Sumerian religion

Sumerian religion was the religion practiced and adhered to by the people of Sumer, the first literate civilization of ancient Mesopotamia. The Sumerians regarded their divinities as responsible for all matters pertaining to the natural and social orders.[1]:3–4

Before the beginning of kingship in Sumer, the city-states were effectively ruled by theocratic priests and religious officials. Later, this role was supplanted by kings, but priests continued to exert great influence on Sumerian society. In early times, Sumerian temples were simple, one-room structures, sometimes built on elevated platforms. Towards the end of Sumerian civilization, these temples developed into ziggurats—tall, pyramidal structures with sanctuaries at the tops.

The Sumerians believed that the universe had come into being through a series of cosmic births. First, Nammu, the primeval waters, gave birth to An (the sky) and Ki (the earth), who mated together and produced a son named Enlil. Enlil separated heaven from earth and claimed the earth as his domain. Humans were believed to have been created by Enki, the son of An and Nammu. Heaven was reserved exclusively for deities and, upon their deaths, all mortals' spirits, regardless of their behavior while alive, were believed to go to Kur, a cold, dark cavern deep beneath the earth, which was ruled by the goddess Ereshkigal and where the only food available was dry dust. In later times, Ereshkigal was believed to rule alongside her husband Nergal, the god of death.

The major deities in the Sumerian pantheon included An, the god of the heavens, Enlil, the god of wind and storm, Enki, the god of water and human culture, Ninhursag, the goddess of fertility and the earth, Utu, the god of the sun and justice, and his father Nanna, the god of the moon. During the Akkadian Period and afterward, Inanna, the goddess of sex, beauty, and warfare, was widely venerated across Sumer and appeared in many myths, including the famous story of her descent into the Underworld.

Sumerian religion heavily influenced the religious beliefs of later Mesopotamian peoples; elements of it are retained in the mythologies and religions of the Hurrians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and other Middle Eastern culture groups. Scholars of comparative mythology have noticed many parallels between the stories of the ancient Sumerians and those recorded later in the early parts of the Hebrew Bible.

Sumerio orante (M.A.N. Madrid Inv.2001-110-1) 01
Statuette of a "praying Sumerian", Gudea, Early Dynastic period (c. 2500 BC)


Hymn Iddin-Dagan Louvre AO8864
Cuneiform temple hymn from the nineteenth century BC; the hymn is addressed to the Lugal Iddin-Dagan of Larsa

Written cuneiform

Sumerian myths were passed down through the oral tradition until the invention of writing (the earliest myth discovered so far, the Epic of Gilgamesh, is Sumerian and is written on a series of fractured clay tablets). Early Sumerian cuneiform was used primarily as a record-keeping tool; it was not until the late early dynastic period that religious writings first became prevalent as temple praise hymns[2] and as a form of "incantation" called the nam-šub (prefix + "to cast").[3] These tablets were also made of stone clay or stone, and they used a small pick to make the symbols.


In the Sumerian city-states, temple complexes originally were small, elevated one-room structures. In the early dynastic period, temples developed raised terraces and multiple rooms. Toward the end of the Sumerian civilization, ziggurats became the preferred temple structure for Mesopotamian religious centers.[4] Temples served as cultural, religious, and political headquarters until approximately 2500 BC, with the rise of military kings known as Lu-gals (“man” + “big”)[3] after which time the political and military leadership was often housed in separate "palace" complexes.


Sumerian Worshiper
Statuette of a Sumerian worshipper from the Early Dynastic Period, ca. 2800-2300 BC

Until the advent of the lugals, Sumerian city states were under a virtually theocratic government controlled by various En or Ensí, who served as the high priests of the cults of the city gods. (Their female equivalents were known as Nin.) Priests were responsible for continuing the cultural and religious traditions of their city-state, and were viewed as mediators between humans and the cosmic and terrestrial forces. The priesthood resided full-time in temple complexes, and administered matters of state including the large irrigation processes necessary for the civilization’s survival.


During the Third Dynasty of Ur, the Sumerian city-state of Lagash was said to have had sixty-two "lamentation priests" who were accompanied by 180 vocalists and instrumentalists.


The Sumerians envisioned the universe as a closed dome surrounded by a primordial saltwater sea.[5] Underneath the terrestrial earth, which formed the base of the dome, existed an underworld and a freshwater ocean called the Apsû. The deity of the dome-shaped firmament was named An; that of the earth was named Ki. First the underground world was believed to be an extension of the goddess Ki, but later developed into the concept of Kur. The primordial saltwater sea was named Nammu, who became known as Tiamat during and after the Sumerian Renaissance.

