The Return of Ishtar the Healer on 4/20

CANNABIS CULTURE – Many are posting around the news that Easter falls on 4/20 this year, with photos of goofy bunny rabbits smoking joints, an abomination even worse than St. Patrick’s day being reduced to a day to chug green beer and get sick, or violent.

The joining of these two high holy days – 4/20 and Easter Sunday – has much greater significance.

Easter, the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection, is the most sacred day of the Christian year. In ancient Babylon, around the spring solstice, people celebrated the resurrection of their god Tammuz, who was brought back from the underworld by his mother/wife Ishtar (pronounced “Easter” in most Semitic dialects). Flowers, painted eggs, and rabbits were the symbols of the holiday then, as now.

“In ancient Sumaria, Ishtar was held in high esteem as a heavenly monarch,” writes Jeanne Achterberg in Woman as Healer. “Her temples have been found at virtually every level of excavation.” The Ishtar Gate to the inner city of Babylon was considered one of the ancient wonders of the world.

Also called the Queen of Heaven, Ishtar was a compassionate, healing deity. A song to her follows:

Where you cast your glance, the dead awaken, the sick arise;
The bewildered, beholding yor face, find the right way.
I appear to you, miserable and distraught,
Tortured by pain, your servant,
Be merciful and hear my prayer.

A clay pot likely used for distillation of plant essences into medicines was found at a Sumerian grave site circa 5500 BC. At least until the Semitic invasions circa 2600 BC, “women were allowed to practice healing with little or no restriction. Female occupations included doctor, scribe, barber, and cook.” After 1000 BC women were excluded from formal education and by 700 BD, neither scribe nor doctor were listed as women’s occupations, but rather several types of entertainer, midwife, nurse, sorceress, wet nurse, and two kinds of prostitute.

As the land of Sumer became a perpetual battlefield, Ishtar became the goddess of war and destiny, “and slowly, insidiously, there crept in more praises for her sexuality, and fewer for her healing nature,” writes Actenberg. “As Ishtar was seen as more sexual and promiscuous, the holy women were transformed into harlots and associated with decadence and orgies, devoid of any holy significance.”

In mankind’s first written story The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2000 BC), the cruel king Gilgamesh calls Ishtar “a predatory and promiscuous woman, and rebukes her advances” just before taking off with his buddy Enkidu to chop down the great cedar forest. Even Spark notes tells us, “Gilgamesh’s repudiation of Ishtar, some scholars say, signifies a rejection of goddess worship in favor of patriarchy in the ancient world.”

In the bible, Ishtar is called Ashtoreth, the supreme goddess of Caanan and the female counterpart of the gods called Baal or Bel. “The immoral rites with which the worship of Ishtar in Babylonia was accompanied were transferred to Canaan and formed part of the idolatrous practices which the Israelites were called upon to extirpate,” says Among those pagan, idolatrous practices was the burning of incense, thought to be cannabis (caneh bosm, meaning sweet or good cane, mistranslated as “calamus” in the bible).

Throughout the Old Testament, prophet after prophet warns the children of Israel that God will bring misery upon them unless they cease to worship the Baal/Bel and Ashtoreth, to whom “burnt offerings” were made. In Jeremiah 44, the women tell him they will continue to secretly burn incense to the Queen of Heaven. One who did so was King Ahab’s wife Jezebel (whose name meant “worshipper of Bel” but still means “harlot” today).

Some have tried to debunk the Ishtar/Easter connection, saying the holiday is named after the German goddess Ostara, “the divinity of the radiant dawn” (Grimm), doubtlessly a reincarnation of Ishtar, who the Babylonians called “the morning star” and “the perfect light.”

Ladies, and gentlemen: it’s time to resurrect Ishtar, and all that our healing goddess stood for.

Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website and blogs at Tokin Woman.



  1. Anonymous on

    interesting piece, ty