A multifaceted goddess, Ishtar/Inanna takes three forms:
She is the goddess of love and sexuality. She was slandered often in the Bible as the Whore of Babylon, but her very fecundity was the life of her people. She is described as having sacred priestess-prostitutes. The High Priestess or Entu was seen not just Ishtar/Inanna’s representative on Earth but as her incarnation.
Every autumn at the new year (around Samhain), she would select a young man as her lover-consort to celebrate the Sacred Mating (Greek “Hieros Gamos” = Sacred Marriage). Through the love-making of the Entu and the man, who would become the king for the next year, the fertility of all life on Earth would be assured. Any children born of this union were considered to be half divine and half human.
In her second aspect, as the goddess of war, she is often shown winged and with bow and arrow and other implements of war, or with a snake.
Ishtar/Inanna chose a young shepherd Dumuzi (later called Tammuz), as her lover. They later became joined through the Sacred Marriage ritual.
In love poetry telling of their courtship, the two have a very affectionate relationship. But like many great love stories, their union ends tragically.
by Julie Newdoll
Life Form series
The story of Inanna’s descent is very much a lunar myth of the dark moon. On the way, she encounters seven gates—the number of days in the waning moon—where she has to give up the regalia of her office by removing an article of clothing at each gate as she descends.
Shedding your robe
Losing your crown
Bow to the serpentine sister who calls you down.
Share with the world
What you have found
When you were underground.”
Wendy Rule, World Between Worlds, 2000
Her death has terrible consequences, including the cessation of all earthly sexual intimacy and fertility. Ea, the god of wisdom, plots to revive Inanna/Ishtar and return her to the upper world. His plot succeeds, but there is an ancient Mesopotamian saying:
“No one comes back from the Underworld unmarked.”
Once a space has been created in the lower world, it cannot be left empty. Inanna/Ishtar is instructed to ascend with a band of demons to the upper world, and find her own replacement.
In the world above, she finds her husband Tammuz dressed regally and lounging on her throne, apparently unaffected by her death. Enraged, she instructs the demons to drag him below with them.
Later, Inanna/Ishtar regrets her brash act. She arranges for Tammuz’s sister to be a substitute for him during six months of the year—thus explaining the mystery of the sun’s diminishing in winter and growing stronger in summer.
Ishtar/Inanna was one of the most popular deities of the Mesopotamian pantheon, yet in modern day she has slipped into anonymity. She is seen in the modern era most often in her third, celestial, form as the planet Venus, the morning and evening star.
But if you look carefully, you can find her. In science fiction, for instance, as a beautiful yet self-destructive stripper in Neil Gaiman’s comic The Sandman: Brief Lives. Gaiman knows his Mesopotamian myths…the “stripping” of Ishtar could be a wink to the ancient narrative of Ianna’s Descent.
What better time than the present to remember Ishtar/Ianna? The modern female embraces all of her complex and confusing aspects: Sex and violence. Reproduction and death. Striving for beauty, but also experiencing terror. Centrality and marginality. Order and chaos.
What was true in megalithic times still rings true today.
As Pat Benatar says, Love is a Battlefield.
I borrowed heavily from several sources for this blog. Thank you to the following sources:
Love is a Battlefield: The Legend of Ishtar, by Louis Pryke/The Conversation.
Descent of Inanna
art by Julie Newdoll
My dear friend, Wendy Rule.
Inanna, World Between Worlds