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Ishtar's descent into the Underworld part two

Depiction of Ishtar on "Ishtar's Vase" from Larsa, early 2nd millennium BC.
Depiction of Ishtar on "Ishtar's Vase" from Larsa, early 2nd millennium BC.
Photo by Jastrow; found on

Professor Mitchell, a former literature professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, taught the class E336 Goddess Religions. Among the many goddesses touched on, the Babylonian Ishtar was an interesting one with her own Descent into the Underworld myth. The first part of the myth was given in a previous article and it explained how she had loved the mortal Tammuz but it was her very love that killed him. Distraught with grief, she traveled to the Underworld to retrieve him, but Ereshkigal made her take off an item of clothing at every gate Ishtar passed through. The gatekeeper took her crown at the first gate.

Ishtar’s Descent into the Underworld continued…

At the second gate she removed her lapis necklace. At the third gate, her girdle was taken. Then one of her gold wristbands at the fourth gate and, at the fifth gate, her other gold wristband was removed. At the sixth gate she had to leave her lapis measuring rod and finally her own royal robe had to be taken off.

Naked and very angry at being humiliated like that, Ishtar appeared before Ereshkigal and tried to attack her. So great was Ereshkigal’s hatred for her sister that, now that Ishtar was stripped of her power and naked before her, Ereshkigal had her tortured until she died and hung her corpse on a hook.

Without the goddess of sex and light in the world, darkness covered the land and everything began to wither and die. Ea, the king of the gods, made Asu-shu-namir to travel down into the Underworld and confront Ereshkigal. Asu-shu-namir went to Ereshkigal, said the name of the great gods, and demanded the waters of life for Ishtar.

Ereshkigal was furious but could not refuse so Asu-shu-namir took the waters and sprinkled them on Ishtar, bringing her back to life. Ishtar was then sent back up to the world and as she passed each gate she was handed back her things.

Ereshkigal also agreed to give Tammuz life again for 6 months out of the year to be with Ishtar. So every Spring Tammuz comes back to the world of the living and while he and Ishtar love each other, fertility washes over the earth. Every year Ishtar’s love finally kills Tammuz once again and he goes back to the Underworld.

Consequently Ishtar and Tammuz’s story is also why the world has different seasons.


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