Praise the Beers: Ninkasi

Perhaps the earliest goddess associated with beer was Ninkasi, from the Sumerian civilization. Sumer was located in southern Mesopotamia, and was one of the earliest civilizations we know about. Though there are a few older, Sumer was most likely the first to start farming, as early as 5300 BCE, and probably even sooner than that, but because writing wasn’t invented until the start of the Bronze Age—during the latter half of the 4th millennium BCE—that is the earliest definitive record we have. According to Sumerian mythology, Ninkasi was the daughter of Enki, the chief Sumerian god (Enki means “Lord of the Earth”). She was born from “sparkling fresh water” and created to “satisfy the desire” and “sate the heart.” Though references can be found to Ninkasi as long ago as 2800 BCE, the first nearly complete text is a tablet dated to around 1800 BCE and known as “The Hymn to Ninkasi.”
The Hymn to Ninkasi is the oldest record of a direct correlation between the importance of brewing, and the responsibility that women had with regards to supplying both bread and beer to the household. The Hymn essentially contains the first written recipe for Sumerian beer (which they called “sikaru”) and sings he praises of the beer goddess Ninkasi. The finished beer is described in the Hymn’s last lines. “Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat, it is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.” In ancient Mesopotamia, beer was both a staple of the diet and used in religious offerings and events.
No imagery of Ninkasi is thought to have survived the centuries but many Sumerian carvings depict beer drinkers and drinking beer – often through a straw.
Her legacy currently lives on at Ninkasi Brewing Co. in Eugene, Oregon, which apparently shares “the ancient Sumerian belief that beer is an important and valued part of civilization.”

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