of Mesopotamian Terms

"In air, signs, in fire, visions, in water, forms, on earth, words" (The Phoenician Letters, Wilfred Smith and G. Zur, 1979)
to reveal the designs of heaven, earth and down below.

by Lishtar




Abzu/apsu:fresh water ocean which lay beneath the Earth, where springs, wells, streams, rivers and lakes drew their water from. Abzu was also the home of Enki/Ea, the god of swee waters, magic and wisdom.

An/Anu: Sumerian word for heaven and the name of the Sky god, son of Nammu, the Mother and Primeval Sea. Anu is married to Ki, the Earth Mother and cosmic mountain. His symbol is the: horned crown on a shrine. Temple is called Eanna.

Anunna/Anunnaki: term which possibly means 'An's (and Ki's) offspring, the princely ones, used in especially Sumerian texts as a general word for the gods, in particular the early gods, who were born first and were not differentiated with individual names. The Skygod An is described as the king of the Anunnaki. There are also corresponding Anunnaki gods in the Underworld, because the order of the skies also reflected the later on the order of the Worlds Below. The Anunnaki also formed an assembly, who met at the temple of Enlil in Nippur. This assembly was the highest court in Ancient Mesopotamia to judge human and gods' affairs, for not even the gods were above the law in the Land between the Rivers.

Aruru: Ninhursag.

Babylon: (gate of the gods), capital city of the Babylonians, situated on the river Euphrates. Patron deity: Marduk. Residence of major kings from the second millennium onwards. Also known as Shuanna.

Bull of Heaven: a mythical beast that represented the male power to conceive. As a constellation, the Bull of Heaven is Taurus. Bull of Heaven is na epithet which is given to many male gods.

Cow of Earth: a mythical beast that represented the female power to conceive. Consort to the Bull of Heaven.

Dead gods: in Mesopotamia, although immortality was reserved for the gods, not all gods were immortal. Some deities were regarded as dead, and not even heroes were exempt from death. Unlike mortal men and women, gods do not seem ever to have died of diseases, nor generally of the activities of demons. Dead gods were usually those who had been slain.

Dilmun/Tilmun: was a mesopotamian name for present-day Bahrain, a land placed at the western coast of the Gulf. It is described as a holy, viring and pure land, where disease, sorrow or pain are not to be found.

Duku: In Sumerian mythology, the Duku (holy hill or holy mountain) is a cosmic

Dumuzi/Tammuz: 'faithful son', Sumerian god, consort and beloved of Inanna/Ishtar, king and shepherd of Uruk, doorkeeper of Na. He also spent half of each year in the Underworld, to be reborn at Midwinter.

Eanna: ' house of the sky', name of Anu's and Inanna's temple in the city of Uruk.

E-engurra: temple of the god Enki/Ea in Eridu.

Ekur: 'mountain house', temple of Enlil in the city of Nippur.

Enki/Ea: god of Sweet Waters, Magic, Crafts and Wisdom, son of Na the Skyfather and Nammu the primeval sea. His cult centre is Eridu, temple is the E-engurra. Symbols:a goat-fish, a horned-crown on a shrine and probably the overflowing vase. Also known as Nudimmud, which means 'image fashioner', meaning that Enki is a creator god. Known as 'far-sighted', wise and cunning.

Enkidu: (previously read Ea-bani), wild man who lived among wild animals until he was tamed by a priestess and taken to Uruk to become the Soul-brother to Gilgamesh the king. Epitomises the wisdom of nature, the skilful hunter.

Enlil/Elil: One of the great gods of Ancient Mesopotamia. His name, usually translated as Lord Air appears in the earliest Sumerian texts. Enlil's city, Nippur,

Eresh: cult centre of Ninhursag-Ki, the great mother goddess. Unidentified site in Central Mesopotamia.