Creation story

The main source of information about the Sumerian creation myth is the prologue to the epic poem Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld,[6]:30–33 which briefly describes the process of creation: originally, there was only Nammu, the primeval sea.[6]:37–40 Then, Nammu gave birth to An, the sky, and Ki, the earth.[6]:37–40 An and Ki mated with each other, causing Ki to give birth to Enlil, the god of wind, rain, and storm.[6]:37–40 Enlil separated An from Ki and carried off the earth as his domain, while An carried off the sky.[6]:37–41


The ancient Mesopotamians regarded the sky as a series of domes (usually three, but sometimes seven) covering the flat earth.[7]:180 Each dome was made of a different kind of precious stone.[7]:203 The lowest dome of heaven was made of jasper and was the home of the stars.[8] The middle dome of heaven was made of saggilmut stone and was the abode of the Igigi.[8] The highest and outermost dome of heaven was made of luludānītu stone and was personified as An, the god of the sky.[9][8] The celestial bodies were equated with specific deities as well.[7]:203 The planet Venus was believed to be Inanna, the goddess of love, sex, and war.[10]:108–109[7]:203 The sun was her brother Utu, the god of justice,[7]:203 and the moon was their father Nanna.[7]:203 Ordinary mortals could not go to heaven because it was the abode of the gods alone.[11] Instead, after a person died, his or her soul went to Kur (later known as Irkalla), a dark shadowy underworld, located deep below the surface of the earth.[11][12]


Dumuzi aux enfers
Ancient Sumerian cylinder seal impression showing the god Dumuzid being tortured in the Underworld by galla demons

The Sumerian afterlife was a dark, dreary cavern located deep below the ground,[12][13] where inhabitants were believed to continue "a shadowy version of life on earth".[12] This bleak domain was known as Kur,[10]:114 and was believed to be ruled by the goddess Ereshkigal.[12][7]:184 All souls went to the same afterlife,[12] and a person's actions during life had no effect on how the person would be treated in the world to come.[12]

The souls in Kur were believed to eat nothing but dry dust[10]:58 and family members of the deceased would ritually pour libations into the dead person's grave through a clay pipe, thereby allowing the dead to drink.[10]:58 Nonetheless, funerary evidence indicates that some people believed that the goddess Inanna, Ereshkigal's younger sister, had the power to award her devotees with special favors in the afterlife.[12] During the Third Dynasty of Ur, it was believed that a person's treatment in the afterlife depended on how he or she was buried;[10]:58 those that had been given sumptuous burials would be treated well,[10]:58 but those who had been given poor burials would fare poorly.[10]:58

The entrance to Kur was believed to be located in the Zagros mountains in the far east.[10]:114 It had seven gates, through which a soul needed to pass.[12] The god Neti was the gatekeeper.[7]:184[10]:86 Ereshkigal's sukkal, or messenger, was the god Namtar.[10]:134[7]:184 Galla were a class of demons that were believed to reside in the underworld;[10]:85 their primary purpose appears to have been to drag unfortunate mortals back to Kur.[10]:85 They are frequently referenced in magical texts,[10]:85–86 and some texts describe them as being seven in number.[10]:85–86 Several extant poems describe the galla dragging the god Dumuzid into the underworld.[10]:86 The later Mesopotamians knew this underworld by its East Semitic name: Irkalla. During the Akkadian Period, Ereshkigal's role as the ruler of the underworld was assigned to Nergal, the god of death.[12][7]:184 The Akkadians attempted to harmonize this dual rulership of the underworld by making Nergal Ereshkigal's husband.[12]



It is generally agreed that Sumerian civilization began at some point between c. 4500 and 4000 BC, but the earliest historical records only date to around 2900 BC.[14] The Sumerians originally practiced a polytheistic religion, with anthropomorphic deities representing cosmic and terrestrial forces in their world.[7]:178–179 The earliest Sumerian literature of the third millennium BC identifies four primary deities: An, Enlil, Ninhursag, and Enki. These early deities were believed to occasionally behave mischievously towards each other, but were generally viewed as being involved in co-operative creative ordering.[15]

During the middle of the third millennium BC, Sumerian society became more urbanized.[7]:178–179 As a result of this, Sumerian deities began to lose their original associations with nature and became the patrons of various cities.[7]:179 Each Sumerian city-state had its own specific patron deity,[7]:179 who was believed to protect the city and defend its interests.[7]:179 Lists of large numbers of Sumerian deities have been found. Their order of importance and the relationships between the deities has been examined during the study of cuneiform tablets.[16]

