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KORE PERSEPHONE (PROSERPINE)

KORE PERSEPHONE (PROSERPINA)

Hellenic goddess of the Underworld, vegetation and changing of the seasons, guardian of the souls of the dead, daughter of Demeter and Zeus, wife of Hades. The myth of her abduction was an explanation of seasons changing and the base for Eleusinian Mysteries. Her first name, Kore, means ‘a young girl, a maiden’, her second name probably originates from a foreign language which was unknown to the Hellens, one of the possible etymology is perein phonon meaning  ‘bringing death, causing death’.

ABOUT GODDESS

The myth of Kore’s abduction has already been told in the post about Demeter so let me simply quote it

Kore was a young girl when she was playing on the meadow with fellow nymphs on a sunny day. Her mother allowed her to weave wreaths from all the flowers but a narcissus dedicated to the gods of the Underworld. Unfortunately, Kore forgot her mother’s warning and picked this flower. It brought the darkness over the meadow, the ground cracked and a chariot led by black horses  emerged from the abyss. It was Hades, the lord of the Underworld, he captured Kore and abducted her to his realm below the surface of the earth. It was all so sudden that nobody was able to react or even realise that Demeter’s daughter disappeared. Only Cyane (Kyane), a water nymph and Kore’s companion, heard her friend’s cry and hurried to save her. However, it was too late and one of the horses kicked her in the shoulder so she could only massage the sore spot and cry after Kore. Terrified Demeter kept searching for her daughter everywhere but she did not realise that Zeus had promised his daughter as a wife without her mother’s knowledge and consent.

When Demeter found out about the conspiracy (either from all-seeing Helios the sun god or Hekate, goddess of the night and witchcraft), she became so furious  that she cursed the earth and told her not to raise crops until her daughter comes back to her. This interrupted the order of the seasons so plants began to wither and people started to complain they would not be able to gather them and they would suffer from hunger.  Zeus had no option but to return Kore to her mother. However, the girl was lured to eat a couple of grains of pomegranate in the Underworld and this made her belong there forever. In the end the gods and goddesses entered into a compromise: Kore was to spend one third of the year with her husband as Persephone the Queen of the Underworld but for the remaining two thirds she could return on the surface and enjoy the time with her mother. This is how the Hellens understood the seasons change: in winter the earth was saddened by the absence of Kore Persephone together with Demeter and in spring and summer when she was coming back, the earth was showing joy by letting leaves and blossoming the flowers.

Kore's abduction

It is the first and the most significant appearance of Kore Persephone in the Hellenic mythology but not the last one. She is present as the wife of Hades in many stories telling about the hero’s descent to the Underworld. She is so moved by Orpheus’ song that she convinces her husband to return his wife Eurydice to him. She helps Heracles fulfil his twelfth labour of tying Cerberus, the guardian dog of the Underworld. She is sometimes involved in a story whether she wants it or not, such as in the case of Pirithous, a hero and a friend of Theseus, decided to take Kore Persephone away from Hades as a revenge for the death of his own beloved wife Hippodamia. The plan failed and both heroes were sentenced to be imprisoned in Hades and enchained to the rock. Theseus was freed from the ordeal by Heracles,  Pirithous, however, had to remain enchained in Hades forever.

Kore Persephone has also participated in the dispute with Aphrodite concerning Adonis. According to myths Adonis was an illegitimate child of Princess Myrrha who made Aphrodite angry, and the goddess punished Myrrha by making her fall in love with her own father. Princess managed to deceive him and spend a couple of nights with him but when the affair came to the light, furious king seized the knife and started to run after her. Escaping his rage, Myrrha begged gods for rescue and they turned her into a tree which was later named after her. After nine months tree bark cracked and a boy came out of the trunk. Aphrodite put the baby into the chest and entrusted to Kore Persephone. However, the goddess of the Underworld fell in love with young Adonis herself and decided to keep him in Hades forever. This made Aphrodite furious. The disagreement must have been eventually resolved by Zeus who decided that Adonis was to spend one third of the year with Aphrodite, one third with Kore Persephone and the remaining part of the year wherever he wants to. According to another version of this myth young man died pierced by the tusks of boar, the animal was in fact jealous Ares in disguise. Aphrodite’s grief was so big that Zeus let her lover return to the goddess during spring and summer, Adonis, however, must have come back to Hades for autumn and winter.

