The bull: Enlil (Bull of Heaven) – Nanna (Moon) – Ninurta (Saturn)
Posted by Fredsvenn on December 14, 2016
In Sumerian mythology and later for Assyrians and Babylonians, Anu was a sky-god, the god of heaven, lord of constellations, king of gods, spirits and demons, and dwelt in the highest heavenly regions. It was believed that he had the power to judge those who had committed crimes, and that he had created the stars as soldiers to destroy the wicked. He was the father of the Anunnaki. In art he was sometimes depicted as a jackal. His attribute was the royal tiara, most times decorated with two pairs of bull horns.
In Sumerian mythology, An was the god whose name was synonymous with the sun’s zenith, or heaven. He was the oldest god in the Sumerian pantheon, and part of a triad including Enlil, god of the sky and Enki, god of water. He was called Anu by the Akkadians, rulers of Mesopotamia after the conquest of Sumer in 2334 BCE by King Sargon of Akkad.
Enlil’s relation to An ‘Sky’, in theory the supreme god of the Sumerian pantheon, was somewhat like that of a Frankish mayor of the palace compared to the king, or that of a Japanese shogun compared to the emperor, or to a prime minister in a modern constitutional monarchy compared to the supposed monarch. While An was in name ruler in the highest heavens, it was Enlil who mostly did the actual ruling over the world.
As Enlil was the only god who could reach An, the god of heaven, he held sway over the other gods who were assigned tasks by his agent and would travel to Nippur to draw in his power. He is thus seen as the model for kingship. Enlil was assimilated to the north “Pole of the Ecliptic”. His sacred number name was 50, while the sacred number of An was 60. The sacred number of Enki was 40.
There is a clear association of Ziggurats with mountain houses. Mountain houses play a certain role in Mesopotamian mythology and Assyro-Babylonian religion, associated with deities such as Anu, Enlil, Enki and Ninhursag.
It is the assembly of the gods in the Garden of the gods, parallel in Greek mythology to Mount Olympus and was the most revered and sacred building of ancient Sumer. The fall of Ekur is described in the Lament for Ur.
In the Hymn to Enlil, the Ekur is closely linked to Enlil whilst in Enlil and Ninlil it is the abode of the Annanuki, from where Enlil is banished. In this myth Enlil was banished from Ekur in Nippur, home of the gods, to Kur, the underworld, for seducing a goddess named Ninlil. Ninlil followed him to the underworld where she bore his first child, the moon god Sin (Sumerian Nanna/Suen). After fathering three more underworld-deities (substitutes for Sin), Enlil was allowed to return to the Ekur.
The Descent of Inanna
The story shows some similarities to the text known as “The Descent of Inanna”. Inanna’s reason for visiting the underworld is unclear. The reason she gives to the gatekeeper of the underworld is that she wants to attend the funeral rites of Ereshkigal’s husband, here said to be Gud-gal-ana.
In early Mesopotamian art, the Bull of Heaven was closely associated with Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare. One of the oldest depictions shows the bull standing before the goddess’ standard; since it has 3 stars depicted on its back (the cuneiform sign for “star-constellation”), there is good reason to regard this as the constellation later known as Taurus.
In the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest works of literature, the goddess Inanna sends Taurus, the Bull of Heaven, to kill Gilgamesh for spurning her advances. However, Gugalanna, whose feet made the earth shake, was slain and dismembered by Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu. Inanna looked down from the city walls and Enkidu shook the haunches of the bull at her, threatening to do the same if he ever caught her. He is later killed for this impiety.
Gugalanna was the first husband of Ereshkigal, ruler of the Underworld, a gloomy place devoid of light. It was to share the sorrow with her sister that Inanna later descends to the Underworld. To further add to the confusion, Ereshkigal’s husband typically is the plague god, Nergal, who is said to have raped the goddess after the disappearance of Gugalana.
Some locate Gilgamesh as the neighboring constellation of Orion, facing Taurus as if in combat, while others identify him with the sun whose rising on the equinox vanquishes the constellation.
Ninlil – Lilith
In Sumerian religion, Ninlil (NIN.LÍL”lady of the open field” or “Lady of the Wind”), also called Sud, in Assyrian called Mulliltu, is the consort goddess of Enlil. Her parentage is variously described. Most commonly she is called the daughter of Haia (god of stores) and Nunbarsegunu (or Ninshebargunnu [a goddess of barley] or Nisaba). Another Akkadian source says she is the daughter of Anu (aka An) and Antu (Sumerian Ki). Other sources call her a daughter of Anu and Nammu.
