Campaign of the Month: February 2017
The Anunna goddess of the night sky, storms, love, pleasure, and war
The Queen of Heaven, Ishtar is a living conundrum, a powerful, nurturing and regal figure and at the same time a fractious, fiery source of conflict. Goddess of the stars and night sky, she is also a storm-bringer like her forbears, liable to unleash her destructive fury in hurricane winds when angered (and, unfortunately, it is not difficult to upset her). She is also a martial goddess, a figure prayed to by ancient warriors to sow confusion and distress amongst their opponents on the battlefield; yet she is above all things the goddess of love and pleasure, patron and protector of lovers, prostitutes and anyone else who seeks the delights of the flesh without remorse. Despite her quicksilver temperament, Ishtar is well-loved by the rest of her pantheon (especially Tammuz and the great Anu himself, her two husbands), and they are quick to take her side in her many quarrels, more often than not.
Ishtar and Tammuz
Seeing that she was unruly and hoping that marriage would tame her, Ishtar’s brother Shamash encouraged her to marry Tammuz, the god of shepherds, who was smitten with her beauty. Ishtar, however, spurned Tammuz in favor of a farm-god, claiming that he was more refined and richer than the humble Tammuz. When he heard this, Tammuz told her forthrightly that his blood was every bit as noble and divine as hers and that she should not say such things; Ishtar was intrigued since no man had ever spoken back to her in such a manner, and after further encouragement from her mother agreed to marry him. Tammuz took Ishtar to his home for their wedding night and their lovemaking was so fertile that it caused all the lands for miles around to burst into sudden, lush life.
Ishtar and Enki
Though Ishtar could have any man she wished, she had never been able to seduce her father-in-law Enki because of his great wisdom and power. Irritated by this failure, she perfumed and dressed herself and went to his house to conquer him; being wise, Enki knew what she had in mind and refused politely, instead providing her with wine and beer to make her pleasantly drunk and forget her errand. Enki himself drank with her and became drunk, but Ishtar cleverly avoided becoming too tipsy, and once she saw that the god was reeling she spoke sweetly to him. In his drunkenness, Enki gave Ishtar his me, the powers of his civilization, and as soon as he passed out she ran to her home city and bestowed all of his powers upon the humans there. Enki was distressed when he awoke to find that she was now equal in power to him, but since he had given her his power of his own free will, he was forced to admit that she had gotten the best of him in order to convince her to return it.
Ishtar and Gilgamesh
When Ishtar spied the hero Gilgamesh, she was impressed by his prowess and handsomeness and descended to earth in all her glory to ask him to be her husband. She was shocked when he refused, and furious when he said that he would never be so foolish since every man she took as a lover met with grief. Returning to heaven, she went before Anu and demanded that he give her the Bull of Heaven, Gugalanna, so that she could punish Gilgamesh; Anu pointed out that she had provoked the hero in the first place, but she threatened to destroy the gates of the Underworld if he did not relent. She immediately sent Gugalanna to destroy Gilgamesh, but he and Enkidu killed the bull-god and insulted Ishtar, saying they would do the same to her if they were able. Shocked by her failure, Ishtar cursed Gilgamesh to a tragic end and retreated.
Ishtar and Ereshkigal
Though she had caused the death of her sister’s husband, Ishtar refused to apologize and instead determined to journey to the Underworld and take its throne, proving to its mistress that she was the greater of the two. She was successful in threatening the gatekeeper to let her in, but as soon as she did she was slowly stripped of her powers and garments by Ereshkigal’s servants, finally arriving in the throne room naked and weak. Infuriated by such treatment, she threatened and insulted her sister, but realized too late that she could not overcome her in her place of power and was killed. At her death, all sex and procreation on the earth ceased, all living things no longer able to take joy in it now that Ishtar was gone.
Seeing this and concerned for the future of mankind, the gods consulted with Enki, who created a servant named Asushunamir to descend to the Underworld and plead for Ishtar’s release. Knowing that she would not agree, Enki also sent the Water of Life with the servant, who surreptitiously sprinkled it on Ishtar and restored her to life. Ereshkigal was furious at this duplicity but, under pressure from the other gods, was forced to release Ishtar; she stipulated, however, that Ishtar must find someone to take her place in order to remain free of the realm of death, and sent an army of demons from the Underworld with her to ensure that she made a decision.
Humiliated and upset by the incident, Ishtar ascended back to the heavens, but every person she met in her journeys extolled her beauty or spoke to her lovingly, causing her to be unwilling to choose any of them to consign to the Underworld. Finally she reached her own house, and when she entered found Tammuz there, sleeping peacefully with the remains of his meal nearby. Furious that he was apparently not mourning her loss, Ishtar struck him and gave him to the demons to take her place in the Underworld to punish him.