In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

The Darkness of Ishtar

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.”

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2 responses to “The Darkness of Ishtar

  1. Seeker January 30, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    Thank you for your insights on these two entities. I also personally believe Ishtar and the Other ( I don’t really wish to mention Her name ) AREN’T the same beings nor have any links at all. I guess one could see a link through sex and destruction but having personally interacted with Ishtar I agree with you on Her nature – She is very creative, life-affirming and pro-active. Can’t say the same for the Other and I may be biased as I had a personal ‘run-in’ with ‘The Other’ whilst doing some spiritual work. She doesn’t seem to be genuinely human friendly and seems to be more vampiric than anything. Her energy was extremely toxic and heavy, causing me to feel extremely depressed. I also thought The Other may be the ghost of a woman…and yes she has a link to Darkness but a type that devouring and can drive one to psychological insanity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Seeker February 18, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      PS – Having re-read the stories on this being, your thought about Lilith being a deceased human soul is quite plausible. For one, the Jewish stories of her all saw her as a wife of Adam – aka, a human soul. Other than that, in Babylonian demonology a class of malicious spirits ( Lilu ) sound pretty much like her. Whether or not they include deceased human spirits I am not sure. However I thought I would copy and paste this from here ( source: http://www.deliriumsrealm.com/babylonian-assyrian-demonology/ )

      “Virtually all cultures have believed in good and evil spirits at some point. The belief dates back to Babylonian and Assyrian religions, predating Judaism.
      There are generally 2 types of evil spirits:
      1.Departed human spirits – Spirits of humans that died were thought to haunt the living. These spirits could be friendly or hostile, depending on the nature of their death or burial and whether they return to haunt friends or strangers. In some cases, a spirit of a friend or loved one could turn hostile after death. Or in some cases, they could be friendly at points and hostile at others – with no rhyme or reason to their actions.
      2.Non-human spirits – Aside from departed human spirits that could turn hostile, many cultures believed in spirits that had never been human. Again, these could be friendly or hostile, and in many cultures, they took the form of animals like reptiles, serpents, antelopes, gazelles, anthropoids, crocodiles, lizards, hawks, and jackals. Apep, the serpent-devil of Egypt, and Hebrew beasts like Leviathan and Behemoth are examples.

      Demons in Babylon and Assyria
      The Babylonians and Assyrians borrowed had many names for spirits including utukku (‘spirit), Alu (‘demon’), Lilu (a ghost, the feminine versions include Lilitu and Ardat Lili), and Gallu (‘devil’). They believed that there were many evil spirits and they swarmed everywhere.
      According to Morris Jastrow’s Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (Download free at Project Gutenberg), these demons lurked in remote or hidden places like graves, mountain tops and in the shadows of ruins. They would go out at night, enter homes through holes and crevices, and torture their victims. They were responsible for anything bad that happened from destructive winds, pestilent fevers, and disease to headaches, petty quarrels, hatred and jealousy.

      Classes of Demons
      In Sumerian lore, there were three distinct types of demons:
      1.disembodied human spirits who couldn’t rest
      2.half human/half demon entities
      3.demons that were of the same nature as the gods”

      Liked by 1 person

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