by Laura Bickle
I've always loved reading about powerful heroines, women who are in charge of their own story. I grew up reading stories about women who slew their own dragons. I was even sympathetic to the legend of Medusa - in my eyes, she was a tragic figure who turned all her lovers to stone. Myths are rich in stories of women who have attempted to balance power and passionate love, who reject the idea that naivete is a virtue.
“Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured roller, but still you struck and broke his wing… You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong... You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks."
One of the most famous myths about Ishtar involves her descent to the Underworld, in pursuit of the soul a lost lover. She descends through the gates of hell, shedding her weapons and clothing as offerings, until she reaches Ereshkigel, Queen of the Underworld. Ereshkigel poisons Ishtar, dooming her to the Underworld. She can only be freed if someone will take her place.
The myth fascinated me, the idea of a mythic heroine who was a love goddess, who could also be so ruthless. She wasn't like any of the other tender love goddesses I'd studied. Ishtar didn't recline prettily on a fainting couch, twirling her hair, and awaiting her destiny; she picked up her sword and fought for who and what she wanted.
I've gotta respect that. And I respect that in a way that I don't respect naive and innocent heroines.
The first image is from Doreen Virtue's Goddess Guidance Oracle, and the artist is Jonathan Earl Bowser. The second image is by Nuktya.