During the late 2000s BC, the Sumerians were conquered by the Akkadians.[7]:179 The Akkadians syncretized their own gods with the Sumerian ones,[7]:179 causing Sumerian religion to take on a Semitic coloration.[7]:179 Male deities became dominant[7]:179 and the gods completely lost their original associations with natural phenomena.[7]:179–180 People began to view the gods as living in a feudal society with class structure.[7]:179–181 Powerful deities such as Enki and Inanna became seen as receiving their power from the chief god Enlil.[7]:179–180

Major deities

Ea (Babilonian) - EnKi (Sumerian)
Akkadian cylinder seal from sometime around 2300 BC or thereabouts depicting the deities Inanna, Utu, Enki, and Isimud[6]:32–33

The majority of Sumerian deities belonged to a classification called the Anunna (“[offspring] of An”), whereas seven deities, including Enlil and Inanna, belonged to a group of “underworld judges" known as the Anunnaki (“[offspring] of An” + Ki). During the Third Dynasty of Ur, the Sumerian pantheon was said to include sixty times sixty (3600) deities.[7]:182

Enlil was the god of air, wind, and storm.[17]:108 He was also the chief god of the Sumerian pantheon[17]:108[18]:115–121 and the patron deity of the city of Nippur.[19]:58[20]:231–234 His primary consort was Ninlil, the goddess of the south wind,[21]:106 who was one of the matron deities of Nippur and was believed to reside in the same temple as Enlil.[22] Ninurta was the son of Enlil and Ninlil. He was worshipped as the god of war, agriculture, and one of the Sumerian wind gods. He was the patron deity of Girsu and one of the patron deities of Lagash.

Enki was god of freshwater, male fertility, and knowledge.[10]:75 His most important cult center was the E-abzu temple in the city of Eridu.[10]:75 He was the patron and creator of humanity[10]:75 and the sponsor of human culture.[10]:75 His primary consort was Ninhursag, the Sumerian goddess of the earth.[10]:140 Ninhursag was worshipped in the cities of Kesh and Adab.[10]:140

Ancient Akkadian Cylindrical Seal Depicting Inanna and Ninshubur
Ancient Akkadian cylinder seal depicting Inanna resting her foot on the back of a lion while Ninshubur stands in front of her paying obeisance, c. 2334-2154 BC.[23]:92, 193

Inanna was the Sumerian goddess of love, sexuality, prostitution, and war.[10]:109 She was the divine personification of the planet Venus, the morning and evening star.[10]:108–109 Her main cult center was the Eanna temple in Uruk, which had been originally dedicated to An.[24] Deified kings may have re-enacted the marriage of Inanna and Dumuzid with priestesses.[10]:151, 157–158 Accounts of her parentage vary;[10]:108 in most myths, she is usually presented as the daughter of Nanna and Ningal,[23]:ix-xi, xvi but, in other stories, she is the daughter of Enki or An along with an unknown mother.[10]:108 The Sumerians had more myths about her than any other deity.[23]:xiii, xv[6]:101 Many of the myths involving her revolve around her attempts to usurp control of the other deities' domains.[25]

Utu was god of the sun, whose primary center of worship was the E-babbar temple in Sippar.[26] Utu was principally regarded as a dispenser of justice;[7]:184 he was believed to protect the righteous and punish the wicked.[7]:184 Nanna was god of the moon and of wisdom. He was the father of Utu and one of the patron deities of Ur.[27] He may have also been the father of Inanna and Ereshkigal. Ningal was the wife of Nanna,[28] as well as the mother of Utu, Inanna, and Ereshkigal.

Ereshkigal was the goddess of the Sumerian Underworld, which was known as Kur.[7]:184 She was Inanna's older sister.[29] In later myth, her husband was the god Nergal.[7]:184 The gatekeeper of the underworld was the god Neti.[7]:184

Nammu was the primeval sea (Engur), who gave birth to An (heaven) and Ki (earth) and the first deities; she eventually became known as the goddess Tiamat. An was the ancient Sumerian god of the heavens. He was the ancestor of all the other major deities[30] and the original patron deity of Uruk.



