Promotional art for End of Days (1999)
Many Pagans will agree that the monotheist religions have not exactly been “kind” to our Gods or Their followers over the past 2,000 years. It’s even worse for those who were worshiped by civilizations that lived right next door to ancient Israel, and who are specifically identified in the Old Testament (e.g., Ba’al, Asherah, etc.). Lady Ishtar is one of these Divinities, and it’s sad to think that when She is discussed in today’s world, it’s almost always framed in terms of biblical prophecy. She’s even linked with the Great Beast 666 in the book of Revelation:
Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For [Yahweh] has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until [Yahweh]’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
– Revelation 17:15-18
This is basically saying that the Beast will rise up and destroy the Whore of Babylon (and that could mean a lot of different things, depending on who you’re talking to). As I’ve discussed before, the visual idea of the Whore is clearly inspired by Ishtar, even if her intended prophetic purpose is quite different. (Also, I have faith that Ishtar can’t be destroyed by any male.) But what I find interesting here is the symbolic contrast between a female entity who “rules over the kings of the earth” and an evil king who has turned against her.
After reading a book called Antichrist: 2000 Years of the Fascination with Evil by Christian historian Bernard McGinn (Columbia University Press, 1999), I learned that there’s a difference between “Antichrist” and “the Great Beast 666” in the Bible. The former is the spirit of Christian hypocrisy itself (i.e., a demonic force that compels Christians to behave in an un-Christlike manner), while the latter is the archetype of an evil non-Christian ruler (e.g., the Roman Emperor Nero writ large). Of course, “evil” can mean many different things in this context, and the archetype of Therion (“Beast” in Greek) was eventually expanded to include leaders of other Christian denominations. But everyone can probably relate to this idea somehow, whether they’re Christian or not. I think that when most people think of an archetypal “evil king,” they think of someone who tyrannizes his own people, who seeks to increase his own power rather than be a good public servant, and whose political decisions could bring about the apocalypse.
This is especially fascinating given Ishtar’s role in the concept of sacred kingship. What if an incarnation of Tammuz became so evil and corrupt that he actively declared war on the Goddess and tried to bring Her down for good? (I’m sure some would say that’s more or less what happened when Christianity took over.) Funnily enough, this is exactly what I see whenever I watch The Final Conflict (1981), a.k.a. Omen III, which is one of my favorite apocalypse movies. Mind you, it takes an insane amount of liberty with Christian mythology; but it also does a remarkable job of evoking Ishtar in Her role as the slayer of a crooked Tammuz. (I encourage you to read the full review to understand why I draw this conclusion.)
Aleister Crowley seriously believed that he was the Beast of biblical prophecy, and he was quite proud of this idea in fact. In 1904, he and his wife Rose Kelly received what they thought to be messages from Horus, the Egyptian God of kingship, through an angel named Aiwass. It was from these messages that Crowley transcribed the Book of the Law, which opened the floodgates for much of contemporary Pagan and New Age thought. The Book proclaims that a New Aeon has begun, and that individual sovereignty shall be the rule for new religions that develop during this Aeon (as opposed to ecclesiastical authority). In revealing the Book of the Law to Crowley, I think Horus was really democratizing Pharaonic power, which means that every person is now charged with the rights and responsibilities of sacred kingship. But considering the unethical things that Crowley later did in the name of his spiritual freedom, choosing him for a “prophet” would seem to have been a bad choice on Horus’ part. I would contend that Horus chose Crowley to give us an example of what we shouldn’t do with our Pharaonic authority. Crowley abused this authority atrociously, and he died miserable, impoverished, and addicted to drugs as a result. He really did become Therion in a certain manner of speaking, in that he misused his individual sovereignty and brought nothing but ruin upon himself and many of the people who trusted him.
As I’ve remarked before, Crowley was just begging for a curse from Ishtar when he treated his “Scarlet Women” as contemptibly as he did. These women – including Rose Kelly, Leah Hirsig, and others – played a similar role in Thelemic rituals to that of the qadishtu in ancient Babylon. The Goddess “Babalon” (Crowley’s name for Ishtar) was invoked into them during these rites, and one would think that Crowley would have treated them like royalty for this (especially considering the reverence he shows for the Goddess in his literature). In some cases he did, but he was also an extremely manipulative and abusive figure in these women’s lives, and he literally drove some of them into madness. I can’t help but feel that the rotten end he suffered was partly concocted by Ishtar to avenge these remarkable witches, and I like to think that these women are now counted among the saints in Ishtar’s starry palace. But here again we see the archetype of Therion, the corrupt aristocratic ruler, taking his power from the Goddess of sacred kingship and then turning against Her and trying to tear Her down.
I know there are people reading this blog who think that Ishtar is just a “demon” and that She’s really “in cahoots” with the Great Beast 666. That is their prerogative, but I don’t believe this to be the case at all. It seems to me that even the Bible paints these two figures as being natural enemies. Just looking at Ishtar’s own lore, She certainly doesn’t get along with Gilgamesh, the most megalomaniacal king of all time.