According to most of the myths, the marriage of Kore Persephone and Hades remained childless* but some versions claim that she was the mother of  Zagreus/Iakchos/Dionizos (with Zeus).

Deity descending into the Underworld was a popular explanation of seasons changing in the ancient times. A similar motif in present in the mythologies of the Middle – East, be it Attis (see the post about Cybele) or Osisris (post about Isis) and the theme of a young woman abducted to the Underworld is also present in the story of Ereshkigal (see the myth of Ishtar). Basing on the mythology and archaeological remains, it can be assumed that an agrarian cult of Demeter and Kore Persephone was one of the oldest in the Hellas, older than the cults of Olympian deities. It is possible that it came to Hellas from other countries (the Hellens were writing the name ‘Persephone’ in many ways, it may suggest that they were unable to pronounce it themselves so it either originated from a pre-Hellenic language or was a borrowing from a foreign language). The beginnings can be dated up to 1400 – 1200 before Christ based on the inscriptions on the tablets found in Pylos, her name is written as Preswa and this may be its oldest form. There is also enough evidence to assume that Persephone was venerated in the Minoan Crete. Similarly to Egypt, the eldest deities were strictly associated with nature and often depicted as half – humans and half – animals (a Cretan figure of Minotaur, centaurs, satyrs, tritones, mermaids, sirens etc seem to be the remaining of this cult in mythology). An image of two women was discovered in the temple of Despoina in Mycene, it is assumed that these were either Demeter and Kore Persephone themselves or their priestesses wearing animal masks, this proves how early their cult was. Cretan agrarian cults have not used images of any deities  (similarly to the oldest forms of the Great Mother Cybele’s cult), they were mostly performed by females and the rites themselves included dancing, shaking trees and worshipping stones (most probably  meteorites). There are also reasons to believe that Kore Persephone was identified with yet older goddesses such as Despoina or Ariadna. Excavations on the temple sites suggest that places of worship were situated near springs and fire was burning in them all the time.

women wearing clothes from the Minoean age and dancing around (most probably) Kore Persephone, the Isopata ring

Demeter’s daughter was the goddess of both Underworld (as Persephone) and vegetation (as Kore). She was depicted on sarcophagi as a symbol of revival and eternity. Apart from the Eleusinian Mysteries, Kore Persephone was also venerated separately in the temples located in Corinth, Megara and Sparta. She was worshipped as Despoina (Mistress of the House) in Arcadia, furthermore she was known under other nicknames, the most popular were those presenting her in the most favourable way to gain her benevolence: Hagne („Pure”, it was primarily the name of a spring nymph), Melindia or Melinoia („Of Honey”), Melivia, Melitodes, Aristi Tchonia („The Best of Chtonic”). In her aspect of the vegetation goddess she was called Kore Soteira („The Saviour Maiden”), Neotera („The Younger One”), etc., she also often appears together with her mother as Two Goddesses (Demeter being The Older and Kore The Younger) in Eleusis, The Great Goddesses and The Mistresses in Arcadia, Karpophoroi („The Bringers of Fruit”) in Tegea and Thesmophoroi („The Legislators”) during the Thesmophoria festival.

The cult of Demeter and Kore Persephone had many local versions but the most important festival was of course the Eleusinian Mysteries celebrated in the autumn. Celebrations were aimed at the immortality of life and were filling the initiated with hope for the good fate (it was most probably believed that they were sent to the best part of Hades called The Elysian Fields after death). Mysteries were divided into the Lesser ones (celebrated every year) and Greater ones (celebrated every five years, on the fifteenth day of boedromion month ie. at the turn of August and September/September and October, they lasted ten days). A prerequisite for participation was only freedom form “blood guilt”, the festival was open for women and slaves. This was the time of  initiation and involved a couple of degrees of initiation. The Eleusinian Mysteries required keeping the secret so only a few people with the highest degree of initiation knew what was hidden in kiste, a sacred chest and kalathos, a lidded basket. It is speculated that the Demeter’s sacred objects were golden serpent, an egg, a phallus and seeds.