Chaos Monster and Sun God
Assyrian stone relief from the temple of Ninurta at Kalhu, showing the god with his thunderbolts pursuing Anzû, who has stolen the Tablet of Destinies from Enlil's sanctuary[10]:142 (Austen Henry Layard Monuments of Nineveh, 2nd Series, 1853)

The Sumerians had an ongoing linguistic and cultural exchange with the Semitic Akkadian peoples in northern Mesopotamia for generations prior to the usurpation of their territories by Sargon of Akkad in 2340 BC. Sumerian mythology and religious practices were rapidly integrated into Akkadian culture,[31] presumably blending with the original Akkadian belief systems that have been mostly lost to history. Sumerian deities developed Akkadian counterparts. Some remained virtually the same until later Babylonian and Assyrian rule. The Sumerian god An, for example, developed the Akkadian counterpart Anu; the Sumerian god Enki became Ea. The gods Ninurta and Enlil kept their original Sumerian names.


The Amorite Babylonians gained dominance over southern Mesopotamia by the mid-17th century BC. During the Old Babylonian Period, the Sumerian and Akkadian languages were retained for religious purposes; the majority of Sumerian mythological literature known to historians today comes from the Old Babylonian Period,[2] either in the form of transcribed Sumerian texts (most notably the Babylonian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh) or in the form of Sumerian and Akkadian influences within Babylonian mythological literature (most notably the Enûma Eliš). The Sumerian-Akkadian pantheon was altered, most notably with the introduction of a new supreme deity, Marduk. The Sumerian goddess Inanna also developed the counterpart Ishtar during the Old Babylonian Period.


The Hurrians adopted the Akkadian god Anu into their pantheon sometime no later than 1200 BC. Other Sumerian and Akkadian deities adapted into the Hurrian pantheon include Ayas, the Hurrian counterpart to Ea; Shaushka, the Hurrian counterpart to Ishtar; and the goddess Ninlil,[32] whose mythos had been drastically expanded by the Babylonians.


Some stories recorded in the older parts of the Hebrew Bible bear strong similarities to the stories in Sumerian mythology. For example, the biblical account of Noah and the Great Flood bears a striking resemblance to the Sumerian deluge myth, recorded in a Sumerian tablet discovered at Nippur.[33]:97–101 The Judaic underworld Sheol is very similar in description with the Sumerian Kur, ruled by the goddess Ereshkigal, as well as the Babylonian underworld Irkalla. Sumerian scholar Samuel Noah Kramer has also noted similarities between many Sumerian and Akkadian "proverbs" and the later Hebrew proverbs, many of which are featured in the Book of Proverbs.[34]:133–135

Genealogy of the Sumerian deities

born to Namma
born to Namma
born to Uraš
maybe daughter of Enlil
maybe son of Enki
maybe born to Ninḫursaĝ
born to Uraš
possibly also the daughter of Enki, of Enlil, or of An
maybe son of Enki
married Nergal

