Ningal: The Mesopotamian Goddess Awakening Female Mysticism
In the city of Ur, where the first settlements in the marshes of southern Mesopotamia were built with reeds without any type of nails or woods, Ningal was born to Ninhursag and Enki. Her name means the Great Lady, and she’s also known as Nikkal.
As a young and pretty girl, she was the first to fall in love with Nanna, the moon god, when she sees him one evening soaring across the night skies. He happily responds by inviting her to meet him by the marshes. Although a bit shy, she cannot resist him. She joins Nanna at the marshes and the two spend many nights in secrecy enjoying a passionate and honeyed-mooned love.
Ningal as the Maiden Bride of the Moon God
One night, on the eve of the Dark Moon, Nanna says goodbye to Ningal, promising to return to her in two nights. He goes home to the skies, yet soon becomes impatient and descends to the Earth in disguise as a pilgrim, pleading for shelter. He knocks on Ningal’s door and when she opens it, he begs her to join him in the marshes once again. By now, Ningal is a different woman. She has matured and is no longer as submissive as when they first met. This time, she is assertive and tells him to wait, explaining that he first must fulfill a set of wishes for her to continue with their relationship. Her requirements are not selfish, however, but are for the benefit of the fruitfulness of the land, of the marshes, of wild and domestic animals and their offspring.
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Nanna obliges by doing as he has been asked, acknowledging Ningal as his true consort and beloved. True to her word, Ningal becomes his bride. In the tale, she evolves from the maiden bride of the moon god to the mother of the sun god Utu and her two daughters, Inanna/Ishtar, goddess of the planet Venus, and Ereshkigal, goddess of the underworld.
Ishtar holding her symbol. (CC BY 2.5)
Ningal, the Sumerian and Akkadian goddess, is known as Nikkal in Phoenician and Aramaic. The oldest known song, written with both words and musical notation, comes from the remains of the ancient city of Ugarit in Syria. Written about 1400 BC, it’s one of two hymns to the goddess Nikkal and to the seven goddesses of childbirth, the Kotharat, found in an ancient wedding myth. It’s part of the story of Nikkal’s marriage to the moon god. In the myth, he offers to pay her father a bride-price of a thousand shekels of silver and ten thousand of gold, along with some lapis lazuli. He promises to turn “the steppe land of her love into an orchard and vineyard.” The language of the story is erotic.
Her father suggests that he marries two other goddesses, saying, “Oh most gracious of the gods, become son-in-law to Baal; wed Pidray his daughter. I shall introduce you to her father Baal. He will betroth you Yabradmay. His father’s daughter Lion will arouse!”
But the moon god refuses. He says, “With Nikkal will be my wedding!”
Afterward he pays the bride-price for Nikkal.
“With Nikkal will be my wedding!” (paradon /Adobe Stock)
The first part of Nikkal’s wedding song recorded the courtship and payment of the bride-price, while the second half was concerned with the feminine aspects of the marriage, a hymn to the Kotharat, goddesses of pregnancy and childbirth. Fertility, symbolized by the birth of offspring, was believed to be the principal result of the marriage; thus, the Canaanites believed that fruitfulness in heaven would also result in terrestrial abundance for human beings. The story and song appear to be designed to be recited and performed as part of a wedding ritual. Ningal’s symbol is a vessel of water with a fish in it, which signifies the womb, and it is in her womb that the sun god Utu is born along with his two sisters, Inanna/Ishtar.
Ningal was worshipped at Ur, especially during the period of the Third Dynasty. The kings of Ur III built her the temple E-karzida and dedicated statues and stele to her. While her story starts with love and marriage, it ends with her city’s destruction. A poet wrote a song about the destruction of the city of Ur, around the time of the city’s destruction in 2000 BC.
Restored ziggurat in ancient Ur, Sumerian temple in Iraq. (homocosmicos /Adobe Stock)
The Rise and Pushback Against Female Mysticism
Ningal is associated with dream divination, vision, and interpretation. It’s believed that the world’s first book of dreams, a collection of dream symbols and their meanings, comes from Mesopotamia. Sumerians observed their dreams as signs and messages sent from gods. People had their dreams translated by “dream priests” who projected the dreamer’s future. The method of planting and nurturing dreams, then bidding them into reality by means of special rituals is thought to have been invented during this period. These practices then spread throughout the ancient world and endured in countless formulas until the twentieth century. Some believe that the Mesopotamian model of dream interpretation had an impact on the cultural beliefs of the Egyptians and gave rise to the Hebrew, Arabic, and Greek traditions of dream interpretation.
In the four centuries from 1400 to 1800, several European and North American countries were troubled by the specter of the witch. The persecution of accused witches in Europe resulted in trial and sometimes torture and execution of tens of thousands of victims, about 80 percent of whom were women, according to historian Brian Levack. Under the guidance of the Malleus Maleficarum, or the Hammer of the Witches, millions of women were declared heretics and tortured, hung, or burned alive during the infamous witch hunts. This female genocide targeted any woman with property or power, women who practiced herbal or natural forms of healing (midwives in particular), and women who displayed sexual independence.
