Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The Queen of the Night

Posted by Fredsvenn on September 29, 2019

Character Mood GIF

The Queen of the Night (also known as the `Burney Relief’) is a high relief terracotta plaque of baked clay depicting a naked winged woman flanked by owls and standing on the backs of two lions. It originated in southern Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) most probably in Babylonia, during the reign of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE).

Not only is the woman winged but her legs taper to bird talons (which seem to grip the lion’s backs) and she is shown with a dew claw on her calves. Who the winged woman is, however, has not been agreed upon though scholars generally believe her to be either Inanna (Ishtar), Lilith, or Ereshkigal.

Inanna

Inanna-Ishtar’s most famous myth is the story of her descent into and return from Kur, the ancient Sumerian Underworld, a myth in which she attempts to conquer the domain of her older sister Ereshkigal, the queen of the Underworld, but is instead deemed guilty of hubris by the seven judges of the Underworld and struck dead.

Three days later, Ninshubur pleads with all the gods to bring Inanna back, but all of them refuse her except Enki, who sends two sexless beings to rescue Inanna. They escort Inanna out of the Underworld, but the galla, the guardians of the Underworld, drag her husband Dumuzid down to the Underworld as her replacement. Dumuzid is eventually permitted to return to heaven for half the year while his sister Geshtinanna remains in the Underworld for the other half, resulting in the cycle of the seasons.

Inanna was known as the “Queen of Heaven” and was the patron goddess of the Eanna temple at the city of Uruk, which was her main cult center. She was associated with the planet Venus and her most prominent symbols included the lion and the eight-pointed star. Her husband was the god Dumuzid (later known as Tammuz) and her sukkal, or personal attendant, was the goddess Ninshubur (who later became the male deity Papsukkal).

Inanna-Ishtar is alluded to in the Hebrew Bible and she greatly influenced the Phoenician goddess Astoreth, who later influenced the development of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Her cult continued to flourish until its gradual decline between the first and sixth centuries AD in the wake of Christianity, though it survived in parts of Upper Mesopotamia as late as the eighteenth century.

Early Christians in the Middle East assimilated elements of Ishtar into the cult of the Virgin Mary. During the sixth century AD, some early Christians in the Middle East borrowed elements from poems of Ishtar mourning over the death of Tammuz into their own retellings of the Virgin Mary mourning over the death of her son Jesus.

The Syrian writers Jacob of Serugh and Romanos the Melodist both wrote laments in which the Virgin Mary describes her compassion for her son at the foot of the cross in deeply personal terms closely resembling Ishtar’s laments over the death of Tammuz.

The Church Father Jerome records in a letter dated to the year 395 AD that “Bethlehem… belonging now to us… was overshadowed by a grove of Tammuz, that is to say, Adonis, and in the cave where once the infant Christ cried, the lover of Venus was lamented.” This same cave later became the site of the Church of the Nativity.

Alongside her twin brother Utu, later worshipped by East Semitic peoples as Shamash, the ancient Mesopotamian god of the sun, justice, morality, and truth, Inanna was the enforcer of divine justice. In Sumerian texts, Inanna and Utu are shown as extremely close; in fact, their relationship frequently borders on incestuous.

Anu or An is the divine personification of the sky, supreme god, and ancestor of all the deities in ancient Mesopotamian religion. Anu was believed to be the supreme source of all authority, for the other gods and for all mortal rulers, and he is described in one text as the one “who contains the entire universe”.

He is identified with the north ecliptic pole centered in the constellation Draco and, along with his sons Enlil and Enki, constitutes the highest divine triad personifying the three bands of constellations of the vault of the sky.

By the time of the earliest written records, Anu was rarely worshipped, and veneration was instead devoted to his son Enlil, but, throughout Mesopotamian history, the highest deity in the pantheon was always said to possess the anûtu, meaning “Heavenly power”.

Anu’s primary role in myths is as the ancestor of the Anunnaki, the major deities of Sumerian religion. His primary cult center was the Eanna temple in the city of Uruk, but, by the Akkadian Period (c. 2334 – 2154 BC), his authority in Uruk had largely been ceded to the goddess Inanna, the Queen of Heaven.

