A certain E.L.O. song comes to mind…
Based on what I’ve described in my previous posts in this series, some folks are probably thinking that Ishtar sounds pretty “dark.” In fact, She’s often accused of being a “demon” by evangelical and fundamentalist Christians; yet there are several reasons why this idea doesn’t work. For one thing, the word “demon” is so culturally loaded as to be virtually useless. Depending on the speaker, it could be used to mean either of the following things:
- Evil spirits that torment the living, and which I prefer to call qliphoth
- Chthonic nature spirits that aren’t necessarily evil, and which are more accurately identified by the species to which they belong (e.g., satyrs, se’irim, etc.)
- Any spirit that exists somewhere between Gods and mortals (including angels, elementals, ghosts, etc.)
- Any paranormal entity that isn’t the God of the Bible or one of His angels (including Pagan Gods)
On the basis of Her own mythology (rather than Yahweh’s), Ishtar only counts as a “demon” according to the fourth definition above. However, calling Her a “demon” in this context is like referring to a woman who won’t have sex with you as a “bitch”; it’s just plain demeaning, unfair, and totally uncalled for. It may be hard to believe, but Yahweh was once worshiped alongside Ishtar in ancient Israel, long before the Babylonian Exile happened and before the Old Testament was written. (I always thought it was messed up how the Goddess was eventually turned into Astaroth, a male demon of laziness and sloth in the Lesser Key of Solomon.)
I know this is potentially sensitive territory, and that some people probably aren’t going to like my opinion on the subject. But I think part of the trouble comes from the confusion that seems to keep happening between Ishtar and the succubus Lilith. This confusion is partly generated by the controversial Burney Relief, which you’ve probably seen before:
The Burney Relief
This relief comes from ancient Mesopotamia and was first discovered by archaeologists in the 1930s. But in all this time, no one’s been able to determine the true identity of the female figure it depicts. There are three prevalent theories: (1) that it’s the succubus Lilith, (2) that it’s the Goddess Ishtar, and (3) that it’s the Goddess Ereshkigal. There are many reasons as to why it could be either of these entities, but I personally think it’s Ishtar. (Considering that lions are sacred to Her, I think the lovely felines in this image are a dead giveaway; but that’s just me.)
That being said, it became a popular belief among Wiccans, Goddess worshipers, and feminist writers in the 1970s that Lilith originated not as the “first wife of Adam,” but as a Mesopotamian “handmaiden of Inanna” who served the Goddess by bringing men to Her temple for worship. Another states that she was originally a universal Goddess who was worshiped by ancient polytheists; she was later demonized, or so the story goes, when biblical patriarchy replaced the Goddess religions of old. There are several problems with these theories, but perhaps the largest one is that there is simply no evidence to support them whatsoever. If anything, Lilith appears to be descended from a class of female spirits that were feared in Mesopotamia for killing newborn children and robbing men of their semen at night. These entities were never worshiped but were only warded away with apotropaic spells, and this was when the temples of Ishtar were still operational and Her priestesses were still called qadishtu or “holy women” (rather than “prostitutes”). In other words, the evidence that’s currently available to us would seem to suggest that entities like Lilith were already viewed as “evil” even by ancient Goddess worshipers.
For these reasons, I don’t believe Lilith was ever a Deity. I think it’s just the opposite; she’s a dark spirit who’s been promoted to the status of a Goddess by the people who’ve decided to worship her today. Now mind you, I don’t think this means Lilith is necessarily “evil,” either; she could very well be one of the entities in the second category of so-called “demons” that I listed above. I know there are people reading this blog who worship Lilith as their personal Goddess, and I’m certainly not trying to alienate them or convince them to stop. Besides, theology is not a science and there’s simply no way for anyone to be absolutely certain as to just what these things we call “Gods” and “spirits” really are, anyway. For all I know, Lilith actually could be a proper Goddess, and I don’t have a problem with anyone who chooses to believe that. I only have a problem with how some people seem to think I’m supposed to agree with them on the subject, or that it’s an established “fact” that Lilith has some kind of positive link with Ishtar. It’s not an established “fact,” and some of us who actually worship Ishtar get awful tired of hearing people say otherwise.
I personally don’t think Ishtar and Lilith are on the same playing field at all. Ishtar is a celestial force and a being of light; She comes from “up there” and is very “hot” (in terms of temperature, not beauty – though She’s certainly “hot” in that sense, too). The Lilith I’ve experienced, on the other hand, is dark and chthonic, having to do with shadows and soil; she comes from “down here” and seems kind of “chilly” to me. As a matter of fact, I reckon Lilith probably began her existence as a mortal woman and that she’s basically a glorified ghost. And while I’ve experienced both of these entities for myself, I’ve never been with Ishtar and Lilith at the same time. In fact, I get the distinct feeling that Ishtar doesn’t particularly like Lilith that much (and vice versa).
Anyway, I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that Ishtar can certainly be considered “dark” in the sense that She can have quite a temper and She will never take “No” for an answer from anyone. But this isn’t the same thing as being “demonic.”