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                    ISHTAR: IN HER PRAISE, IN HER IMAGE
                         By Pauline Campanelli

     (Originally published in Circle Network News, under the column PANTHEON; 

           She  was called Ishtar by  the Babylonians, Inanna  by the Sumerians,
     Astarte by the  Greeks, and Ashtoreth by the Hebrews.   She is a Goddess of
     Love and beauty, The Giver  of All Life, The Maiden, The Mother, The Crone.
     As the maiden hymns were sung to her beauty and her love:

        "Praise the Goddess, most awesome
            of the Goddesses,
         Let one revere the mistress of the
            people, the greatest of the Gods.
         Praise Ishtar, the most awesome of
            the Goddesses,
         Let one revere the Queen of Women,
            the greatest of the Gods.

         She is clothed with pleasure and
         She is laden with vitality, charm
            and voluptuousness.

         In lips she is sweet; life is in
            her mouth.
         At her appearance rejoicing
            becomes full.
         She is glorious; veils are thrown
            over her head.
         Her figure is beautiful; her eyes
            are brilliant."

             --from a First Dynasty Babylon text, circa 1600 BCE


           TheGoddess has her darkside too.  In thisportion of a Sumerian prayer
     to Inanna  from Ur, circa 2300  BCE, she is the  bringer of death.   In the
     following lines, "the Powers"  refer to the  powers and duties assigned  to
     the various cosmic entities at the moment of creation:

         "My Queen, You who are guardian
            of all the great Powers,
         You have lifted the Powers, have
            tied them to your hands,
         Have gathered the Powers, pressed
            them to your breasts.
         You have filled the land with
            venom like a serpent.
         Vegetation ceases when you thunder
            like Ishkur.
         You who bring down the flood from
            the mountains,
         Supreme One who are the Inanna of
            Heaven and Earth."

           In the Epic of Gilgamesh,it is the word of Ishtar thatcauses Enlil to
     bring the Deluge upon her Children, and in the same legend she brings death
     not only to her people but her lover too: "When the glorious Ishtar  raised
     an eye  at the beauty of Gilgamesh, she  said, 'Come, Gilgamesh, be thou my
     lover! Do but grant me thy fruit.  Thou shalt be my husband, and I will  be
     thy  wife.'"  But the  hero refuses  her, listing  the  fates of  her other

        "For Tamuz, the lover of thy
        Thou has ordained wailing year
           after year.
        Having loved the dappled
        Thou smotest him, breaking his
        In the grove he sits crying, 'My
        Then thou lovedst a lion, perfect
           in strength.
        Seven pits and seven didst thou
           dig for him.
        Then a stallion didst Thou love,
           famed in battle.
        The whip, the spur, the lash Thou
           ordainedst for him."

           And ratherthan marry Ishtar, Gilgameshwent in searchof immortality on
     his own.

           Images of this Great Goddess from the land of theTigris and Euphrates
     appear in many  shapes and forms.  Some of the  earliest may be the clay or
     limestone figures discovered at the site known as Mureybit in what is today
     Syria.  These  figurines from  hunter-gatherer villages of  8000 BCE  range
     from the crude and stylized to  the highly naturalistic.  Like later images
     of Ishtar, these female  divinities are depicted with their hands  to their
     breasts.   These ancient images  of a goddess are not  joined by a male God
     until a thousand years later and then he remains less important.


           One common characteristicof the early imagesof Ishtar is thebird-like
     facial  features.  These  features are also  seen on images  of the Goddess
     from  the Thracian culture of what is  today Bulgaria, the Vinca culture of
     the Central Balkans, and  the Tisza culture of northeastern  Hungary, circa
     6000-5000  BCE.   This  bird Goddess  of  ancient eastern  Europe,  and the
     closely  related Snake Goddess are frequently associated with the baking of
     sacred bread.   Miniature temples made  in the form of  the Goddess contain
     scenes  of baking  bread  being  presided  over by  a  priestess.    Later,
     miniature  Minoan temples  contain  images  of  a  Goddess  with  the  same
     bird-like features.   The Greek  Aphrodite is often  associated with  doves
     which are  her symbol also.   Like  Aphrodite's consort was  the Grain  God
     Adonis, Ishtar  is the consort of  Tamuz, God of  Grain and of bread.   The
     "wailing year after year," in the above text refers to the annual death and
     subsequent resurrection of Tamuz the Grain God, the Mesopotamian equivalent
     of Adonis and Attis.

