Anunnaki Ninhursag Ninmah


Mother goddess, goddess of fertility, mountains, and rulers
Akkadian cylinder seal impression depicting a vegetation goddess, possibly Ninhursag, sitting on a throne surrounded by worshippers (circa 2350-2150 BC)
SymbolOmega-like symbol
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Mother goddess, goddess of fertility, mountains, and rulers
Akkadian cylinder seal impression depicting a vegetation goddess, possibly Ninhursag, sitting on a throne surrounded by worshippers (circa 2350-2150 BC)
SymbolOmega-like symbol
Personal information
Part of a series on
Mesopotamian religion
Religions of the ancient Near EastAnatoliaAncient EgyptMesopotamia BabyloniaSumerIranianSemitic ArabiaCanaan
hidePrimordial beingsTiamat and AbzuLahamu and LahmuKishar and AnsharMummu
hideSeven gods who decreeFour primaryAnuEnlilEnkiNinhursagThree sky godsInanna/IshtarNanna/SinUtu/Shamash
hideOther major deitiesAdadDumuzidEnkimduEreshkigalKinguGeshtinannaLaharMardukNergalNinurta
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hideSpirits and monstersUdugLamassu/SheduAsagEdimmuSirisAnzûHumbabaHanbiKurLamashtuPazuzuRabisu
hideTalesMythsAtra-HasisEnmerkar and the Lord of ArattaEnūma ElišEpic of Gilgamesh

Ninḫursaĝ (Sumerian: ???? NinḫarsangDNINḪAR.SAG̃) sometimes transcribed Ninursag,[1] Ninḫarsag,[2][3][4][5][6] or Ninḫursaĝa,[7] also known as Damgalnuna or Ninmah, was the ancient Sumerian mother goddess of the mountains, and one of the seven great deities of Sumer. She is known earliest as a nurturing or fertility goddess. Temple hymn sources identify her as the “true and great lady of heaven”[This quote needs a citation] (possibly in relation to her standing on the mountain) and kings of Lagash were “nourished by Ninhursag’s milk”.[This quote needs a citation] She is the tutelary deity to several Sumerian leaders.

Her most well known myths are Enki and Ninhursag describing her dealings with Enki resulting from his sexual exploits, and Enki and Ninmah a creation myth wherein the two deities compete to create humans. She is referenced or makes brief appearances in others as well, most notably as the mother of Ninurta in the Anzu Epic.



Nin-hursag means “lady of the sacred mountain” from Sumerian NIN “lady” and ḪAR.SAG̃ “sacred mountain, foothill”,[8] possibly a reference to the site of her temple, the E-Kur (House of mountain deeps) at Eridu. She had many names including Ninmah (“Great Queen”);[8] Nintu (“Lady of Birth”);[8] Mamma or Mami (mother);[8] Aruru (Sumerian: ????),[8] Belet-Ili (mistress of the gods, Akkadian).[8]

According to the ‘Ninurta’s Exploits’ myth, her name was changed from Ninmah to Ninhursag by her son Ninurta.[9] As Ninmena, according to a Babylonian investiture ritual, she placed the golden crown on the king in the Eanna temple.[10]

Possibly included among the original mother goddesses was Damgalnuna/Diĝirmaḫ (great wife of the prince) or Damkina (Sumerian: ????, “true wife”), the consort of the god Enki.[11]

Nintur was another name assigned to Ninhursag as a birth goddess, though sometimes she was a separate goddess entirely.[12]

The mother goddess 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.[citation needed] It has also been speculated that she was worshipped under the name Belet-Nagar in Mari.[13] However, it has also been proposed that the name Ninhursag in documents from Mari should be understood as a logographic writing of the name Shalash, the wife of Dagan,[14] who was the goddess of Bitin near Alalakh rather than Nagar (modern Tell Brak) in the Khabur Triangle.[15] Belet Nagar has alternatively been identified with Hurrian deities: Shaushka (though this proposal was met with criticism)[16] or Nabarbi.[17]