It remains unknown what were the mysteries like because revealing the secret was punished by death, however the descriptions of public celebrations were written down. The Greater Mysteries in Athens began on the fourteenth of boedromion when the sacred objects were brought to Eleusinion, a temple situated at the base of the Acropolis Hill.  The next day was the time of Agyrmos (“the gathering”) when the priests announced the beginning of holiday and offered sacrifice. On the sixteenth day of the month, the rituals of purification in the sea were taking place near the port of Phaleron and on the seventeenth it was the time for Epidauria (so called “festival within festival”), celebrations for Asclepios, god of healing, when he was invited symbolically to the city with his daughter Hygieia goddess of hygiene and led in procession to Eleusion. On the nineteenth day procession was moving from the Kerameikos cementary to Eleusis along Hierá Hodós (“Sacred Way”), participants were swinging the branches called bacchoi. At a certain point they started to shout obscenities to commemorate (Iambe), an elderly woman who was trying to make Demeter laugh while she was grieving the loss of daughter by pulling the skirt up and saying naughty jokes, people were also shouting “Íakch’, O Íakche!” to celebrate Iacchus. When the procession reached Eleusis, it was the time for one day fasting to commemorate Demeter’s hunger while she was searching for her daughter, the only thing allowed to drink was kykeon made of barley and pennyroyal. On the 20th and 21st it was time for the proper celebrations when the crowd was gathering in Telestrion, a great hall („Initiation Hall”) where those waiting to be initiated gathered, in the centre there was Anaktoron („Palace”) where only the priests were allowed to come because sacred objects were stored here. Before entering Telestrion adepts had to say, I have fasted, I have drunk the kykeon, I have taken from the kiste (“box”) and after working it have put it back in the kalathos (“open basket”).  At first two special vessels were filled, then one was emptied in the direction of west and the other towards east and the worshippers were looking at the sky and earth whispering the rain fertilising the ground. The story of Kore Persephone’s abduction was told in three acts, first descent, then search and finally ascend and reconnection with mother. A ‘divine child’ was placed on hearth (check the story of Triptolemus in the post about Demeter) and those initiated to the highest degrees were to cut in silence a sheaf symbolising revival of life after death. The festival was completed with Pannychis, an all-night feast with dancing and rejoicing accompanied by the sacrifice from the bull and remembrance of the dead by libation the next day.

This is how Cicero wrote about these celebrations, For among the many excellent and indeed divine institutions which your Athens has brought forth and contributed to human life, none, in my opinion, is better than those mysteries. For by their means we have been brought out of our barbarous and savage mode of life and educated and refined to a state of civilization; and as the rites are called “initiations,” so in very truth we have learned from them the beginnings of life, and have gained the power not only to live happily, but also to die with a better hope.. (Laws II, XIV, 36)

Another holiday for Demeter and Kore Persephone was the festival of Thesmophoria celebrated all over Hellas from the 11th to 13th of the Pyanepsion month (October) when married women were free to come out of the houses** and participated in the women exclusive rites. Not much is known about this festival for a very simple reason: only married women participated in them and they were not the ones who wrote chronicles or memories. What we do know is that there were processions on the first day, the second one was the time of mourning, extinguishing the fire and eating pomegranates and the third was sacrificed to the rather unknown in mythology Kalligenea, goddess of beautiful birth. There were also records saying that at night swine were sacrificed in the trenches and caves and the remains of the animals sacrificed in previous year were retrieved and placed on the altar, mixed with seeds and planted. There was also Anthesphoria, the festival of flowers and cereals, celebrated in the Hellenic colonies in Italy (so called Magna Grecia) and in the Peloponnesus.

Ancient Romans took the cult of Kore Persephone over from Hellenic colonies established on the south of Italy and Sicily. She was called Proserpine in the local local dialect and this version of her name was adopted in the Apennine Peninsula. It is interesting to notice that she was venerated as the patroness of marriages in one of these cities called Epizephyrian Locris (present day Locri), this usually was the domain of Juno (Hera). Children were entrusted to Persephone and brides were bringing her their garments before weddings as votive offerings. A very popular image of Kore Persephone and Hades surrounded by plants and animals attributed to them comes precisely from Epizephyrian Locris.

