Here is the story of Ishtar’s visit to the underworld that is written in a way that is much easier to read, and with a few minor alterations would be suitable for children too.
Ishtar was the Lady of the Gods, the Goddess of fertility. She had been unlucky in love. Her husband Tammuz, the great love of her youth, had died when he was still very young. She had fallen in love with Gilgamesh, that great king, but he had spurned her advances.
In Babylon, the dead were sent to the Underworld, a place of darkness ruled over by the Goddess Irkalla. It was said that in this place they lived on dust and mud. After being rejected by Gilgamesh, Ishtar became depressed and decided she would descend into the Underworld to be with Tammuz. So dressed in her finest garments, brilliant jewelry and her high crown, Ishtar entered the cave that leads into the Underworld. Irkalla’s realm was surrounded by seven walls, each with its own gate that had to be passed to get to the dark Place where the dead resided.
When she got to the first gate, Ishtar called out to the watchman: “Yo watchman, please open this gate and let me enter!” The watchman’s faced peered at her from over the gate. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t open the gate either.
So she called out again: “Watchman, if you don’t open this gate for me I will force it open, I will break it down, and I will set free all the dead that reside in this dreadful dark place. I will set them free from their gloom and the rule of your merciless mistress and take them to the land of the living! The dead will be so plentiful on earth that they will take over from the living!”
Nedu, as the watchman was called, looked at this fine lady, her crowned head held high, in her splendid attire, and said: ”Please lady, don’t break down the gate. I will go and take your message to the Lady Irkalla. Please wait until I get back.”
When Irkalla heard that Ishtar demanded to be admitted to her realm, she was terribly angry. She thought she would teach this intruder a lesson, and instructed her watchman to admit the proud lady. Nedu returned to the first gate, and opened all the bolts and locks. “Enter into the realm of Irkalla, fine lady”, he said. “Welcome to the place from where nobody ever returns.” As he spoke, he took Ishtar’s crown. She wanted to know why he had taken her crown. “Oh lady,” he said, “if you wish to enter you must submit to the law of Lady Irkalla!” She bent her head and went through the first gate.
Ishtar walked the short distance to the second gate. The watchman opened all the bolts and locks, and said: “Enter into the realm of Irkalla, fine lady. Welcome to the place from where nobody ever returns.” As he spoke, he took the eight pointed star which adorned her neck. She wanted to know why he had taken her jewel. “Oh lady,” he said, “this is the law of Lady Irkalla!” She bent her head, her radiance gone, and went through the second gate.
Ishtar walked the short distance to the third gate. The watchman opened all the bolts and locks, and said: “Enter into the realm of Irkalla, fine lady. Welcome to the place from where nobody ever returns.” As he spoke, he took the gold and bejeweled bracelets from her wrists. She wanted to know why he had taken her bracelets. “Oh lady,” he said, “this is the law of Lady Irkalla!” She bent her head, her radiance gone, and without her magnificent gold ornaments, and went through the third gate.
Ishtar walked the short distance to the fourth gate. The watchman opened all the bolts and locks, and said: “Enter into the realm of Irkalla, fine lady. Welcome to the place from where nobody ever returns.” As he spoke, he took the shoes off her feet. She wanted to know why he had taken her shoes. “Oh lady,” he said, “this is the law of Lady Irkalla!” She bent her head, her radiance gone, and without her magnificent gold ornaments, barefooted she went through the fourth gate.
Ishtar walked the short distance to the fifth gate. The watchman opened all the bolts and locks, and said: “Enter into the realm of Irkalla, fine lady. Welcome to the place from where nobody ever returns.” As he spoke, he took the splendid veil that covered her face. She wanted to know why he had taken her veil. “Oh lady,” he said, “this is the law of Lady Irkalla!” She bent her head, her radiance gone, and without her magnificent gold ornaments, barefaced and barefooted she went through the fifth gate.
Ishtar walked the short distance to the sixth gate. The watchman opened all the bolts and locks, and said: “Enter into the realm of Irkalla, fine lady. Welcome to the place from where nobody ever returns.” As he spoke, he took her magnificent outer robe. She wanted to know why he had taken her outer robe. “Oh lady,” he said, “this is the law of Lady Irkalla!” She bent her head, her radiance gone, and without her magnificent gold ornaments, without the protection of her outer robe, barefaced and barefooted she went through the sixth gate.