As evidenced by the large number of names, epithets, and areas of worship associated with her cult, Ninhursag’s function in religion had many different aspects and shifted notably over time. Ninhursag was not the tutelary goddess of any major city, her cult presence being attested first in smaller towns and villages.[18] It is possible that she was viewed originally more as a nurturing than a birth goddess.[19] Another theory posits that, along with the goddess Nintur, she was the birth goddess of wild and domesticated animals.[18] Her connection to the biological process of childbirth in worship is suspected to have developed later, as she began to by syncretized with other ‘birth-goddesses’, and took on her Bēlet-ilī name.[20] In this birth aspect, she is called by the kings of Lagash as “the midwife who suckled them”.[18] From the third Early Dynastic Period and onward, the most common Ninhursag epithets emphasize her as the supreme “mother of the world”.[21] This term of mother, Julia Asher-Greve and Joan Westenholz argue, was analogous to the generic ‘father’ used for gods such as Anu and Enki, and therefore transcends the biological concept of motherhood.[21] Later in the Neo-Sumerian Period she became more associated with the physical process of birth. (i.e. her offerings including umbilical cord cutters)[22] In the Old Babylonian Period some posit a decline in her worship, as she loses her high status as part of the four supreme deities of the pantheon[22] however Westenholz posits that her cult continued to be relevant but shifted function, as she became Bēlet-ilī.[20]

She had a documented role in Sumerian kingship ideology.[12] The first known royal votive gift, recovered from Kiš, was donated by a king referring to himself as ‘beloved son of Ninḫursaĝa’.[23] Votive objects dedicated to her Diĝirmaḫ name were recovered in Adab, dating to the Early Dynastic Period.[23]

She could also be understood not simply as affiliated with mountains, but as a personification of mountain (or earth) as well.[24] One text in Sumerian the Disputation between Summer and Winter describes the creation of the seasons as the result of the copulation of Ninhursag (the earth) and Enlil.[24] Another temple hymn from Gudea praising Ningirsu (epithet of Ninurta) describes him as having been born by a mountain range.[25] She had a connection to the wild animals, particularly deer, who dwell on or around the mountains.[26] Stags appear in façade on the walls of her temples, as well as in works containing the lion headed eagle, a symbol of Ninurta.[27] One composition, a dedication of Ninhursag’s Kes temple, mentions deer, bison, and wild goats in connection to the building.[28]

Her and her other names could also appear in ritual incantations for a variety of functions, some of which include Damgalnunna to protect from evil demons, and Ninhursaga and Nintur in birth related incantation.[29] As Ninmah she has appeared occasionally in medical texts, such as one from Sultantepe[30] which describes a ritual and offerings to be performed for the goddess in order to cure bedwetting.[31] It is suggested that her role in performing healing connects to that of her healing Enki in Enki and Ninhursag.[30]

Association with other Deities[edit]

Consorts and Children[edit]

Her most well attested consorts are Enki and Shul-pa-e.[8][32] The latter is identified as the father of her son Panigingarra in the god list An=Anum.[33] Another of her sons, sometimes listed alongside Panigingarra, was Ashgi.[33]

In Lagash, she was associated with Enlil as his wife, and the mother of Ningirsu[18] (Assimilated with Ninurta.[8]) She is Ninurta’s mother as Bēlet-ilī/Mami in Anzu and other myth as well.[34] Some Sumerian sources identify her as both Enlil’s wife and sister, likely to rectify earlier traditions where she was Enlil’s spouse, before later traditions had the goddess Ninlil as his wife instead.[35] After this change Ninhursag was reassigned as Enlil’s elder sister.[35]

As Damgalnuna, she is associated with Asaruludu, a well attested son of Enki, as his mother.[36] She also has a connection to an attested sister of Asaruludu, Lisin.[37] In one text, Lisin is referred to as Ninhursags daughter, where in another she is equated with her.[37] According to the god list An=Anum, Lisin (who here had swapped genders) was a son of Belet-Ili.[37]


Uznu (Ear) and Hasisu (Wisdom) are listed in An=Anum as the two sukkals of Damgalnunna.[38]

Ninhursag in her mother/birth aspects was also likely affiliated with a group of seven minor goddesses known as the Šassūrātu, “wombs”, who were assistants of mother goddesses.[39] These seven appear in Enki and Ninmah to assist in fashioning humankind from clay alongside their mistress, and are listed as NinimmaShuziannaNinmadaNinšarNinmugMumudu, and Ninniginna.[40]