Anu’s consort in the earliest Sumerian texts is the goddess Uraš, but she is later the goddess Ki and, in Akkadian texts, the goddess Antu, whose name is a feminine form of Anu. Anu briefly appears in the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, in which his daughter Ishtar (the East Semitic equivalent to Inanna) persuades him to give her the Bull of Heaven so that she may send it to attack Gilgamesh.

In ancient Hittite religion, Anu is a former ruler of the gods, who was overthrown by his son Kumarbi, who bit off his father’s genitals and gave birth to the storm god Teshub. Teshub overthrew Kumarbi, avenged Anu’s mutilation, and became the new king of the gods. This story was the later basis for the castration of Ouranos in Hesiod’s Theogony.

Ishara

Ishara is an ancient deity of unknown origin from northern modern Syria. It is a pre-Hurrian and perhaps pre-Semitic deity, later incorporated into the Hurrian pantheon. She first appeared in Ebla and was incorporated into the Hurrian pantheon, from which she found her way to the Hittite pantheon. Ishara is the Hittite word for “treaty, binding promise”, also personified as a goddess of the oath.

The etymology of Ishara is unknown. Variants of the name appear as Ašḫara (in a treaty of Naram-Sin of Akkad with Hita of Elam) and Ušḫara (in Ugarite texts). In Ebla, there were various logographic spellings involving the sign AMA “mother”. In Alalah, her name was written with the Akkadogram IŠTAR plus a phonetic complement -ra, as IŠTAR-ra.

In Hurrian and Semitic traditions, Išḫara is a love goddess, often identified with Ishtar. Her main epithet was belet rame, lady of love, which was also applied to Ishtar. In the Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet II, col. v.28) it says: ‘For Ishara the bed is made’ and in Atra-hasis (I 301-304) she is called upon to bless the couple on the honeymoon.”

She was associated with the underworld. Her astrological embodiment is the constellation Scorpio and she is called the mother of the Sebitti (the Seven Stars). While she was considered to belong to the entourage of Ishtar, she was invoked to heal the sick.

As a goddess, Ishara could inflict severe bodily penalties on oathbreakers. In this context, she came to be seen as a “goddess of medicine” whose pity was invoked in case of illness. There was even a verb, isharis- “to be afflicted by the illness of Ishara”.

Hausos

Hausos is the reconstructed name for the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn. Derivatives of this goddess, found throughout various Indo-European mythologies, include the Greek goddess Eos, the Roman goddess Aurōra, the Vedic goddess Uṣás, the Lithuanian goddess Aušrinė (cf. Lith. aušrà “dawn”), and possibly also the (West) Germanic goddess *Austrǭ (Old English Ēostre, Old High German *Ōstara).

The Dawn Goddess is hypothesised to have been one of the most important deities to the Proto-Indo-Europeans, due to the consistency of her characterisation as well as the relevance of Ushas in the Rig Veda. Her attributes have not only been mixed with those of solar goddesses in some later traditions, but have subsequently expanded and influenced female deities in other mythologies.

The Dawn Goddess was associated with weaving, a behaviour sometimes used as a metaphor for the generative properties of sunlight. This characteristic is normally seen in solar goddesses and it might indicate a large amount of syncretism between dawn and solar deities. Due to the dawn heralding the sun and inducing the daily routine, the Dawn Goddess is associated with instilling the cosmic order. Ushas is the arouser of Ṛta, while the role of Aušrinė as the maid of the sun renders her a moral example in Lithuanian traditions and helped her syncretism with the Virgin Mary.

The Dawn Goddess is thought to have been envisioned as the daughter of Dyeus. This is partially reflected in Vedic mythology, where Ushas is the daughter of Dyaus Pita, though in some other Indo-European derivations this is not the case (Eos is a titan daughter of Hyperion and Theia while Aušrinė is the daughter of Saulė and Mėnulis; even Ushas is inversely sometimes considered the daughter of Surya), though nonetheless the epithet “daughter of heaven” remains in nearly all Indo-European mythologies. This reflects her status as a relevant goddess as well as a celestial deity.

