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Nisaba

I love to explore the Divine Feminine and write about Goddesses. For a list of those, click on the link: Goddesses. In order to become more balanced within ourselves and, through that, to bring greater balance and harmony to the world around us, we must find greater balance between the masculine and feminine energies within ourselves that each one of us possesses, regardless of physical gender or any other ways of self-identification.

The Hymn

Mesopotamia, which is roughly the area of modern-day Iraq. The region of Sumer was the Southern part of Mesopotamia and Kuweit. Sumerian was recorded as early as 3,000 BCE and is one of the oldest recorded languages of the world. And one of the first deities recorded in writing is Nisaba. The Goddess was commonly worshipped by scribes who would often finish a text with the words, “Praise be to Nisaba.”

 

Here is an excerpt from the famous Hymn to Nisaba, from the Ur II Period that opens with an invocation to the Goddess:

 

“Lady coloured like the stars of heaven, holding (perfectly endowed with) a lapis-lazuli tablet! Nisaba, great wild cow born by Urac, wild sheep nourished on good milk among holy alkaline plants, opening the mouth for seven ...... reeds! Perfectly endowed with fifty great divine powers, my lady, most powerful in E-kur!”

(Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Fluckiger-Hawker, E, Robson, E., and Zólyomi, G., The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (http://www-etcsl.orient.ox.ac.uk), Oxford 1998- .

Copyright © J.A. Black, G. Cunningham, E. Robson, and G. Zólyomi 1998, 1999, 2000; J.A. Black, G. Cunningham, E. Flückiger-hawker, E. Robson, J. Taylor, and G. Zólyomi 2001. The authors have asserted their moral rights.)

 

In this hymn, she is also referred to as a nursemaid and called Aruru, the Mother Goddess. Mentions of her ensuring a plentiful harvest of grains also remind of the Roman Goddess Abundantia.

 

Nisaba’s husband was Haya and they were part of the circle of the God Enlil in ancient Sumerian mythology. Nisaba was later pushed into insignificance through the rise of a male scribe God, Nabu. However, she did not vanish altogether and attestations to her are recorded until as late as the neo-Babylonian period which is also known as the Second Babylonian Empire, which spans the time of 626 BCE until 539 BCE.

Stars & Lapis

In mythology, she is the mother whom Enlil asks permission of to marry Sud, also known as Ninlil. According to various sources, the relationship between mother and daughter was a close one. Nisaba’s main cult centre was Eresh, her temple called Esagin, which means House of Lapis Lazuli. Another temple was called E-mulmul, meaning House of Stars. The two could be linked, Lapis Lazuli representing the nighttime sky.

Her name remains a mystery and its roots cannot be traced back to a particular source explaining its meaning. However, various scholars have proposed theories, some more likely than others. Her name was originally written in a pictogram that combined two symbols, the Naga and Dingir. The latter was an addition to signify a deity or divine origin, the former shows a plant, often assumed to be a sheaf of barley.

 

Nisaba has been given some illustrious titles, such as Lady of Wisdom, Professor of Great Wisdom, Unsurpassed Overseer and Opener of the Mouth of the Great Gods.

 

Nisaba was the Goddess of grain and the scribal arts. These are to be understood in the widest sense, including writing, accounting and surveying. She was also the patron Goddess of literature and the arts. In the curriculum of scribal schools, Nisaba is connected with literacy, numeracy and related tools.

 

She has no known iconography depicting her with a writing instrument. However, in her earliest form as a grain Goddess, she was depicted as a single stalk of grain but in written works, she is often described as a woman holding a golden stylus and studying a tablet of the heavens.

 

In Sumerian mythology, there are more Goddesses associated with the scribal arts in all its forms than Gods. This tells us something important about the role of women and the divine feminine in that period. Nisaba was regularly invoked in blessings, supplications and even curses.

Wisdom & Associations

Being a Goddess of Wisdom, Nisaba was the Goddess who bestowed this trait onto the secular rulers in Mesopotamia and she was also the deity who gave scribes permission to teach and pass on their art. If you compare Egyptian mythology to the Mesopotamian one, Seshat would be the Goddess most closely related to Nisaba.

 

Alongside the deities Sin, Enki, Inanna, Ninurta, Ishkur and Nuska, Nisaba was listed as one of the most prominent deities in The Curse of Agade, an ancient text that was part of the Akkadian so-called Naru literature genre. These stories would usually be a didactic tale of a prominent ruler in Mesopotamian history and his relationship with the gods as an example of humanity’s relationship with them.

