Mother of the Watery Abyss

February 25, 2022

Nammu is the Mesopotamian great goddess of water, who created heaven and earth. She is considered the mother of everything and everyone, including the gods.

She was worshiped at the temple of Eridu, attested in Mesopotamian literature as the very first temple and probably predating the arrival of the Sumerians. This temple site was later repurposed to center a god of the subterranean waters, called Enki by the Sumerians, who was considered her son. Though Nammu makes brief appearances in Sumerian mythology, she had no known cult in historical times.

I wonder if Nammu might be the Sumerian title of a mother goddess worshiped by people in southern Mesopotamia before the Sumerians gained ascendency in the region. This might explain her role as remote ancestor, her association with Eridu and its swampy surroundings, and her lack of known cult following the rise of Sumerian cities.

Nammu’s “son,” who eclipsed her worship, may or may not have originally been Sumerian, although Enki is a Sumerian deity. There is a sweet story about the transfer of religious (and possibly political and economic) primacy from Eridu to the city of Uruk called “Inanna and the God of Wisdom.” I’ll write about it in a future post.

Temples and priesthoods for millenia claimed lineage (actual or ideological) to Eridu. A pool or small replica of a pool could be found even in northern Mesopotamian temples, representing the watery area surrounding Eridu. This water was believed to be part of the fluid of creation, the Abzu, emanating from Nammu herself.

Deer Reader

July 1, 2016

Photo: Capillon.
Photo: Capillon.


I’m studying deer this summer and will be sharing tidbits now and then about this magical animal. This is a Sumerian copper plaque dating to about 2500 B.C.E. from the temple of the goddess Ninhursaga. It shows Imdugud, also known as the Anzu Bird, protected by two stags. Imdugud has a lion head and the body of an unknown bird. Imdugud is identified in Mesopotamian literature as male, though this particular image looks like a lioness to me. Imdugud is the bird who steals the Tablet of Destinies from the god Enki. Eventually Enki recovers the Tablet with the help of his turtle familiar. Enki is called the “Stag of the Abzu.” The Abzu refers to the underworld freshwater kingdom that fed the marshland of southern Sumer and the stag is probably the Mesopotamian Fallow Deer, but the title is still cryptic to me.

Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003.

Turtle’s Choice

June 17, 2016


I was driving back from town this week and saw this snapper laying her eggs on the side of the road. It didn’t look to me like the best place to do that, but I guess I don’t get to decide.

Turtles are sacred to the Greek goddess Gaia and the Sumerian god Enki.