Astaroth

Astaroth as Astarte (represented by this statuette of Astarte on display at the Louvre)

Description

She is both a goddess and a demon in one. Astaroth is the demonic goddess of love, lust and sexuality. In the past she was known as Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, and Ashtoreth among other names, all refering to the same goddess, whose current form is Astaroth. I have a feeling that in ancient times things like lust and sexuality were hardly things that were relegated to the dark side of human nature. In fact, for much of the ancient world people don’t believe in a dividing line between light and darkness with regards to human nature, and they usually did not make too many moral distinctions regarding sexuality. That changed with the arrival Judaism, and eventually Christianity. From then on, sex was bad unless it within marriage, and all sexuality not sanctioned by the church was condemned to the realm of demons. Astaroth, as a popular goddess of love and sex, made for a very powerful demon. Strangely, the Christians imagined Astaroth as a male demon rather than female. I feel the male Astaroth described in Christian grimoires makes very little sense, given that Astaroth is actually a goddess, so I embrace the female Astaroth, the now demonic goddess of love, lust, and sexuality, instead, embracing it as a new evolution for Ishtar/Astarte. What differentiates Astaroth from Beelzebub is that Astaroth concentrates of lust and love more than the other urges of the human condition, and Astaroth has a certain link to the powers of reproduction (after all, lust also means reproduction), though her ultimate focus is pleasure and feeling regardless of purpose.

History

The original goddess behind Astaroth, was Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, sex, fertility, and warfare. In Babylon, the same goddess was identified as Ishtar. Inanna was unique in that she was a goddess who represented strength and self-determination, characteristics which would not usually be given to goddesses in male-dominated civilizations. Inanna had many temples and shrines, and sacred prostitution was a part of her cult, and she was even considered Queen of Heaven. She was considered to be the goddess associated with the planet Venus, and her symbols included lions and the eight-pointed star. Despite being the goddess of love, she mistreated many of her lovers. Due to here reputation as a war deity, battle was considered the “dance of Inanna”. One of her famous myths is that of her descent into the underworld. In the myth, she apparently decides to journey to the underworld in order to  visit her sister Ereshkigal, the goddess of the underworld, but Ereshkigal is suspicious of her intentions. Inanna winds up arriving at Ereshkigal’s throne completely naked, is cursed and condemned by Ereshkigal and the demonic judges of the underworld, and left for dead hanging on a hook, and while Inanna was dead sexual intercourse stopped and fertility waned. After three days and nights, the goddess Ninshubur calls on other deities to save her, and her call is eventually answered by Enki, who creates two creatures to whom he gives the food and water of life. She is revived by Enki’s creatures and barely manages to exit the underworld, but the underworld’s judges seize her and demand someone take her place. After finding her husband Dumuzid on his throne, lavishly clothed and oblivious to what happened to her and thus showing no grief for her, she chooses that Dumuzid take her place. Dumuzid tries to escape this fate, but fails, and eventually his sister tries to cries out in mourning for him and proclaims that she will share his fate. Moved by this, Inanna allows the both of them to take her place in the underworld for 6 months each year. Strangely, the story ends in praise of Ereshkigal, rather than Inanna.

Inanna/Ishtar seems to have traveled very far as a goddess. In the lands as Canaan, she was identified as Ashtart, in Syria she was identified as Athtart, and in Greece she was identified as Astarte. In Ugaritic mythology, Athtart helps Anat hold back Baal (or Hadad) from attacking the other deities, and asks Baal to scatter Yamm after his victory over him. Worship of Astarte even spread to  Egypt, where was predominantly considered a war goddess and worshipped alongside the goddess Anat (who was also brought to Egypt from Canaan). Both goddesses were believed to be daughters of sun deity Ra and were married to the storm deity Set. In the Hebrew Bible, Ashtart/Astarte is identified as Ashtoreth, a goddess of the productive powers of nature who is described as Queen of Heaven, but her worship was also considered an abomination. Ashtoreth was described as the wife of Ba’al, who was the most prominent rival of Jehovah. In Jewish mythology, Ashtoreth became a kind of female demon associated with lust, known as Astaroth. In Christian demonology, Astaroth became a Duke of Hell, effectively turning a goddess of love and sex into a male demon. Perhaps due to him being the goddess Ashtoreth, he (or should that be she?) has a very special place in Hell, often ranking alongside Beelzebub and Lucifer. As a male demon, Astaroth is variously said to seduce men through laziness, vanity, and rational philosophy, reveal treasures, find mines and transmute metals, teach liberal sciences, cause destruction through tempests, and transform animals and men. He is also described as a prince of accusers and inquisitors. The descriptions of the male Astaroth, which likely influence modern depictions of Astaroth, derive from the Goetia and various European grimoires, all written from the Christian viewpoint.

