by Michael Faulkner
by Michael Faulkner
Six thousand years into humanity's past, two thousand years before the rise of Egypt, there flourished a civilization of wonder, a budding rose in a world primeval, and her name was Sumer.
In the cosmology of ancient Sumer, the Abzu, the primordial sea, existed before the creation of the world. Within the Abzu, was birthed Ki, the prime mover, mother of all. She also had another name, Ereshkigal. She walked upon the land and her footsteps blessed the world through her presence. From her womb came a triune of elders that would forge a new world. These elders, Ninhursag, queen of the mountains, Ninmah, the exalted lady, and Nintu, the lady who gave birth, all assisted in the creation of humanity. By assisting An, the All-father, as he shaped several renditions from clay, humanity was ultimately forged. The folklore of humanity being shaped from clay is a millennia old concept that is still pervasive in several religions today.
Ninhursag was not only considered a co-creator of humanity and a mother goddess, but it was said that she was wisdom personified. From her great sapience came the divine laws, given to the elder council and then bestowed upon humanity. Sumerian divine laws, issued forth by the gods, thus guided humanity in all facets of life. Ninhursag was the first daughter of Ereshkigal, and in Sumerian cosmology, the most powerful.
Her divine laws, known as the "Me" were held sacred in all the temples and courts of Sumer. These laws were guarded by Enki, lord of the deep waters, a possible son/husband of Tiamat, the queen of the deep waters. Enki gave forth decrees of power to all the other gods of ancient Sumer. Inanna, the goddess of love and war, soon objected to being overlooked by Enki's decrees. She saw this as a grievous negligence on his part and determined that vengeance must be sought. One night, Inanna got Enki intoxicated and convinced him to grant her greater power and further dominion over humanity. Being inebriated, he willingly granted her dominion over all blessings of arts and crafts, including the gift of song. When Enki became sober he desperately tried to take back this newly granted power. But to no avail, for Inanna had already usurped her influence over these blessings and established a faith center at the holy city of Erech, the central hub of her spiritual dominion. And though Tiamat was helpless to avenge her son, this folly did not go unnoticed by Ninhursag or her mother, the elder goddess, Ereshkigal.
Soon immortal blood would fill the rune-pocked circle of life.
Ereshkigal, Night Queen of Sumer
Ninhursag went to Ereshkigal and asked her to bring forth retributive justice upon Inanna. What Inanna did to Enki broke the divine laws of Ninhursag. Certain stories have wrongly portrayed Inanna as the victim in this legend. However, just by analyzing the story, it's clear that Inanna brought destruction down upon herself by breaking the laws of Ninhursag.
Ereshkigal was considered by many scholars to be either Inanna's older sister, sister-in-law, aunt or possibly a tribal elder depending upon interpretation, and was the supreme goddess of the Abzu, the primordial sea of chaos. She knew that Inanna had deceived Enki into releasing power to her wrongfully. This desecration of the sacred laws would not go unpunished. Inanna's fate was sealed by her own foolishness.
One day Ereshkigal asked Inanna to come and visit her and sup with her. Inanna, not suspecting that her perdition awaited, agreed to come and visit. It also would have been seen as a severe slight to have declined a dinner invitation from an elder. Soon Inanna entered into Ereshkigal's sanctuary, stepping on shadows as she walked. As Ereshkigal gave her food and wine, she instructed Namtar the Fate-Cutter, her messenger and vizier, to release his diseases upon Inanna. Ereshkigal then affixed upon Inanna, the eternal eye of death which drained Inanna of her immortal soul. She spoke sacred words of power against Inanna in an incantation of vengeance that took away all her power. Ereshkigal then struck her with the glyph-covered, sacred staff of ruin. Inanna's flesh withered and her body, still possessing lifeforce, was then hung from a hook on the outer wall of Ereshkigal's palace for a thousand years.
Within the Sumerian underworld there resided, Belit-tseri, the wise one, crone of the dark deep and Sumuquan, the cattle god. Both deities were part of Ereshkigal's underworld sovereign horde. Heroes and priests resided there as well and all kneeled before her throne. And from her throne of power, Ereshkigal ruled life and death in equal portions. She was the matriarch of Heaven and Hell. She was the provider of creation and the bringer of destruction to the ancient Mesopotamian world.
In this mythos she had much in common with Kali, the Hindic deity whose worship began in the distant epochs of the Neolithic period. Other cognates in world mythos include Hel, Norse Goddess of the Underworld, the Morrigan, the Celtic Goddess of War, and the Native American Spider Woman myth are among many Ereshkigal-like entities that appear throughout many diverse, ancient cultures. The Mesopotamian kindred cultures of Babylon, Assyria and Chaldea were all greatly influenced by the far older Sumer.
Author's Notes: Traces of the ancient Sumerian religion survive today and are very much reflected in the holy writings of both the Jewish and Christian religions. In the Book of Ezekiel, there is mention of a Sumerian deity. In Ezekiel 8:14, the prophet sees women of Israel weeping for Tammuz (Damuzi) during a drought. However, most parallels can be found in the Book of Genesis. The second chapter of Genesis introduces the concept of paradise, Eden, a place which is similar to the Sumerian Dilmun, described in "The Myth of Enki and Ninhursag." Eden is also a Sumerian root word derivative which translated means "in the East." Within the ancient folktale "The Epic of Gilgamesh" there are several cognates to Genesis that are much older in origin. These include the tree of knowledge of good and evil as well as the great flood myth.
Reference and Recommended Study
Siren, Christopher B.
Bratton, F. Gladstone
Walker, Barbara G
Woodman, Marion and Elinor Dickson, eds.
Black, Jeremy A. et al
Michael Lohr is a professional international journalist. His work has appeared in such diverse magazines as Rolling Stone, The Economist, Southern Living, Men's Journal, ESPN the Magazine, Outside Magazine, Caribbean Travel & Life, Canoe Journal, Canoe & Kayaking, Outdoor Life and Blue Ridge Country, to name a few.
He is currently Senior-Editor-At-Large and a member of the Board of Directors of Beyond Borders Press based in Reykjavík, Iceland and Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
His webpage can be found at: Michael Lohr
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