Nin-kasi-  “The Lady who fills the mouth (with Beer)”

ninkasiThe first beer was discovered by the Sumerians around 6000 BCE.  In ancient Mesopotamia and Sumeria, women were the first to develop, sell and drink beer.  In fact, women were the only ones who were allowed to brew beer or run taverns, according to beer historian, Jane Peyton.  This first beer was baked grains were broken into pieces and stuffed into a pot. Water, and sometimes aromatics, fruit or honey, were added (creating a basic mash and wort) and left to ferment.  The brilliant Babylonians then came up with the straw, which allowed drinkers to get the fermented liquid out of the pot without having to chew through the grain pulp.

Because women were in charge of this important commodity, it made sense that the Sumerian goddess of beer was Nin-kasi.  She is described as “the lady who fills the mouth” and “she who sates the desires”, and was the goddess of brewing as well as the personification of the beer itself.  Her name appears in the god lists and other texts from the Sumerian Early Dynastic period, 2900 – 2350 BCE.  Some legends name her parents as En-lil and Nin-khursag, the birth goddess.  Other traditions say her parents were Nin-ti and En-ki,  god of wisdom.  Her birth was formed of sparkling-fresh water.  She appeared with her spouse, or brother sometimes things got confusing, Siris, who was a minor deity of alcoholic beverages.  She had many children.

Nin-kasi’s main duty was the being the Chief Brewer of the gods.  She had to provide beverages, above all beer, for the temples of the Mesopotamian sacred city of Nippur.  The beer was then poured out for the gods or left at their altars to drink.  Beer was also thought to be used by priests to trigger states of ecstasy in which they would prophesy.  In one Sumerian poem, she provides the beer where the goddess Inanna and En-ki get drunk together.  Sumerian drinking songs still survive on clay tablets.  One of them praises the goddess for producing in drinkers, “a blissful mood … with joy in the [innards] [and] happy liver.

The other surviving hymn to Nin-kasi was a hymn of praise, but also the oldest recipe for beer.  Here is its text in full as translated by Miguel Civil.

Borne of the flowing water,

Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag,

Borne of the flowing water,

Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag,

 

Having founded your town by the sacred lake,

She finished its great walls for you,

Ninkasi, having founded your town by the sacred lake,

She finished it’s walls for you,

 

Your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,

Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.

Ninkasi, your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,

Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.

 

You are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,

Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,

Ninkasi, you are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,

Mixing in a pit, the bappir with [date] – honey,

 

You are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,

Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,

Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,

Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,

 

You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,

The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,

Ninkasi, you are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,

The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,

 

You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,

The waves rise, the waves fall.

Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,

The waves rise, the waves fall.

 

You are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,

Coolness overcomes,

Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,

Coolness overcomes,

 

You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort,

Brewing [it] with honey [and] wine

(You the sweet wort to the vessel)

Ninkasi, (…)(You the sweet wort to the vessel)

 

The filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,

You place appropriately on a large collector vat.

Ninkasi, the filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,

You place appropriately on a large collector vat.

 

When you pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat,

It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.

Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,

It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.

 

So raise a glass of your favorite beer and toast Nin-kasi, who’s worship made it all possible.

 

ER
Sources available on request