However, after her death, she became the goddess of the wind, like Enlil. She may be the Goddess of the South Wind referred to in the story of Adapa, as her husband Enlil was associated with northerly winter storms. As “Lady Wind” she may be associated with the figure of the Akkadian demon “Lil-itu”, thought to have been the origin of the Hebrew Lilith legend.
In Jewish folklore, from the satirical book Alphabet of Ben Sira (ca 700–1000 CE) onwards, Lilith appears as Adam’s first wife, who was created at the same time (Rosh Hashanah) and from the same dirt as Adam – compare Genesis 1:27.
This contrasts with Eve, who was created from one of Adam’s ribs: Genesis 2:22) The legend developed extensively during the Middle Ages, in the tradition of Aggadic midrashim, the Zohar, and Jewish mysticism.
For example, in the 13th-century writings of Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob ha-Cohen, Lilith left Adam after she refused to become subservient to him and then would not return to the Garden of Eden after she had coupled with the archangel Samael. The resulting Lilith legend continues to serve as source material in modern Western culture, literature, occultism, fantasy, and horror.
Ninlil – Ninhursag
In a myth variously entitled by Samuel Noah Kramer as “The Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and later Ninurta Myth Lugal-e by Thorkild Jacobsen, Hursag is described as a mound of stones constructed by Ninurta after his defeat of a demon called Asag.
Ninurta’s mother Ninlil visits the location after this great victory. In return for her love and loyalty, Ninurta gives Ninlil the hursag as a gift. Her name is consequentially changed from Ninlil to Ninhursag or the “mistress of the Hursag”.
As the wife and consort of Enki, Ninhursag was referred to as Damgulanna (“Great wife of heaven”) or Damkina (“Faithful wife”). She had many epithets including shassuru or ‘womb goddess’, tabsut ili ‘midwife of the gods’, ‘mother of all children’ and ‘mother of the gods’. In this role she is identified with Ki in the Enuma Elish.
The cosmogenic myth common in Sumer was that of the hieros gamos, a sacred marriage where divine principles in the form of dualistic opposites came together as male and female to give birth to the cosmos.
In the epic Enki and Ninhursag, Enki, as lord of Ab or fresh water (also the Sumerian word for semen), is living with his wife in the paradise of Dilmun. The subsequent tale, with similarities to the Biblical story of the forbidden fruit, repeats the story of how fresh water brings life to a barren land.
In one version of this myth Ninhursag takes Enki’s semen from Uttu’s womb and plants it in the earth where eight plants rapidly germinate. However, Enki eats it, and so, despite warnings, Enki consumes the other seven fruit. Consuming his own semen, he falls pregnant (ill with swellings) in his jaw, his teeth, his mouth, his hip, his throat, his limbs, his side and his rib. The gods are at a loss to know what to do, chagrinned they “sit in the dust”.
As Enki lacks a womb with which to give birth, he seems to be dying with swellings. The fox then asks Enlil King of the Gods, “If I bring Ninhursag before thee, what shall be my reward?” Ninhursag’s sacred fox then fetches the goddess.
Ninhursag relents and takes Enki’s Ab (water, or semen) into her body, and gives birth to gods of healing of each part of the body. Abu for the Jaw, Nintul for the Hip, Ninsutu for the tooth, Ninkasi for the mouth, Dazimua for the side, Enshagag for the Limbs.
The last one, Ninti (Lady Rib), is also a pun on Lady Life, a title of Ninhursag herself. The story thus symbolically reflects the way in which life is brought forth through the addition of water to the land, and once it grows, water is required to bring plants to fruit. It also counsels balance and responsibility, nothing to excess.
Ninti, the title of Ninhursag, also means “the mother of all living”, and was a title given to the later Hurrian goddess Kheba. This is also the title given in the Bible to Eve, the Hebrew and Aramaic Ḥawwah, who was made from the rib of Adam, in a strange reflection of the Sumerian myth, in which Adam — not Enki — walks in the Garden of Paradise. Some scholars suggest that this served as the basis for the story of Eve created from Adam’s rib in the Book of Genesis.
Enkidu (EN.KI.DU, “Enki’s creation”) is a central figure in the Ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. Enkidu was formed from clay and saliva by Aruru, the goddess of creation, to rid Gilgamesh of his arrogance.
In the story he is a wild man, raised by animals and ignorant of human society until he is bedded by Shamhat. Thereafter a series of interactions with humans and human ways bring him closer to civilization, culminating in a wrestling match with Gilgamesh, king of Uruk.
Enkidu embodies the wild or natural world. Though equal to Gilgamesh in strength and bearing, he acts in some ways as an antithesis to the cultured, urban-bred warrior-king. Enkidu then becomes the king’s constant companion and deeply beloved friend, accompanying him on adventures until he is stricken with illness and dies. The deep, tragic loss of Enkidu profoundly inspires in Gilgamesh a quest to escape death by obtaining godly immortality.
