The Goddess Ninkasi

A depiction of the goddess Ninkasi in stained glass at Founders Brewing. Source: Vedo

A depiction of the goddess Ninkasi in stained glass at Founders Brewing.
Source: Vedo

When you hear the name Ninkasi today, the brewery is likely to come to mind first and foremost. While the brewing has been in existence for roughly a decade, the origins of the name Ninkasi are much older.

Ninkasi is a goddess, an ancient beer goddess to be more specific. She was discovered via the Hymn to Ninkasi, a poem written on several clay tablets roughly around the year 1800 BC. The daughter of the King of Uruk and high priestess of the temple of Ishtar (who herself was the goddess of procreation), Ninkasi, the goddess of alcohol, was brought to earth to help heal wounds. This hymn was written via the Sumerian language, and is amongst the earliest human writings ever found.

Ninkasi makes for an excellent brewery name, not just for the fact that she was a beer goddess, but that the Hymn to Ninkasi was in itself a recipe for brewing beer, also once known as "kash." The poem illustrates that the brewing process at the time used grapes, bappir (a form of grain), and honey. The result was so thick, straws had to be used to consume it.

The Hymn to Ninkasi was likely used, as many songs and poems throughout past generations have been, to pass down these brewing instructions in a way they would be remembered. The hymn has been credited as the oldest record of a correlation between the importance of brewing beer, and women’s responsibility in providing beer and bread to their households. The fact Ninkasi was female, and used in prayer regarding brewing beer, shows how important women were to the process.

A depiction of the tablet upon which the Hymn to Ninkasi was found. Source: OpenCulture

A depiction of the tablet upon which the Hymn to Ninkasi was found.
Source: OpenCulture

The craft beer scene may have a general vibe of masculinity, leaving some women to feel like outsiders at times. However, the Hymn to Ninkasi illustrates that men may be the ones that were late to the craft beer movement.

The Hymn to Ninkasi, as translated by Miguel Civil:

Hymn to Ninkasi
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.

Note: this also appeared as part of episode 21.