Kore Persephone and Hades

In the 5th century before Christ Empedocles, a poet, philosopher and healer, has created the concept of four elements. He connected Kore Persephone named here Nestis with the element (or to be more precise with the root, it was not until Plato when the word ‘element’ was used) of water: Now hear the fourfold roots of everything: enlivening Hera, Hades, shining Zeus. And Nestis, moistening mortal springs with tears. Empedocles uses the nickname of Nestis and does not pronounce her real name which was considered to be a taboo since the earliest times. It was not advised to call the Queen of the Dead even in a simple conversation nor to speak her name aloud so Nestis was used as her cult title (Homer in his hymns refers to her as the Queen of the Shades).

IMAGES, SYMBOLS AND ANIMALS

The type of the oldest Hellenic sculpture is called kore, some hypotheses assume the figures represent Demeter’s daughter.

 KoreKore

Moreover, Kore Persephone is also presented sitting on the throne as majestic Queen of the Underworld with a sceptre, fruit, sheaves of grain and a liknon basket used to separate seeds from chaff.

Kore Persephone

DIVINATION MEANING

Person

A young girl, a teenager. A person who experienced a sudden or tough events. A person who is emotionally immature. Someone who was charged with too much responsibility too early. Somebody who became bitter due to bad experiences, childhood traumas or seriously betrayed trust. In negative a person with a victim pattern and not enough self – esteem and maturity to face the problems on their own.

Advice

What you need is patience. This card shows maturing in a hard way and learning to compromise. You cannot accelerate anything. Let things run their course. Give time some time. What you reap is what you sow. At first you will have to work hard and make a lot of effort to put your plans into action and you will be rewarded later. Everything changes sooner or later.

I personally associate strongly the card of Kore Persephone with the rune Jera.

Patience. Maturing. Harvest, crops, abundance, wealth, plenty. Revival. Beginning or end of the cycle. Bad timing, hurrying too much, poor plans, acting blindfold. An insufficient harvest, loss, scarcity.Intervention in the natural cycle. Possible trip but not for pleasure, rather forced by circumstances. Trauma. Abandonment. Compromise. Inevitability. A strong influence of mother. Secret knowledge, esoterics.

 Love

 If you are in the relationship: lack of maturity to a stable and adult relationship. Compromises and patience are required. Hiding from problems. Early marriage, possibly enforced somehow. Being childless. A strong influence of the mother. A cold, emotionally detached or manipulative partner.

If you are single: lack of maturity to a stable and adult relationship. A strong influence of the mother. Patience is suggested. It is also advised not to get into a relationship just to avoid being alone.

Finances

Trip forced by circumstances.  Beginning or ending a certain stage of career. Business involving volatility of revenues depending on time or season. Suspension of business activity. Time of harvesting profits.

 Health

Women: fertility and regular cycle, pregnancy and successful, natural delivery. Therapy limited to taking medicine. Vegetarian, macrobiotic or vegetable, fruit and cereal based diet. Regenerative skills. Checking your health regularly. Negative: laziness, wrong diet, insufficiency, problem with high cholesterol and obesity. Woman’s cycle disorder. Neglecting regular health tests. Eating in a hurry. Endangered parts of the body: the digestive system (particularly stomach, colon, small intestine and the large intestine).

CARDS

Kore Persephone  in Goddesses of the New Light by Pamela Matthews

Kore Persephone in Goddesses of the New Light by Pamela Matthews 

Kore Persephone with Demeter in The Goddess Wisdom Cards by Jill Fairchild, Regina Schaare & Sandra M. Stanton

Kore Persephone with Demeter in The Goddess Wisdom Cards by Jill Fairchild, Regina Schaare & Sandra M. Stanton

Kore Persephone (together with Hades and Cerberus) in Ancient Feminine Wisdom by Kay Stevenson&Brian Clark

 Kore Persephone in Ancient Feminine Wisdom by Kay Stevenson&Brian Clark

Kore Persephone in The Goddess Oracle Deck by Thalia Took

 Kore Persephone in The Goddess Oracle Deck by Thalia Took

Kore Persephone in Goddess Card Pack by Juni Parkhurst

 Kore Persephone in Goddess Card Pack by Juni Parkhurst

Kore Persephone in Goddess Inspiration Oracle by Kris Waldherr

Kore Persephone in Goddess Inspiration Oracle by Kris Waldherr 

Kore Persephone in The Goddesses Knowledge Cards by Susan Seddon Boulet&Michael Babcock

