Goddess Ishtar And God Tammuz  

Posted by Stella Clark

Goddess Ishtar And God Tammuz Cover
Ishtar has a prominent role in the Epic of Gilgamesh. After Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu have killed the demon Humbaba, Ishtar appears to Gilgamesh and asks him to be her husband. Gilgamesh rejects Ishtar’s offer, citing her mistreatment of her former lovers and wondering why he would be any different. In fury, Ishtar asks her father Anu, God of Heaven, to unleash the Bull of Heaven so that it could attack Gilgamesh and avenge her. Anu hesitates, but when Ishtar threatens to raise all the dead from the underworld, he gives in. The Bull is set loose, and after a ferocious battle, Gilgamesh and Enkidu manage to slay it. Ishtar stands on the walls of the city and wails, which prompts Enkidu to throw the bull’s leg at her, threatening to do the same to her if she comes any closer. This is too much for the Gods, who were already upset with Gilgamesh and Enkidu for killing Humbaba. They decide that Enkidu must die, and Gilgamesh learns what it means to reject Ishtar’s advances.

Enkidu’s hostility towards Ishtar has another root. Earlier in the Epic, Enkidu, who is originally a wild man, is “civilized” by a temple prostitute. These prostitutes, called ishtaritu, inhabited the temples of Ishtar, offering themselves to any male worshipper who paid the required contribution. In fact, every Babylonian woman was expected to go to a temple and perform the rite with a stranger at least once in her life. Like Inanna, Ishtar was known as the Goddess of prostitutes, and her alternate names of Har and Hora gave rise to the terms “harlot” and “whore”.

The Goddess Ishtar, in her youth, loved Tammuz, God of the harvest. He returned her love, but he was killed by a boar. Ishtar was devastated by his heath.

When Tammuz died, all vegetation died. The animals would no longer mate, and humans were no longer active sexually, and the Earth, herself, was dying. Ishtar knew that Tammuz was in the Underworld which was ruled by her sister Erishkigal. To reach Erishkigal, Ishtar had to pass the seven gates of the Underworld and at each gate surrender some of her jewelry or a garment until finally she stood before her sister naked, unadorned and completely vulnerable.

Ishtar laments: "Tammuz is dead!"

Ishtar looks up at Sin, the Moon God and asks: "Sin, my father, what shall we do? Without my love Tammuz, the Earth's womb is sterile. The fields well bear no crops and my creatures will bear no young. Help me father!"

Sin replies: What can I do, sister? I am the Moon who lights up the night. I can bring rest, but not fruitfulness; visions, but not deeds; understanding, but not action. Such things belong to Earth. What can I do?"

Ishtar turns to Shamash, and pleads: "Shamash, my brother, what shall I do?"

Shamash replies: "What can I do sister? I am the sun who lights up the day, shining upon your Earth to bring it heat. I can call forth your crops once they are sown...and warm your young once they are born; but I cannot sow the grain, or fertilize the womb. Such things belong to Earth. What can I do?"

Ishtar appeals finally to Ea: "Ea, my brother, help me! You are wisdom, you are magic, you are the air which my creatures breathe. Help me!"

Ea does not reply for a moment; then he stands up, as Sin and Shamash also do when he commands them. "Be upstanding, my brothers. Despair and resignation will not help our sister, nor bring Tammuz to life. What is wisdom and what is magic? Wisdom is knowledge of the laws of the universe, which are greater than each of us alone. And magic is the courage to call upon them. So let us call! It is a low of being, that death follows life, and rebirth follows death. Tammuz may seem to die, but his rebirth must follow as the great wheel turns. We call upon the laws of being – we clal upon the wheel of rebirth!"

Sin and Shamash also threw up their arms. Ishtar takes Tammuz's hand and all three take up the cry: "We call upon the wheel of rebirth!"

Tammuz opens his eyes and sits up. Ishtar stands and pull him to his feet, saying: "Great Tammuz is reborn, the fruits of the Earth are ours once more. Bring them forth, let us enjoy them!"

Further reading (free e-books):

Aleister Crowley - The Star And The Garter
Aleister Crowley - One Star In Sight
Francesca De Grandis - Goddess Initiation

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