A study conducted by anthropologists in one Chinese region provided an opportunity to test the most common hypothesis, that witchcraft accusations act as punishments for those who do not cooperate with local norms. According to this theory, witch tags mark supposedly untrustworthy individuals and encourage others to conform out of fear of being labeled. However, some empirical studies have shown that witch labeling instead undermines trust and social cohesion in a society.
When Rome created medical schools and started switching to a male-only practice, they wanted to do away with the wise women who took away business by creating simples and tinctures. They went to the church and received a papal bull document that gave them permission to seek out “witches.”
During the rise of female mysticism, female spirituality became criminalized and women were increasingly persecuted by the Church. Gaia Cloutier writes, “The most central tenet of mysticism is that through a combination of physical, ritual, intellectual, and spiritual practices it is possible for the individual soul of the mystic to achieve an encounter with God.”
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A mysterious sorceress or witch. (kharchenkoirina / Adobe Stock)
Cloutier writes that “Many female mystics were able to live meaningful, productive, and fulfilling lives throughout the medieval period and were viewed as holy or authoritative by their communities and the Church. Other mystics, however, instead occupied ambiguous space between safely orthodox and dangerously heterodox in the eyes of the Church and their communities. The Church had a number of concerns about the dangerous potential of mystics.”
Fears regarding women’s spiritual powers exist in all religious books which focus on a male God, male prophets, male disciples, male messengers and miracle makers, with few women worthy of prominence mention. Most women in these books are cast as the devil’s gateway, accused of causing trouble for the world and suffering as a result—whether through the pain of pregnancies, oppression, or violence. Of the 124,000 or so supreme humans responsible for reforming their people and bringing them toward God, Muhammad being the final messenger, the Quran does not mention any female prophets.
Religions raise the rank of men over women, have stricter sanctions against women, and require them to be submissive, dismissing their supernatural powers even though, in general and as less egotistical child-bearers, women are more attuned to the spiritual, unseen world.
Spirituality requires that one uses their intuition, and that means being in touch with our feelings. Almost all religions emphasize feelings rather than thinking. This is the way to grace and sacred knowledge.
In general, women are more attuned to the spiritual, unseen world. (jozefklopacka /Adobe Stock)
The Spirit of Ningal’s Teachings Survives
Today, the spirit of Ningal’s teachings survives. Today, you see a rebirth of “witches” because people have rediscovered that our Earth needs us to protect it, that the magic of the natural world has many remedies with few side effects, and there is a balance in the duality of the faith. Today, a woman can honor her dreams and visions. By responding to her calling, she can shine bright and carry the light for others.
The power of dreaming has been destroyed in ancient Mesopotamia, forced to travel to other parts of the world, like the United States, where the indigenous people of this land have nurtured it and kept it alive for thousands of years. People from around the world risk their life to come to America to make their dreams come true, understanding that there’s more to life than just the physical realm.
Inside each one of us is a place where time doesn’t exist and perceptions surpass the limits of the physical and material world. That’s where our visions and dreams live. But in a world bombarded with noise and a consumer-oriented environment, how do we activate that part of us? One technique is to understand and awaken your third eye.
The third eye is a mystical and esoteric concept referring to the ajna chakra. It is a speculative invisible eye which provides perception beyond ordinary sight and acts as a spiritual gateway. The third eye is associated with clairvoyance, out-of-body experiences, visions, and precognition. People who have developed their third eye are known as seers.
Maitreya, with a developed third eye. (ItinerantLens /Adobe Stock)
Everyone has access to their third eye. When you have a hunch and act on it, you’ve used your third eye. Your third eye is a sense which can be advanced to be more refined and accurate than just being a hunch. When you work on your third eye, you open up your imagination, tap into your innermost dreams, become aware, and understand the metaphysics of your own existence. Your eating habits might change and so will your hearing as you become more attuned to the sounds of nature.
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What does the Bible say about the third eye? According to Matthew 6:22-23, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
There are many ways to advance your third eye, including resting under the moon, sitting against a tree bark, cultivating silence, nurturing your creativity, practicing contemplation, journaling, and dream work which includes writing and interpreting your dreams.
A person meditating with inner light shining. (quickshooting /Adobe Stock)
How will you use your dreams in this world?
Think of this poem by Steve Maraboli.
Cemeteries are full of unfulfilled dreams. . . countless echoes of "could have" and "should have". . . countless books unwritten. . . countless songs unsung. . . I want to live my life in such a way that when my body is laid to rest, it will be a well needed rest from a life well lived, a song well sung, a book well written, opportunities well explored, and a love well expressed.
Top Image: Lady with an elegant headdress. Credit: Atelier Sommerland / Adobe Stock
This article is an extract from ‘Mesopotamian Goddesses: Unveiling Your Feminine Power’ by Weam Namou, and has been published with permission.
By Weam Namou