The fermenting vat inside a tavern in Mesopotamia.


In Mesopotamia, the tavern is the " house-of-brewer " : é-bappir in souhern Mesoptotamia (today South of Iraq), or é-lunga in northern Mesopotamia and Assyria (today Syria and Northern Iraq). Here, beer is brewed, served, drank and sold. The tavern is a small local trade. The brewer, very often a female brewer, barters for grains given in advance a few liters of beer or even a whole brew. It will not exceed one hundred liters, more or less. We find therefore in almost every tavern a brewing equipment: the fermentation vat (sumerian dugNÍG.DÚR.BÙR, akkadian namzitu ), its wooden support with the collecting jar of the beer beneath, many pots for serving the beer, millstones, grinders and sieves.

The sacred potential accumulated by this fermenting vat explains its involvement in the magical rituals for healing. The mere act of touching it and its wooden support can release from adverse effects announced by bad omens. "He enters the tavern and touches the support and the fermentating vat ", is prescribed in case of misfortune. This is not inside a temple that the fermentation vat gives to a patient its most effective protection, but simply in a tavern. The brewing vessel itself possesses magical and apotropaic qualities, not its location.

There are no less than 8 different rituals named namburbi specialized in "magical decontamination". Everyone needs to go to the house of brewer, which refers to a brewing workshop or a tavern. In this case, the patient should go there and purifies himself by touching the collector vase of beer, its wooden base and the fermentation vat. He chats with customers and beer drinkers and he must then return home by another way.

The tavern operates as a purifying place (its door, its threshold, even its ground), its brewing implements (vessels, vases), its customers and ultimately the beer leaven which keeps the secret of fermentation. The text of the purification rituals (namburbi) recommends to enter the "house-of-brewer" (sum. É .KÚRUN.NA according to the following formula :

« He must not look backward. The street, he followed, he should not return by this way. Enter Into the house of the brewer. Then he speaks with those who speak and [then] he touches the support (with the collecting vase) and the fermentation vat and he says : "Siris and Ningizzida can deliver me!" The misfortune is removed »[1]

Very impressive!

As Ninkasi, Siris is a female deity of beer, of what is fermented, of a positive magic.

The sources of evils are numerous : multiple transgressions, black magic, witchcraft, divine wrath, contamination by impure beings or objects that belonged to them, ... There are countless opportunities for contamination in a Mesopotamian city. They weave around a Mesopotamian inhabitant a dense network in his daily life. This is why the cured patient should not follow the same path back after the ritual of deliverance. Retrace his own steps could put him in contact with older impurities.


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[1] Stefan Maul 1992, Der Kneipenbesuch als Heilverfahren, Actes de la 38ème Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Paris, p. 392 gives the translation of this namburbi ritual, pp 393-395 for its analysis.

15/01/2012  Christian Berger