See also


  1. ^ Kramer, Samuel Noah (1963). The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character (PDF). The Univ. of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-45238-7.
  2. ^ a b "Sumerian Literature". Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  3. ^ a b "The Sumerian Lexicon" (PDF). John A. Halloran. Retrieved 2009-06-23.
  4. ^ "Inside a Sumerian Temple". The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  5. ^ "The Firmament and the Water Above" (PDF). Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991), 232-233. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Kramer, Samuel Noah (1961), Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C.: Revised Edition, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0-8122-1047-6
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea (1998), Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Daily Life, Greenwood, ISBN 978-0313294976
  8. ^ a b c Lambert, W. G. (2016). George, A. R.; Oshima, T. M. (eds.). Ancient Mesopotamian Religion and Mythology: Selected Essays. Orientalische Religionen in der Antike. 15. Tuebingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck. p. 118. ISBN 978-3-16-153674-8.
  9. ^ Stephens, Kathryn (2013), "An/Anu (god): Mesopotamian sky-god, one of the supreme deities; known as An in Sumerian and Anu in Akkadian", Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, University of Pennsylvania Museum
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Black, Jeremy; Green, Anthony (1992), Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary, The British Museum Press, ISBN 0-7141-1705-6
  11. ^ a b Wright, J. Edward (2000). The Early History of Heaven. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 29. ISBN 0-19-513009-X.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Choksi, M. (2014), "Ancient Mesopotamian Beliefs in the Afterlife", Ancient History Encyclopedia,
  13. ^ Barret, C. E. (2007). "Was dust their food and clay their bread?: Grave goods, the Mesopotamian afterlife, and the liminal role of Inana/Ištar". Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. 7 (1): 7–65. doi:10.1163/156921207781375123. ISSN 1569-2116.
  14. ^ Bertman, Stephen (2003). Handbook to life in ancient Mesopotamia. Facts on File. p. 143. ISBN 978-0-8160-4346-0.
  15. ^ The Sources of the Old Testament: A Guide to the Religious Thought of the Old Testament in Context. Continuum International Publishing Group. 18 May 2004. pp. 29–. ISBN 978-0-567-08463-7. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  16. ^ God in Translation: Deities in Cross-cultural Discourse in the Biblical World. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. 2010. pp. 42–. ISBN 978-0-8028-6433-8. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  17. ^ a b Coleman, J. A.; Davidson, George (2015), The Dictionary of Mythology: An A-Z of Themes, Legends, and Heroes, London, England: Arcturus Publishing Limited, p. 108, ISBN 978-1-78404-478-7
  18. ^ Kramer, Samuel Noah (1983), "The Sumerian Deluge Myth: Reviewed and Revised", Anatolian Studies, British Institute at Ankara, 33, doi:10.2307/3642699, JSTOR 3642699
  19. ^ Schneider, Tammi J. (2011), An Introduction to Ancient Mesopotamian Religion, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, ISBN 978-0-8028-2959-7
  20. ^ Hallo, William W. (1996), "Review: Enki and the Theology of Eridu", Journal of the American Oriental Society, 116 (2)
  21. ^ Black, Jeremy A.; Cunningham, Graham; Robson, Eleanor (2006), The Literature of Ancient Sumer, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-929633-0
  22. ^ "An adab to Ninlil (Ninlil A)". Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
  23. ^ a b c Wolkstein, Diane; Kramer, Samuel Noah (1983), Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, New York City, New York: Harper&Row Publishers, ISBN 0-06-090854-8
  24. ^ Harris, Rivkah (February 1991). Inanna-Ishtar as Paradox and a Coincidence of Opposites. History of Religions. 30. pp. 261–278. doi:10.1086/463228. JSTOR 1062957.
  25. ^ Vanstiphout, H. L. (1984). "Inanna/Ishtar as a Figure of Controversy". Struggles of Gods: Papers of the Groningen Work Group for the Study of the History of Religions. Berlin: Mouton Publishers. 31: 225–228. ISBN 90-279-3460-6.
  26. ^ "A hymn to Utu (Utu B)". Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
  27. ^ "A balbale to Suen (Nanna A)". Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
  28. ^ "A balbale to Nanna (Nanna B)". Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
  29. ^ "Inana's descent to the nether world". The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. Oxford University. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  30. ^ Brisch, Nicole. "Anunna (Anunnaku, Anunnaki) (a group of gods)". Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses. University of Pennsylvania Museum. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  31. ^ "Mesopotamia: the Sumerians". Washington State University. Archived from the original on 2009-07-18. Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  32. ^ "Hurrian Mythology REF 1.2". Christopher B. Siren. Retrieved 2009-06-23.
  33. ^ Kramer, Samuel Noah (1972). Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C. (Rev. ed.). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812210476.
  34. ^ Kramer, Samuel Noah (1956). From the Tablets of Sumer. The Falcon's Wing Press. ASIN B000S97EZ2.

External links

Abu (god)

Abu in Sumerian religion was a minor god of plants. He was one of the eight deities born to relieve the illness of Enki.

Abu means "father of plants and vegetation."

Stephen Langdon has proposed that Abu may have been an early name of Tammuz, on the basis that Abu was identified as the consort of Inanna, and that the name Abu did not appear in texts later than the Third Dynasty of Ur.

Ancient Mesopotamian religion

Mesopotamian religion refers to the religious beliefs and practices of the civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia, particularly Sumer, Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia between circa 3500 BC and 400 AD, after which they largely gave way to Syriac Christianity. The religious development of Mesopotamia and Mesopotamian culture in general was not particularly influenced by the movements of the various peoples into and throughout the area, particularly the south. Rather, Mesopotamian religion was a consistent and coherent tradition which adapted to the internal needs of its adherents over millennia of development.The earliest undercurrents of Mesopotamian religious thought date to the mid 4th millennium BC, and involved the worship of forces of nature as providers of sustenance. In the 3rd millennium BC objects of worship were personified and became an expansive cast of divinities with particular functions. The last stages of Mesopotamian polytheism, which developed in the 2nd and 1st millenniums, introduced greater emphasis on personal religion and structured the gods into a monarchical hierarchy with the national god being the head of the pantheon. Mesopotamian religion finally declined with the spread of Iranian religions during the Achaemenid Empire and with the Christianization of Mesopotamia.


Ashnan was the goddess of grain in Mesopotamia. She and her brother Lahar, both children of Enlil, were created by the gods to provide the Annunaki with food, but when the heavenly creatures were found unable to make use of their products, humankind was created to provide an outlet for their services.