She is also envisioned as the sister of the Divine Twins, with Ushas still maintaining this relation to the Ashvins. Although the “marriage drama” myth (in which one or both of the Divine Twins compete for the hand of a woman in marriage) is usually linked to the sun goddess rather than the dawn goddess, there is a possible degree of syncretism in this regard, particularly as the Baltic Aušrinė is in a similar marriage drama situation, albeit in relation to her father and her mother.

Sherida – Aya

Aya (also called A-a or Aja) in Akkadian mythology was a mother goddess, consort of the sun god Shamash. She developed from the Sumerian goddess Sherida, consort of Utu. History Sherida is one of the oldest Mesopotamian gods, attested in inscriptions from pre-Sargonic times, her name (as “Aya”) was a popular personal name during the Ur III period (21st-20th century BCE), making her among the oldest Semitic deities known in the region.

As the Sumerian pantheon formalized, Utu became the primary sun god, and Sherida was syncretized into a subordinate role as an aspect of the sun alongside other less powerful solar deities (c.f. Ninurta) and took on the role of Utu’s consort. When the Semitic Akkadians moved into Mesopotamia, their pantheon became syncretized to the Sumerian. Inanna to Ishtar, Nanna to Sin, Utu to Shamash, etc.

The minor Mesopotamian sun goddess Aya became syncretized into Sherida during this process. The goddess Aya in this aspect appears to have had wide currency among Semitic peoples, as she is mentioned in god-lists in Ugarit and shows up in personal names in the Bible (Gen 36:24, 2 Sam 3:7, 1 Chr 7:28).

In myth Aya is Akkadian for “dawn”, and by the Akkadian period she was firmly associated with the rising sun and with sexual love and youth. The Babylonians sometimes referred to her as kallatu (the bride), and as such she was known as the wife of Shamash. In fact, she was worshiped as part of a separate-but-attached cult in Shamash’s e-babbar temples in Larsa and Sippar.

By the Neo-Babylonian period at the latest (and possibly much earlier), Shamash and Aya were associated with a practice known as Hasadu, which is loosely translated as a “sacred marriage.” A room would be set aside with a bed, and on certain occasions the temple statues of Shamash and Aya would be brought together and laid on the bed to ceremonially renew their vows. This ceremony was also practiced by the cults of Marduk with Sarpanitum, Nabu with Tashmetum, and Anu with Antu.

Anat

Anat, classically Anath, is a major northwest Semitic goddess. ‘Anat’s titles used again and again are “virgin ‘Anat” and “sister-in-law of the peoples” (or “progenitress of the peoples” or “sister-in-law, widow of the Li’mites”).

In the Ugaritic Baal Cycle, ‘Anat is a violent war-goddess, a maiden (btlt ‘nt) who is the sister and, according to a much disputed theory, the lover of the great god Ba‘al Hadad. Ba‘al is usually called the son of Dagan and sometimes the son of El, who addresses ‘Anat as “daughter”.

In a fragmentary passage from Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra), Syria ‘Anat appears as a fierce, wild and furious warrior in a battle, wading knee-deep in blood, striking off heads, cutting off hands, binding the heads to her torso and the hands in her sash, driving out the old men and townsfolk with her arrows, her heart filled with joy. Her character in this passage anticipates her subsequent warlike role against the enemies of Baal.

In Akkadian, the form one would expect Anat to take would be Antu, earlier Antum. This would also be the normal feminine form that would be taken by Anu, the Akkadian form of An ‘Sky’, the Sumerian god of heaven. Antu appears in Akkadian texts mostly as a rather colorless consort of Anu, the mother of Ishtar in the Gilgamesh story, but is also identified with the northwest Semitic goddess ‘Anat of essentially the same name.

It is unknown whether this is an equation of two originally separate goddesses whose names happened to fall together or whether Anat’s cult spread to Mesopotamia, where she came to be worshipped as Anu’s spouse because the Mesopotamian form of her name suggested she was a counterpart to Anu.

