Hymn to Ninkasi

Hymn to Ninkasi, Hop Pendant Necklace by Feral Strumpet on Etsy

The Hymn to Ninkasi is a 4,000 year old song to the Sumerian goddess of brewing, and it’s also a recipe for beer.  (There’s a brewery in Eugene, Oregon named after her, but I have yet to try any of their beers.)

History often shines a miraculous light on what we take for granted.  Who first learned to turn the heel of a sock when knitting it?  Who first knew which herbs would cure or kill? And who first discovered brewing? There are many legends across cultures, but when confronted with the details of the thing it’s no less startling.

“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)

(translation by Miguel Civil.  You can read the whole poem here.)

The goddess is both the brewster and the brew itself. The rhythm and repetition, the vivid scene rendered in each stanza reminds me that brewing is very much a fun time, some cooking and cackling over a boiling pot– but it’s also a ritual, a visit with the ancestors who once saw brewing as such a wonder, they sang about it.

I was inspired to make the necklace pictured in the post after reading this poem. I have many elegant beer-inspired designs in the Feral Brewhaus section of my etsy shop.

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5 Responses

  1. As you may recall, CAMRA appropriated Ninkasi a few years ago as the Sumerian goddess of beer and had a picture of a very modern-looking model in a mini skirt who, while being undeniably attractive, didn’t look at all goddess-like to me. Having said that, I haven’t seen many actual goddesses in my life so perhaps I’m unable to judge, but I can’t help feeling it was a nice idea with something lost in its realisation.

    I hope you’re still enjoying drinking in Yorkshire.

    • Neville, at first I thought maybe I missed that– but was it part of a “what kind of drinker are you” style campaign? I seem to remember a girl in a miniskirt in that one. Maybe I missed it– probably a good thing! Definitely a good idea with a bad translation. It’s interesting there are no known representations of Ninkasi– adds to the mystery! I a loving Yorkshire, though I have been ill for some time. Looking forward to getting better & getting back to drinking!

  2. If you Google CAMRA Ninkasi, it brings up the picture. Sorry you’ve not been well; I hope you get well soon so you can resume your duty in keeping brewery workers in employment.

  3. I lived in Eugene for years and must say that Ninkasi beer is AMAZING! Hope you get to try it one day!

    • Hi Victoria, thanks for checking in– I hope to try it someday– I have heard great things!

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