Ishtar Eggs and Tammuz Trees
The ancient Babylonians used many myths about their Gods to explain nature. The pre-eminent myth of the seasons however remains to this day one of the greatest stories ever told.
The myth is the love story of the God Tammuz and the Goddess Ishtar. This same love story along with the resurrection, death, marriage and birth of Tammuz are holidays used to explain a fertility ritual connected to the agricultural birth-life-death-and-renewal cycle. In the myth Ishtar symbolises the lunar and female reproductive cycle, whereas Tammuz symbolises the cycle of the seasons.
Holiday & Season
Equivalent Modern Holiday
Resurrection of Tammuz
The Labourer or Messenger
- Ishtar Eggs
- Nissan's Beard (Dikhna d'Neesan)
Spring Equinox 20 April
“Bull of heaven”
Day equals Night 21 May
The Faithful Shepherd or Twins
Death of Tammuz 20 June Tammuz (Jul) Crab or Scorpion Noosardel (West)
Birth of St. John the Baptist - Fasting for 40 days.
Summer Solstice 21 July
The big dog(Lion)
- Weeping for Tammuz
Longest Day 23 August
Ishtar, the virgin's ear of corn
- Sprinkling of Water.
Marriage of Tammuz & Ishtar
Feast of the Holy Cross - Honey collection
- Slaughtering of animals for winter
- Marriage feast
Autumn Equinox 22 October
Scorpion of darkness
Day equals Night 21 November
Man or man-horse with bow
Birth of Tammuz 21 December Tebet (Jan) Ea's goat fish Christmas - Burning of Yule(Yala) log.
- Decoration of Tammuz tree
Winter Solstice 19 January
God with water urn Ea?
Fish tails in canal
The Original Myth
At their first encounter, Ishtar is said to have fallen in love with the shepherd boy Tammuz who in turn asks for her hand in marriage. The Holy Marriage of Ishtar and Tammuz takes place and Tammuz is elevated to the god of fertility. As a result, their marriage endows the earth with fertility, and the cyclical renewal of life is ensured. 
But a terrible day was to come when Ishtar would lose her lover, and would have to travel to the ends of the earth, and endure much pain and suffering, in order to bring him back.
The myth tells how Tammuz is killed, during the same month that bears his name. In the burning days of late summer the people came to the fields, where Tammuz stood, and cruelly murdered him with sickles scattering his flesh over the land. When the Goddess Ishtar learned of the death of her beloved, she was distraught with grief. Weary and worn from weeping she knew that she must find the spirit of Tammuz and bring him back to life, whatever perils faced her.
Ishtar finally descends to the netherworld to rescue Tammuz from “land of no return.” During these events in the netherworld , everything on earth is withering away. Trees and plants wither and die and animals and humans alike are sterile.
When Ishtar pleads with the Gods to restore Tammuz to life, the Gods agree, but to a partial reprieve only; whereby Tammuz spends six months in the world of the living and the following six months in the netherworld . Hence Tammuz is restored to life in the netherworld and together with his lover Ishtar they triumphantly return to earth on the first day of spring and the start of the New Year in Beth Nahrain.
Over the centuries as the myth was passed from generation to generation the love story was further elaborated. The expanded version of the myth explains how Ishtar's husband Tammuz, who was also her son and her brother, came together with Ishtar in the world. She bore him, she made love with him and yet she remained a virgin.
After Tammuz was killed by a wild boar, Ishtar put ashes on her head and mourned for 40 days, giving up all pleasures and food. But then, she discovers that she is pregnant. She declares that it is a miraculous conception and in celebration of this miraculous pregnancy, this divine fertility, she has an egg of gold made, calling it the golden egg of Ishtar.
Ishtar searches for Tammuz all over the world. And finally finds him in the netherworld and eventually brings him back to life. Tammuz is resurrected and the vegetation again flourishes.
The Resurrection of Ishtar and Tammuz , also known as Easter (Ishtar), was not a new holiday. Before Christianity it was celebrated throughout the Roman Empire and is even mentioned in Acts 12:4 being celebrated by King Herod. “And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.”
