The Sumerian cosmogony

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.

In all the myths concerning her, Ninhursag is associated with life & power, but Enki comes to rival and, finally, dominate her.

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; and 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.