Enki and Ninhursag are two of the most passionate and interesting divine couples in Mesopotamian mythology and religion, and the protagonists of myths, which are true delight. To better understand the depth of their relationship, it is first necessary to introduce the elements that define them, water and earth. Enki is the god of the Sweet Waters from the Abzu, or the sacred moisture that comes from within the earth, and that is the source of life to plants and all sorts of vegetation, ponds, lakes and rivers. He is also the god of Wisdom, the Magician and Master of all Crafts, the son of Anu, the Skyfather, and Nammu, the Waters of the Sea that give birth to everything there is and twin brother of Ereshkigal, the Great Goddess of the Underworld.
Because of Enkiīs watery, changing nature, many scholars say He is also the Mesopotamian trickster. I will strongly disagree with this statement, and turn to "The Phoenician Letters" (1), for a brilliant definition of Enkiīs changing nature:
"Consider water in its many states, mist, cloud, rain, hailstones, snow, ice, streams, rivers, seas. The one thing that is the same in all states is susceptibility to change, it is the nature of water to change. Put it into a skin and fills the skin into a pot, it takes the shape of the pot, into air, mist and cloud, snow and ice, into earth, streams and rivers. Even so it is water." (page 61).
Enki is also the pure idea of the form, or the archetypal god. Again, we turn to "The Phoenician Letters", because He is the god from.
"... the one form many arise. So that from a basic form of table, all the possible forms of table in course of time will appear" (page 62). In other words, he is the idea of form, the perfect mental conception upon which all deriving forms are based.
Combining these two definitions in one, Enki is the God of all primeval conception of Form, or Archetypes, in its wholeness and completion, for He contains the Ideas of all There is. As such, He is also 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 to all that blossoms. She is the Eternal Beloved first of Anu, the Skyfather, from the beginning of existence in the embrace of Mother Nammu, the Sea, and then suffered the separation of her Beloved Anu due to the growth of their firstborn, Enlil, Lord Air. Ninhursag-Ki is also the fecund Earth, and as such the subject we will deal with tonight is more precisely the alchemical relationship of the Goddess as the Prima Materia, the living Spirit that grows and transforms in combinations of all sorts and Her Beloved Artisan, the Shaman, Magician and Priest, symbolized by Enki.
Historically, we know from sacred scrolls that kingship descended directly to Eridu from the heavens, and Eridu, in the Southern marshes of Sumer close to the Persian Gulf is the city dedicated to Enki, who built over there his temple, the E-engurra. Now, I would like to time travel with you to those ancient times in order to try and understand the seed of history embedded in the mighty figures of these two gods, because in the ancient minds history, myth and religion danced and play. Why so? Because the universe was seen as a whole, and there was no separation between what we now call the Physical World and the Worlds of the Spirit. Indeed, the Spiritual World animated the Physical Reality, and it is our own spiritual and mental impoverishment that separates into categories and labels what has always belonged together, Matter and Spirit as an indivisible whole.
Think of a time before all befores when an individual started asking him/herself about the origins of life, and to understand its meaning, based the coming to terms with facts into a metaphor that involved fundamentally what was important to the local community that was developing around him/her. Specifically in Eridu, life came from the fertile waters, and from these waters vegetation and animal life found sustenance and growth. Reeds, for example, born and nurtured by the marshes, provided hiding places for beasts and plenty of hunt for humankind, and were also used to manufacture the first baskets and dwelling places, as well as temples. Think of the musings that took place perhaps more often in the long cool or hot nights under the starry skies, and transfer these images to the personal sphere: the Earth was feminine and Goddess, because simply women gave birth and as such preserved the future of the community before men considered their own role in reproduction. But men were also called to work in nature, and did so by transformation of the external elements, by protecting their home grounds and expanding them when needed be.
But there is much more to this reality. I would like you to dive into a world where all that lived and existed was fundamentally conceived with the passion of elements and beings, how they related to each other, combined, mated, and died, i.e. I am referring to life as a cosmic reality grounded on physical principles, or the beginnings of alchemy as a physical and spiritual discipline, based on what Mircea Eliade, the famous historian of religions, called the mythologies of traditions where the world was sexualized in a sacred manner, where the Earth was the Terra Mater or Petra Generatrix (2). However, Eliade does not trace back these facts to the beginnings of Mesopotamian thought and Sumer, and this is thread I will be following now, in the hope to further our understanding of our soul ancestors.
In this sacred world that was starting to make sense of itself, it is to the mighty and charming figures of Enki and Ninhursag we should first and foremost turn to. To attempt to understand their mystery is no easy task for us today, because we must forget moral and rational hang-ups and penetrate in a worldview where life is a cosmic phenomenon that is realized in the flesh of all that breathes and lives, where sex is sacred, and where fundamentally the descent of generations of human beings has its equivalents in the sphere of divine beings and the forces of nature. Nature, which is and reflects the gods, and nature whose workings are done by us, human beings, and carried out in the name of the gods.
This is why I started my exploration of Enki and Ninhursag not with the wealth of myths that involve both of them. What I am trying to establish is the necessary background to explore a world where creation does not proceed out of nothing, but of some prima materia (the Earth, or Ninhursag-Ki) who was seeded and become through lovemaking a process of division and subdivision, in a dynamics that never ends (3) Later, the Earth received the love and workings of Her shaman, beloved and worshipper, who in Mesopotamia is called Enki or Ea, of Babylonian and later Assyrian glory. In historical terms, he will be known as the priest-king, the moral authority of the community, the one who rules by wisdom and faith, the spiritual foundation that gives sustenance to material power. This is why kingship came from the heavens to Eridu and later was grounded in Enlilīs main city, Nippur.
My own experience of Enki and Ninhursag-Ki is exactly passion, lust and charm. Enki is my personal god, and together with Inanna they form the Vision of the Transcendent Masculine and Feminine that speak more closely to my soul. Both gods are the most popular in the Mesopotamian pantheon, but are paradoxically very difficult for us to understand fully because Theirs is a Universe where the Divine and the Human co-exist, where lovemaking and magic are fundamental ingredients. But before Inanna came into being, there was Ninhursag-Ki, the gutsy and ever fruitful Earth Mother, and her shaman, Enki, the Sweet Waters Lord, God of Magic, Crafts and all Wisdom.
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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