 

In modern times, Nisaba has also been linked to creativity, communication, excellence, inspiration, Universal Law, divination and dreams. Her symbols are pens, computers, books and snakes which are her sacred animals. As I have previously written about Cobra and Python in articles on Power Animals, I feel that Nisaba’s snakes are of a different kind, however, somewhat smaller. The colours black and red flash before my inner vision but I don’t know whether there really ever were snakes of this colouring in ancient Mesopotamia and if so, whether they still exist to this day. The snake I am seeing may be more of a spirit animal than an actual one. I will research this at a later date.

 

Working with Nisaba is different to the energy of Seshat, however. She is more gentle and has a motherly-nurturing quality, whereas Seshat feels more neutral in emotion, more scientific. This could very well be related to the early grain and harvest association Nisaba has, her origins in the scribal arts stemming from trade and the recording of grain being transported and sold over longer distances. The early writings are very basic pictograms and were only later translated into a phonetic alphabet in which certain symbols were ascribed to various sounds, much like our most widely known modern alphabets worldwide.

 

When literature, song and other performing arts became more dominant, larger texts like narration and poetry were included into Nisaba’s realm of responsibilities. She feels definitely more akin to a Goddess of the fine arts, rather than those of texts of law or martial writings. She encourages you gently and gives you the confidence to tap into your artistic intuition when writing fiction or poetry. Yet at the same time, she will also clear your mind of any confusion you have when doing accounting or other forms of surveying.

A Loving Mother

Being a loving mother to her daughter Ninlil, it stands to reason that she is nurturing and understanding with humankind as well. She brings out joy, peace and love in you when working with her energy and in this energy, it is easiest to tap into your most authentic and greatest creative expression through the written word.

 

As the lady who holds the holy tablet of Lapis Lazuli and whose temples are referred to as houses of this stone or the stars, it is easy to see that the beauty of all creation in its dark form, as well as the order of the firmament, the reflection of life on earth, is in her powers. Words carry power and when written and/or spoken, coupled with the right energy behind it, they can perform powerful deeds and manifestations.

 

In this aspect, Nisaba holds great power in her golden stylus, gold being the metal of the Gods. Their divine essence is poured through this tool to manifest and give form to the three-dimensional world, bestowing knowledge and wisdom onto her worshippers, i.e. the people who successfully harness and direct her energies within and without to create beauty and pass on wisdom to others. In this way, Nisaba can be seen as a primordial lake which, when you drop a stone in it, will have rippling circles appear on its surface, concentric rings that spread ever further from the centre. In this same way, thoughts, knowledge and wisdom are transferred and spread.

 

Writing helps in this. It can travel over space and time to reach more people than any one person could possibly achieve by oral means.

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In my upcoming book Fromance, Charlene studies Hawaiian language and culture, also learns the traditional sacred hula dance. She is expressing Nisaba’s energy in her love of learning, her gentle encouragement of others and her love of language. She also helps Train who is blocked in this energy and therefore finds himself challenged and often confusing words that sound similar but do not have the same meaning. However, she had her two best friends and lovers are college students and although they all have different areas of expertise and interest, they have a love of learning and exploring concepts and theories in common.

Tarot Card

Crystals

Empowerment

 

When I connected to the Goddess Nisaba to feel her energy and channel a message to include in this article, she simply took me into her arms, set against the backdrop of a nighttime sky of dark blue sprinkled with a myriad of stars, she cradled me like a baby and placed her gold stylus into my dominant hand. The message, although not spoken, was clear to me.

 

“The power of wisdom and knowledge resides in you. You have only to access it and all the knowledge of the stars will be at your command, tempered with the wisdom of the Divine Spirit that pervades all. Only you can find your own unique expression. So it is up to you to translate these energies into words, these emotions into a message that can be transmitted and received through the power of the written word.”

 

As you can see, this is what I did, tapping into my own well of inner wisdom and creative expression to relay this energetic message in a way that can be understood and spread through written language. And being a writer myself, this experience and interaction with Nisaba was as powerful as it was beautiful, gentle and loving. May you also have many wonderful encounters with this beautiful Goddess within you and find the way to best harness this energy to manifest writing in your highest expression.