Etymology: Queen of the East

Also known as: Ninshubar, Nincubura, Nincubur or Ninšubur

In Sumerian mythology, Ninshubur is a messenger of the gods. She is also known as Inanna’s sukkal or second-in-command; a position of great importance as a high-ranking government administrator. It has been pointed out, in an essay written by Diane Wolkstein, “Interpretations of Inanna¹s Stories and Hymns,” that a sukkal often has powers and abilities far superior then those of their Liege or Master. Not only does the sukkal have their own power and abilities, but they often have that power and authority combined with power and authority of whomever they serve.

Ninshubur is a goddess herself, whose name means: “’Queen of the East.” While she is often described as a virgin, Ninshubur is also mentioned as one of Inanna’s lovers. Ninshubur is associated with the element of Air and the planet Mercury.

In later Akkadian myths, Ninshubur’s gender is changed to male. The “nin” in Ninshubur’s name has been translated to mean “female ruler.” Though, that doesn’t seem to have prevented Ninshubur’s gender from getting altered from female to male depending on whose doing the retelling or translations.

Inanna & Enki

Ninshubur is best known for accompanying Inanna on many of her exploits and adventures. Together they have fought Enki’s demons after Inanna stole the sacred me. The sacred me are the decrees of the gods essential for establishing society and civilizations, even technology.

Inanna went to her grandfather Enki, a sky-god who held the sacred mes. While visiting with him, Enki gives Inanna the me, which she accepts and proceeds to basically “drink him under the table” before she and Ninshubur take off with the mes.

When Enki wakes up, he wonders why it was he gave Inanna the mes and decides he’s going to get them back. By this time, Inanna and Ninshubur have already loaded up all the mes, we’re never told what they look like, but it is assumed the mes have a physical representation of some sort.

Enki sends a legion of varying and different demons after Inanna and Ninshubur to stop them and each time, Ninshubur defeats them, protecting the boat both physically and magically that she and Inanna are on while they return to Uruk (Sumer).

Once the two made it to Uruk, Enki relented in his efforts and gave his blessings to Inanna on having the sacred mes.

Inanna’s Decent Into The Underworld

Later on, Inanna makes a trip into the Underworld, leaving instructions with Ninshubur on what to do if she doesn’t return in three days time. When this time comes and goes, Ninshubur seeks the help of the other gods and keeps at it until she gets it.

Ninshubar starts first dressed in sack cloth like a beggar with a great weeping and howling, tearing her hair and clothing until everyone knows that Inanna is missing. Then Ninshubur proceeds to each of the houses of the gods, Enlil, Nanna, and Enki

Enlil and Nanna each told Ninshubur how Inanna sought the powers of heaven and earth and got them. If Inanna decided to go to the Underworld, she will have to face the consequences of her actions. For there are rules there and no one who ever goes there, ever returns and that Inanna will just have to stay where she is.

When Ninshubur approached Enki, to tell him of Inanna’s plight, he was troubled and decides to help his daughter. From under his fingernails, Enki pulled some dirt and created genderless creatures known as the kurgarra and the galatur. To the kurgarra, Enki gave them the food of life and to the galatur, he gave them the water of life.

That done, Enki then instructed the kurgarra and galatur to enter the Underworld like flies. Once there, they would find Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld moaning like a woman in labor. He instructed them that when she cried out, that they were to echo her cries in sympathy.

Enki was sure that Ereshkigal would be pleased by the sympathy cries and reward the kurgarra and galatur. That when did offer a reward; they were to ask for the corpse of Inanna hanging on the wall. Once they had Inanna’s corpse, they were to sprinkle it with the food and water of life to bring her back.

Having received their orders, the kurgarra and galatur took off for the Underworld. There, they slipped in as flies at the cracks to the gates and found their way to Ereshkigal’s throne room.

There, they found Ereshkigal moaning as if the throes of labor pains and with nothing covering her. When Ereshkigal would cry out in pain of various aches, the kurgarra and galatur would cry in sympathy with her.

Hearing the echoing cries, Ereshkigal stopped and looked at the kurgarra and galatur, asking who they were and why they were crying with her. She offered a blessing and offered them the water-gift and then the grain-gift that the kurgarra and galatur declined in turn.

Finally Ereshkigal asked what they wanted and the kurgarra and galatur said that they desired the corpse hanging by a hook on the wall. Ereshkigal responded that the corpse was that of Inanna. They still responded that it was their wish, so Ereshkigal gave the kurgarra and galatur the corpse.

Now that they had it, the kurgarra sprinkled the food of life on the corpse and the galatur sprinkled the water of life in turn. When the food and water had been sprinkled, Inanna arose back to life. However, the Annuna, the judges of the Underworld came and told Inanna that: “No one ascends from the Underworld unmarked.” Another person would have to take Inanna’s place.

As Inanna left the Underworld, demons known as the Galla clung to her side. The Galla are demons who know no food or drink and accept no gifts. When they came upon Ninshubur, dressed in a dirty sackcloth, waiting outside the palace gates, the Galla were willing to take her in Inanna’s place.

Inanna knew of Ninshubur’s part in her rescue from the Underworld and would not let the Galla take her. They continued on to Uruk where Inanna found her husband Dumuzi sitting on the throne. Of everyone they had passed on their way, Dumuzi was the only one who had not mourned for Inanna nor was he ready to give up the throne back to his wife. On seeing him, Inanna told the Galla to: “Take him! Take Dumuzi away!”

With Dumuzi gone, Inanna reclaimed her rightful throne.

A Hymn To Nergal

In a translation of this hymn, Ninshubur is mentioned as a minister of the Underworld who greets Nergal when he arrives.

Astronomy & Astrological connection

The goddess Inanna is frequently associated with the planet Venus. Ninshubur herself is associated with the planet Mercury. From this standpoint, it makes sense that the two goddesses are associated with each other as their planetary counterparts often appear together within the night sky.

Pangenic Deities

The term Pangenic or Pangenesis comes from Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution with trying to explain the origins of life and species.

As it relates to the study of folklore and mythology, the term and idea of Pangenic or Pangenesis connections is problematic and still very pervasive as a lot of scholars and literature try to make connections with various stories and deities as there are often very similar motifs, concepts and ideas that are very universal.

The Romans of course, are famously known for equating many of their gods with the gods of other cultures, especially those they conquered. Nearly everyone knows of the Greek-Roman counterparts and connections such as Zeus and Jupiter or Ares and Mars. To a lesser known extant, the Romans connected their deities with those of the Egyptian, Norse and even Celtic deities.

The idea of Pangenic deities and myths still continue even today and is something of a disservice and in terms of mythology. When one ethnic group or religion moves into another area, the exiting myths will get overlapped and mixed together. Sometimes it’s easy to see where and when this blending of ideas occurs. Other times, the differences should be acknowledged without trying to force a connection.

In the case of the Mesopotamian mythologies, due to similarities, the Greek god Hermes is often said to be based off of Ninshubur.


About silverfox57

An AFOL who's been around a long time and has decided to make more of an on-line presence. I also have a strong love of mythology and folklore.

Posted on April 25, 2014, in Air, Astrology, Babylonian, Death, Deity, Mesopotamian, Messenger, Protector, Queen, Resurrection, Underworld, Virgin. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Your mythology-related posts are both informative and fascinating!:D I look forward to reading more posts on your blog 🙂

    • Thank you, I know when I write, this is the level of detail I’d like to see.

      I also get about one post a month, maybe more. It all depends on time, build in question and what I’m writing up about.

  2. Hey Silverfox57,

    A fascinating elucidation, both erudite and expressive. Thank you.

    I do have a question for you should you be so good as to entertain it. With specific regard to Ninshubar and her similar manifestations, and as an evolutionary contemporary of this entities Pangenic mythology, what comments might you have regarding Stan Lee’s most spiritual of Marvel comic characters, (the) Silver Surfer?

    I have long held the view that this most noble of cosmic-surfers had a uniquely different feel, a gestalt that resonated with its readers. Perhaps it is presumptuous of me to imagine a link to Ninshubar, Mercury and Hermes, but yet, I see the Surfer’s primary objective and whole reason for being as representative of the true collective consciousness of mankind, a voice that speaks with profundity, like the hum of an echo reaching forwards in time from the origin of all things. He is purity personified, the epitome of moral virtue, imbued with the ability to transcend understanding of human life and traversing the universe as a ‘messenger’ between his ‘Lord’ and Earth, and for many readers, Surfer speaks with an ‘other-worldly’ language that is at once naïve, trusting, and tinged with sadness – sadness at both his dislocated isolation from life but primarily because of the inhumanity and misery he finds lingering throughout his beloved planet earth. His speaks with purpose and with Love of humanity, his enigmatic words are often parables, his insights deep and resonate, and yet always is his manifestation to the people of earth perceived as troubling, interfering and a deviation from tradition. But with him comes great Wisdom and supreme love and honour, only mankind is to blind to see. It is no wonder that in a comic universe so full of super-heroes and entities possessing great power, that the Surfer was Stan Lee’s finest prodigy and certainly his finest and most noble-hearted character.

    Thank you for your time, and for putting together such a great site. I will of course visit again.

    DN – 27/04/14

    • Regarding Silver Surfer, I will have to confess most of my knowledge of this character comes from the 2007 Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer movie and what I recall of watching the cartoon show that aired back in 1998. I often see him as one of a plethora of characters who make guest appearances with other title characters and teams in the Marvel Universe.

      Writing up a post on a character such as Silver Surfer is somewhat beyond the scope of what I plan for Brickthology. And I simply don’t feel I know the character well enough or have ready access to any materials to write up anything or generate what others might consider a better opinion and thoughts on him.

      There is certainly a place for recognizing the modern mythologies and impact that the whole entirety of comic books and superheroes represent to current modern and pop culture. I have considered a future post for Urban Legends, so addressing a superhero isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Just not at this time due to my wanting to try keeping a better focus of what I want for Brickthology.

  3. Thank you for your honest comment and thought, and also for your time. I understand entirely your perspective in maintaining the integrity of your vision for this Blog. If anything, my comments here were mainly tangible thought on all that you had written above, the implied suggestion being that what may be regarded as ‘modern’ is in some way merely re-augmented material borrowed from the ancient traditions and stories that remain infused within our culture.

    I shall keep an eye open for any future post you make on the theme of Urban Legends.


    DN – 27/04/14

    • You’re welcome.

      I’m not going to dismiss any connections with modern, current mythology as I did touch on it lightly when I wrote up my King of Cats post with a brief mention of his use in DC comics. I hadn’t wanted to degenerate that post into trying to make mention of every use in current literature and comics.

      And the use of modern is certainly mythologies that are still very much so current and active even today.

      And thank you for commenting on and enjoying my blog.

  4. Suzanne Corbie

    Any chance you can email me your real name in order to reference your work please? I found the article on Ninshubar really helpful.

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