “day of Brahma”, a reference apparently to the ancient conception of Indra among the Great Mother-worshipping sections of the Aryo-Indians.
In the Mahabharata the god Shiva, as Mahadeva, commands Indra on “one of the peaks of Himavat,” where they met, to lift up a stone and join the Indras who had been before him. “And Indra on removing that stone beheld a cave on the breast of that king of mountains in which were four others resembling himself.”
Indra exclaimed in his grief, “Shall I be even like these?” These five Indras, like the “Seven Sleepers,” awaited the time when they would be called forth. They were ultimately reborn as the five Pandava warriors.”
Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.