of Rebirth and Resurrection
Ishtar, goddess of romance, procreation, and war in ancient Babylon, was
also worshipped as the Sumerian
She falls in the category of great
goddesses/mother goddesses, and the stories of her descent to the
Underworld and the resurrection that followed are contained in the oldest
writings that have ever been discovered. . . the Babylonian creation
myth Enuma Elish and the story of Gilgamesh that scholars
believe were recorded around 2,000 B.C.
In the myths of the goddesses Ishtar and Inanna, the goddess descended into the
land of the dead which was ruled by her sister, Ereskeigal, the goddess of death
and infertility. She went there to rescue her lover, a vegetation god
named Tammuz, who was being held hostage. She was refused admission to
All acts of
procreation ceased while Ishtar was away and the earth remained barren,
just as it did in the myths of the Greek goddesses Demeter and Persephone
centuries later. Ishtar ranted and raved at that
she would break down the gates, releasing all the dead to compete with the living for
what little food remained unless she
was allowed to enter and plead her cause.
She won. But the guard, following standard operating, refused to
let her pass through the first gate unless she removed her
crown. At the next gate, she had to remove her earrings, then
her necklace at the next, removing her garments and proud finery
until she stood humbled and naked after passing through the
seventh (and last) gate.
In one version of the myth, Ishtar (Innana) herself was then held captive and died but was brought back to
life when her servant sprinkled her with the "water of life",
but in the
more widely known version of the myth, Ishtar's request was granted and
she regained all of her attire and possessions as she slowly re-emerged
through the gates of darkness.
Upon her return, Tammuz and the earth returned to life. Annual
celebrations of this "Day of Joy" were held each year around the time
of the vernal equinox. These celebrations became the forerunners of the Ostara
festivals that welcomed the goddess and the arrival of spring as
well as the Christian celebration of Easter.