Easter and Stories of Rebirth


Myths and Legends of Ancient Babylon & Assyria

Thanks to the goddess Inanna that summer is over. The final arrival of our brief Autumn must be how people in cold climates feel when Spring bursts open. I feel invigorated and, energetic.  Summer is sooo exhausting. No coincidence perhaps that it is also Easter, a celebration of rebirth and for the northern hemisphere, Spring.


Which is why I invoke the goddess Inanna. She was the sexy Sumerian goddess of love, desire, and fertility.  One her most important stories is her descent into the underworld. Before she leaves she insists her servant/second in command plead with the other deities to save her – if anything goes wrong – which is will because no one is supposed to go to this place of the dead and return.

Ereshkigal, the boss of the underworld and Inanna’s sister closes the seven gates and insists that at each gate Inanna removes an article of clothing. Inanna arrives naked and stripped of her power. She is judged guilty, turned into a corpse and hung on a hook.

She is dead for three days and three nights.

One of the deities is convinced he ought to help and creates two asexual beings from the dirt under the gods’ fingernails (which is way cool). They revive Inanna by sprinkling her with food and water. As they leave, they are followed by demons sent by Ereshkigal who insists someone must take Inanna’s place.

Inanna finds her husband, Dumuzi, instead of mourning her death, is lying under a tree being entertained by slave girls so she tells the demons to take him.  Some people still like Dumuzi including his sister Geshtianna who begs to take his place. Ereshkigal decrees each sibling will take turns – six months each. A cycle very much like our seasons.

Innana is somewhat fickle and while her husband is away for six months in the netherworld she mourns him. Her powers, particularly her fertility, wane until he returns. A bit like winter.

The Babylonian calendar included the month of Tammuz – in honour of the god Tammuz whose origin is the Sumerian Dumuzi. The summer solstice was a time of mourning – the days were getting shorter along with searing heat and drought.  They had a six-day funeral for Tammuz.

There are many examples of the dying (or disappearing) and rising/returning gods (or sometimes mortals) in mythology and they are often associated with fertility rites and the cycle of the seasons. One of my favourites is Persephone’s descent and her mother’s Demeter’s deep winter mourning for her.

Eostre or Ostara, a Germanic fertility goddess celebrated at the Spring Equinox is often associated with Easter – including her hares and rabbits who are prolific breeders a symbol of fertility. But most Pagan religions would have celebrated the emergence of Spring. Before we could go to the store and buy a hot cross bun, Spring meant the end of winter and a chance to grow more food for the next winter.

Our human need for stories of resurrection and the function of celebrating the nature rebirthing in Spring is with us every Easter, whether you believe in Jesus’ resurrection or believe it is one of many dying and returning god stories.

Here in the southern hemisphere, my searing summer is over and we all feel better for the change in seasons and hopefully, we have time over Easter to spend with our loved ones reflecting on what is important to grow and nurture in the next phase of our lives.

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