Women and the Sacred Invention of Beer

“Blessed is the mother who gives birth to a brewer” – Czech Saying

Beer is one of the world’s oldest drinks. Evidence of early beer brewing has been confirmed by discoveries in modern-day Iran in the Sumerian settlement of Godin Tepe, which suggests that beer production dates back probably beyond 3500-3100 BC. A Tepe Gawra stamp seal from 4000 BC near Mosul, Iraq, depicts two figures drinking together, suggesting that for thousands of years people have been drinking socially. It is such an ancient beverage that The Kalevala, an epic compilation of Finnish and Karelian folklore ranging from 1000 BC to the 17th century AD, tells us no only the story of the creation of Earth and humanity but also the creation of beer and its first fermentation. The Code of Hammurabi from Babylon, mankind’s oldest existing set of laws, sets fair prices for beer and specified harsh penalties for bars and brewers. For example, a brewer who diluted his beer could be drowned in his own vat and a tavern owner who overcharged patrons could be put to death. This shows how much beer was valued in ancient society. It is therefore only natural to conclude that beer also played a part in ancient mythology and religions.

File:Storage of Wine and Beer, Tomb of Nebamun MET 30.4.233 EGDP013021.jpg
Storage of Wine and Beer, Tomb of Nebamun, circa 1479 –1458 BC.

 “He was a wise man who invented beer.” – Plato

Plato, clever man though he was, was mistaken. The inventor of beer was not a man, but a woman. Or, to be more precise, a group of women. Beer plays a prominent role in many of the Sumerian myths. Ninkasi, the daughter of the chief Sumerian god Enki, was born from “sparkling fresh water” and said to be created to satisfy desires and sate hearts. The first nearly complete text is a tablet known as The Hymn to Ninkasi (written in 1800 BC but presumed to be much older) contains both a praise to the goddess of beer and a recipe for brewing. The hymn instructs readers and listeners to handle the dough with a shovel; mix with sweet aromatics, honey, and grains; soak the malt in a jar, and filter it in the vat. The end result was said to be a beer comparable to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, bringing life and enlightenment to all those who drank it. The first brewers were female, likely to be priestesses of Ninkasi, and early on women became brewers of beer in their homes. Kaiser Wilhelm, the last king of Prussia said, “Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.” A woman did love beer, she invented it.

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