Babylonian religion

Babylonian religion is the religious practice of Babylonia. Babylonian mythology was greatly influenced by their Sumerian counterparts, and was written on clay tablets inscribed with the cuneiform script derived from Sumerian cuneiform. The myths were usually either written in Sumerian or Akkadian. Some Babylonian texts were translations into Akkadian from the Sumerian language of earlier texts, although the names of some deities were changed.

Some of the stories of the Tanakh are believed to have been based on, influenced by, or inspired by the legendary mythological past of the Near East.

Bronze Age religion

Bronze Age religion may refer to:

Religions of the Ancient Near East

Sumerian religion

Assyro-Babylonian religion

Canaanite religion

Ancient Egyptian religion

Minoan religion

Hittite religion

Mycenaean religion

Rigvedic religion (the late Bronze Age to early Iron Age in India)

reconstructed (Eneolithic to Early Bronze Age) Proto-Indo-European religion

reconstructed Proto-Indo-Iranian religion

Bronze Age Europe, see Prehistoric religion#Bronze_Age_Europe


The edimmu, read incorrectly sometimes as ekimmu, were a type of utukku in Sumerian religion, similar in nature to the preta of the Hindu religions or the jiangshi of Chinese mythology. They were envisioned as the ghosts of those who were not buried properly. They were considered vengeful toward the living and might possess people if they did not respect certain taboos, such as the prohibition against eating ox meat. They were thought to cause disease and inspire criminal behavior in the living, but could sometimes be appeased by funeral repasts or libations. The edimmu were also thought to be completely or nearly incorporeal, "wind" spirits that sucked the life out of the susceptible and the sleeping (most commonly the young).

Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh () is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia that is often regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature. The literary history of Gilgamesh begins with five Sumerian poems about Bilgamesh (Sumerian for "Gilgamesh"), king of Uruk, dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2100 BC). These independent stories were later used as source material for a combined epic in Akkadian. The first surviving version of this combined epic, known as the "Old Babylonian" version dates to the 18th century BC and is titled after its incipit, Shūtur eli sharrī ("Surpassing All Other Kings"). Only a few tablets of it have survived. The later "standard" version compiled by Sîn-lēqi-unninni dates from the 13th to the 10th centuries BC and bears the incipit Sha naqba īmuru ("He who Saw the Abyss", in modern terms: "He who Sees the Unknown"). Approximately two thirds of this longer, twelve-tablet version have been recovered. Some of the best copies were discovered in the library ruins of the 7th-century BC Assyrian king Ashurbanipal.

The first half of the story discusses Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing the people of Uruk. After Enkidu becomes civilized through sexual initiation with a prostitute, he travels to Uruk, where he challenges Gilgamesh to a test of strength. Gilgamesh wins the contest; nonetheless, the two become friends. Together, they make a six-day journey to the legendary Cedar Forest, where they plan to slay the Guardian, Humbaba the Terrible, and cut down the sacred Cedar. The goddess Ishtar sends the Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her advances. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the Bull of Heaven after which the gods decide to sentence Enkidu to death and kill him.

In the second half of the epic, distress over Enkidu's death causes Gilgamesh to undertake a long and perilous journey to discover the secret of eternal life. He eventually learns that "Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands". However, because of his great building projects, his account of Siduri's advice, and what the immortal man Utnapishtim told him about the Great Flood, Gilgamesh's fame survived well after his death with expanding interest in the Gilgamesh story which has been translated into many languages and is featured in works of popular fiction.


Ethnomycology is the study of the historical uses and sociological impact of fungi and can be considered a subfield of ethnobotany or ethnobiology. Although in theory the term includes fungi used for such purposes as tinder, medicine (medicinal mushrooms) and food (including yeast), it is often used in the context of the study of psychoactive mushrooms such as psilocybin mushrooms, the Amanita muscaria mushroom, and the ergot fungus.

American banker Robert Gordon Wasson pioneered interest in this field of study in the late 1950s, when he and his wife became the first Westerners on record allowed to participate in a mushroom velada, held by the Mazatec curandera María Sabina. The biologist Richard Evans Schultes is also considered an ethnomycological pioneer. Later researchers in the field include Terence McKenna, Albert Hofmann, Ralph Metzner, Carl Ruck, Blaise Daniel Staples, Giorgio Samorini, Keewaydinoquay Peschel, John Marco Allegro, Clark Heinrich, Jonathan Ott, and Paul Stamets.