I feel I should mention that in modern times the goddess Astarte has been mistakenly identified with other prominent ancient goddesses, particularly Aset (better known as Isis) and Asherah. Regarding the Canaanite goddess Asherah, her defining feature was that she was a mother goddess, and Astarte never was a mother goddess. Also, Asherah was the consort of El, who was worshiped as the father of mankind, while Astarte has never had any relation with El. Regarding Aset, Astarte was a goddess of love, sex, fertility, war, and seduction, and was associated with sacred prostitution, while Aset was the goddess billed as the ideal mother and wife and the female personification of the throne of the pharaoh (as symbolized by her headdress), and a goddess of magic and marriage. The two goddess couldn’t be more separate. Not to mention, in Egypt, Astarte and Aset had their own entirely separately cults.

I must also mention the famous Queen of the Night relief. It’s popularly assumed to be Lilith, both by New Age types looking for a bad girl goddess and by Left Hand Path thinkers who assume Lilith was a goddess to begin with. The problem with that is that Lilith was never a goddess to begin with. Lilith was always a demon, even in ancient Mesopotamia where she originated. In fact Lilith, or rather Lilitu, was an entire class of demon, specifically a class of disease-bearing wind demons. And in the ancient world, demons were not usually considered beings worthy of worship, and even if they were they were never popular enough to have cult depictions as large as the Queen of the Night relief, and a lot of demons probably didn’t even get small statues or reliefs unless they were the likes of Pazuzu, who despite himself being a demon was invoked to protect people from demons. Also, the statue has horns (or more or less a horned cap), and horns were signs of divinity, so back then demons would not really have horns. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that horns really became associated with demons and devils, and became seen as symbols of evil. The true identity of the goddess depicted on the relief is officially a mystery, but it is likely that it refers to the goddess Ishtar. The reason for this is because (a) the horns on her cap indicate divinity, (b) she is associated with lions (though not exclusively), and (c) she was one of the more popular goddesses back in the day and her popularity would likely justify giving her a huge relief. It has also been speculated that the relief was intended to be placed in an ancient bordello and was meant to represent Ishtar as a goddess of harlots. This would probably make sense given Ishtar’s association with the cult of sacred prostitution, as well as, once again, the fact that Ishtar was a popular goddess in ancient Mesopotamia. Also, while many people use the owls and the goddess’ bird feet on the relief to link the goddess to Lilith, it’s actually more likely that the owls are metaphorically connected to prostitution, which is associated with Ishtar. Some speculate that the goddess is actually Ereshkigal, but Ereshkigal was not likely to be a household deity. Remember, Ereshkigal was the ruler of the underworld, the realm of the dead, and therefore she was associated with death in some way. Humans have always been afraid of death, and most people do not want to confront death in anyway. So when you have a deity associated with death, people usually stay away from it. It’s the reason why, even in ancient Greece, Hades was seen as a grim deity that few people were actually devoted to. Anything to do with death is always usually feared, and in today’s times this is truer than ever as mankind today is more detached from the reality of death than it was even in the Middle Ages. So you can imagine Ereshkigal would not have been very popular even back then(especially if she hung up the more popular Ishtar on a hook like a piece of meat), certainly not popular enough to warrant a giant relief depicted of her.

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