It has also been suggested that the parallelism between the names of the Sumerian goddess, Inanna, and her West Semitic counterpart, Ishtar, continued in Canaanite tradition as Anath and Astarte, particularly in the poetry of Ugarit.

The two goddesses were invariably linked in Ugaritic scripture and are also known to have formed a triad (known from sculpture) with a third goddess who was given the name/title of Qadesh (meaning “the holy one”).

Anat first appears in Egypt in the 16th dynasty (the Hyksos period) along with other northwest Semitic deities. She was especially worshiped in her aspect of a war goddess, often paired with the goddess `Ashtart. In the Contest Between Horus and Set, these two goddesses appear as daughters of Re and are given as allies to the god Set, who had been identified with the Semitic god Hadad.

On inscriptions from Memphis of 15th to 12th centuries BCE, Anat is called “Bin-Ptah”, Daughter of Ptah. She is associated with Reshpu (Canaanite: Resheph) in some texts and sometimes identified with the native Egyptian goddess Neith. She is sometimes called “Queen of Heaven”.

The Greek goddess Athêna Sôteira Nikê is equated with ‘Anat (who is described in the inscription as the strength of life : l‘uzza hayim). In ancient Greek religion, Nike (“Victory”) was a goddess who personified victory. Her Roman equivalent was Victoria.

Anat is also presumably the goddess whom Sanchuniathon calls Athene, a daughter of El, mother unnamed, who with Hermes (that is Thoth) counselled El on the making of a sickle and a spear of iron, presumably to use against his father Uranus. However, in the Baal cycle, that rôle is assigned to Asherah / ‘Elat and ‘Anat is there called the “Virgin.”

Minerva

Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare and the sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. She was the virgin goddess of music, poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, and the crafts.

Minerva is often depicted with her sacred creature, an owl usually named as the “owl of Minerva”, which symbolised her association with wisdom and knowledge as well as, less frequently, the snake and the olive tree.

Following the Greek myths around Athena, she was born of Metis, who had been swallowed by Jupiter, and burst from her father’s head, fully armed and clad in armor.

Jupiter forcibly impregnated the titaness Metis, which resulted in her attempting to change shape (or shapeshift) to escape him. Jupiter then recalled the prophecy that his own child would overthrow him as he had Saturn, and in turn, Saturn had Caelus.

Fearing that their child would be male, and would grow stronger than he was and rule the Heavens in his place, Jupiter swallowed Metis whole after tricking her into turning herself into a fly. The titaness gave birth to Minerva and forged weapons and armor for her child while within Jupiter’s body.

In some versions of the story, Metis continued to live inside of Jupiter’s mind as the source of his wisdom. Others say she was simply a vessel for the birth of Minerva. The constant pounding and ringing left Jupiter with agonizing pain. To relieve the pain, Vulcan used a hammer to split Jupiter’s head and, from the cleft, Minerva emerged, whole, adult, and in full battle armor.

Athena

From the second century BC onward, the Romans equated Minerva with the Greek goddess Athena, often given the epithet Pallas, an ancient Greek goddess associated with wisdom, handicraft, and warfare, though the Romans did not stress her relation to battle and warfare as the Greeks did. In early times, Athena was either an owl herself or a bird goddess in general.

Athena was regarded as the patron and protectress of various cities across Greece, particularly the city of Athens, from which she most likely received her name. She is usually shown in art wearing a helmet and holding a spear.

Her major symbols include owls, olive trees, snakes, and the Gorgoneion. Athena’s birth from the head of Zeus may be derived from the earlier Sumerian myth of Inanna’s descent into and return from the Underworld.

It is generally agreed that the cult of Athena preserves some aspects of the Proto-Indo-European transfunctional goddess. The cult of Athena may have also been influenced by those of Near Eastern warrior goddesses such as the East Semitic Ishtar (Sumerian Inanna) and the Ugaritic Anat, both of whom were often portrayed bearing arms.

