Ninkasi was the leading goddess of ancient Sumeria, a culture that thrived from roughly the 5th to the 3rd millennium bc in what is now part of Mesopotamia in Southern Iraq. Among the Sumerians, Ninkasi was considered the mother of all creation. Born of sparkling-fresh water—a likely reference to the rivers Tigris and Euphrates—her name meant “the lady who fills the mouth.” In the world beyond, she was in charge of brewing all the beer (and possibly of making all the wine as well) for the great god En-lil and his divine entourage. On Earth, she was revered as the goddess of fertility, which, strangely, put her in charge not only of the harvest, and beer and brewing, but also of drunkenness and seduction, the passionate art of carnal love, and the cruel art of war. She was the mother of nine children, all named after intoxicating drinks or their effects. One was named “the boaster” and another “the brawler.” Ninkasi lived on the fictional Mount Sâbu, which translates into “the mount of the taverner” or “the mount of retailing.” It was Ninkasi’s responsibility—or, more specifically, that of her priestesses—to provide fermented beverages, especially beer, in all the temples of Sumeria, including the major religious center of Nippur, whose ruins lie some 180 km (111 mi) southwest of present-day Baghdad. Her emblem was an ear of emmer or barley, and in the spring she caused the grain to grow. Grain was at the center of Sumerian culture, and Ninkasi, its goddess, was at the center of Sumerian ritual. A Hymn to Ninkasi has come to us through the millenia. It consists of two Sumerian drinking songs dating from the 18th century bc. The hymn is considered one of the world’s oldest pieces of literature. The first song outlines in great detail how Mesopotamian beer might have been brewed, whereas the second praises Ninkasi for providing beer drinkers with the opportunity to attain a “blissful mood,” with inward joy and a “happy liver.” The Sumerians are considered the first civilization to have given up their hunting and gathering ways and become sedentary. Their emphasis was more on the brewing than the martial arts. They treasured their beer and their bread, and beer was their sacred drink, a gift from the gods, to be savored for joy, worship, and peace.

See also beer gods.