Ninhursag was commonly depicted seated upon or near mountains,[41] her hair sometimes in an omega shape and at times wearing a horned head-dress and tiered skirt. In a rectangular framed plaque from pre-Sargonic Girsu, the goddess seated upon “scale like” mountains is determined to be Ninhursag.[41] Here she wears a crown that is more flat without horns, and has hair in an omega like shape.[41] In another depiction, she is seated upon mountains and also has a mountain on her horned crown.[42] Here she wears a tiered robe.[42] She was identified as the female figure standing behind her son Ninurta on a fragment of the Stele of the Vultures.[43]

Another symbol of hers was Deer, both male and female.[41] Studies on a plaque from Mari have identified the stone as being a representation of her.[44][23] The stone likely represents both a face and the naked female form.[45] A notable feature of the plaque is the area below the ‘nose area’ where ten stags stand eating plants on opposite sides of the face.[46] There is another group of five animals under the nose, which are suspected to be birds.[47] In a frieze recovered from the same Mari temple, two stags flank an Igmud-eagle, the symbol of her son Ninurta.[27] There are a number of other images with this eagle as well (such as the vase in the gallery below), where deer, ibexes or gazelles are present to represent Ninhursag.[27]

According to Johanna Stuckey, her symbol, resembling the Greek letter omega Ω, has been depicted in art from approximately 3000 BC, although more generally from the early second millennium BC. It appears on some boundary stones (kudurru) on the upper tier, indicating her importance. The omega symbol is associated with the Egyptian cow goddess Hathor, and may represent a stylized womb.[48] Joan Goodnick Westenholz and Julia M. Asher-Greve argue that the symbol should be interpreted as a schematic representation of a woman’s hair rather than the shape of an uterus.[49] They tentatively propose an identification with Nanaya rather than Ninhursag as well.[49]

  • Mari temple frieze: containing symbols of Ninhursag and her son Ninurta.
  • The Silver vase of En-temena, which was dedicated to Ningirsu.
  • Detail on the En-temena vase – the stags here likely represent Ninhursag, with the lions greeting them in a friendly way by licking their cheeks, rather than attacking them.[43]
  • This is the fragment of the Vulture Stele that (likely) contains Ninhursag.


Enki and Ninhursag[edit]

Two full copies of Enki and Ninhursag have been uncovered. One from in Nippur[50][51] which contains the complete text (although some passages on the tablet are broken), and another from Ur, found in the house of a priest of Enki, where half of the text is missing.[51] This second tablet contains less lines, thus it is considered a truncated version.[51] There exists also an excerpt, covering the incestuous couplings, which differs from the Nippur versions events.[51]

In Enki and Ninhursag, the goddess complains to Enki that the city of Dilmun is lacking in water.[52] As a result, Enki makes the land rich, and Dilmun becomes a prosperous wetland.[52] Afterwards, he and Ninhursag sleep together, resulting in a daughter, Ninsar.[53] (called Ninnisig in the ETCSL translation,[54] Ninmu by Kramer.[55]) Ninsar matures quickly, and Enki spots her walking along the bank, and sleeps with her, resulting in another daughter, Ninkurra.[53][54] Enki spots her and sleeps with her as well, resulting in Uttu.[56] (In alternate versions the order is Ninkura, Ninima, then Uttu.[57] ) After Enki has intercourse with Uttu, Ninhursag removes the semen from her womb and plants it in the earth, causing eight plants to spring up.[56] As a result of his actions, Ninhursag curses Enki by casting her “life giving eye” away from him.[56][54] Enki then becomes gravely ill.[56] A fox then makes an offer to Enlil that he will bring Ninhursag back to cure him, in exchange Enlil promises to erect two birch trees[54] for the fox in his city, and to give the creature fame.[56] The fox is able to retrieve Ninhursag, and she then cures Enki, giving birth to eight minor deities from his ailing body parts.[58]

Comparisons between this myth and that of Genesis are common. As suggested by Samuel Kramer and W. F. Albright, Enki’s eating of the eight plants and the consequences following his actions can be compared to the consumption of the fruit of knowledge by Adam and Eve.[59]

Enki and Ninmah[edit]