Ishtar walked the short distance to the seventh gate. The watchman opened all the bolts and locks, and said: “Enter into the realm of Irkalla, fine lady. Welcome to the place from where nobody ever returns.” As he spoke, he took her dress. She wanted to know why he had taken her dress, leaving her quite naked. “Oh lady,” he said, “this is the law of Lady Irkalla!” And naked now, she bent her head, her radiance gone, and without her magnificent gold ornaments, without the protection of her outer robe, barefaced and barefooted she went through the seventh gate, where she found Irkalla.
Irkalla, the Queen of the Underworld had the head of a lioness and the body of a woman; in her arms she carried her pet, a deadly serpent. She summoned Belisari, the lady of the desert who was her scribe, and who came carrying the clay tablets on which all of Irkalla’s decrees would be written down. Behind these two the dead gathered. There was no light in their eyes; they were dressed not in cloth but feathers, and instead of arms and hands they had the wings of birds. They lived in darkness.
Ishtar became frightfully anxious seeing them, and she wished she had never ventured in this dark place. She had expected to find Tammuz here, but now she realized that this was a hopeless quest. Desperate, she begged Irkalla to allow her to return to the land of the living. Irkalla uttered a cold and contemptuous laugh and when she spoke it was as if an icy wind blew against Ishtar’s naked body.
Irkalla said: “Ishtar, you may be the Lady of the Gods, but you are in my realm now, and nobody returns from this place of darkness. This is called the House of Darkness for good reason, and whoever enters here, magistrate or warrior, king or shepherd, milkmaid or goddess, can never return.
Whoever enters this house has no more need of light. Dust will be your bread and mud will be your meat. Your dress will be a cloak of feathers. The gates are already bolted behind you, lady!”
Having said this, Irkalla summoned Namtar, the demon of the plague. Namtar appeared from the darkness, a viper’s head on a human body, naked underneath a cloak made of bones, and eagles claws instead of feet. He embraced Ishtar, making sure that the plague spread over her whole body. Feathers grew on her, and the light disappeared from her eyes. She tasted dust and ate mud. All memory of her past existence, of her great love Tammuz, disappeared with the light.
On earth a great change came when Ishtar descended into the Underworld. Love and desire became strangers to man and animal alike. Birds no longer sang. Bulls no longer searched out the cows. Stallions were no longer attracted to mares. Rams no longer cared for ewes. Wives no longer caressed their husbands when they returned from business or war. Husbands no longer longed to lie with their wives.
The women in Ishtar’s temple became lonely, nobody wanted to spend time drinking and singing and making merry with them. Shamash, the sun god, was deeply perturbed when he saw the changes that had befallen earth. He could foresee the disaster that awaited earth. Without procreation, without regeneration, there would be no life left on earth once the people and animals who were there now died off. The beings that the gods had created would all be extinct. He knew this was because of Ishtar’s descent into the Underworld, but he also knew that his power was not great enough to overcome Irkalla.
So Shamash went to see Ea, the great god, and told him that earth’s creatures were not renewing themselves. “How is this possible?” asked Ea. Shamash then related that Ishtar had descended to the Underworld, in search of Tammuz, and had not returned.
Ea then created a being he called Udushunamir, which he made devoid of all emotion or fear. With the power of all the gods, Ea sent him as an emissary to the Underworld court of Irkalla, where he would demand the water of life from the dark queen. Because Udushunamir had been created by Ea, the great god, Irkalla had no power over this creature, and could not stop it entering her realm. So Udushunamir entered the Underworld, and stood before Irkalla, where he demanded in the name of the great gods that Irkalla provide him with the water of life, and that Ishtar be brought from the darkness.
Of course Irkalla was furious at this demand. Her body trembled with rage as she roared and cursed both Ishtar and the emissary and all the gods everywhere, but to no avail. Udushunamir, being devoid of all emotion or fear, was unaffected either by the terrible sights in this dark place or by Irkalla’s curses. Irkalla could do nothing but submit, and she ordered the water of life be given to this creature, and so it was. She then summoned Namtar and ordered him to bring the Lady of the Gods from the Darkness.
Ishtar, covered in feathers and her feathers covered in dust, was brought before Udushunamir, who then liberally sprinkled the water of life all over her. The dust fell off Ishtar. The mud fell off Ishtar and the feathers and bird’s wings fell off her. She was alive again.
So she stood before her enemy, Irkalla, her head still bowed, colorless, weaker than a newborn human, just as naked and shaking like a leaf in the storm, but dead no longer. Udushunamir guided her through the darkness to the seventh gate, where Nadu the watchman handed her the dress he had taken from her earlier. She covered her nakedness with it.