Classical scholar Charles Penglase notes that Athena closely resembles Inanna, an ancient Mesopotamian goddess associated with love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, justice, and political power, later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians under the name Ishtar, in her role as a “terrifying warrior goddess” and that both goddesses were closely linked with creation.

Neith

Plato notes that the citizens of Sais in Egypt worshipped a goddess known as Neith (a borrowing of the Demotic form Ancient Egyptian: nt, likely originally nrt “she is the terrifying one”; also spelled Nit, Net, or Neit) whom he identifies with Athena. Having no known husband she has been described as “Virgin Mother Goddess”:

Neith was the ancient Egyptian goddess of war and hunting, who was also associated with weaving; her worship began during the Egyptian Pre-Dynastic period. She was an early ancient Egyptian deity who was said to be the first and the prime creator.

The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC) noted that the Egyptian citizens of Sais in Egypt worshipped Neith and that they identified her with Athena. The Timaeus, a dialogue written by Plato, mirrors that identification with Athena, possibly as a result of the identification of both goddesses with war and weaving.

As the goddess of creation and weaving, she was said to reweave the world on her loom daily. An interior wall of the temple at Esna records an account of creation in which Neith brings forth from the primeval waters of the Nun the first land. All that she conceived in her heart comes into being, including the thirty deities.

Nu (also Nenu, Nunu, Nun), feminine Naunet (also Nunut, Nuit, Nent, Nunet), is the deification of the primordial watery abyss in the Hermopolitan Ogdoad cosmogony of ancient Egyptian religion.

The name is paralleled with nen “inactivity” in a play of words in, “I raised them up from out of the watery mass [nu], out of inactivity [nen]”. The name has also been compared to the Coptic noun “abyss; deep”.

Neith’s symbol and part of her hieroglyph also bore a resemblance to a loom, and so in later syncretisation of Egyptian myths by the Greek ruling class, she also became goddess of weaving. At this time her role as a creator conflated with that of Athena, as a deity who wove all of the world and existence into being on her loom.

She was said to be the creator of the universe and all it contains, and she governs how it functions. She was the goddess of wisdom, weaving, the cosmos, mothers, rivers, water, childbirth, hunting, war, and fate.

Ereshkigal 

In Mesopotamian mythology, Ereshkigal (DEREŠ.KI.GAL, lit. “Queen of the Great Earth”) was the goddess of Kur, the land of the dead or underworld in Sumerian mythology. In later East Semitic myths, she was said to rule Irkalla alongside her husband Nergal, who over time Nergal developed from a war god to a god of the underworld.

Sometimes her name is given as Irkalla, similar to the way the name Hades was used in Greek mythology for both the underworld and its ruler, and sometimes it is given as Ninkigal, lit. “Lady of the Great Earth”. She is the older sister of the goddess, Inanna. Inanna and Ereshkigal represent polar opposites. Inanna is the Queen of Heaven, but Ereshkigal is the queen of Irkalla.

Nergal

In the late Babylonian astral-theological system Nergal is related to the planet Mars. As a fiery god of destruction and war, Nergal doubtless seemed an appropriate choice for the red planet, and he was equated by the Greeks to the war-god Ares (Latin Mars)—hence the current name of the planet.

Amongst the Hurrians and later Hittites Nergal was known as Aplu, a name derived from the Akkadian Apal Enlil, (Apal being the construct state of Aplu) meaning “the son of Enlil”. Aplu may be related with Apaliunas who is considered to be the Hittite reflex of *Apeljōn, an early form of the name Apollo.

Enlil and Ninlil

In Sumerian religion, Ninlil (DNIN.LÍL”lady of the open field” or “Lady of the Wind”), also called Sud, in Assyrian called Mulliltu, is the consort goddess of Enlil. She lived in Dilmun with her family.

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 An and Antu (Sumerian Ki). Other sources call her a daughter of Anu and Nammu.

Impregnated by her husband Enlil, who lie with her by the water, she conceived a boy, Nanna/Suen, the future moon god. As punishment Enlil was dispatched to the underworld kingdom of Ereshkigal, where Ninlil joined him.