Besides mycological determination in the field, ethnomycology depends to a large extent on anthropology and philology. One of the major debates among ethnomycologists is Wasson's theory that the Soma mentioned in the Rigveda of the Indo-Aryans was the Amanita muscaria mushroom. Following his example similar attempts have been made to identify psychoactive mushroom usage in many other (mostly) ancient cultures, with varying degrees of credibility. Another much written about topic is the content of the Kykeon, the sacrament used during the Eleusinian mysteries in ancient Greece between approximately 1500 BCE and 396 CE. Although not an ethnomycologist as such, philologist John Allegro has made an important contribution suggesting, in a book controversial enough to have his academic career destroyed, that Amanita muscaria was not only consumed as a sacrament but was the main focus of worship in the more esoteric sects of Sumerian religion, Judaism and early Christianity. Clark Heinrich claims that Amanita muscaria use in Europe was not completely wiped out by Orthodox Christianity but continued to be used (either consumed or merely symbolically) by individuals and small groups such as medieval Holy Grail myth makers, alchemists and Renaissance artists.While Wasson views historical mushroom use primarily as a facilitator for the shamanic or spiritual experiences core to these rites and traditions, McKenna takes this further, positing that the ingestion of psilocybin was perhaps primary in the formation of language and culture and identifying psychedelic mushrooms as the original "Tree of Knowledge". There is indeed some research supporting the theory that psilocybin ingestion temporarily increases neurochemical activity in the language centers of the brain, indicating a need for more research into the uses of psychoactive plants and fungi in human history.The 1990s saw a surge in the recreational use of psilocybin mushrooms due to a combination of a psychedelic revival in the rave culture, improved and simplified cultivation techniques, and the distribution of both the mushrooms themselves and information about them via the Internet. This "mushrooming of mushroom use" has also caused an increased popularization of ethnomycology itself as there are many websites and Internet forums where mushroom references in Christmas and fairy tale symbolism are discussed. It remains open to interpretation what effect this popularization has on ethnomycology in the academic world, where the lack of verifiable evidence has kept its theories with their often far-reaching implications shrouded in controversy.


In Sumerian and ancient Mesopotamian religion, gallûs (also called gallas; Akkadian gallû < Sumerian were great demons or devils of the ancient Mesopotamian Underworld.


In Sumerian religion, Gugalanna is the first husband of Ereshkigal, the queen of the Underworld. His name probably originally meant "canal inspector of An" and he may be merely an alternative name for Ennugi. The son of Ereshkigal and Gugalanna is Ninazu. In Inanna's Descent into the Underworld, Inanna, the goddess of love, beauty, sex, and war, tells the gatekeeper Neti that she is descending to the Underworld to attend the funeral of "Gugalanna, the husband of my elder sister Ereshkigal". Some scholars consider Gugalanna to be the same figure as the Bull of Heaven, slain by Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Lord of the Isles (David Drake)

A series of books by author David Drake. In 1997, Drake began his largest fantasy series, Lord of the Isles, using elements of Sumerian religion and medieval era technology. The series consists of nine books broken into two distinct parts, the Lord of the Isles consisting of the first six books, and a final trilogy dubbed the Crown of the Isles.

Me (mythology)

In Sumerian mythology, a me (𒈨; Sumerian: me; Akkadian: paršu) is one of the decrees of the gods that is foundational to those social institutions, religious practices, technologies, behaviors, mores, and human conditions that make civilization, as the Sumerians understood it, possible. They are fundamental to the Sumerian understanding of the relationship between humanity and the gods.


In Sumerian religion, Ninlil (𒀭𒊩𒌆𒆤 DNIN.LÍL"lady of the open field" or "Lady of the Wind"), also called Sud, in Assyrian called Mulliltu, is the consort goddess of Enlil. Her parentage is variously described. Most commonly she is called the daughter of Haia (god of stores) and Nunbarsegunu (or Ninshebargunnu (a goddess of barley) or Nisaba). Another Akkadian source says she is the daughter of Anu (a.k.a. An) and Antu (Sumerian Ki). Other sources call her a daughter of Anu and Nammu.

She lived in Dilmun with her family. Impregnated by her husband Enlil, who lie with her by the water, she conceived a boy, Nanna/Suen, the future moon god. As punishment Enlil was dispatched to the underworld kingdom of Ereshkigal, where Ninlil joined him. Enlil impregnated her disguised as the gatekeeper, where upon she gave birth to their son Nergal, god of death. In a similar manner she conceived the underworld god Ninazu when Enlil impregnated her disguised as the man of the river of the nether world, a man-devouring river. Later Enlil disguised himself as the man of the boat, impregnating her with a fourth deity Enbilulu, god of rivers and canals. All of these act as substitutes for Nanna/Suen to ascend. In some texts Ninlil is also the mother of Ninurta, the heroic god who slew Asag the demon with his mace, Sharur.