She passed through the seventh gate and Udushunamir guided her to the sixth gate. The watchman opened it and gave her back her outer garment, which she put on over her dress.
She passed through the sixth gate and Udushunamir guided her to the fifth gate. The watchman opened it and he handed her back her splendid veil. She took the veil and covered her bare face, then passed though the fifth gate.
Udushunamir guided her to the fourth gate, where the watchman handed her back her shoes. She put them on her bare feet, and proceeded through the fourth gate. Udushunamir guided her to the third gate. The watchman opened it and handed her back her bejeweled bracelets. She took the bracelets and put them on her bare wrists.
She passed through the third gate and Udushunamir guided her to the second gate. The watchman opened it and gave her back the magnificent eight pointed star. Ishtar accepted the jewel and put it back on her neck. She walked through the second gate and Udushunamir guided her to the first gate. The watchman opened it and gave her back her high crown. She took it in her hands, and put it back on her head. Now Ishtar, her garments and ornaments reinstated, could leave the realm of Irkalla.
When she emerged from the cave, the earth was silent. There was no birdsong. No sounds came from the herds of cows and goats. No sailors’ songs came from the harbor. No music came from her temple. But as she walked from the cave her power returned, her neck straightened and her head bowed no longer, her splendor shone brilliantly and she walked as a goddess once more, a smile on her face.
The stallion bayed and the bull bellowed. The rams reared high. Soldiers and merchants alike made excuses to rush home to their wives’ fond embraces. The women in Ishtar’s temple picked up their instruments and sang beguiling words to the men passing by below. All of creation rejoiced in the return of Ishtar. And all the gods rejoiced too, knowing that their creations would renew themselves and would survive to honor and serve them.
There is more than one lesson to be learned from this myth.
Ishtar’s choice to journey from the Heavens to the Underworld is symbolic of her choice to turn her mind from conscious to the unconscious or from the “above” to the “below”.
Ishtar made this journey to the deepest part of her soul during a phase in her life that we would equate to a “midlife crisis”. This is the shamanic sacrifice of her very own persona so she could gain deep wisdom.
Afterwards the conscious and the unconscious are united and the goddess has a brand new identity. We humans must not fear giving up our symbols of worldly power when doing so provides us with spiritual initiation and rebirth of the soul.
Her death in the Underworld is also a metaphor for the death and rebirth experience.
Source: Soda Head
At their first encounter, Ishtar is said to have fallen in love with the shepherd boy Tammuz who in turn asks for her hand in marriage. The Holy Marriage of Ishtar and Tammuz takes place and Tammuz is elevated to the god of fertility. As a result, their marriage endows the earth with fertility, and the cyclical renewal of life is ensured.
But a terrible day was to come when Ishtar would lose her lover, and would have to travel to the ends of the earth, and endure much pain and suffering, in order to bring him back.
The myth tells how Tammuz is killed, during the same month that bears his name. In the burning days of late summer the people came to the fields, where Tammuz stood, and cruelly murdered him with sickles scattering his flesh over the land. When the Goddess Ishtar learned of the death of her beloved, she was distraught with grief. Weary and worn from weeping she knew that she must find the spirit of Tammuz and bring him back to life, whatever perils faced her.
Ishtar finally descends to the netherworld to rescue Tammuz from “land of no return.” During these events in the netherworld , everything on earth is withering away. Trees and plants wither and die and animals and humans alike are sterile.
When Ishtar pleads with the Gods to restore Tammuz to life, the Gods agree, but to a partial reprieve only; whereby Tammuz spends six months in the world of the living and the following six months in the netherworld . Hence Tammuz is restored to life in the netherworld and together with his lover Ishtar they triumphantly return to earth on the first day of spring and the start of the New Year in Beth Nahrain.
Over the centuries as the myth was passed from generation to generation the love story was further elaborated. The expanded version of the myth explains how Ishtar’s husband Tammuz, who was also her son and her brother, came together with Ishtar in the world. She bore him, she made love with him and yet she remained a virgin.
After Tammuz was killed by a wild boar, Ishtar put ashes on her head and mourned for 40 days, giving up all pleasures and food. But then, she discovers that she is pregnant. She declares that it is a miraculous conception and in celebration of this miraculous pregnancy, this divine fertility, she has an egg of gold made, calling it the golden egg of Ishtar.
Ishtar searches for Tammuz all over the world. And finally finds him in the netherworld and eventually brings him back to life. Tammuz is resurrected and the vegetation again flourishes.
Source: Assyrian Voice