The myth of Enlil and Ninlil is about Enlil’s serial seduction of the goddess Ninlil in various guises, resulting in the conception of the moon-god Nanna and the Underworld deities Nergal, Ninazu, and Enbilulu. In some texts Ninlil is also the mother of Ninurta.

Enlil impregnated her disguised as the gatekeeper, where upon she gave birth to their son Nergal, god of death. In a similar manner she conceived the underworld god Ninazu when Enlil impregnated her disguised as the man of the river of the nether world, a man-devouring river.

Later Enlil disguised himself as the man of the boat, impregnating her with a fourth deity Enbilulu, god of rivers and canals. All of these act as substitutes for Nanna/Suen to ascend.

Enlil’s name comes from ancient Sumerian EN, meaning “lord” and LÍL meaning “wind”. His name therefore literally translates as “Lord Wind”. Enlil’s name is not a genitive construction, indicating that Enlil was seen as the personification of the wind itself rather than merely the cause of wind.

Enlil, later known as Elil, is an ancient Mesopotamian god associated with wind, air, earth, and storms. He is first attested as the chief deity of the Sumerian pantheon, but he was later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Hurrians.

Enlil’s primary center of worship was the Ekur temple in the city of Nippur, which was believed to have been built by Enlil himself and was regarded as the “mooring-rope” of heaven and earth. He is also sometimes referred to in Sumerian texts as Nunamnir.

Nammu

Nammu is the goddess who “has given birth to the great gods”. It is she who has the idea of creating mankind, and she goes to wake up Enki, who is asleep in the Apsu, so that he may set the process going.

Nammu was the Goddess sea (Engur) that gave birth to An (heaven) and Ki (earth) and the first gods, representing the Apsu, the fresh water ocean that the Sumerians believed lay beneath the earth, the source of life-giving water and fertility in a country with almost no rainfall.

The Abzu or Apsu, also called engur (lit., ab=’water’ zu=’deep’), is the name for fresh water from underground aquifers which was given a religious fertilising quality in Sumerian and Akkadian mythology.

Lakes, springs, rivers, wells, and other sources of fresh water were thought to draw their water from the abzu. In this respect, in Sumerian and Akkadian mythology it referred to the primeval sea below the void space of the underworld (Kur) and the earth (Ma) above.

The Sumerian god Enki (Ea in the Akkadian language) was believed to have lived in the abzu since before human beings were created. His wife Damgalnuna, his mother Nammu, his advisor Isimud and a variety of subservient creatures, such as the gatekeeper Lahmu, also lived in the abzu.

Certain tanks of holy water in Babylonian and Assyrian temple courtyards were also called abzu (apsû). Typical in religious washing, these tanks were similar to Judaism’s mikvot, the washing pools of Islamic mosques, or the baptismal font in Christian churches.

Tiamat

In the religion of ancient Babylon, Tiamat is a primordial goddess of the salt sea, mating with Abzû, the god of fresh water, to produce younger gods. She is the symbol of the chaos of primordial creation. She is referred to as a woman, and described as the glistening one. Some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon.

It is suggested that there are two parts to the Tiamat mythos, the first in which Tiamat is a creator goddess, through a sacred marriage between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations. In the second Chaoskampf Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos.

In the Enûma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, she gives birth to the first generation of deities; her husband, Apsu, correctly assuming they are planning to kill him and usurp his throne, later makes war upon them and is killed.

Enraged, she, too, wars upon her husband’s murderers, taking on the form of a massive sea dragon, she is then slain by Enki’s son, the storm-god Marduk, but not before she had brought forth the monsters of the Mesopotamian pantheon, including the first dragons, whose bodies she filled with “poison instead of blood”. Marduk then forms the heavens and the Earth from her divided body.

Ninhursag

Although it is sometimes unclear which deities were considered members of the Anunnaki, the group probably included the “seven gods who decree”: Anu, Enlil, Enki, Ninhursag, Nanna (Moon), Utu (Sun), and Inanna (Venus).

