Thursday, 8 July 2010
Life, Love and Death
For me Ishtar, the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess, the counterpart to the Sumerian Inanna, is an endlessly fascinating figure. She combines attributes that may seem contrary but unite at a deeper level; for she is the goddess of sex and fertility, of love and of war, of creation and of destruction.
She is the great lover, whose cult involved sacred prostitution, and is herself the courtesan of the other gods. But Ishtar is a dangerous lover. Like a spider she is liable to devour her mates. Only the hero Gilgamesh resisted her advances, knowing the dangers of a fatal embrace;
Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured roller, but still you struck and broke his wing…You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong…You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks.
Is there any better metaphor, I wonder, any better myth explaining the thralldom, the cruelty of love?
Ishtar was life itself, which leads to death and to a new birth. And who denies sex denies life, who denies death denies life, and such a one will find neither life joyful, nor death easy.
To some the Whore of Babylon, to other the Great Mother, she is one of the most powerful of the female deities. Approach her with reverence and approach her with fear, otherwise do not approach her at all. :-)