Anahita and Ishtar: Connections to the Planet Venus
Anahita was a goddess associated with water, fertility, wisdom, warfare, and eventually the planet Venus. During the Achaemenid dynasty in Persia, she became incorporated into the Zoroastrian religion as a Yazata, a type of minor divinity. Her association with warfare and the planet Venus was not very prominent before the Achaemenid Period, leading some to conclude that her cult and persona may have become influenced by the goddess Ishtar. In becoming associated with Ishtar, she may have taken on the characteristics of a Venus god/Venus goddess, a type of god which appears to occur across cultures associated with the planet Venus.
Before the Achaemenid Period, Aredvi Sura Anahita or Ardwisur Anahid was essentially a water goddess. Her two common names are titles that come from the words aredvi and anahita meaning strong or mighty and undefiled or pure respectively and aredvi meaning moist or humid. These three Old Persian words were all used to describe the goddess and eventually came to be used more often than her proper name, Sarasvasti which means “she who keeps the waters.” Anahita was believed to be a personification of the world river which flowed from the legendary peak Mount Hara and into the sea of Vourukasa from which all water in the world was said to come.
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She was depicted as a young beautiful maiden who wore beaver skins and rode a chariot drawn by four horses representing wind, rain, clouds, and sleet. She was worshiped as fertility goddess who gave both men and women fertility and gave women the milk to nurse their infants. Since water is associated with wisdom in Persian culture and many other cultures, priests also prayed to her for wisdom and in India she was considered a patron goddess of the study of the Vedas.
Anahita Dish. (Public Domain)
During the Achaemenid Period, Aredvi Sura Anahita became associated with a western Iranian deity called Anahiti, a very popular deity among western Iranians and Zoroastrians. This merging of Anahiti with Aredvi Sura Anahita caused Anahita to become very popular in Achaemenid Persia. The first Achaemenid ruler to publicly acknowledge her in inscriptions was King Artaxerxes II who also erected cult statues of her. Anahita’s description changed during this time, rather than being depicted as the wild personification of a raging river, she was depicted as a serene ruler with a golden crown, shoes, necklace, and jewelry. She also became associated with planet Venus and one of her titles from this time was Anahid Abaxtari, a title referring to Venus. This association with Venus, probably comes from the fact that Anahiti, the deity with which Aredvi Sura Anahita was merged, was a goddess of the planet Venus with direct connections to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, also associated with the Venus as it appears in the evening sky.
The Story of Ishtar
Ishtar was originally the Akkadian or Semitic name for the Sumerian goddess Inanna. She was a goddess of love and fertility. Lovers would pray to her to resolve unrequited love. She was the patron goddess of prostitutes in some areas. On the other hand, she was also a goddess of war and many Mesopotamian kings would look to her for their political legitimacy as kings. There are depictions of Ishtar/Innana as a warrior in battle carrying off captives. In addition to this, she also became associated with the planet Venus and was believed to imitate the cyclic motion of Venus in her terrestrial activities. Anahita, appears to have been an attempt by the Persian kings to incorporate a popular foreign divinity into their pantheon. Anahita soon gained the same associations with love, fertility, warfare, and the planet Venus.
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The associations of love, fertility, warfare, and knowledge seem to be common characteristics of Venus gods across many cultures. The Greek goddess Aphrodite or the Roman goddess Venus from which the planet gets its name was of course the goddess of love, fertility, beauty, and sexuality. It was believed that the evening star was Aphrodite’s celestial form. Although not directly associated with the planet Venus, Freyja, is a goddess of love and fertility with many similarities to Ishtar/Innana and Anahita. In the same way that Anahita has a horse drawn chariot, Freyja has a chariot drawn by two giant cats.
The lion as a symbol of a giant cat. (detail of the Ishtar Gate) (Public Domain)
Shukra, a Hindu god associated with wisdom and enlightenment is a personification of the planet Venus in Hindu astrology. This is similar to Anahita’s association with wisdom. Even the Mesoamerican Quetzalcoatl, associated with Venus and the sun in Mesoamerican mythology, has some similarities to this Venus god character, specifically knowledge. Quetzalcoatl is a god associated with wind and rain, the arts, learning, civilization as well as the planet Venus. His name among the Maya is Kukulkan. One difference is that while most of the Middle Eastern deities I have mentioned were associated with the evening star, Quetzalcoatl was associated with the morning star.
Ishtar holding her symbol (CC BY 2.5)
The reason for the association of the planet Venus with love, fertility, war, knowledge, and wisdom is unclear. These are only a handful of examples and it may only be coincidence, however there does seem to be something about the planet Venus, or perhaps an ancestral deity associated with planet Venus from which some of the other deities were derived that elicits these associations.
By Caleb Strom
A project by a collaboration of Middle Eastern scholars preserving Middle Eastern literature. Available at: http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/inanaitar/
An article from the Encyclopedia Iranica. Available at: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/anahid