Ninḫursaĝ, also known as Damgalnuna (great wife of the prince) or Damkina (true wife), the consort of the god Enki, was the ancient Sumerian mother goddess of the mountains, and one of the seven great deities of Sumer. She is principally a fertility goddess. 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. She had shrines in both Eridu and Kish.

Temple hymn sources identify her as the “true and great lady of heaven” (possibly in relation to her standing on the mountain) and kings of Sumer were “nourished by Ninhursag’s milk”. Frequently she carries a mace or baton surmounted by an omega motif or a derivation, sometimes accompanied by a lion cub on a leash.

Sometimes her hair is depicted in an omega shape and at times she wears a horned head-dress and tiered skirt, often with bow cases at her shoulders. The omega symbol is associated with the Egyptian cow goddess Hathor, and may represent a stylized womb. The symbol appears on very early imagery from Ancient Egypt. Hathor is at times depicted on a mountain, so it may be that the two goddesses are connected.

Enki and Ninhursag

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 where despite being a place where «the raven uttered no cries» and «the lion killed not, the wolf snatched not the lamb» there was no water. Enki heard the cries of its goddess, Ninsikil, and orders the sun-god Utu to bring fresh water from the Earth for Dilmun.

Dilmun was identified with Bahrain, whose name in Arabic means “two seas”, where the fresh waters of the Arabian aquifer mingle with the salt waters of the Persian Gulf. This mingling of waters was known in Sumerian as Nammu (also Namma, spelled ideographically dNAMMA = dENGUR), a primeval goddess, corresponding to Tiamat in Babylonian mythology, and was identified as the mother of Enki.

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. This seems also implicated in the epic of the hieros gamos or sacred marriage of Enki and Ninhursag (above), which seems an etiological myth of the fertilisation of the dry ground by the coming of irrigation water (from Sumerian a, ab, water or semen).

The early inscriptions of Urukagina in fact go so far as to suggest that the divine pair, Enki and Ninki, were the progenitors of seven pairs of gods, including Enki as god of Eridu, Enlil of Nippur, and Su’en (or Sin) of Ur, and were themselves the children of An (sky, heaven) and Ki (earth).

Hieros gamos or Hierogamy (“holy marriage”) is a sexual ritual that plays out a marriage between a god and a goddess, especially when enacted in a symbolic ritual where human participants represent the deities. The notion of hieros gamos does not always presuppose literal sexual intercourse in ritual, but is also used in purely symbolic or mythological context. Hieros gamos is described as the prototype of fertility rituals.

Enki, the Water-Lord then “caused to flow the ‘water of the heart” and having fertilised his consort Ninhursag, also known as Ki or Earth, after “Nine days being her nine months, the months of ‘womanhood’… like good butter, Nintu, the mother of the land, …like good butter, gave birth to Ninsar, (Lady Greenery)”.

When Ninhursag left him, as Water-Lord he came upon Ninsar (Lady Greenery). Not knowing her to be his daughter, and because she reminds him of his absent consort, Enki then seduces and has intercourse with her.

Ninsar then gave birth to Ninkurra (Lady Fruitfulness or Lady Pasture), and leaves Enki alone again. A second time, Enki, in his loneliness finds and seduces Ninkurra, and from the union Ninkurra gave birth to Uttu (weaver or spider, the weaver of the web of life).

A third time Enki succumbs to temptation, and attempts seduction of Uttu. Upset about Enki’s reputation, Uttu consults Ninhursag, who, upset at the promiscuous wayward nature of her spouse, advises Uttu to avoid the riverbanks, the places likely to be affected by flooding, the home of Enki.

In another version of this myth Ninhursag takes Enki’s semen from Uttu’s womb and plants it in the earth where eight plants rapidly germinate. With his two-faced servant and steward Isimud, “Enki, in the swampland, in the swampland lies stretched out, ‘What is this (plant), what is this (plant).’

His messenger Isimud, answers him; ‘My king, this is the tree-plant’, he says to him. He cuts it off for him and he (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; chagrined they “sit in the dust”. As Enki lacks a birth canal through 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 later given to the 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.