Kore Persephone in The Goddesses Knowledge Cards by Susan Seddon Boulet&Michael Babcock

Kore Persephone in Mythic Oracle by Carisa Mellado&Michele-lee Phelan

 Kore Persephone in Mythic Oracle by Carisa Mellado&Michele-lee Phelan

Kore Persephone in Mythic Oracle by Carisa Mellado&Michele-lee Phelan

Kore Persephone in Goddesses&Sirens by Stacey Demarco&Jimmy Manton

 Kore Persephone in Goddesses&Sirens by Stacey Demarco&Jimmy Manton

Kore Persephone as Eight of Swords in Universal Goddess Tarot by Maria Caratti&Antonella Platano

Kore Persephone as Eight of Swords in Universal Goddess Tarot by Maria Caratti&Antonella Platano

Based on Mity Greków i Rzymian by Wanda Markowska, Dictionnaire de la mythologie grecque et romaine by Pierre Grimal, The Greek Myths by Robert Graves, Wikipedia and http://www.webwinds.com/myth/elemental.htm

* It seems logical that the deities associated with death could not have children themselves. In Egypt Seth, god of desert and death, was infertile and his wife Nephthys craving for a child, got pregnant with their brother Osiris (that could be the reason for Seth’s hatred towards Osiris).

 *** In Hellas women did not participate in public life.

ISHTAR

ISHTAR

Babylonian and Assyrian goddess of love, fertility, sensuality, sexuality and war, Anu’s daughter, Ereshkigal’s sister and Tammuz’s lover. She represents two aspects of Venus: as the Morning Star she brings love and as the Evening Star she causes war. Similarly to Sumerian Inanna  and Phoenician Astarte  she is the Queen of Heaven and that’s what most likely her name means.

ABOUT GODDESS

In most myths Ishtar was either the daughter of Anu, the god of heaven or Sin/Nanna, the god of the moon. Although she was very much attracted to men, her love brought them bad luck. When Ishtar wanted to seduce Gilgamesh, he rejected her saying that she was not faithful. It infuriated Ishtar so much that she complained about the hero to her father Anu and demanded punishment for him. Quoting the fragments of Tablet VI of Epic of Gilgamesh

He washed out his marred hair and cleaned up his equipment,
shaking out his locks down over his back,
throwing off his dirty clothes and putting on clean ones.
He wrapped himself in regal garments and fastened the sash.
When Gilgamesh placed his crown on his head,
a princess Ishtar raised her eyes to the beauty of Gilgamesh.
“Come along, Gilgamesh, be you my husband,
to me grant your lusciousness.’
Be you my husband, and I will be your wife.
I will have harnessed for you a chariot of lapis lazuli and gold,
with wheels of gold and ‘horns’ of electrum (…)

Gilgamesh addressed Princess Ishtar saying:
“What would I have to give you if I married you!
Do you need oil or garments for your body! Do you lack anything for food or drink!
I would gladly feed you food fit for a god,
I would gladly give you wine fit for a king (…)
Where are your bridegrooms that you keep forever’
Where is your ‘Little Shepherd’ bird that went up over you!
See here now, I will recite the list of your lovers (…)
You loved the Shepherd, the Master Herder,
who continually presented you with bread baked in embers,
and who daily slaughtered for you a kid.
Yet you struck him, and turned him into a wolf,
so his own shepherds now chase him
and his own dogs snap at his shins.
You loved Ishullanu, your father’s date gardener,
who continually brought you baskets of dates,
and brightened your table daily.
You raised your eyes to him, and you went to him:
‘Oh my Ishullanu, let us taste of your strength,
stretch out your hand to me, and touch our vulva.
Ishullanu said to you:
‘Me! What is it you want from me!
Has my mother not baked, and have I not eaten
that I should now eat food under contempt and curses
and that alfalfa grass should be my only cover against the cold?
As you listened to these his words
you struck him, turning him into a dwarf,
and made him live in the middle of his (garden of) labors,
where the mihhu do not go up, nor the bucket of dates down.
And now me! It is me you love, and you will ordain for me as for them!”