The text containing this myth has been recovered on tablets from varying locations. The primary two making up the translation are from the Old Babylonian period and were recovered from Nippur.[60] A third tablet from these period was also found containing an extract of the middle of the myth as well.[60] There was also a bilingual (Sumerian and Akkadian) version in the library of Assurbanipal, and one very fragmented tablet from the Middle Assyrian period that may contain the myth, but deviates from the bilingual version in the creation portion of the myth.[60]

Enki and Ninmah as a narrative can be separated into two distinct parts, the first being the birth of mankind, and the second a competition between the two spouses. The first half of this text recounts Enki creating the first humans at the behest of Namma, referred to here as his mother.[61] He receives help forming the body of men and women from Ninmah as well as her seven servants the birth goddesses.[40] Once man is finished the group has a banquet, where Enki and Ninmah drink beer and the other gods praise Enki’s greatness.[40] In the second half, Ninmah creates seven humans with illnesses and disabilities, which Enki finds places for in society.[60] Enki then creates an individual so damaged that Ninmah cannot find a place for them, resulting in her losing the competition.[60] She then complains that Enki has driven her away from her home.[60] The ending of the text is not well understood, (due to damage on the tablet) but is likely Enki consoling Ninmah and possibly finding a place for the human he made.[60]


Ninhursag appears in the text Creator of the Hoe, here she is referred to as “the mother of the gods”.[62]

In the Anzu epic, Ninhursag under the name Bēlet-ilī or Mami speaks in support of Ninurta her son, and is given the epithet “The Mistress of All Gods”.[34] In another myth involving her son, Ninurta’s Exploits, the titular god goes out to conquer the mountain land to the north of Babylonia, and piles the bodies of its stony kings into a great burial mound.[35] He then dedicates this mountain to his mother, once Ninmah, now renamed Ninhursag after the mound.[35]

Damkina is the mother of Marduk in Enūma Eliš.[63]


Theories posit that, in earlier times, Ninhursag was the highest ranking female deity, but was later displaced from that status by Ninlil, before the Old Babylonian period where she was syncretized with other birthing goddesses.[23]

As Ninhursaga, she had temples in Nippur (Ur III period), and Mari.[64] In Adab, she was worshipped under her Diĝirmaḫ epithet. Under her Ninmah epithet, she had temples in Adab, Babylon, and Ĝirsu, known as ‘E-maḫ’ or the ‘majestic house’.[64]

A temple of hers from Ur‘s Early Dynastic Period (Mesopotamia) was excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley[65][64] during his series of excavations at various sites around the city, built presumably by a King Aanepada, as per the temple dedication: “Aanepada King of Ur, son of Mesanepada King of Ur, has built this for his lady Ninkhursag.”[65] In Early Dynastic Lagash, a temple was dedicated to Ninhursag, then later to Ninmaḫ.[18]

Ninhursag (also Ninhursaga) is the Sumerian Mother Goddess and one of the oldest and most important in the Mesopotamian Pantheon. She is known as the Mother of the Gods and Mother of Men for her part in creating both divine and mortal entities.

She replaced the earlier Mother Goddess, Nammu (also known as Namma) whose worship is attested as early as Dynastic III (2600-2334 BCE) of the Early Dynastic Period (2900-2334 BCE). Ninhursag had many different names given in various myths according to her particular role or the theme of the story.

She was originally known as Damkina and Damgalnuna in Sumer, a nurturing mother goddess associated with fertility in the city of Malgum. Her husband/consort was Sul-pa-e, a minor god associated with the underworld, with whom she had three children (Asgi, Lisin, and Lil). She is far more frequently depicted as the wife/consort of Enki, god of wisdom among many other attributes.

‘Ninhursag’ means ‘Lady of the Mountain’ and comes from the poem Lugale in which Ninurta, god of war and hunting, defeats the demon Asag and his stone army and builds a mountain of their corpses. Ninurta gives the glory of his victory to his mother Ninmah (‘Magnificent Queen’) and renames her Ninhursag.

She is also known as Nintud/Nintur (‘Queen of the Birthing Hut’) and, to the Akkadians, as Belet-ili (‘Queen of the Gods’). Her other names include Makh, Ninmakh, Mamma, Mama, and Aruru. In iconography she is represented by a sign resembling the Greek symbol Omega often accompanied by a knife; this is thought to represent the uterus and the blade used to cut the umbilical cord thus symbolizing Ninhursag’s role as mother goddess.

She first appears in written works during the Early Dynastic Period I (c. 2900-2800 BCE), but physical evidence suggests worship of the Mother Goddess figure dating back to at least 4500 BCE, during the Ubaid Period, before the Sumerians had come to the region of southern Mesopotamia. Ninhursag is among the most likely candidates for the original “mother earth” figure, developing from Nammu, as she is associated with fertility, growth, transformation, creation, pregnancy, childbirth, and nurture.

Another of her early names, Ki or Kishar, identifies her as ‘mother earth.’ She was often invoked by mothers as she was thought to form and care for the child in the womb and provide food after he or she was born. Ninhursag is one of the four creating deities in Sumerian religious belief (along with AnuEnlil, and Enki) and is frequently mentioned in many of the most important Mesopotamian myths.

Enki & Ninhursag

The Sumerian myth Enki and Ninhursag tells the story of the beginning of the world in the garden of paradise known as Dilmun. Ninhursag, depicted as a young and vibrant goddess, has retired for the winter to rest after her part in creation. Enki, god of wisdom, magic, and fresh water, finds her there and falls deeply in love with her. They spend many nights together, and Ninhursag becomes pregnant with a daughter they name Ninsar (‘Lady of Vegetation’). Ninhursag blesses the child with abundant growth, and she matures into a woman in nine days. When spring comes, Ninhursag must return to her duties of nurturing living things on earth and leaves Dilmun, but Enki and Ninsar remain.


Enki misses Ninhursag terribly and, one day, sees Ninsar walking by the marshes and believes her to be the incarnation of Ninhursag. He seduces her, and she becomes pregnant with a daughter Ninkurra (goddess of mountain pastures). Ninkurra also develops into a young woman in nine days, and Enki again believes he sees his beloved Ninhursag in the girl.

He leaves Ninsar for Ninkurra whom he seduces, and she gives birth to a daughter named Uttu (‘The Weaver of Patterns and Life Desires’). Uttu and Enki are happy together for a while, but just as with Ninsar and Ninkurra, Enki falls out of love with her once he realizes she is not Ninhursag and leaves her, returning to his work on earth.

Uttu is distraught and calls upon Ninhursag for help, explaining what has happened. Ninhursag tells Uttu to wipe Enki’s seed from her body and bury it in the earth of Dilmun. Uttu does as she is told, and nine days later, eight new plants grow from the earth. At this point, Enki returns along with his vizier Isimud.

Passing by the plants, Enki stops to ask what they are, and Isimud plucks from the first and hands it to Enki, who eats it. This, he learns, is a tree plant and finds it so delicious that Isimud plucks the other seven, which Enki also quickly eats. Ninhursag returns and is enraged that Enki has eaten all of the plants. She turns on him the eye of death, curses him, and departs from paradise and the world.

Enki becomes sick and is dying, and all the other gods mourn, but no one can heal him except for Ninhursag, and she cannot be found. A fox appears, one of Ninhursag’s animals, who knows where she is and goes to bring her back. Ninhursag rushes to Enki’s side, draws him to her, and places his head against her vagina. She kisses him and asks him where his pain is, and each time he tells her, she draws the pain into her body and gives birth to another deity. In this way, eight of the deities most favorable to humanity are born:

  • Abu – god of plants and growth
  • Nintulla – Lord of Magan, governing copper & precious metal
  • Ninsitu – goddess of healing and consort of Ninazu
  • Ninkasi – goddess of beer
  • Nanshe – goddess of social justice and divination
  • Azimua – goddess of healing and wife of Ningishida of the underworld
  • Emshag – Lord of Dilmun and fertility
  • Ninti – ‘the Lady of the rib,’ who gives life

Enki is healed and repents for his carelessness in eating the plants and thoughtlessness in seducing the girls. Ninhursag forgives him, and the two return to the work of creation.

The myth represents Ninhursag as all-powerful in that she is able to inflict death on one of the most potent gods and is also the only one who can heal him. Enki and Ninhursag has also been cited, however, as the basis for the biblical story of creation found in Genesis. Orientalist Samuel Noah Kramer writes:

Perhaps the most interesting result of our comparative analysis of the Sumerian poem is the explanation which it provides for one of the most puzzling motifs in the biblical paradise story, the famous passage describing the fashioning of Eve, “the mother of all living”, from the rib of Adam – for why a rib? Why did the Hebrew storyteller find it more fitting to choose a rib rather than any other organ of the body for the fashioning of the woman whose name, Eve, according to the biblical notion, means approximately “she who makes live”. The reason becomes quite clear if we assume a Sumerian literary background, such as that represented by our Dilmun poem, to underly the biblical paradise tale; for in our Sumerian poem, one of Enki’s sick organs is the rib. Now the Sumerian word for “rib” is ti (pronounced tee); the goddess created for the healing of Enki’s rib was therefore called in Sumerian Nin-ti “the Lady of the rib”. But the Sumerian word ti also means “to make live” as well as “the Lady of the rib”. In Sumerian literature, therefore, “the Lady of the rib” came to be identified with “the Lady who makes live” through what may be termed a play on words. It was this, one of the most ancient of literary puns, which was carried over and perpetuated in the biblical paradise story, although there, of course, the pun loses its validity, since the Hebrew words for “rib” and “who makes live” have nothing in common. (149)

Aside from the influence on the later biblical tale, the myth makes clear the power of the mother goddess figure in Sumerian belief. None of the male gods who have participated in creation – not even the most powerful such as Anu or Enlil – can do anything to heal Enki; only the mother goddess can draw out the sickness and turn death into life. In all the myths concerning her, Ninhursag is associated with life and power, but Enki comes to rival and, finally, dominate her.

Enki & Ninmah

In the myth of Enki and Ninmah, Ninhursag begins on equal footing with the god, but by the end, loses her status. It is known that the female deities in Mesopotamia were overshadowed by the males during the reign of Hammurabi of Babylon (1792-1750 BCE). If it could be authoritatively determined that the story of Enki and Ninmah dated from this time, then the myth would correspond to the overall decline in stature and equality goddesses (and women) were then experiencing. No firm date has been established for the work, however. As scholar Jeremy Black notes:

Lack of anything but a fairly general historical framework for Sumerian compositions means that any chronological approach to literary questions, such as the development of genres or correlation with historical processes or events, must be largely abandoned. (Reading Sumerian Poetry, 23)

It is possible that the story comes from the later period in Mesopotamian history, however, and given the loss in stature of the goddess in the myth, a later date is most likely. Although one may be tempted to locate this tale prior to Enki and Ninhursag, because she is known by her earlier name in this story, any such claims are untenable. The names of the goddess changed from story to story and are no aid in dating a particular text, save, perhaps, in those identifying Ninhursag as the earlier Damgalnuna.

The story opens with the younger gods weary from all their endless toil. They are forced to dig canals and harvest fields and engage in all kind of menial labor, which prevents them from greater work or any kind of leisure. They cry out to Enki to do something to help them, but Enki, represented as a supreme god, is resting after the effort of creation and will not wake. Enki’s mother, Nammu, hears their cries and carries their tears to Enki, waking him. Enki is annoyed with the request but consents to his mother’s wishes that he create beings who will ease the gods’ burden. He asks her to work with Ninmah and other fertility goddesses to create human beings and give them life.

Imdugud Copper Frieze from the Ninhursag Temple

Once humans have been created, Enki holds a great banquet in celebration. All the older gods praise his wisdom, and the younger gods are relieved of their labors. Enki and Ninmah sit drinking beer together and eventually become quite drunk. Ninmah challenges Enki to a contest of sorts saying how the humans’ bodies – Enki’s design – may be either good or bad but their fates will be good or bad depending entirely on her will. Enki accepts her challenge saying, “Whatever fate you decide, good or bad, I will improve it.”

Ninmah makes a man whose hands are weak and Enki improves his life by making him a servant to a king because he would not be able to steal. She then makes a man and blinds him, but Enki improves his life by giving him the gift of music and making him minstrel to the king. This same pattern goes on with Ninmah giving Enki greater and greater challenges, which he meets. She finally creates a being with neither penis nor vagina, but Enki finds a place for this creature as a eunuch to the king who will watch over him.

Ninmah is frustrated and throws her next lump of clay to the ground, but Enki picks it up and resumes the game, telling her how he will now fashion a creature and she must improve its fate as he has done. He creates a man afflicted in every area of his body and hands it to Ninmah. She tries to feed it, but it cannot eat, neither can it stand, walk, talk, or function in any way. She says to Enki, “The man you have fashioned is neither alive nor dead. He cannot support himself.”

Enki objects, pointing out that she presented him with a number of challenging creatures and he was able to improve on them all. Ninmah’s response to this is lost because the tablet is broken at this point, but when the story resumes, Enki is obviously the winner of the challenge, and the work ends with the lines, “Ninmah could not rival the great lord Enki. Father Enki, your praise is sweet!”

Although in this myth the goddess loses stature, she was still regarded as a powerful deity one could turn to in times of trouble and rely on for protection and guidance. Every myth, poem, or story Ninhursag appears in she is linked with life, caring, creation, and the role of the mother goddess.

Ninhursag, the Great Mother

Ninhursag also appears in The Atrahasis where she fashions humans out of clay mixed with the flesh, blood, and intelligence of one of the gods who sacrifices himself for the good of the many. The Atrahasis also gives Enki as the creator of humans who devises them as a means to relieve the gods of the burden of work. In this myth, when the great flood is released on the world by Enlil and humanity is destroyed, all the gods mourn but Ninhursag is specifically mentioned crying for the death of her children.

In some myths, presumed to be earlier works, she is the consort of Anu and co-creator of the world. In still others, she is identified with Kishar (also known as Ki), mother earth. Kramer notes how Ninhursag is listed last of the four creating deities, but how “in an earlier day this goddess was probably of even higher rank and her name often preceded that of Enki when the four gods were listed together” (122). Ninhursag as the Great Mother presided over all, commoner and king alike. She was primarily seen as the protector of women and children, who presided over conception, gestation, and birth but also held a position of high honor among the gods.

The Atrahasis III Tablet

Scholar E.A. Wallis Budge notes how she “created the gods and sucked kings and terracotta figures of her represent her suckling a child at her left breast” (84). In ancient Mesopotamia, as elsewhere, the left side was considered feminine and “dark” while the right side was masculine and “light” (a concept familiar to anyone in the modern day acquainted with Reiki). Statuary representing the goddess always emphasizes the left side in one way or another. In the example Wallis Budge gives, it is a child at the left breast, but the symbolism could also be an uncovered left breast, raised left arm, or some other detail.

Ninhursag was worshiped at the city of Adab and was also associated with Kesh (as one of her names, Belet-ili of Kesh, confirms), not Kish, as is often incorrectly cited. She was further honored with temples at AshurUrUrukEriduMari, Lagash, and many other cities throughout Mesopotamia for thousands of years. Kramer notes how “the early Sumerian rulers liked to describe themselves as ‘constantly nourished by Ninhursag with milk.’ She was regarded as the mother of all living things, the mother-goddess pre-eminent” (122).

The people would worship the goddess as they did any other Mesopotamian deity through private ritual and sacrifices/donations made to the temple. There were no temple services in which congregants gathered for weekly worship, but the many festivals held throughout the year provided opportunity for expressing one’s devotion publicly.

In the second millennium BCE, as noted, feminine deities experienced a loss in status as the male gods of the Amorites of Babylon under Hammurabi took precedence. Following Hammurabi’s reign, from c. 1750 BCE onwards, male deities would dominate the pantheons of Mesopotamia, and even after the Amorites were defeated, this same paradigm continued. The immensely popular goddess Inanna/Ishtar would become secondary to male gods like the Assyrian Assur, and the powerful goddess Ereshkigal, who ruled the underworld, would be given a male consort (Nergal) to reign with her.

In time, the left side associated with the goddess concept would be connected with darkness and evil as can be seen in the word ‘sinister,’ which originally was Latin for ‘left’ but came to signify ‘threatening,’ ‘evil,’ and similar concepts long before the word appears with such connotations in Late Middle English (c. 1375-1425 CE). The practice of wearing a wedding ring on the left hand originated in Rome to ward off evil powers associated with the left.

It is no accident that, in the Hebrew legend of Lillith, the rebellious first wife of Adam emerges from his left side to later fly away from paradise with her demons; the goddess figure and her symbols had to be inverted and charged with negative associations for the male gods to achieve dominance.