           The pierced crown and earsof figures are also reminiscent ofimages in
     bone  and clay from Bulgaria that date to 5000 BCE (Similar piercing can be
     seen on bird-faced figures of the Machalilla culture of ancient Ecuador and
     some of the Chancay "Moon  Goddess" figures of central Peru).   The pierced
     crown is  repeated in the headdress  of figures from Mycenae  Greece.  When
     Dr.  Heinrich Schleimann discovered figures like these, some had their arms
     upraised while others  had their  hands to  their hips  forming a  circular
     outline.   He thought they  might represent two  phases of  the moon.   Dr.
     Schleimann was probably right.  The arms of the figure from a tomb form the
     crescent of  the New Moon rising, an ancient symbol of Ishtar in her aspect
     as the  moon Goddess.   They also  repeat the design  of the  Assyrian Moon
     Tree.  These upraised arms from ancient Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

           LikeCybele and Attis, Demeterand Persephone, Aphroditeand Adonis, and
     Isis  and Osiris;  Ishtar  sought to  retrieve  her lover  from  the "house
     wherein the entrants are bereft of light, where dust is their fare and clay
     their food." When she arrived  at the gate She demanded to be let  in.  The
     Gatekeeper at the command of Allatu,  Queen of the Underworld and sister of
     Ishtar, allowed her to enter.  As she  passed thru the first gate, however,
     she was  told she must remove her crown as  "that is the custom of Allatu".
     At the second gate she had  taken the pendants from her ears; at  the third
     the  chains from her neck; at  the fourth the ornament  from her breast; at
     the  fifth  the Girdle  of  birthstones from  her  hips; at  the  sixth her
     bracelets and anklets; and at the  seventh she had the garment removed from
     her body.

           Allatu imprisoned Ishtar in teh Underworld and because of her absence
     from the World of the living,  "the bull springs not upon the cow,  the ass
     impregnates not the jenny,  the man lies in his own  chamber and the maiden
     lies on her side."  Because of this, the God Ea sent a messenger  to Allatu
     and caused Allatu  to sprinkle Ishtar with  the waters of life.   As Ishtar
     passed thru each  of the seven  gates on her ascent,  Her garments and  her
     jewels were returned to her.

           As for Tamuz,  her beloved, his  fate is not  known according to  the
     Summerian myth  because the  last tablet  of the  text  is missing.   In  a
     Babylonian version of the  myth, however, the Gatekeeper is  told "Wash him
     with pure water, anoint him with sweet oil, clothe him with a  red garment,
     and let him  play on a  flute of lapis."  As the  knowledge of her  brought
     death, so death brought resurrection.

        "On the day that Tamuz comes up


            to me
         When with him the lapis flute and
            the carnelian ring come up to me,
         When with him the wailing men and
            the wailing women come up to me,
         May the dead rise and smell the

           She was worshipped as a Goddess of Loveand Beauty, a bringer of death
     and the mother of all life:

        "She is sought after among the
            Gods, extraordinary is her station,
         Respected is her word, it is
            supreme over them.
         Ishtar among the Gods,
            extraordinary is her station.
         Respected is her word, it is
            supreme over them."

                --from a first Dynasty Babylonian text, circa 1600 BCE

           Thepriestesses of Her temples were "harlots" detested by the Hebrews,
     but, in the words of The Great Goddess, "All acts of love and  pleasure are
     my rituals."   Ishtar is  one of the  earliest manifestations of  The Great
     Goddess  and the  geographic boundaries of  her worship may  be far greater
     than is currently believed.


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