When Ishtar heard this, in a fury she went up to the heavens,
going to Anu, her father, and crying,
going to Anrum, her mother, and weeping:
“Father, Gilgamesh has insulted me over and over,
Gilgamesh has recounted despicable deeds about me,
despicable deeds and curses!”
Anu addressed Princess Ishtar, saying: “What is the matter?
Was it not you who provoked King Gilgamesh?
So Gilgamesh recounted despicable deeds about you,
despicable deeds and curses!”
Ishtar spoke to her father, Anu, saying:
“Father, give me the Bull of Heaven,
so he can kill Gilgamesh in his dwelling.
If you do not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
I will smash the door posts, and leave the doors flat down,
and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
And the dead will outnumber the living!”

Anu addressed princess Ishtar, saying:
“If you demand the Bull of Heaven from me,
there will be seven years of empty husks for the land of Uruk.
Have you collected grain for the people!
Have you made grasses grow for the animals?”
Ishtar addressed Anu, her father, saying:
“I have heaped grain in the granaries for the people,
I made grasses grow for the animals,
in order that they might eat in the seven years of empty husks.
I have collected grain for the people,
I have made grasses grow for the animals.”
When Anu heard her words, he placed the noserope of the Bull of Heaven in her hand.
Ishtar led the Bull of Heaven down to the earth.

Enkidu stalked and hunted down the Bull of Heaven.
He grasped it by the thick of its tail
and held onto it with both his hands,
while Gilgamesh, like an expert butcher,
boldly and surely approached the Bull of Heaven.
Between the nape, the horns, and… he thrust his sword.

Ishtar went up onto the top of the Wall of Uruk-Haven,
cast herself into the pose of mourning, and hurled her woeful curse:
“Woe unto Gilgamesh who slandered me and killed the Bull of Heaven!”
When Enkidu heard this pronouncement of Ishtar,
he wrenched off the Bull’s hindquarter and flung it in her face:
“If I could only get at you I would do the same to you!
I would drape his innards over your arms!”

Even gods were helpless while faced Ishtar’s power. Gilgamesh’s words about the Shepherd refer to her adolescent lover Tammuz, the god of nature, vegetation and shepherds who died because of her. Most probably getting him back was the reason why she entered the Underworld as it is described in Descent of the Goddess Ishtar into the Lower World*. Queen of Heaven has to descend into Irkalla, the Underworld, called the land of no return in the poem. Proud goddess stands before the gatekeeper and orders him to let her in and bring her to her sister Ereshkigal, Queen of Underworld.

Gatekeeper, ho, open thy gate!
Open thy gate that I may enter!
If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,
I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.

Although Ishtar is divine being, she belongs to the world of the living so the gatekeeper is not entitled to simply let her in. He consults his ruler, Queen Ereshkigal, and she allows him to enter Ishtar but he can only do it according to the ancient decree. It means that Ishtar must pass seven gates and leave a piece of garment or jewellery at each of them. When she finally reaches Ereshkigal she is stark naked and enraged. She throws herself at her sister who orders her servant Namtar, the god of death and pestilence, to imprison Ishtar and unleash sixty diseases against her. This makes goddess fall into a lethargy similar to death.

When Ishtar is closed in the Underworld, the whole sexual activity disappears from Earth, animals stop mating and people sleep separately. Of course it causes anxiety of gods, especially Ea, the supreme deity who is told the news about Ishtar by the god Papsukal. Wise Ea creates an intersex being called Asu – shu – namir and sends him to Ereshkigal to demand the bag containing the waters of life in the name of all the most important gods. Queen of the Underworld is very much displeased about the order but she cannot refuse. Asu – shu – namir sprinkles Ishtar with water of life and revives her. Goddess is passing seven gates again regaining the garments and jewellery which she left there.

Tammuz and Ishtar’s myth has similar features as Greek Adonis and Aphrodite mourning him  (it comes as no surprise for those who know that Aphrodite’s cult came to Hellas through Cyprus from the East). Since summer solstice the time of mourning Tammuz began in the countries of ancient Middle East; when the days were getting shorter it was believed that he descended into the Underworld so his symbolic funeral rites were taking place for six days. There is an evidence of these celebrations even in the Old Testament, Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord, and I saw women sitting there, mourning the god Tammuz  (Ezekiel 8:14 NIV). Even today July is named Tammuz in Hebrew and an Iraqi dialect of Arabic.

