In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Ishtar and Inanna

A lion on the Ishtar Gate.

I guess this is a good time to finally discuss what I call the “Ishtar and Inanna” question. Are They really the same entity? Or are They two completely different forces? One of the first hurdles I experienced with my wife was when she told me that she thinks Ishtar and Inanna aren’t the same, but are something more like sister Goddesses. (She thinks They’re very similar, but that They are also different enough that They should be treated as two distinct persons.) I must admit that I wasn’t prepared for this idea when it was first introduced to me. Practically every resource about Sumerian and Akkadian polytheism I’d ever seen has assumed that They’re really the same Goddess by two different names. Then I started hearing from Mesopotamian reconstructionists who feel the same way. As far as they’re concerned, this is the same thing that happened to the Greek Goddess Aphrodite and the Roman Goddess Venus. Nowadays, everybody assumes that the latter was simply an Italian version of the former; but from what I understand at least, They actually began as two different Goddesses with two different cults. The Romans later absorbed Aphrodite into their Venus cult and proclaimed Them to be the same Divinity. Some folks think the same thing happened with Inanna and Ishtar; some think They were two different Goddesses who were both absorbed into a much later cult under Ishtar’s name.

Here’s my thing. First of all, I don’t think this issue really matters enough to justify getting super-angry about it. Compare the conflation of Inanna and Ishtar with, say, equating Seth and Odin. I’ve actually seen people do this (mostly in the Temple of Set’s Order of the Trapezoid), and while it doesn’t exactly make me “angry,” I do think it’s ridiculous. Sure, there are certain things that Seth and Odin have in common; but They have completely different myths and completely different cults. (You don’t call on Odin to help you perform the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, and you don’t call on Seth for help in casting the Elder Futhark runes.) However, Ishtar and Inanna share most (if not all) of the exact same myths and symbols. They’re both linked with lions, owls, dragons, eight-pointed stars, the planet Venus, and the rite of sacred marriage; They also both stole the sacred mes, went to the Underworld, came back from the dead, killed Their husbands, and sent the Bull of Heaven after Gilgamesh. Perhaps They are, in fact, two completely separate entities; but even if this is true, I really don’t think They’re going to throw anyone into a lake of fire just for thinking otherwise.

You also can’t really know that much about one without knowing about the other. There are so many gaps in what we know about Inanna and Ishtar that we pretty much have to assume They’re the same Goddess just so we can understand Them at all. Have you ever wondered why we know so much about the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman religions and so little about the religions of the Fertile Crescent? It’s because many of them belonged to cultures that were sworn enemies of the Israelites in the Old Testament. The mere existence of those cultures incited so much indignation among Abrahamic monotheists that they had to be vilified and/or obliterated whenever possible. If you don’t believe me, run a Google search on the words “Christianity” and “Rome”; then run another on “Christianity” and “Babylon.” Here, I’ll even do it for you:

As you can see, the first search turns up a good number of objective results. Most of the websites treat Rome as an actual civilization that played an important role in our history and that deserves our respect. The results from the second search, however, are mostly wild-eyed tirades about biblical prophecy and the end of the world. They have virtually nothing to do with actual Babylonian history, and they all treat Babylon as something that’s inherently “bad” or “evil.” I challenge you to find 10 websites in such a web search that actually present Babylon in a positive (or even just an even-headed) light. (Go ahead; I’ll wait.)

Anyway, I don’t know for a fact if Ishtar and Inanna are really the same Goddess or not, but if They aren’t, then surely Inanna is the more “motherly” of the two. The way I see it, She has to do with things like pregnancy, maternity and childbirth. Ishtar, on the other hand, is a bit darker, more aggressive and less parental. I think of Her as being the more “promiscuous” of the two. She has to do with fertility and procreation as well, but I think Ishtar is just a bit less concerned with the maternal side of things; hence why She’s willing to sleep around with Papa Sutekh, who’s reported to make Her miscarry. You see variants of Ishtar’s name (i.e., Ashtoreth, Astarte) connected to Seth’s after the Second Intermediate Period all the time, but you almost never see any variants of Inanna’s name in that context. At any rate, it doesn’t matter if the two Goddesses are really the same or not, because even if They are, I prefer to use Akkadian rather than Sumerian names anyway. My wife and I pray to the same Goddess either way.


One response to “Ishtar and Inanna

  1. katakhanas July 31, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    I hope that you and your wife get to make a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts to the Oriental Institute on the University of Chicago’s campus if you two haven’t already done so! Seeing the actual lion gate lions, not to mention the towering Lammasu and the plethora of artifacts spanning several thousand years of the Fertile Crescent’s history, nourishes the soul! And the small but mighty Egyptian gallery houses a lovely alabaster stele depicting Seti I adoring Set, as well as a talisman of Set in hippopotamus form! That talisman, along with the statue of Pazuzu, are the two things I wish I could steal from there/be given as a birthday gift. 😉 Anyway, thank you for this post; I often think about the relationship of Inanna and Ishtar, having always seen them as separate, distinct Powers.


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