The 7 Main Gods Of The Mesopotamian Pantheon: What Are They?

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“Land between two rivers.” This is what Mesopotamia means (from the Greek words mesos, middle, and potamos, river). The name refers, therefore, to the civilizations that flourished between the courses of the Tigris and Euphrates, in what would now be the countries of Iran and Iraq. It was an ideal area for farmland, which led to the first agricultural settlements proliferating there around 9,000 BC and, later, towards the 7th millennium BC, the first large cities.

However, we should not think that the population that settled in Mesopotamia was a homogeneous and solid culture. Quite the contrary; In the area “between two rivers” various civilizations emerged that, yes, exchanged cultural and, of course, religious elements. In this article we will talk about the Mesopotamian pantheon and its 7 most important gods. Join us on a journey through the religion of ancient Mesopotamia.

The Gods of Mesopotamia

We have already commented how several civilizations emerged in the area with their own cultural characteristics. These populations, however, exchanged goods and ideas; The gods of each pantheon were assimilated or renamed, and often what had been a secondary god in one of these peoples became the main deity of another

The peoples who settled on the plains between the Tigris and the Euphrates can be broadly divided into two large groups: the Sumerians and the Semites. The first were located in the south, where they built formidable city-states such as Ur, Uruk or Lagash, and their origin is unknown. On the other hand, the Semitic peoples were made up of Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians, among others, and each of them experienced their own cultural and political rise in certain periods, ranging from the 5th to the 1st millennium BC, when the area was annexed to the Achaemenid Persian Empire.

The main triad of Sumerian gods was made up of Anu or An, the god of the sky (in fact, an means sky in the ancient Sumerian language), Enki or Ea, the powerful lord of the waters and friend of human beings, and Enlil, an irascible god who threw winds and storms at humanity. For its part, the so-called “Semitic triad” was composed of three gods of celestial nature: Ishtar, the moon-goddess of beauty, sex, love and war, Sin, her father, the god of the moon, and, finally, Shamash, the splendid sun-god, also ruler of justice and laws. But let’s approach the Mesopotamian pantheon and its main gods more calmly.

1. Anu or An, the lord of the sky

This is a very ancient god, originally from Sumer, and elevated to the rank of king of the gods. However, despite his indisputable power, Anu lives retired in heaven with his wife Ki or Antu, and is barely interested in human affairs. The creatures of the earth need other gods to act as transmitters to communicate their needs to Anu, such as, for example, his son Enlil, the lord of storms, the only one who has permission to access the god.

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Creator gods who peacefully retire to their heavenly domain are common in the mythologies of various cultures. Thus, the Greek equivalent of Anu would be Uranus, while in the Hindu pantheon we find Brahma, lord of the gods who, however, barely participates in the myths.

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2. Enki or Ea, the lord of the waters

This is one of the most beloved divinities, which is part of the “Sumerian triad” along with Anu and Enlil. Enki is an ancient divinity who is related to the waters. His kingdom is Apsu, a place located in the depths of the earth, where rivers of primeval waters flow, related to the creation of the world. Just as the sweet waters (Apsu) are the masculine principle, Tiamat, the salt waters, are the feminine; From the eternal conjunction of both, the world arises and is nourished.

It may be that the esteem that human beings felt towards Enki was due to his role as a benefactor of humanity. Because Enki not only gave people the means to prosper (arts, crafts, writing…), but also saved the human species from the great destruction of the world, which occurred in the form of a flood.

Sumerian mythology tells the myth as follows. Enlil, the furious lord of storms, wanted to exterminate human beings because their noise gave him a headache. He tried twice without success; On the third, he projected a flood that would put an end to that “annoying” creation forever.

Enki, taking pity on those men and women, notified Atrahasis, a good and pious man, and ordered him to build a huge ship. Afterwards, Atrahasis had to get into it with his family, plant seeds and a couple of animals of each species. Of course, the story went beyond Sumer and penetrated the mythology of other Mesopotamian peoples, including the Hebrew culture, which recorded the story of Atrahasis under the name of Noah.

3. Enlil, the lord of storms

This was the vengeful god who wished to destroy the very humanity he had created. This is a very important Sumerian divinity who was worshiped as lord of the wind and storms and who, therefore, needed to be kept satisfied; Otherwise, Enlil could unleash natural disasters and destroy cities and crops.

The myths related to Enlil are disturbing. In addition to the story of the flood, we know another myth that tells of the rape he committed against Ninlil, the goddess of the air. As punishment, Enlil is sent to the underworld, but Ninlil follows him there, where she gives birth to Nannar (or Sin in Akkadian and Babylonian), the moon, and other deities of the underworld, such as the terrifying Nergal (which, in other versions, is originally a celestial god).