Then ancient Babylonians also celebrated this event by colouring eggs and rabbits were used to symbolise fertility and the God Tammuz.
In ancient Babylon when Tammuz died, the followers of Ishtar joined her in mourning and proclaimed a forty day period of sorrow each year prior to the anniversary of the death of Tammuz. During this time, no meat was to be eaten. Thus the practice of mourning for the loss of the "son of god" was adopted by many for centuries thereafter. This act was later "Christianised" and given the name of Lent. Today Easter falls right after the observance of the forty days of Lent.
In Beth Nahrain, during the time of growth when the first rains after the long summer fell, the people also celebrated the festival known as the Holy Marriage of Ishtar and Tammuz - yearly at the autumn equinox - which brought the land fertility and growth yet again. Tammuz had returned from the netherworld and made love with Ishtar again. This time was also the second harvest, the harvest of the fruits, a time of winemaking and the slaughtering of animals in preparation for winter.
The Death of Tammuz also known as Noosardel (sprinkling water on the path of God) was another holiday celebrated with an early morning worship service in which the penitents face east as seen during Ezekiel's time (Ezekial 8:14) when the women wept for Ishtar's son. “Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord's house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.”
In each legend, Tammuz dies young and his birth is honoured on his birthday which coincided with the Winter Solstice. This was celebrated around December 21 st . Part of the religious ritual involved cutting down a young evergreen tree as a way of commemorating the premature death of Tammuz. Along with this the Babylonians would also burn a Yala (Yule) log, called "the log of the son.” It was burned in the fire to symbolise the death of Tammuz. The next day the evergreen tree would be decorated with silver and gold. The log that was burned was now alive again as the Tammuz tree. The Old Testament book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:3-4) also describes how the Birth of Tammuz was celebrated in ancient Babylon , "..for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax; They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not."
Conversion by Force
In 313AD, while battling to become the new emperor of Rome , Constantine claimed that he saw a burning cross in the sky, with the words, "in this sign, conquer." After emerging victorious from the battle he finally gave Christians freedom of worship throughout the Roman Empire .
It was not until 380 AD that Emperor Theodosius introduced legislation that affirmed the dogmas of the Council of Nicaea and made church membership compulsory. By 393AD, he had made Christianity the official and only state religion of the Roman Empire . He then undertook the forcible suppression of all other religions, and the prohibition of all forms of paganism.  Any who would dare to hold to any other form of worship were considered heretics and would suffer severe punishment from the state.
The people of Babylon who, at the time, practiced the Babylonian religion, its priests and its practices, were assimilated into the Christian church by force. With the Christian church no such festival as Christmas was ever heard of till the third century and it was not till the fourth century was far advanced that it gained much observance. The late-December holiday when they burned the Yala log and decorated the evergreen Tammuz tree was given the name Christmas, presumably to celebrate the birth of Christ. The autumn marriage feast celebrating the marriage of Tammuz and Ishtar was renamed by Emperor Constantine to the Feast of the Holy Cross. Ishtar the queen of heaven and her child became the Madonna and child. The spring holiday of the golden egg of Ishtar was called Easter, and given the meaning of observing the resurrection of Christ, not Tammuz.
According to ancient Babylonian myths and history, the resurrection, death, marriage and birth of Tammuz and Ishtar are ancient Babylonian holidays that have never left us. Hijacked by the Roman Empire and then “repackaged” as Christian holidays, they remain stark evidence of the depth and piety the ancient people of Beth Nahrain once held for their ancient Gods.
 Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, Donald A. Mackenzie, pp 305-325
 Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol 18, p.926.
[Author's Note: On this occasion I would like to wish all our people in Iraq , and around the world, a Happy Ishtar holiday. Let's all pray that our homeland, symbolised by our God Tammuz, will one day be resurrected and return from its current state in the netherworld. The Ishtar holiday is today more important than ever as it gives the people of Iraq hope for a new beginning and a brighter future.]