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This blog seeks to explore the divine feminine by examining the history of women. The analysis of archaeology and history found here is meant to raise questions, not necessarily find answers. In addition, by looking at our female ancestors, we can seek to make connections in our current lives and define ourselves as women in fresh ways.

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The Goddess and Beer: I'll Drink to That

As the nights shift to cooler weather in my part of the world, a woman’s fancy begins to turn to…beer? Well, maybe that’s just me, but the harvest time brings to my mind celebrating life around a bonfire with a cold bottle. Autumn grain festivals could be the perfect time to pour out a foamy libation. As interestingly, many researchers argue that our ancient ancestors began cultivating grains not for baking but for brewing. Ancient cultures across the world incorporated these brews into daily religious life. And in that history of the development of beer, women and the Goddess take a central role. The ancient beer makers in many cultures were often women, and their products were sacred to Goddesses.

The oldest discovered beer was created in China 9,000 years ago. This drink, called Kui, was believed to be used for honoring the ancestors. I’m sure with enough rounds of Kui embellished stories of the dearly departed rang out through many dark nights. Not much else is known about the early development of Kui, and evidence seems to indicate it was initially made on the small scale within family groups.

In contrast, there is a rich, frothy history about the creation of beer in the ancient Middle East. Women played a central role in this technological advancement, especially in Sumer.

The Sumerians had many different words for beer from `sikaru' to `dida' to `ebir' (which meant `beer mug') and regarded the drink as a gift from the gods to promote human happiness and well-being. The original brewers were women, the priestesses of Ninkasi, and women brewed beer regularly in the home... (Source)

Ninkasi is just one Sumerian Goddess associated with beer. Another is Siduri, a minor Goddess and a tavern keeper by the sea who appears inThe Epic of Gilgamesh. In addition, the various Deities consume beer.

The famous poem Inanna and the God of Wisdom describes the two deities drinking beer together and the god of wisdom, Enki, becoming so drunk he gives away the sacred `me' (laws) to Inanna (thought to symbolize the transfer of power from Eridu, the city of Enki, to Uruk, the city of Inanna). (Source)

The recipe that women used to make beer can be found in “The Hymn to Ninkasi”. I would argue that this was probably written by a priestess. I have included part of the hymn at the end of this entry. The drink that resulted from this recipe was served in large urns and consumed through straws to avoid the chunks of bread and clumps of herbs. Drinking was a communal activity with people sitting around the urns, each with his or her own straw. These extremely long straws were made from reeds, but also metal. The high ranking woman Puabi, sometimes labelled a queen, was found buried with a gold beer straw.

In the next installment we will look at the role of beer in other ancient cultures and continue to explore this topic through several other centuries. The role that beer played in the development of human culture is complex and interesting; women were at the forefront of this revolution.

Finally, these ancient brews live on in craft beers made to replicate them. Have you tried any of these? I have Celiac disease, and I have to stay gluten-free, but I do drink the occasional Bard’s gluten-free beer, perfect for a Druid!

 

Part of the Hymn to Ninkasi

 It is you who handle the … and dough with a big shovel, mixing, in a pit, the beerbread with sweet aromatics.

 

Ninkasi, it is you who handle the … and dough with a big shovel, mixing, in a pit, the beerbread with sweet aromatics.

 

It is you who bake the beerbread in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain.

Ninkasi, it is you who bake the beerbread in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain.

 

It is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates (?).

Ninkasi, it is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates (?).

 

It is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.

Ninkasi, it is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.

 

 

 

Sources:

Beer in the Ancient World

ETCSL Hymn to Ninkasi Translation

Beer in China

History of Beer

Siduri

Photo by BabelStone

 

 

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Emily has a master's degree in literature with a focus on women's history and works as a writing teacher. She is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids.

Comments

  • Peter Dyr
    Peter Dyr Saturday, 07 September 2013

    Siduri not only represents a goddess of beer/fermentation, she was also the first recorded person to provide us with Carpe diem-like advice on how life should be lived.

    Peter Dyr
    Director, The Sidurian Foundation
    http://SidurianFoundation.webs.com

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