Ninlil is a Sumerian Goddess, and Her name, Lady Air/Wind, is an honorific title to complement Enlil. Her original name is Sud, according to Gwendolyn Leickīs A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology (Routledge, 1991), and the myth Enlil and Sud describes how the new title was conferred upon the young goddess on her wedding day. I stress the point introduced above: Ninlil is the feminine counterpart/Soul Partner of Enlil, the leading young god of Sumer and firstborn of the Anunnaki. As the wife of Enlil, She was known in Nippur since the Old Sumerian period. Many votive offerings were brought to Her, particularly during the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur.
Ninlilīs mother is Ninshebargunu, the goddess of Eresh, an ancient agricultural deity, and her father is Haia, the god of the stores. Ninlil is explicitly identified with the grain goddess Ashnan, as well as with Nintur, the birth goddess. Ninlilīs dearest sons are Ninurta and Nanna, and She appears in hymns and other texts in praise of these gods, always as the most loved of mothers to her sons. Most texts dealing with Her, however, concentrate on Her relationship with Enlil. Many compositions stress the high degree of influence and power of the goddess and Her position as Enlilīs Queen. The two couple in union administer the ME, which they were said to have brought forth together, conferring the highest privileges upon the goddess Inanna and decreeing the fates of gods and men. During the Old Babylonian period, various hymns and prayers were written in which the supplicant addresses Ninlil in an attempt to influence Enlil. In Assyria, She is Ashurīs wife and Her sacred animal is the lion.
Frymer-Kensky, in her brilliant study of Mesopotamian Goddesses contained in "In the Wake of Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformations of Pagan Myth" (Fawcett-Columbine, 1992) says that Ninlil is also identified with the Great Mother goddess Ninhursag-Ki, and that this identification is important for several theological purposes. Firstly, originally separated from Ninlil, Ninhursag was one of the triad of great Mesopotamian gods, Anu (the Skyfather), Enlil (Air/Wind) and Ninhursag (the living Earth), Enlil being the firstborn of Anu and Ninhursag-Ki. Identifying Ninlil with Ninhursag elevates Ninlil to the company of the Greatest Gods, and cuts Ninhursag-Ki down to size at the same time. Ninhursag is brought then fully within the cicle and household of Enlil, thus increasing the power of the young Air/Wind god. In addition, we can read another important truth embedded in the figure of Ninlil: as a beloved wife and mother, Ninlil is very powerful, but it is the relationship with the husband that forms a major component in the goddessī social identification and status. This was not so with Ninhursag-Ki initially, who stood as not male-identified and dependent in myth and literature.
The most important myth that involves Enlil and Ninlil is a favorite of mine, called the Begetting of the Moon God, Nanna. It is a tale of coming of age, whereby a Maiden goddess and a god grow from unsure adolescents to assertive adults in love and committed to a future together. Which is not an easy process, as we will discover.
The myth starts when young Enlil sets his mind to make his a young maiden of the Holy House called Ninlil. Both have no experience in affairs of the mind, body, heart and soul, and Enlil forces himself onto the maiden, who feels that now she carries the seed of the most coveted of the young gods. Hurt beyond measure by the violence she had been subjected to, Ninlil does not hesitate and takes Enlil to trial in front of the assembled Anunnaki gods. Pay attention: a young goddess demands the punishment of her rapist, who was himself one of the Great Gods. I doubt there is such an example of feminine assertiveness in world myth and religion.
Enlil is condemned to the Underworld, and the myth grows in depth and intensity. Ninlil allows Enlilīs descent, but as all women of heart, mind, body and soul would do and have done since times immemorial, she sets out immediately to descend and attempt to rescue her stubborn lover back to the Heights Above. Notice: Ninlil did want Enlil to be punished, he did not evade punishment, and the most passionate of all descent stories starts with full participation of all main characters. In a fantastic twist of fates, it is by the designs of the Underworld, we can infer, that Enlil meets Ninlil three times in disguise, having to ask for her love, without telling her in reality who he was. In other words, he, who had not approached her as a tender lover, had to beg for her affection, and she, as his hardest judge, had to learn to see the healed man beyond the conceited young god who could not reveal himself as such, and along the process, reassert herself as a true goddess and consort for the Air Lord.
Three times they meet in the Underworld, three times they mate, and three times she receives within herself to transform the lessons Enlil had to learn to grow as a full man and responsible god. This means she receives in her womb three more seeds of Enlil, and receives them into herself to heal. This is the only part I somehow do not agree entirely, because I find unfair Ninlil to get three more times pregnant, but the meaning is that anger and loss should be transformed, and it is the goddessī task to heal and rescue the god (and vice versa, why do you all think we have so many heroes?) . In the end, both come back to the Heights Above, Goddess and God, to form one of the most loving couples in Mesopotamian myth and Religion.