Ishtar’s cult was most popular in the cities of Uruk, Nineveh, Ashur and Arbela. It was the fertility cult which is why it involved  so called sacred prostitution, Ishtar herself had numerous lovers and no husband (no children of hers are mentioned in myths neither). Herodotus claimed that each woman in Babylon had the duty to arrive to Ishtar’s temple once a lifetime and to have a sexual intercourse with the man who pays for that. It has to be said that Herodotus was not an objective observer and modern researches assume that this custom was not as common nor perceived in the way the traveller described it.  If this custom was true, it was not what we perceive as prostitution today; a sexual intercourse itself was an act of faith in Ishtar. Even the Old Testament recognises the difference as it distinguishes between the words kedeshah (qedesha) meaning ‘consecrated woman’ who lives in a temple and zonah signifying the woman having sex for money. It is important to mention that it was not until monotheistic religions that the fear of woman, her body and sex was introduced to the system of beliefs. It is only the Old Testament which makes woman in her menstrual days or puerperal period ‘impure’, in the cults based on cycles, agriculture and fertility woman’s body was valuable itself because it carried a new life to the world. Kedeshah had a high position in the society, she was allowed to start a family and to hold other offices. It was Judaism that first introduced the rule excluding women from priesthood and this common law was later continued by Christianity and Islam. Basing on archaeological and cultural research we can now assume that the custom of Hieros Gamos (sacred marriage) was conducted. It involved the king of Sumer and the High Priestess of Inanna and this practice was preserved in the times of Babylon when Inanna began to be worshipped as Ishtar. New king’s power was legitimized when he spent one night in the temple of Inanna during the 10th day of New Year in the month of Akitu. No exact description of rite was preserved but it was ‘the marriage of Heaven and Earth’  which was aimed at bringing fecundity and fertility in the coming year. It is also worth mentioning that not only kedeshah but also other words describing female temple titles were translated as ‘prostitute’. These include qadishtu, entu and naditu (it may come as a surprise to find out that naditu were obliged to keep sexual abstinence zeby). All these women have originated from higher classes and had a high social status; most probably only entu were taking part in the rites of Hieros Gamos but still it is dubious to call it prostitution. Additionally it is also assumed that especially in the city of Arbela, the cult of Ishtar involved prophesying, performed predominantly by women similarly to the Pythia in the Hellenic sanctuary of  Delphi.

Ishtar was one of Babylon and Assyria’s main deities and to honour her King Nebuchadnezzar II built and named the north gate to the city of Babylon after the goddess.  The Ishtar Gate was created around 575 bC, it consisted of roof and doors made of cedar tree and the walls constructed using different types of bricks including glazed ones; it was decorated with lapis lazuli tiles and reliefs showing lions, Ishtar’s sacred animals, mušḫuššu (a hybrid of a dragon, an eagle and a cat) dedicated to god Marduk and aurochs of god Ardad. The Processional Way went through the gate and each year at the time of New Year the inhabitants of Babylon were using this path to arrive to the temple of Marduk. The Ishtar Gate had been considered to be one of the seven wonders of an ancient world until it was replaced by the Lighthouse of Alexandria on the island of Pharos. The gate was excavated and partially reconstructed in the thirties of last century and it is now displayed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. A replica was also constructed in Iraq in the place where it was located in ancient times.

Reconstruction in Berlin:

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420 Pergamonmuseum_Ishtartor_06

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   the Ishtar Gate

Details from the Ishtar Gate and a building inscription of King Nebuchadnezzar

details from the Ishtar Gate

Pergamonmuseum_Ishtartor_02

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A miniature model of the Procession Way with the Ishtar Gate

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Original excavation site from the beginning of the 20th century and a modern replica in Iraq

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modern replica in Iraq

IMAGES, SYMBOLS AND ANIMALS

Lion was Ishtar’s sacred animal. Ishtar herself was considered to be a divine personification of planet Venus, traditionally depicted as eight – pointed star. The images which survived the antiquity show her as the goddess of war standing on lions and holding weapon.