After her death, she became the goddess of the wind, like Enlil. She may be the Goddess of the South Wind referred to in the story of Adapa, as her husband Enlil was associated with northerly winter storms. As "Lady Wind" she may be associated with the figure of the Akkadian demon "Lil-itu", thought to have been the origin of the Hebrew Lilith legend.


In Sumerian religion, Nirah is the sukkal, or personal attendant, of Ištaran, the local god of the Sumerian city-state of Der. He was identified with snakes and may appear in the form of a snake on kudurrus (boundary stones).

Religions of the ancient Near East

The religions of the ancient Near East were mostly polytheistic, with some examples of monolatry (for example, Yahwism and Atenism). Some scholars believe that the similarities between these religions indicate that the religions are related, a belief known as patternism.Many religions of the ancient near East and their offshoots can be traced to Proto-Semitic religion. Other religions in the ancient Near East include Ancient Egyptian religion, the Luwian and Hittite religions of Asia Minor and the Sumerian religion of ancient Mesopotamia. Offshoots of Proto-Semitic religion include Assyro-Babylonian religion, Canaanite religion, and Arabian religion. Judaism is a development of Canaanite religion, both Indo-European and Semitic religions influenced the ancient Greek religion, and Zoroastrianism was a product of ancient Indo-Iranian religion primarily the Ancient Iranian religion. In turn these religious traditions strongly influenced the later monotheistic religions of Christianity, Mandeanism, Sabianism, Gnosticism, Islam, and Manicheanism, which inherited their monotheism from Judaism and Zoroastrianism.

Self-praise of Shulgi (Shulgi D)

Self-praise of Shulgi (Shulgi D) is a Sumerian myth, written on clay tablets dated to between 2100 and 2000 BC.

Tree of Life (Bahrain)

The Tree of Life (Shajarat-al-Hayat) in Bahrain is a 9.75 meters (32 feet) high Prosopis cineraria tree that is over 400 years old. It is on a hill in a barren area of the Arabian Desert, 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Jebel Dukhan, the highest point in Bahrain, and 40 kilometers from Manama, the nearest city.The tree is abundantly covered in green leaves. Due to its age and the fact that it is the only major tree growing in the area, the tree is a local tourist attraction and is visited by approximately 65,000 people every year. The yellow resin is used to make candles, aromatics and gum; the beans are processed into meal, jam, and wine.It is not certain how the tree survives. Bahrain has little to no rain throughout the year. Its roots are 50 meters deep, which may be enough to reach the water source. Others say the tree has learned to extract moisture from grains of sand. Some assert that the tree is protected by Enki, a god of water in Babylonian and Sumerian religion. Others claim that the tree is standing in what was once the Garden of Eden, and so has a more mystical source of water.In 2009, the tree was nominated to be on the New7Wonders of Nature list, but it did not finish on the list.In October 2010, archaeologists unearthed 500-year-old pottery and other artefacts in the vicinity of the tree. A soil and dendrochronology analysis conducted in the 1990s concluded that the tree was an Acacia planted in 1582.The tree was mentioned in the 1991 film L.A. Story, where Steve Martin calls it one of the most mystical places on earth.


Zuism or Sumerian-Mesopotamian Neopaganism define a modern Pagan religious movement based on the Sumerian religion (and later Mesopotamian religions which continued it), and calls itself the "oldest religion, foundation of all major religions". Modern Sumerian-Mesopotamian religious groups already existed since the 1980s; however, the first institutional form of the movement was founded in Iceland in 2010 by Ólafur Helgi Þorgrímsson, and in 2013 Zuism was registered among the religions recognised by the Icelandic government. After the mid-2010s, branches of the church were established in other countries of central and northern Europe.In late 2015 the Zuist Church of Iceland was taken over by a new leadership, under which the church was turned into a medium for a mass protest against the nationally mandated tax on religious membership; Icelanders began converting in large numbers as the new leadership promised that the tax received by the Zuist Church would have been used to refund the church members themselves. After a legal struggle, in 2017 the original directors of the church were restored to power. They decided to maintain the previous leaders' principle of refunding church members, and also to devolve funds to social welfare institutions. Zuism has spread considerably in Iceland by attracting members among younger, internet-connected, less Christian generations of Icelanders.

Primordial beings
Primary deities
Other major deities
Minor deities
Demons, spirits, and monsters
Mortal heroes

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