I have dealt with this myth in depth in a retelling called Ninlilīs Descent, where the figure of Ninlil is explored in more depth. Because for those who have eyes to see, although the original tablets of the myth seem to center on Enlil, it is Ninlil who is the catalyst of action, as both change and grow to respect each other fully.
Scholarsī interpretations of this myth unfortunately concentrate on patriarchal stereotypes, and I will quote two examples of the many here, i.e. that Ninlil asserts herself by referring to her pregnancy (Leick, Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamina Literature), or Jacobsen (The Treasures of Darkness) which concentrates on the figure of Enlil as the Sex-offender. There is much more to this myth than this. What Ninlil really wants first, and this is a fact that is hard to swallow by patriarchal agendas, is justice for herself, the baby in her womb and Enlil, and secondly, she wants a future and her dignity beack. Ninlil is in fact the Avenging Bride, the young girl who had to face the failure of all her dreams of romance to understand the humanity of the greatest of the young gods and as such grow to become the Beloved and Soul Counterpart of Enlil in all levels and spheres. Enlil, on the other hand, had to swallow his pride and beg for Ninlilīs affection, a test of great humility for the proudest of all Mesopotamian gods.
To attempt to grasp the full meaning of this mighty myth is to dive into the innermost fabric of a civilization that respected above all the Laws of Balance and Justice, that protected the coming of the younger generations and who was not at all compliant with the wrongdoings of even the mightiest respresentatives of society. Furthermore, a civilization that gave voice to a young womanīs plight and raises her to the level of her future consort , Enlil, the greatest of the younger Anunnaki Gods.
What is the teaching embedded in this myth? That love and responsibility march hand in hand, that both Enlil and Ninlil had to go beyond their own ideas of how to related to each other and thus try to find through tenacity and and self-confidence the ways to each othersī hearts. Ninlil wanted to be courted initially by the proudest of all gods, but did not know how to value herself, and Enlil was impetuous and violent, a trait of youth who has to learn about balancing hormones and be responsible for whomever s/he captivates. But remember that none gave up, and stood the hardest trials to be together as equals at the end.
The composition Enlil and Sud also deals with Enlil and the future Ninlil, but the myth is a poem of courtly love, where Enlil meets Sud and courts her properly, following all traditions.
Two points should be raised here on Mesopotamian family values:
a) legal texts show that defloration, especially of a free girl, was a serious offense, and in Sumerian times the offender would have to marry the girl.
b) virginity is not a real concern, but the welfare of the girl and the protection of the coming offspring.
c) there might have been a concern that young women were more vulnerable to seduction, and that it was the job of society, with its protocols of marriage and adultery to intervene to ensure the punishement of wrongdoers and the protection of the young.
There is no suggestion in the myth that Ninlil is devalued or that she has brought shame upon her family. Quite the contrary: it is the greatest and proudest of the young gods, Enlil, the one who suffers all blame.
Now, it is with the deepest delight that I turn turn the table round onto those who think Babylon was a place of depravity and vice. I wonīt mention such holy writs, but it is clear that they should get the facts right, history and myths, choose truth and acknowledge the unforgivable mistakes and errors they made which do not hold water under the true scrutiny of the Mesopotamian tradition. It is also a fact that Mesopotamian gods were partnered to their chosen goddesses, and that there is no philandering or adultery in Mesopotamian mythology and religion, a sharp contrast with other classical traditions. In the light of this evidence, it is possible to suggest that Mesopotamia tried to cultivate strong and quite conservative family values.
Because of her prominence as wife of Enlil and mother of Nanna, Nergal, Ninazu and Ninghizida, four of the great gods of Mesopotamia, Nilil is not the model of an average wife. Even though her name is a feminine form of Enlil, she never fades into the woodwork. She is the wife of the master and shares his power, often being called mistress and queen. She shares Enlilīs role and his functions. Far from being an insignificant consort, Ninlil is an august queen who wields power along with her husband, Lord Enlil.
Ninlil is prominent because she is the wife fo the king. In Sumerian times, royal women wielded considerable power, both in the court and in the larger political economical system. Queens, governorsī wives, princesses participated actively in the public life of Sumer. These women led lives vastly different from those of ordinary women - lives of prominence, power and influence. Ninlil is therefore the archetypal human queen of the land of Mesopotamia, the justified ruler and administrator.
Ninlil is such a strong image of feminine wholeness for our high tech times. In Her, Enlil found his match, the Avenging Bride who welcomed him back into her life to stay, his full consort. Also, Ninlil is a queen mother who is very much loved especially by her powerful son gods, and a loving, caring mother humanity can turn to for guidance, counsel and the granting of requests.
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