Ishtar standing on lions

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Ishtar Ishtar

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ishtar-cow-calf

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As Queen of the Night

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DIVINATION MEANING

Person

The person shown by this card is strong, self – assured, courageous and not afraid of taking risks. She is beautiful, sensual and full of passion, she is eager to meet new people, especially men. In her negative aspect she is arrogant, haughty and spoilt; she may be convinced that she is like the Eight Wonder of the World and she has the power to do whatever she wants. She treats sex as a game, sport or mean to achieve sth and does not get involved in it emotionally.

ADVICE

It is time to come back to life and joy. Get rid of what is holding you back and keeping you hidden, grieving, angry, guilty and ashamed. Draw conclusions from your mistakes but do not concentrate your whole attention on them.

Be courageous. Start out. You will not gain anything by standing in the same place. Leave chaos behind you, you are worth much more than being stuck in it. You were not born to stay in the darkness but to radiate. You do have strength and knowledge to make your plans work.

Think about your attitude towards your body and sex. Are they limitations in your life or the source of joy?

Time for joy, entertainment and romance. Feel good in your body. Spread your wings.

Courage. Devotion. Time of rejuvenation. Beauty. Sex appeal. Sexuality. Fertility. Conjunction.

The star of hope shines over you even in the greatest darkness.

Love

If you are in the relationship: sacrifice or compromise especially to get the partner back, in case of an argument this card suggests taking the first step to reconciliation.

If you are single: a good time for a romance but not so good for searching a lifetime partner. It is possible that your sensuality raises concerns because  sexual freedom has for ages been tolerated in case of men, but not women.

Finances

Time to act and to put your plans into practice. Risk will pay off. Beware of conflicts between co-workers or exterior hostile activity. Romance at work.

Health

Beware of accidents and injuries. Check the level of hormones. Risk of obesity and diabetes. You have to exercise more. Possible urine system infection or kidney stones. Do not forget to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases. Endangered parts of the body: face, neck, parathyroid, pharynx, kidneys, bladder, adrenals, sexual hormones, reproductive system.

CARDS

Ishtar as Strength in Universal Goddess Tarot deck by Maria Caratti&Antonella Platano, I think it is a very adequate assignment

Ishtar in Universal Goddess Tarot deck by Maria Caratti&Antonella Platano

A beautiful representation of Ishtar as Queen of Heaven with the crown of planets and zodiac signs in Goddesses of the New Light by Pamela Matthews

Ishtar in Goddesses of the New Light by Pamela Matthews

Ishtar with her gate in the background in The Goddess Wisdom Cards by Jill Fairchild, Regina Schaare & Sandra M. Stanton

Ishtar in The Goddess Wisdom Cards by Jill Fairchild, Regina Schaare & Sandra M. Stanton

Ishtar in Oracle of the Goddess by Anna Franklin&Paul Mason

Ishtar in Oracle of the Goddess by Anna Franklin&Paul Mason

Image in Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards by Doreen Virtue was painted by Jonathan Earl Bowser wherein it must be clearly stated that original one depicts Cleopatra, not Ishtar. You can check the original painting here

Ishtar in Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards by Doreen Virtue

Ishtar with lions and eight – pointed star in The Oracle of the Goddess by Gayan Sylvie Winter&Jo Dosé

Ishtar in The Oracle of the Goddess by Gayan Sylvie Winter&Jo Dosé

Ishtar in the darkness of Irkalla but still with the shining star above her head in The Goddess Oracle Deck by Thalia Took

Ishtar in The Goddess Oracle Deck by Thalia Took

Ishtar in Goddesses Knowledge Cards by Susan Seddon Boulet&Michael Babcock

Ishtar in Goddesses Knowledge Cards by Susan Seddon Boulet&Michael Babcock

Ishtar in Goddess: A New Guide to Feminine Wisdom by River Huston&Patricia Languedoc

Ishtar in Goddess: A New Guide to Feminine Wisdom by River Huston&Patricia Languedoc

Based on the myth of Descent Of The Goddess Ishtar Into The Lower World, Epic of Gilgamesh,  http://www.themystica.com/mythical-folk … shtar.html, http://www.matrifocus.com/SAM05/spotlight.htm, http://www.matrifocus.com/SAM08/spotlight.htm, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishtar , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_prostitution , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hieros_gamos , http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/meso/ishtarins.html , http://www.thaliatook.com/AMGG/ishtar.html

* There are also other explanations why Ishtar descended into the Underworld, I will develop the topic in the post concerning Inanna.

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