Before Inanna/Ishtar, the Goddess of Love and War, and Enheduanna´s writings, the most powerful image of the Divine Feminine in Mesopotamia was Ninhursag-Ki. She is the daughter of Nammu, the Goddess of the Primeval Sea, in whose womb She was conceived together with An, the Skyfather. She and Anu awoke to life in each other´s arms within the embrace Nammu the Sea (Creation Myth, South or Eridu Model). Samuel Noah Kramer (History Begins at Sumer, 1981) believes Her name was originally Ki, or Earth (land), thus in Her we have the Sumerian first mystical understanding and rationalisation for the Physical Reality as the Living Earth that enables all sorts of growth, and the Soul Counterpart to Anu. Ki is therefore first the sister-beloved of Anu, the Sky, and both within this context, or the Eridu Creation Model, the most ancient in Mesopotamia, are the parents of all the Great Gods, the Igigi and the Anunnaki. She is known by many names, such as Ninmah (the exalted Lady), Aruru (in the Epic of Gilgamesh). Nintur, Belet-ili, Mami, Fashioner of All, Mother of the Gods, Mother of all Children, etc.
As the Earth in bloom, Ki takes up the name of Ninhursag, who also presides over the stony hills and this is the reason why many scholars combine the two names as one, a choice I also have made my own. An explanation for the name Ninhursag is given in the myth Lugal-E, or the Exploits of Ninurta, when the young Farmer God turned into Warrior calls the Great Creatrix so for Lady of the Foothills or Lady of the Stony Ground.
Ninhursag-Ki is first mentioned in the Fara god-list. She had temples at Kish, Lagash and Tell Obeid. The Kish sanctuary is the subject of an Old Sumerian hymn (see The Temple Hymns), because it was the centre of the goddess´ cult from the Early Dynastic Period to the Old Babylonian Dynasty.
NINHURSAG-KI AS THE FIRST BELOVED OF THE GREAT GODS
We meet Ninhursag-Ki as the beloved of Anu first, when the first Divine Couple joined to conceive all the Great Gods, the Igigi and the Anunnaki. Then, when Earth (Ki) was separated from the Skies (Anu), we meet Her again in the introduction to the Dispute of Summer and Winter, where we are told that Enlil joined with the foothills (hursag) to engender Summer (Emesh) and Winter (Enten). As the consort of Enlil, She is the mother of Ninurta or Ningirsu. Ninurta, by the way, can be considered the favorite amongst Her children in myth, and the young god addresses Her with terms of endearment such as Ninmah, or August Lady. We need to point out that parallel to the tradition that places Ninhursag as the spouse of Enlil runs another more common one according to which She was his sister and Ninlil Enlil´s consort. I tend to prefer the latter.
Ninhursag´s most constant and creative partner, or better still, savy contender in myth is Enki/Ea, the God of the Fertilizing Waters of the Deep, Magick and all Crafts. Their relationship is passionate with lots of reciprocal happy banter, and somehow Enki almost always graciously defer to Ninhursag. Together, they form one of the most passionate, rich and interesting couples in Mesopotamian myth and religion, and their relationship clearly tells us of a time where gender and Sex balance was much more than scholarship allow us to see.
To better understand how Ninhursag and Enki relate to each other, it is important to take into account that our Soul Ancestors also saw Enki as the primeval conception of Form very much along the lines of the concept of archetypes, which can be described as the Idea or Mental Conception of all forms that may exist. Thus, Enki contains the Ideas of all There is, and as such He is the Magician and Transformer of all things and beings in Nature.
Ninhursag-ki, on the other hand, is the Earth Mother, in whose womb all precious things grow: from the Great Gods and Goddesses, metals, and beasts to all that blossoms. We can therefore understand Enki´s relationship to Ninhursag in the light of the oldest conception of alchemy, where the Goddess is the Living Earth or Prima Materia and that grows and transforms in combinations of all sorts, whereas Enki is Her Beloved Artisan, the Shaman, Magician and Priest. Theirs is fundamentally a universe where the Divine and the Human co-exist, where lovemaking and magick are fundamental ingredients, of times which are so old and immemorial like the tune of a favorite song we never tire to listen to. It is by Ninhursag´s and Enki´s art that humankind is created, as described in the myth of Enki and Ninmah, and it is in another delightful and passionate myth of Sumerian origin, Enki and Ninhursag in Dilmun, that we have many motifs which were later reversed in the Hebrew Genesis myth of the Old Testament Bible. But in Mesopotamia and Sumer in special, there was no idea of fall from grace, because humankind was created to be co-workers with the Great Gods in the makings of existence, giving birth was easy and painless instead of suffering and tears, and there is no expulsion in sight for gods in love in Dilmun, the Mesopotamian paradise and land of the living.
I have described Ninhursag-Ki as the holy body of the Skyfather´s Soul in very first days of the beginnings of existence. Likewise, She can be described as the Creative Principle and Precious Stone all shamans from time immemorial seek to find and with it everything to transform.
Thorkild Jacobsen says that Ninhursag means Productivity in his seminal work "The Treasures of Darkness". I particularly find Jacobsen´s choice restrictive, because Ninhursag as the Mistress of Creation and Life Fashioner is Herself the Lady of a Myriad Offices who preceded Inanna/Ishtar in the hearts and conciousness of our soul ancestors. The difficulty in terminology found in scholarship might be attributed to the fact that Ninhursag-Ki encompasses a worldview where:
a) the Divine Feminine is Untame without being Wild;
b) is Assertive in HerSelf, not male-dependent or male identified, and
c) responds in kind to the Masculine Principle by detaining and applying power in equal measure.
Firstly, Ninhursag-Ki is the Great Mother, in whose womb all the great gods, the Anunnaki and the Igigi, were conceived. As such, She is the Great Creatrix and the Mother of all the Living.
Secondly, Ninhursag-Ki as the Divine Feminine that is Untame without being Wild involves the goddess´ character as the Mother of the Wild Life. Within this framework, we have the myth of the Genesis of Eridu, the oldest settlement in South Mesopotamia, where Ninhursag is called Nintur and, mindful at humankind´s frailty, the Great Goddess sets up the foundation for the creation of sacred places, cities and the domestication of animals, which were all given to the Sumerians, or the dark-haired people, together with An, Enki and Enlil. It is also in this character that Ninhursag-Ki is called Aruru in the first Tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh, when the gods and the people come to Her for the coming of someone to match the young king of Uruk and teach him some humanity.
Thirdly, Ninhursag-Ki is the source of kingship, being the one who not only gives birth to kings, but also has the power to confer on them their insignia of office. In this capacity, She is known as the Lady of the Diadem. Under that name, Her office was to place the golden crown firmly on the head of the lord in the temple of Eanna in Uruk, according to an Old Babylonian investiture ritual (Jacobsen, Treasures of Darkness, pg. 109).
Personally, Ninhursag-Ki is one of my favorite Mesopotamian goddesses. This was meant to be, because She encompasses a vision of the Feminine that is primeval, whole and full of vitality. Indeed, it is Her image that will evolve to encompass later the Lover and the Beloved called Inanna/Ishtar,
1. Smith, Wilfred and Zur, G. (1979) The Phoenician Letters. Mowat Publishing, Manchester,
2. Eliade, Mircea (1978). The Forge and the Crucible, University of Chicago Press, Philadelphia.
3. Leick, Gwendolyn (1994). Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature, Routledge, New York.
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