Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 61

commands the plague demon, Namtar, to strike her with disease in all parts of her body. The effect of Ishtar's fate was disastrous upon earth: growth and fertility came to an end.

Meanwhile Pap-sukal, messenger of the gods, hastened to Shamash, the sun deity, to relate what had occurred. The sun god immediately consulted his lunar father, Sin, and Ea, god of the deep. Ea then created a man lion, named Nadushu-namir, to rescue Ishtar, giving him power to pass through the seven gates of Hades. When this being delivered his message

Allatu ... struck her breast; she bit her thumb,
She turned again: a request she asked not.

In her anger she cursed the rescuer of the Queen of Heaven.

May I imprison thee in the great prison,
May the garbage of the foundations of the city be thy food,
May the drains of the city be thy drink,
May the darkness of the dungeon be thy dwelling,
May the stake be thy seat,
May hunger and thirst strike thy offspring.

She was compelled, however, to obey the high gods, and addressed Namtar, saying:

Unto Ishtar give the waters of life and bring her before me.

Thereafter the Queen of Heaven was conducted through the various gates, and at each she received her robe and the ornaments which were taken from her on entering. Namtar says:

Since thou hast not paid a ransom for thy deliverance to her
(Allatu), so to her again turn back,
For Tammuz the husband of thy youth.
The glistening waters (of life) pour over him...
In splendid clothing dress him, with a ring of crystal adorn him.

Ishtar mourns for "the wound of Tammuz", smiting her breast, and she did not ask for "the precious eye-stones, her amulets", which were apparently to ransom Tammuz. The poem concludes with Ishtar's wail:

O my only brother (Tammuz) thou dost not lament for me.
In the day that Tammuz adorned me, with a ring of crystal,
With a bracelet of emeralds, together with himself, he adorned me,[123]
With himself he adorned me; may men mourners and women
On a bier place him, and assemble the wake.[124]

A Sumerian hymn to Tammuz throws light on this narrative. It sets forth that Ishtar descended to Hades to entreat him to be glad and to resume care of his flocks, but Tammuz refused or was unable to return.

His spouse unto her abode he sent back.

She then instituted the wailing ceremony:

The amorous Queen of Heaven sits as one in darkness.[125]

Mr. Langdon also translates a hymn (Tammuz III) which appears to contain the narrative on which the Assyrian version was founded. The goddess who descends to Hades, however, is not Ishtar, but the "sister", Belit-sheri. She is accompanied by various demons-- the "gallu-demon", the "slayer", &c.--and holds a conversation with Tammuz which, however, is "unintelligible and badly broken". Apparently, however, he promises to return to earth.

... I will go up, as for me I will depart with thee ...
... I will return, unto my mother let us go back.

Probably two goddesses originally lamented for Tammuz, as the Egyptian sisters, Isis and Nepthys, lamented for Osiris, their brother. Ishtar is referred to as "my mother". Isis figures alternately in the Egyptian chants as mother, wife, sister, and daughter of Osiris. She cries, "Come thou to thy wife in peace; her heart fluttereth for thy love", ... "I am thy wife, made as thou art, the elder sister, soul of her brother".... "Come thou to us as a babe".... "Lo, thou art as the Bull of the two goddesses--come thou, child growing in peace, our lord!"... "Lo! the Bull, begotten of the two cows, Isis and Nepthys".... "Come thou to the two widowed goddesses".... "Oh child, lord, first maker of the body".... "Father Osiris."[126]

As Ishtar and Belit-sheri weep for Tammuz, so do Isis and Nepthys weep for Osiris.

Calling upon thee with weeping--yet thou art prostrate upon thy
Gods and men ... are weeping for thee at the same time, when
they behold me (Isis).
Lo! I invoke thee with wailing that reacheth high as heaven.

Isis is also identified with Hathor (Ishtar) the Cow.... "The cow weepeth for thee with her voice."[127]

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".[128] 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".[129] 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".[130]

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.[131] 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.[132]

The ferocious, black-faced Scottish mother goddess, Cailleach Bheur, who appears to be identical with Mala Lith, "Grey Eyebrows" of Fingalian story, and the English "Black Annis", figures in Irish song and legend as "The Old Woman of Beare". This "old woman" (Cailleach) "had", says Professor Kuno Meyer, "seven periods of youth one after another, so that every man who had lived with her came to die of old age, and her grandsons and great-grandsons were tribes and races". When old age at length came upon her she sang her "swan song", from which the following lines are extracted:

Ebb tide to me as of the sea!
Old age causes me reproach ...
It is riches
Ye love, it is not men:
In the time when we lived
It was men we loved ...
My arms when they are seen
Are bony and thin:
Once they would fondle,
They would be round glorious kings ...
I must take my garment even in the sun:
The time is at hand that shall renew me.[133]

Freyja, the Germanic mother goddess, whose car was drawn by cats, had similarly many lovers. In the Icelandic poem "Lokasenna", Loki taunts her, saying:

Silence, Freyja! Full well I know thee,
And faultless art thou not found;
Of the gods and elves who here are gathered
Each one hast thou made thy mate.

Idun, the keeper of the apples of immortal youth, which prevent the gods growing old, is similarly addressed:

Silence, Idun! I swear, of all women
Thou the most wanton art;
Who couldst fling those fair-washed arms of thine
About thy brother's slayer.

Frigg, wife of Odin, is satirized as well:

Silence, Frigg! Earth's spouse for a husband,
And hast ever yearned after men![134]

The goddesses of classic mythology had similar reputations. Aphrodite (Venus) had many divine and mortal lovers. She links closely with Astarte and Ashtoreth (Ishtar), and reference has already been made to her relations with Adonis (Tammuz). These love deities were all as cruel as they were wayward. When Ishtar wooed the Babylonian hero, Gilgamesh, he spurned her advances, as has been indicated, saying:

On Tammuz, the spouse of thy youth,