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4. Nannar or Sin, the moon-god

According to Sumerian myth, this divinity is the daughter of Enlil and Ninlil and sister of Nergal, the terrible lord of the dead. It is curious how in the Mesopotamian pantheon the lunar deity is masculine, since, in general, lunar deities are usually related to the feminine (remember Artemis in Greek mythology or Freya in Scandinavian mythology).

Nannar is called, in Sumerian mythology, the “bull of heaven.” In this way, the satellite is related to the shape of the antlers of the bull, a lunar animal in practically all mythologies. In fact, Nannar is usually represented as an old man wearing horns and riding a majestic winged bull, a symbol of his power.

In various versions of the myth, Ishtar, the beautiful Akkadian and Babylonian goddess of love and war, is the daughter of Nannar, from whom she collects the lunar scepter. Ishtar (or Inanna, in Sumerian) thus becomes the new moon-goddess of the pantheon and becomes part of the “Semitic triad” along with her father Nannar and her brother Shamash, the sun.

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5. Innana or Ishtar, goddess of love and war

Ishtar (in her Babylonian, Akkadian and Assyrian names) is perhaps the best-known deity of the Mesopotamian pantheon. Other divinities derive from her, such as the Phoenician Astarte or the Greek Aphrodite, so we must believe that her cult lasted for millennia and acquired various characteristics, while abandoning others.

Known in Sumer as Inanna (she appears in their texts since the 4th millennium BC), she is one of the divine characters with the most myths dedicated to her. She is known mainly from the poems of Enheduanna (3rd millennium BC), priestess and daughter of the great king Sargon. Through her, Inanna is assimilated to the Semitic deity Ishtar and becomes one of the most revered goddesses of the Mesopotamian pantheon.

Inanna-Ishtar is described as a willful and independent creature, who often uses her seduction skills to get what she wants (as we see in the colossal Poem of Gilgamesh). In addition to being the goddess of love and sex, therefore protector of fertility and births, Inanna-Ishtar is also a warrior goddess, very different in nature from Ninhursag, the ancient Sumerian mother goddess. Its animal-symbol is the lion, as can be seen in the magnificent Ishtar Gate, decorated with glazed bricks that display figures of lions.

As the goddess of fertility, Inanna-Ishtar is in charge of watching over the reproduction cycle with her husband Dumuzi, the shepherd. There are several poems dedicated to Inanna’s descent into the underworld, or Land of No Return, as the Sumerians called it, to rescue her deceased husband. Thus, in a clear parallel with the Greek myth of Persephone, Dumuzi emerges from the underworld in spring to mate with his wife and thus guarantee the fertility of the world.

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6. Utu or Shamash, the sun-god

For the Sumerians it was Utu; for the Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia, Shamash. He was one of the sons of Nannar, the lunar god, and twin brother of Inanna, who collected the lunar scepter from his father. Here we can clearly see another parallel: Apollo and Artemis, twin brothers who also personify the sun and the moon.

Utu-Shamash’s wife is Sherida (Aya for the Akkadians and Babylonians), a young goddess who is related to the dawn and who is sometimes called The Bride. In addition to being a solar divinity, Utu-Shamash is the lord of justice, the one who judges and grants laws to humans. Not in vain, and according to myth, it is he who delivers the famous code of Hammurabi, the first compilation of laws, to the Babylonian monarch.

Utu-Shamash is often depicted with a mace or a dagger; In the Mesopotamian proto-zodiac, he is represented as a scale, in allusion to his justice mission (a clear antecedent of the sign of Libra). On the other hand, the scorpions that sometimes accompany him relate him to darkness and the underworld; It is not in vain that Nergal, the god of the dead, is sometimes named in the tablets as the “evil side” of Utu.

7. Ereshkigal, the lady of the underworld

Lady of the Great Place, that is the meaning of the goddess’s name in Sumerian. A “great place” that never ends and always expands, since the dead grow in each generation and, with them, their eternal resting place. Not in vain, one of the myths tells how Ereshkigal threatens the heavenly gods to open the doors of her kingdom and that the millions and millions of dead people will take over the earth.

However, before being a goddess of the underworld, Ereshkigal was a goddess of the sky; According to some sources, she is the older sister of the beautiful Inanna. The myth says that a dragon from hell kidnapped her and imprisoned her there. Since then, the young goddess has the sad obligation to rule over the shadows.

Her partner in this arduous task is Nergal, who shares with her the throne of Irkalla, the Land of No Return. One of the legends in this regard tells us that Ereshkigal sent a minor god to represent her at a banquet with the gods, since the sky and the gloomy Irkalla could not mix. However, Nergal, one of the celestial gods, offended the envoy, so she had to travel to the underworld to answer to Ereshkigal.

The other gods warned him of the goddess’s tricks: he must refrain from sitting and eating in the Irkalla and, above all, he must remain immune to the charms of the beautiful queen of the dead. As might be expected, Nergal was not successful. As soon as he looked at Ereshkigal’s naked body while she was bathing, he gave in to temptation and love. Since then, both rule the kingdom of shadows, for all eternity.

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