Lilith

Lilith is a figure in Jewish mythology, developed earliest in the Babylonian Talmud (3rd to 5th century CE). She is often envisioned as a dangerous demon of the night, who is sexually wanton, and who steals babies in the darkness.

Lilith may be linked in part to a historically earlier class of female demons (lilītu) in ancient Mesopotamian religion, found in cuneiform texts of Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, and Babylonia. In the Akkadian language of Assyria and Babylonia, the terms lili and līlītu mean spirits.

The Sumerian female demons lili have no etymological relation to Akkadian lilu, “evening”. Archibald Sayce (1882)considered that Hebrew lilit (or lilith) and the earlier Akkadian līlītu are from proto-Semitic.

Charles Fossey (1902) has this literally translating to “female night being/demon”, although cuneiform inscriptions from Mesopotamia exist where Līlīt and Līlītu refers to disease-bearing wind spirits.

Another possibility is association not with “night”, but with “wind”, thus identifying the Akkadian Lil-itu as a loan from the Sumerian lil “air” — specifically from Ninlil, “lady air”, goddess of the south wind (and wife of Enlil) — and itud, “moon”.

Samuel Noah Kramer (1932, published 1938) translated ki-sikil-lil-la-ke as Lilith in “Tablet XII” of the Epic of Gilgamesh dated c.600 BCE. “Tablet XII” is not part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, but is a later Assyrian Akkadian translation of the latter part of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. The ki-sikil-lil-la-ke is associated with a serpent and a zu bird.

In Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld, a huluppu tree grows in Inanna’s garden in Uruk, whose wood she plans to use to build a new throne. After ten years of growth, she comes to harvest it and finds a serpent living at its base, a Zu bird raising young in its crown, and that a ki-sikil-lil-la-ke made a house in its trunk.

Gilgamesh is said to have killed the snake, and then the zu bird flew away to the mountains with its young, while the ki-sikil-lil-la-ke fearfully destroys its house and runs for the forest. Identification of ki-sikil-lil-la-ke as Lilith is stated in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (1999).

According to a new source from Late Antiquity, Lilith appears in a Mandaic magic story where she is considered to represent the branches of a tree with other demonic figures that form other parts of the tree, though this may also include multiple “Liliths”.

Suggested translations for the Tablet XII spirit in the tree include ki-sikil as “sacred place”, lil as “spirit”, and lil-la-ke as “water spirit”. but also simply “owl”, given that the lil is building a home in the trunk of the tree. A connection between the Gilgamesh ki-sikil-lil-la-ke and the Jewish Lilith was rejected by Dietrich Opitz (1932) and rejected on textual grounds by Sergio Ribichini (1978).

Kramer’s translation of the Gilgamesh fragment was used by Henri Frankfort (1937) and Emil Kraeling (1937) to support identification of a woman with wings and bird-feet in the Burney Relief as related to Lilith, but this has been rejected by later sources, including the British Museum, which is in current possession of the piece.

The terracotta plaque depicts a beautiful, naked goddess-like sylph with bird-like features who stands atop two lions and between two owls. Although once believed to be the actual image of Lilith, it is now thought to possibly represent Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, beauty, war, and sexual desire.

The depiction of the nocturnal and predatory owls, however, have led many to believe the relief is an affirmation of Lilith’s role as a demon who flies about the underworld, delivering night terrors to those who sleep.

In Jewish folklore, from the Alphabet of Sirach (c. 700–1000 CE) onwards, Lilith appears as Adam’s first wife, who was created at the same time (Rosh Hashanah) and from the same clay 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 Aggadah, the Zohar, and Jewish mysticism. For example, in the 13th-century writings of 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.

In Hebrew-language texts, the term lilith or lilit (translated as “night creatures”, “night monster”, “night hag”, or “screech owl”) first occurs in a list of animals in Isaiah 34:14, either in singular or plural form according to variations in the earliest manuscripts.

In the Dead Sea Scrolls 4Q510-511, the term first occurs in a list of monsters. In Jewish magical inscriptions on bowls and amulets from the 6th century CE onwards, Lilith is identified as a female demon and the first visual depictions appear.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: