Sumerian Gods & Goddesses
- A sky god, the cuneiform symbol for this god, "Dingir," was the same as that for heaven and for divinity in general, reflecting his prominence in the Sumerian pantheon. He was generally regarded as the offspring of Uras, or alternately of Ansar and Kisar. In general terms, he is viewed as the product of the primordial heaven/earth which preceded the created world. His wife is Antum, though some regarded Ki to be his bride. He is generally viewed as the 'father' of the all the gods. An's function in mythological and theological texts is primarily one of authority. As the apex of the divine hierarchy, his command is 'the very foundation of heaven and earth.' In heaven, his authority allowed him to 'raise up' other gods to positions of greater importance. On earth, he conferred the power of kingship. His dynamic role in the cosmos, however, faded with time, as primordial deities were superseded by more developed divine personalities. His authority, however, remained, and is often invoked by more active deities in support of their own powers.
- Husband of the Goddess Inanna, His name literally means "rightful son" (though it has been suggested that a more correct interpretation would be 'quickener of the young [in the mother's womb]'). Son of the sheep-goddess Duttur, he was sometimes also known as Ama-usumgal-ana. His sister was Gestinana. A shepherd-god, Dumuzi "died" each year in an aetiological representation of the passing of the seasons. This passing was explained in the myths "Inanna's Descent", and "The Death of Dumuzi", wherein Inanna chose her consort as her substitute for the underworld upon learning of his failure to properly mourn her passing. The ritual re-unification of Inanna and Dumuzi each year, in a ceremony known as the 'Sacred Marriage,' was thought to have been integral to the fertility of vegetation and animals, as well as mankind. Dumuzi is one of the more complex figures in Sumerian mythology. As a 'mortal' being (the 'shepherd'), his fate is death. However, in his union with Inanna, he enters into an intimate relationship with the great gods. Thereby deified, he stands between man and gods, between life and death. This inherent tension was, however, merely a reflection of the seasonal cycle itself; as new life emerged and flourished each year, only to die back with the passing of the year.
- Enki, son of An and Nammu, was the god of the subterranean freshwater ocean (the "abzu", sometimes referred to as the "apsu"). His name can be taken to mean "Lord Earth," but "ki" can also refer to 'the below' in the two-tiered cosmic structure, in opposition to "an": heaven. Enki is also a god of wisdom, a faculty which included practical skills (such as arts and crafts), intellectual faculties, the ability to "decree fates", and the command of magical powers. Enki was one of the major Mesopotamian gods, holding a rank just below An and Enlil (and competing for this third position, at times, with Ninhursag). His most important cult centers were E-abzu and E-engura at Eridu. As a provider of fresh water, and a creator god and determiner of destinies, Enki was always seen as favorable to mankind. In the Atrahasis myth, for example, it was Enki's intercession which saved mankind from the flood and pestilence ordered by Enlil. He is sometimes referred to as Nudimmud or Ninsiku. His wife is Damgaknuna/Damkina. Among his children are Asarluhi, Enbilulu, Adapa, and Nanse. His symbols include the goatfish, the tortoise, a ram-headed staff, and a ship or similar vessel overflowing with water
- Enlil is one of the most important gods of the Mesopotamian pantheon. Sometimes he is said to be the offspring of An, and brother of the birth-goddess Aruru. He is also, however, sometimes described as the descendant of Enki and Ninki ("Lord" and "Lady Earth," not to be confused with the deity Enki). Yet a third tradition attributes his birth to the primeval water-goddess Nammu. His wife is Ninlil (see the myth "Enlil and Ninlil"). Among his prominent offspring are Inanna, Adad, Nanna, Nergal, Ninurta, and Utu. The personality of Enlil is very complex. It is not certain what the Sumerian element "lil" originally stood for. It has had meanings as diverse as 'air,' and 'spirit.' He is the lord who 'determines the fates,' a function he shares with the god Enki. It was Enlil who was said to have separated the primordial heaven/earth, thus bringing forth the created universe. On a cosmic level, while Enki's realm was below (the abzu), and An ruled above (the heavens), Enlil's realm was the earth and the spheres of the winds and weather above it. Enlil was responsible for all aspects of life: fertility and prosperity, as well as famine and catastrophe. His great cult center was the temple E-kur at Nippur. He is sometimes also referred to as Nunamnir.
- 'Queen of The Great Below,' Ereskigal was likely the underworld aspect of Ninlil, wife of Enlil, who followed her husband to the underworld following his banishment by the Anunnaki. She is said to be the sister of Inanna, and mother of Ninazu and Nungal. In later traditions she was wed to the underworld god Nergal, though earlier traditions had Nergal usurping her rule in the underworld sans wedding (see "Nergal and Ereskigal"). She is sometimes also referred to as Allatu or Laz.
- The goddess Inanna was the most important female deity of ancient Mesopotamia. The etymology of her name is uncertain; but by the end of the third millennium B.C. it was taken to derive from nin.an.na : "Lady of Heaven." Also known as Innin, her epithets reflect her broad role in the pantheon: Ninmesarra - "Queen of all the Me," a title making her one of the most influential deities in the world of gods and men; Nu-ugiganna - "the Hierodule of Heaven," a projection of her erotic functions to the cosmic scale; and Usunzianna - "Exalted Cow of Heaven," she who provides life and sustenance to the land. In this aspect, it was Inanna who yearly reunited symbolically with her consort Dumuzi to restore life and fertility in the land. This cycle, known as the Sacred Marriage, was a common theme in songs sung in her praise. Inanna represented the force of sexual reproduction and the power of the passions so incited. This passion finds its compliment in her martial character, 'the heroic champion, the destroyer of foreign lands, foremost in battle.' She was the daughter of the moon-god Nanna (though some traditions held her to be the daughter of An). Her sister was the netherworld goddess Ereskigal. Inanna's beast was the lion. Her usual symbol was the star or star disk (though it may also have been the rosette).
- Lilith is listed here in hopes it will help dispel some common confusion regarding this personage. Some modern neo-pagan groups, particularly those with feminist leanings, have deified Lilith - consciously molding her into a kind of archetypal-feminist goddess. The simple fact, however, is that lilith is not a deity. In fact, Lilith is not an individual at all, but rather a class of ancient near-eastern demons. To quote "Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia,":
The male lilu and two females lilitu and ardat-lili are a sort of family group of demons.
They are not gods.
The only appearance of a Lilith in Mesopotamian mythology was in "Inanna and The Huluppa Tree," wherein it was portrayed as an evil demon which had infested Inanna's Huluppa tree, until forcibly driven out by Gilgamesh.
- Primeval mother-goddess, Nammu's sign was usually written with the sign "en-gur;" the same sign used to denote the abzu: the underground sweet waters which brought life to the land. It was from her ancient waters that Enlil was said, in some traditions, to have been brought forth. She was also said to be the mother of Enki (as well as the mother of the 'Great Gods' in general).
- Son of Ninlil and 'first-born' of Enlil, Nanna was the Sumerian moon-god. Resigned to live in the underworld due to his father's banishment by the Anunnaki (see "Enlil and Ninlil") his place there was taken by his brothers Nergal, Ninazu, and Enbilulu. He must still, however, spend three days each month (at the time of the new moon) in the underworld, standing judgment over the dead. He also had a strong connection with fertility, likely due to the association of the lunar and menstrual cycles. Because the lunar-crescent (his symbol) so strongly resembles bull's horns, this connection was especially strong with cattle. Nanna's wife was the goddess Ningal, with whom he fathered the sun-god Utu and the goddess Inanna. He was also known as Suen (and occasionally Nanna-Suen), as well as Asumbabbar, Namrasit, and Inbu. His major cult center was the temple E-kis-nu-gal at Ur.
- Her name is written with a composite sign for "house" and "fish." Like Nammu, she is associated with water, though specifically with rivers and canals (quite a few of which were named after her). She was known as the 'fishery inspector' (see "Enki and The World Order"). She was regarded as a daughter of Enki, and a sister of Ningirsu and Nisaba. Nanse was especially associated with divination and the interpretation of dreams. She also appears to have been associated with weights and measures, and the socially disadvantaged. Her main cult center was in Lagas.
- Nergal was the underworld personification of the sun-god Utu, more specifically relating to the dark winter months when the sun was thought to have descended to the great below. As a result, Nergal represented the more negative aspects of the solar deity: pestilence, famine, disease. These traits gave rise to an outwardly marshal character: a warrior god whose wrath at time appears indiscriminate (see, for example "Erra and Ishum"). Born of Enlil and Ninlil, he was usually regarded as the husband of the underworld goddess Ereskigal (see the myth Enlil and Ninlil). Among his symbology is the scimitar, and the single or double-headed lion-sceptre. His main cult center was the temple E-Meslam at Cutha. He was sometimes also known as Erra (originally a separate deity, but who eventually became so closely identified with Nergal as to lose his separate character) and Meslamta-ea ("he who comes forth from Meslam").
- Son of Enlil and Ninlil (see "Enlil and Ninlil"), this god's name means "lord healer." In this capacity, it was he who was considered the keeper of the "Water's of Life" which were thought to be found in the underworld, his primary domain. He was consigned to the great below, along with his brothers Nergal and Enbilulu, as a substitute for his brother Nanna. Despite this underworld connection, he appeared to have had some agrarian ties. His son was the god Ningiszida.
- Also known as Ninmah, she was given the title Ninhursag - "Lady of the Hursag (The stoney foothills)" by her son Ninurta in the myth Lugal-e. She was an ancient Sumerian form of the mother-goddess, known as 'mother of the gods,' and 'mother of all children.' It was Ninhursag who was said to have been midwife to Nammu at the creation of man. She represents the innert procreative power of the mother which, though powerful, requires the union of the male force to be brought to its full potential (see the myth "Enki and Ninmah"). This was not to diminish her role, but simply a recognition that neither the female nor the male alone was a fully procreative force. Her major cult center was probably at Kesh.
- There is no complete evidence for the meaning of this god's name, though it has been suggested that it may be "Lord Earth," derived from the name of the primal vegetation deity Uras. Ninurta, son of Enlil, was an ancient thunder god originally viewed as a personification of the spring storms which brought life to the lands. This tempestuous aspect of his character engendered a warlike nature with which he is more commonly identified. Many myths relate to his martial exploits, mainly directed against the enemies of Sumer. True to his origins, however, he was also known as the "Farmer of Enlil." The so-called Sumerian 'Farmer's Almanac,' a compilation of the annual tasks related to the growing of barley, was called the 'Instructions of Ninurta.' Indeed, the plough is known to be one of the symbols identified with him. These two aspects of his character were best reconciled in the myth "Lugal-e," wherein Ninurta defeats the rebellious stones of the mountain, led by Azag, and thereafter forms the mountainous foothills (the "Hursag") to keep the annual floodwaters controlled and contained, thus bringing life-giving waters to Sumer for agriculture and fishing. He is closely identified with the Lagashite god Ningirsu; and, although his origin may have been independent, in historical times Ningirsu was a local form of Ninurta. Ninurta's wife is generally thought to have the goddess of healing, Gula. However, due to his association with Ningirsu, he is sometimes paired with the goddess Bau. His main cult center was the temple E-sumesa at Nippur.
- Utu was the Sumerian sun-god, who rose each morning from the 'interior of heaven,' and crossed the sky before finally reentering through the bolts in the west. He represents the brilliant light of the sun, which returns each day to illuminate the life of mankind, as well as giving beneficial warmth, allowing the growth of plant and animal life. He was regarded as a god of truth, justice, and right. Together with the storm-god Adad, he was often invoked in extispacy rituals. He was the son of Nanna, the moon-god, and twin brother of the goddess Inanna. His main cult center was at Larsa, in temple E-Babbar (White House). His symbol was the pruning-saw.