Ereshkigal: daughter of Nammu the Primeval Sea and Na, the Skygod, sister of Enki/Ea. Goddess of the Underworld, older sister of Inanna/ishtar, later known as the wife of Nergal.

Eridu: very ancient city at the shore of the Arabian Gulf, cult centre of Enki/Ea.

Erkalla: 'great city', see Underworld.

Gilgamesh: king of the city of Uruk, he was probably a historical figure, once his name is inscribed in the ancient Sumerian King's List. Gilgamesh is also the hero of the first epic written by humankind, inscribed in clay tablets, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which tells the fascinating story of a legendary king who embarks on a heroic quest to search for immortality.

Huluppu Tree: the sacred tree found by Inanna/Ishtar by the Euphrates river, transported and replanted in Inanna's garden in the city of Uruk. From the earliest times in the ancient Near East trees with sacred and ritual meanings were reproduced in art. Fundamentally, vegetal motifs and trees were meaningful because of their association with fertility and life-sustaining powers. In the mid 2nd millennium Before Common Era, in the Middle Assyrian period, the image of a hybrid tree with curling volutes appeared. This type of tree became the classic Neo-Assyrian tree of life, or sacred tree, and it may be very well the origin of the hebrew mystical system based on theTree of Life known as the Kabbalah, as well as the inspiration for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil of the Garden of Eden found in the Old Testment Bible.

Igigi: Sumerian group term to the great gods of the younger generation, headed by Enlil. Often paired with the Anunnaki.

Inanna/Ishtar: Sumerian Inanna, later known by the Babylonians and Assyrians as Ishtar, is the Great Goddess of Love and War. Daughter of Nanna the moon god and Ningal. Main cult cities: Uruk, Nineveh, Kish and Erbil, with important temples and shrines in Babylon and other important Mesopotamian cities. Symbols: morning and evening star, rosette.

Isimud: a minor god who functions as a minister/vizier to Enki/Ea.

Kakka: vizier and counsellor of the Skygod Na.

Ki: Sumerian Mother Earth, the consort of An, the Skyfather, daughter of Nammu, the Primeval Sea and Watery Deep. Ki is also associated with Ninhursag, the Great Mother goddess of the Ancient Near East.

Kish: an ancient city, the first to regain kingship after the Flood according to the Sumerian king list. Located at East of Babylon, connected to it by canal. Cult centre of Inanna/ishtar.

Lugalbanda: king of Uruk, son of Enmerkar, father of Gilgamesh. Deified hero of several Sumerian stories. Consort of the goddess Ninsun, native of Kullab, a quarter of the city of Uruk, and also later a quarter of Babylon.

Middleworld: the sphere of physical reality where humans, animals and plants live.

Nammu: Sumerian Mother Goddess, the Primeval Sea, all-in-one, who gave birth to the first divine couple, the Skyfather An and the cosmic mountain Ninhursag-Ki.

Namtar: a minor god, who acted as a counsellor and vizier to Erershkigal, the Goddess of the Underworld.

Nanna-Suen/Sin: Sumerian Nanna, the moon god, chief deity of Ur, Harran and Neirab. Consort of Sumerian Ningal. Symbol: crescent disk.

Nergal/Erra: the gods Nergal and Erra were originally separate deities but later became closely identified as to lose their independent characters. Since Nergal was worshipped at the temple called E-meslam (or Meslam House) at Kutu in Babylonia, he was also sometimes known under the name of Meslamta-ea, 'he who comes forth from the Meslam'. Nergal was associated with the Underworld and regarded as the husband of Ereshkigal, goddess of the Underworld. Nergal is also the son of Ninlil and Enlil, or elsewhere as the son of Ninhursag-Ki. In Babylonian art, Nergal is represented as a god dressed in a long open-fronted robe, often with one leg bared and advanced, his foot placed upon a raised support or trampling a man. He usually carries a scimitar and a single or double-headed lion sceptre, which, as independent motifs, served to symbolise him. In the Parthian Period, Nergal was identified with the Greek hero Heracles,

Neti/Nedu: name of the doorkeeper of the Underworld.