Ninhursag experienced this same decline as the other goddesses, and by the time of the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BCE, she was no longer worshiped. Her influence is considered significant, however, in the development of later goddesses as she has been associated with Hathor and Isis of Egypt, Gaia of Greece, and Cybele of Anatolia, the later Magna Mater of Rome, who would contribute to the development of the figure of the Virgin Mary.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Ninhursag”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 May 2018, Accessed 28 April 2022.
  2. ^ King & Hall (2008), p. 117.
  3. ^ Possehl (1979), p. 127.
  4. ^ Clay (1997), p. 100.
  5. ^ Budge (2003), p. 233.
  6. ^ Edwardes & Spence (2003), p. 126.
  7. ^ Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 7.
  8. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h Dalley (1998), p. 326.
  9. ^ Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 51.
  10. ^ Jacobsen (1976), p. 109.
  11. ^ Black, Green & Rickards (1992), pp. 56f, 75.
  12. Jump up to:a b Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 137.
  13. ^ Steinkeller 2019, p. 1003.
  14. ^ Schwemer 2001, pp. 404–405.
  15. ^ Schwemer 2008, p. 590.
  16. ^ Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 71.
  17. ^ Archi 2013a, p. 7.
  18. Jump up to:a b c d e Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 59.
  19. ^ Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 72.
  20. Jump up to:a b Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 141.
  21. Jump up to:a b Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 139.
  22. Jump up to:a b Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 140.
  23. Jump up to:a b c d Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 138.
  24. Jump up to:a b Steinkeller 2019, p. 989.
  25. ^ Steinkeller 2019, p. 990.
  26. ^ Steinkeller 2019, p. 994.
  27. Jump up to:a b c Steinkeller 2019, p. 996.
  28. ^ Steinkeller 2019, p. 995.
  29. ^ Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 241.
  30. Jump up to:a b Mesopotamian Medicine and Magic 2018, p. 779.
  31. ^ Mesopotamian Medicine and Magic 2018, p. 784.
  32. ^ KATZ 2008, p. 322.
  33. Jump up to:a b Krebernik 2005, p. 326.
  34. Jump up to:a b Dalley (1998), p. 204.
  35. Jump up to:a b c d Steinkeller 2019, p. 988.
  36. ^ Johandi 2019.
  37. Jump up to:a b c BAdW · Publikationen 2022.
  38. ^ Lambert 1972, p. 134.
  39. ^ Archi 2013b, p. 14.
  40. Jump up to:a b c Lambert, p. 337.
  41. Jump up to:a b c d Steinkeller 2019, p. 991.
  42. Jump up to:a b Steinkeller 2019, p. 992.
  43. Jump up to:a b Steinkeller 2019, p. 1000.
  44. ^ Steinkeller 2019, p. 980.
  45. ^ Steinkeller 2019, p. 984.
  46. ^ Steinkeller 2019, p. 986.
  47. ^ Steinkeller 2019, p. 987.
  48. ^ Stuckey (2006).
  49. Jump up to:a b Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 247.
  50. ^ Kramer & Albright 1945, p. 3.
  51. Jump up to:a b c d Katz 2010.
  52. Jump up to:a b Dickson 2007, p. 2.
  53. Jump up to:a b Dickson 2007, p. 3.
  54. Jump up to:a b c d 2006.
  55. ^ Kramer & Albright 1945, p. 5.
  56. Jump up to:a b c d e Dickson 2007, p. 4.
  57. ^ KATZ 2008, p. 320.
  58. ^ Dickson 2007, p. 5.
  59. ^ Kramer & Albright 1945, p. 8.
  60. Jump up to:a b c d e f g Lambert, p. 330.
  61. ^ 2006.
  62. ^ 2009.
  63. ^ Dalley (1998), p. 235.
  64. Jump up to:a b c Asher-Greve & Westenholz 2013, p. 151.
  65. Jump up to:a b Woolley 1982, p. 106.


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Primordial beingsAbzuAnEnmesharraKiNammu
Primary deitiesEnkiEnlilInannaNannaNinhursagUtu
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Minor deitiesAzimuaBituGeshtinannaGugalannaHushbishagIsimudNamtarNinimmaNinkasiNinsiannaNimintabbaNinsunNungalSheridaUgurUttu
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