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Ishtar (ĭshˈtär), ancient fertility deity, the most widely worshiped goddess in Babylonian and Assyrian religion. She was worshiped under various names and forms. Most important as a mother goddess and as a goddess of love, Ishtar was the source of all the generative powers in nature and mankind. However, she was also a goddess of war and as such was capable of unremitting cruelty. Her cult spread throughout W Asia, and she became identified with various other earth goddesses (see Great Mother Goddess). One of the most famous of the Babylonian legends related the trials of her descent into the underworld in search of her lover Tammuz and her triumphant return to earth. In Sumerian religion, where her cult probably originated, she was called Inanna or Innina.
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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The great Mother Goddess of ancient Babylonian and Assyrian mythology, Ishtar was the Semitic name for the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Her worship quickly spread throughout the Middle East, Egypt, and Greece. In 2350 BCE, Enheduanna, the daughter of King Sargon of Agade, composed a lengthy hymn to the goddess titled The Exaltation of Inanna. It told of her struggle against the Moon God Nanna and her final acceptance by the High God An.

Ishtar was a fertility goddess of love and procreation but, like all the great goddesses of the ancient Near East, she was also goddess of bloodshed, war, and destruction. She is usually depicted riding on her sacred animal, the lion. She was the lover of Tammuz, god of the harvest, who was either her brother or her son. He was slain, and Ishtar, who caused his death, descended to the Underworld from where she triumphantly brought him back. Fertility and joy then returned to the earth.

Ishtar called herself "Goddess of the morn and goddess of the evening." According to some myths, she was the daughter of Anu, but others say she was the daughter of Sin. Sacred prostitution was part of her cult and it was said that when she descended to earth she was accompanied by "courtesans, harlots and strumpets." She herself is sometimes described as "courtesan of the gods." Certainly she had many lovers.

Ishtar and Inanna are names recognized by a number of Wiccan traditions as names for the Mother Goddess.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Sumerian, Inanna), in Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian) mythology and religion, the central female deity. Ishtar was at first revered as a local deity in Mesopotamia (in Akkad, Arbela, Uruk, and Nineveh). In the second millennium B.C. the cult of Ishtar spread among the Hurrites, Hittites, Mitanni, and Phoenicians. Three main functions of Ishtar are discerned: she is the goddess of fertility and carnal love; the goddess of war and strife; and an astral deity, the personification of the planet Venus.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.