Nineveh: (modern Kuyunjik at Nebi Yunus) capital of the late Assyrian kings, in the late eighth and seventh centuries Before Common Era. Cult centre of Ishtar.

Ningal: consort of Nanna/Sin, the Moon God, and mother of Utu the Sun and Inanna, the Morning and Evening Star. Main cult centres were Ur and Harran.

Ningishzida: Lord of the Trusty Timber.

Ningikurra: the goddess of Mountain Pastures, who features in the myth 'Enki and Ninhursag'.

Ninhursag-Ki: 'mountain lady', the cosmic mountain and Great Earth Mother goddess of Sumerians, daughter of Nammu the Primeval Sea. Ninhursag is also known as Ninmah (supreme lady), Nintur (lady birth rut), Mamma, Mammi, Mami, Mammitum, Belet-ili (mistress of the gods), Aruru (midwife of the gods). Epithets: womb goddess, midwife of the gods, smelter of the gods, mother of the gods, mother of all children. Shrine at Kesh in central Mesopotamia, still not identified.

Ninsar: Lady Plant, goddess of the grasslands that cover the earth, who appears in the myth 'Enki and Ninhursag'..

Ninshubur: female deity in Sumerian, male in Akkadian. Vizier and counsellor of Na and Inanna/Ishtar.

Ninsun: ' lady wild cow', Sumerian goddess, mother of Gilgamesh. Epithets: ' wise' and ' wild cow'.

Nintu( r ): Lady Birth Rut, epithet of Ninhursag-Ki.

Nippur: city in central Mesopotamia, cult centre of Enlil, whose temple was the Ekur. The religious capital of Mesopotamia for millenia.

Nusku: god of light, important shrines with the moon god Nanna-Suen at Harran and Neirab. Vizier and counsellor of Na and of Enlil. Symbol: lamp.

Priests and Priestesses: enu (Sumerian en), high priest, a role sometimes filled in early times by a city ruler; entu, high priestess, sometimes the wife or the king's daughter, who in the city of Ur may have acted for the goddess in the Sacred Marriage Rite; ugbatu, egisitu, kulmasitu and qadishtu, cloistered women under cultic regulations which prohibited normal marriage and childbirth; pasisu, or anoited priest; isippu and lumahhu, kinds of purification priests; gudapsu, lagaru, names for priestly personnel whose roles are uncertain; sakkanakku: city governor with priestly functions.

Shamhat: name of the acolyte of the temple of Inanna sent to tame wild Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Sukkal: term that indicates the counsellor, vizier and closest aid to a deity.

Tigris: river of eastern Mesopotamia, also called Idiglat.

Underworld: land of the afterlife, the land of the dead, place of ancestral memory, balance and justice ruled by Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld.

Upperworld/Otherworld/The Great Above: the sphere of the heights and the heavenly abode of the great gods.

Ur: city port on the Euphrates river, near the Arabian Gulf. Patron god: Nanna-Suen/Sin. Temple: E-kishnugal.

Uruk (modern Warka): one of the most important cities in Lower Mesopotamia. Patron deities: Na and Inanna/Ishtar. Kings included Enmerkar, Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh. Main temple: Eanna. Also known as 'Tiranna', Rainbow City, in the Seleucid period.

Utu: the Sun god, fathered by the Moon god Nanna and his beloved wife Ningal. Utu is the full brother of Inanna/Ishtar, the Morning and Evening Star and Goddess of Love and Battle.

Uttu: Sumerian goddess associated with weaving. Since the same sign is also used sometimes to write the word for 'spider', it is possible that she was envisaged as a form of spider weaving a web.

Ziggurat: temple tower, either stepped in tiers or spiral, symbolizing the mountain peak where the gods dwelt and where the skies met with the earth. Topped by a small shrine.