(Essay 2) The Animal Mother Goddess, by Hearth Moon Rising

Excerpt from Invoking Animal Magic: A guide for the Pagan priestess

Ishtar is the popular name of the fertility goddess originating in Mesopotamia. She became bridged with the goddess Inanna of the older Sumerian kingdom and was worshiped elsewhere under the name Astarte, which means womb. Ishtar controls the fertility of all things, including people, animals and plants. She has a multitude of lovers, but the bull and vegetation god Dumuzi is her most celebrated consort. She calls him her honeyman, her sweet shepherd, the one her womb loves best. She eventually kills her mates, as her would-be lover Gilgamesh complains bitterly when repelling her advances. Ishtar initiates life, so she must also take it.

Ishtar surrounded by birds, fish and turtle. Larsa, early second millennium, BCE. Photo Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.
Ishtar surrounded by birds, fish and turtle. Larsa, early second millennium, BCE. Photo Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.

Though spells are addressed to Ishtar for protection in pregnancy and childbirth, she is not strictly speaking considered a mother goddess. Rather, she rules the sexual force that allows life to perpetuate itself. Nor is she a goddess of the wilderness: she is credited with bringing the many gifts of civilization to her city of Uruk—gifts like writing, building, irrigation, religious ceremony and medicine.

Although she rules fecundity on earth, Ishtar bears the title Queen of Heaven. Ancient Mediterranean peoples did not see heaven and earth as disconnected spheres, since the movement of celestial bodies affects life on earth. Ishtar is identified with Venus, the biggest star of the morning and evening skies, or with the beautiful multicolored Sirius, known even in ancient times to be a twin star.

Ishtar is most commonly pictured with a lion, but she is also associated with cattle, sheep, bees, spiders, owls, snakes and scorpions. She wears a horned or crescent headdress and has large wings. Often she carries a weapon. Her symbols are the eight-pointed star, the omega and the reed bundle. Ishtar is a benevolent, generous goddess, whose sweetness is compared to honey.

This owl-lady, once thought to be Lillith, is now believed to represent Ishtar. Sumerian bas-relief, 2000 BCE. Photo Aiwok/Wikimedia Commons.
This owl-lady, once thought to be Lillith, is now believed to represent Ishtar. Sumerian bas-relief, 2000 BCE. Photo Aiwok/Wikimedia Commons.

Ishtar’s temple complex in Uruk housed priestesses who participated in sacred sexual rites with men. The king was the earthly husband of Ishtar and nominal head of her priesthood, but both women and men served in her temple in many capacities. Homosexual cross-dressing priests performed special dances at some of her ceremonies. While initiated priests and priestesses performed the obligatory rituals to the gods, temples in Mesopotamia were open to members of the public who wished to show obeisance. Animals were extended the same courtesy, and birds, bats and cats could be found in the main chamber with the statue of the deity.

Read part 1 and part 3.

Read more of Hearth Moon Rising’s posts.

Hearth Moon Rising is a Dianic priestess and a priestess in the Fellowship of Isis. She has taught magic for over twenty years. Hearth is a licensed outdoor guide and lives in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Invoking Animal Magic can be found in bookstores or ordered online. See http://invokinganimalmagic.com for more details.

2 thoughts on “(Essay 2) The Animal Mother Goddess, by Hearth Moon Rising”

  1. Each time I read one of your essays, Hearth, I learn something new and important. Thank you for sharing your learning.

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