Ilabrat in Assyrian, Babylonian and Akkadian mythology is the attendant and vizier of the chief sky god Anu, and part of his entourage. Ilabrat appears on the tablets of the legend of “Adapa and the food of life” which seems to explain the origin of death.
Mesopotamian myth tells of seven antediluvian sages (apkallu), who were sent by Ea, the wise god of Eridu, to bring the arts of civilisation to humankind. The story is first attested in the Kassite period (14th century BC), in fragmentary tablets from Tell el-Amarna, and from Assur, of the late second millennium BC.
The sages are described in Mesopotamian literature as ‘pure parādu-fish, probably carp, whose bones are found associated with the earliest shrine, and still kept as a holy duty in the precincts of Near Eastern mosques and monasteries. Adapa as a fisherman was iconographically portrayed as a fish-man composite.
The first of these, Adapa, also known as Uan, the name given as Oannes by Berossus, introduced the practice of the correct rites of religious observance as priest of the E’Apsu temple, at Eridu. Adapa, who has earned wisdom, but not eternal life, is a son of, and temple priest for Ea (Enki) in Eridu, and performs rituals with bread and water.
While Adapa is fishing in a calm sea, suddenly the South Wind rises up and overturns his boat, throwing him into the water. This reference to the ‘South Wind’ may refer to Ninlil, wife of Enlil, who was identified as goddess of the South Wind.
Adapa is enraged, and proceeds to break the ‘wings’ of the South Wind, so for seven days she can not blow the freshness of the sea on the warm earth. Anu called his vizier Ilabrat messenger: Why has not the wind blowing south for seven days? Ilabrat his vizier replied: “My lord, Adapa, son of Ea, has broken the wings of the south wind.”
Adapa is summoned before the court of Anu in the heavens, and his father Ea advises him not to eat or drink anything placed before him, because he fears that this will be the food and water of death. Anu however, is impressed with Adapa and instead offers him the food and water of (eternal) life. However, Adapa follows the advice of Ea, and politely refuses to take any food or drink. According to the tablets, this food and water of life offered by Anu would have made Adapa and his descendants immortal.
Nanna is a Sumerian deity, the son of Enlil and Ninlil, and became identified with Semitic Sin. Sin had a beard made of lapis lazuli and rode on a winged bull. The bull was one of his symbols, through his father, Enlil, “Bull of Heaven”, along with the crescent and the tripod (which may be a lamp-stand). On cylinder seals, he is represented as an old man with a flowing beard and the crescent symbol.
He is commonly designated as En-zu, which means “lord of wisdom”. During the period (c.2600-2400 BC) that Ur exercised a large measure of supremacy over the Euphrates valley, Sin was naturally regarded as the head of the pantheon. The tendency to centralize the powers of the universe leads to the establishment of the doctrine of a triad consisting of Sin/Nanna and his children.
His wife was Ningal (“Great Lady”), who bore him the sun god Utu/Shamash (“Sun”), the storm and thunder god Ishkur, Ereshkigal, and Inanna/Ishtar (the goddess of the planet Venus). Inanna and Ereshkigal represent polar opposites. Inanna is the Queen of Heaven, but Ereshkigal is the queen of Irkalla, the Underworld.
It is to this period that we must trace such designations of Sin as “father of the gods”, “chief of the gods”, “creator of all things”, and the like. The “wisdom” personified by the moon-god is likewise an expression of the science of astronomy or the practice of astrology, in which the observation of the moon’s phases is an important factor.
In the astral-theological system he is represented by the number 30 and the moon. This number probably refers to the average number of days (correctly around 29.53) in a lunar month, as measured between successive new moons. The sacred number of the sun god Utu-Shamash was 20, Inanna-Ishtar (Venus) 15, Nabu (Mercury) 12, Marduk (Jupiter) 10, Nergal (Mars) 8, Ninib, Adad or Ninurta (Saturn) 4.
Ninurta is a son of Enlil and Ninlil, along with Nanna and Nergal. In Assyro-Babylonian ecclesiastical art the great lion-headed colossi serving as guardians to the temples and palaces seem to symbolise Nergal, just as the bull-headed colossi probably typify Ninurta.
In the astral-theological system Ninurta was associated with the planet Saturn, or perhaps as offspring or an aspect of Saturn. In his capacity as a farmer-god, there are similarities between Ninurta and the Greek Titan Kronos, whom the Romans in turn identified with their Titan Saturn.
In the late neo-Babylonian and early Persian period, syncretism seems to have fused Ninurta’s character with that of Nergal. The two gods were often invoked together, and spoken of as if they were one divinity.