The Gula goddess was the ancient civilizations’ divinity of good health and strength. You

 

must know that, for the ancient people, health is humanity’s treasure. This prompted them to develop scientific and mythical ways to explain and promote healing.

Goddess Gula is also known as Ninkarrak or the goddess of healing in Mesopotamia. She is also honored as the patroness of doctors and those who practiced healing arts.

With strong faith in Gula, the goddess of good health, ancient people revered her statues and symbols. They worshipped her as the goddess of “Great in Healing” — that is the meaning of her name — and Ninkarrak as the “Lady of the Wall” or the overall protector of man.

Who Is Gula?

Appearing in the Ur III Period (2047 – 1750 BC), Gula was called the great physician of the Sumerians. Due to her known prowess to heal sick people, she earned several titles, including the Lady of Health, the Great Healer, and the Great Physician. Thanks to her prestige, the people adored her name in ancient medical texts and worship services.

Having done monumental healings, the early Mesopotamians acknowledged Gula with the iconic symbol of a dog surrounded by stars. You could imagine her prolific image that people admired.

You should also not forget that the presence of a dog is related to her original title, as among ancient Sumerians this deity had the name of Bau or Baba, the goddess of dogs.

People noted that dogs licked their sores and that those eventually healed quickly. This observation made the people think that dogs could have the ability to heal themselves.

Her numerous titles were venerated by the people, who also called her Ninisina or, in English, “Lady of Isin” as the patroness of the city. You must understand that she has been associated with different deities.

When her influence reached Nippur, she was recognized as Ninnibru or the prestigious “Queen of Nippur.” The people loved her so much that she was subsequently identified with Ninurta, the hero.

The Mythological Background of Gula

The prominence of Gula did not come by surprise. You must consider that she was born as the daughter of the influential god Anu. Her husband was Ninurta, the god of healing. He also had alternative titles, including Pabilsag, the supernatural judge, and Abu, the god of agriculture. You can see that her husband was honored three times.

They were both somehow connected with agriculture, which might have been the reason why she got the distinction for healing. With this, you have to give significance to her children who were also deities of healing. She had two sons, Damu and Ninazu, and a daughter, Gunurra.

Gula’s Offspring

To give you more background about her children, you should know Damu was a predominant Sumerian god, whose power was to heal sick people by using mythical and scientific methods.

With his connection with another god, named Tammuz or Dumuzi, he’s intertwined with dying and rebirth through Inanna, the ancient goddess of love and fertility of Sumerians.

Damu, with all his might, was always part of Gula’s incantations and healing ceremonies because of his known ability as the ultimate healer. Through the power of Damu, Gula could extend her energy to promote healing to physicians.

Gula’s second son, Ninazu, was revered with serpents as the symbols of metamorphosis, the underworld or his association with change, and healing or absolute transformation.

He was portrayed carrying a staff with intertwined serpents. You can remember that this symbol was adopted by ancient Egyptians for Heka, the god of magic, as well as many other gods, even in Greek mythology, including Hermes.

At present, this staff represents medicine, so you can see it in medical hospitals or wards. It is also known as the symbol of Hippocrates, who is recognized as the father of medicine.

Recognizing the Doctors in Mesopotamia

As the birthplace of medicine, ancient Mesopotamia was recognized for its contributions to medical health. The city was known for the two types of doctors who prevailed at that time. On the one side, there were the Asu, or the medical doctors, who used science in treating patients.

On the other side, you could find the Asipu, or the faith healers, who employed magic in their rituals to heal the sick. Ancient doctors also groomed veterinarians, dentists, and surgeons from these two camps.

Would you believe that in those days, midwives were delivering babies instead of doctors? According to records, doctors asked for more pay for the birth of a baby boy. The ancient writings also claimed that Asu would apply herbs to help the mother during labor, whereas Asipu would resort to prayers and chants to beat off evil spirits accompanying childbirth.

They would ask the mother in labor to wear amulets to protect herself and the newly born child from the demon Pazuzu. This practice cemented the image of native doctors Asipu as witch doctors.

These doctors were not competing. Both respected each other’s capability without hurling insults at each other. Besides, the people were free to choose their medical adviser. Some were patronizing Asu, whereas others believed Asipu.

They both promoted healing and differed only in their way of treating their patients. Asipu was more on employing supernatural elements in healing, whereas Asu was focusing on observing the patient and applying scientific methods.

Ancient doctors made their clinics outside temples, or they would visit their patients at home. Gula was exceptionally famous for healing the sick, and she was much adored in the city of Isin, the core of her powerful medical influence and a training ground for doctors who were tasked to provide treatment to sick people in the kingdom.

Considering that there were more lady physicians, you could probably attribute this case to the presence of Gula, the lady healer.

The Causes of Illness

Ancient people in Mesopotamia had a strong belief that illnesses were inflicted by their gods for something they didn’t accomplish. You could say that sicknesses occurred as a sign of punishment or a fair warning to people who disobeyed gods. Moreover, they felt guilty if they didn’t give proper worship and adoration to their various gods.

Some archeologists commented that the hieroglyphic symbols revealed that men were always adoring gods who they believed were jealous and disciplinary.

However, a person could probably get sick because he missed his offering to a god, or he could have made a certain god annoyed. They also associated illnesses with the works of spirits. Some evil or demonic spirits were believed to be fatal to humans.

Furthermore, even dead people were thought to cause illness to an individual, such that you could probably imagine how difficult it was to determine the cause of a person’s illness in the past.

Gula’s Attitude

Gula, the goddess of healing, was believed to be the mighty healer of sick people. She was endowed with immense healing power, as well as the ability to help infertile women. You could ask her to protect your family’s health, but Gula was also a terrible foe.

She could provide safety and good health and, at the same time, inflict pain on those she hated. She was known to be a tremendous adversary once you defied her name. An accepted purveyor of trepidation, Gula was respected and feared for evident reasons.

Worship of Gula was a must. It was a devotion beyond measure because the ancient people knew the repercussions of disobedience to Gula. You must run for your life once you live against her rules.

To please her, priests and priestesses of her altar were devoted to her worship, offerings, and sacrifices. Gula was there to heal the people, but behind her benevolent heart to cure people was a formidable deity who everyone feared.

Conclusion

Gula was venerated as the goddess of healing, health, and fertility. She received much respect, honor, and reverence from the ancient Mesopotamians. She was portrayed sitting on her throne with lots of stars around her, together with a dog, which was her symbol.

Her sons, Damu and Ninazu, and daughter, Gunurra, also played a vital role in the people’s health. People deemed them as equally invincible, so much so that they offered them great offerings and sacrifices as well.

Behind Gula’s almighty works, you must recall that she could also incite catastrophe once she felt annoyed for lack of reverence and supplications. Hence, Gula needed to be praised and adored at all times.

Physicians in the past were present to heal the people and promote good health. There were two kinds of doctors in ancient times: those who believed in scientific methods and those who practiced divination.

The people thought they got sick as a sign of punishment for their disobedience or a work of a spirit, particularly an evil spirit. Others also considered sickness as a sin. Treatment of the sick would take a long process depending on the doctor who would oversee the patient.

Hence, the legacy of Gula is a classic story in Mesopotamian history. You could ponder that the empirical method in medical science could be attributed to the Mesopotamians, while Gula was the goddess of healing for everyone to exalt forever.

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