Ritual Through the Eyes of the Sumerian Reconstructionist


You will need an altar set up already. At it’s most basic you need a statue of your personal god, one of yourself worshiping your god, a basin for water, and an incense or scented oil burner. The statue of the god should be treated as reverently as you would treat the god. Likewise the statue of the worshipers should be as reverent as you yourself would be.

The statues of worshipers should be opposite the god. The god should be higher or larger than the worshipers. The position of the water basin and the incense or oil is less important. The water basin should have water in it at all times even when there is no ritual going on.

You could also have statues on your altar that act as servants or guardians. Any guardians should be facing outwards at the edge of the altar like gargoyles. Any servants should be placed in a position appropriate to their intended purpose.

The nature of any statue should be treated as being identical to its form. That is to say that a statue of a scribe can be assumed to take notes and records on the spiritual level the same way that a physical one would for the physical world.

Guardians are like gargoyles and as such are beings to be respected in their own right. Choose which demons and spirits you use as guardians on your altar with care. You should probably stick with Sumerian spirits and demons where possible, though unlike gods you are not forbidden from dealing with the spirits of other cultured.

You should have your offering ready ahead of time. You should go into your ritual with an idea of what you want to say and do. As always a little bit of respect and organization goes a long way.

Types of offerings

Traditional offerings could be anything from clothing, to food, to works of art, to temples. The purpose of humanity is to provide these offerings to the gods so that they do not have to provide these offerings for themselves. The gods are perfectly capable of providing their own offerings, and occasionally make offerings to one another in one form or another.

It is obvious that the gods do not take the physical offering, and nobody is suggesting that they did. Traditionally when large offerings of clothing or food are offered these offerings would be distributed to the temple staff and those in need.

Charity is not the primary purpose of offerings even though the gods look fondly upon it. Offerings provide the essence of the objects to the gods. If a person offers a loaf of bread and some beer to the gods in a ritual, and then after the ritual consumes these, then the essence of the offerings is given to the gods.

Offerings aren’t all used by the worshipers. Some are left for the gods; other offerings are burned. Doing this every now and again proves to the gods that you are honest in your devotion and that you are not making offerings just to have them for yourself.

Traditional food offerings are things like beer, bread, fish, meat, water, and fruits such as pomegranates. Traditional offerings of precious objects are things such as gold, silver and lapis lazuli with lapis being the most precious of the three. The gods were also said to enjoy growing plants.

Not all objects were physical objects whatsoever. The gods were also given offerings of services. The order of the universe needs to be maintained, and the gods need to be honored. Poems, hard work, and other services that glorify the gods are greatly appreciated.

As with just about everything in Sumer there are occasionally substitutions. The burnt essence of a fish can be given by giving a roasted fish, by incinerating a fish, or by burning a replica of a fish. Likewise the statues of worshipers upon an altar give devotion to the gods constantly, while the physical form does the physical work needed to maintain civilization.

In ancient times animals would routinely be sacrificed for devotion. In modern times this isn’t always practical, but sculpting an animal for the sole purpose of being given as an offering to the gods is.

Statues of Worshipers

In ancient times votive statues would be made out of clay. Their eyes would be large, we might call them anime eyes today. Their hands would be clasped with the right hand over the left. They would also have their right shoulder uncovered. These would be the statues of worshipers that every Sumerian has on their altar.

The clothing would not be the finest available, but rather it would be rather poor quality in general. This was because the Sumerians had clothing taboos when dealing with the gods. The worshipers were absolutely in a lower position than the gods. They were considered to be slaves, and slaves wore poor quality clothing than their masters.

When a statue was finished the mouth would be cleaned. This ritual is called the opening of the mouth, and was meant to be similar to a birthing ceremony. From that point onwards the statue would be considered to be connected to what it represents or to be alive in its own right.

Now we have access to Sculpey clay, soapstone, wood, and other materials. These give us the luxury of carving statues to approximate what we look like with more detail.

When carving a modern statue the iconography is important. The statue should be depicted as worshiping. They should not be dressed in fine clothing. They should be carved with all distinctive features of the worshiper. If you have a beard and glasses, then so should your statue.

Each altar should have a focus of worship. This is usually a god, but you can also make an ancestor shrine for the purpose of giving offerings to the dead. We will cover funerals and ancestor offerings in another section.

The statue of the god should be higher and larger than any other statue on the altar. They should be dressed in fine clothing. Most importantly they should have all possible iconography of the god.

Iconography is important because we don’t have exact pictures of the gods. When carving a god look at what they are the god of, and how they were described in myth. Look at the great deeds that they have done, and the things that were done to them.

In addition to these vital statues, an altar can be adorned with guardian statues. These would normally be placed over doorways, or in auspicious places in the house. Unfortunately this is not always practical in this day and age, so Temple of Sumer advocates placing these at the edge of the altar facing outwards like gargoyles.

Though Imdugud statues were the most common statues to have as protectors, many other good demons were employed for similar purposes. Choose your protector demons carefully, and think about the character of the demon before you even start.

When carving a demon we do many of the same things that we would when carving the statue of a god. You need to see what they are a demon of, what they did in myth, and how they were depicted in the past. A protector statue should not be bigger than the statues of the worshipers. They should not be placed in a position of devotion, but they should be treated with respect. Like the statue of a god, the statue of a demon is acting as a vessel for a potent essence.

One final statue that should be covered is the servant statue. In ancient times the temples would have a full staff. There would be people to serve as chanters, as scribes, and any other conceivable task. We don’t have that luxury today, so we make do with a substitute.

Servant statues attend the needs of the gods spiritually. They should be carved in such a way as to look like what they are supposed to do. A scribe might be carved with a tablet and a stylus. A cleaner might be carved with a broom.

As our materials have developed over time, so too has our subject mater. When you carve a scribe, you can carve them with a laptop instead of a clay tablet. When you carve someone who cleans, they can be given a vacuum rather than a broom.

Respect and custom

In ancient Sumer there were ancient temples on step pyramids called Ziggurats. These Ziggurats have stairs, these stairs twist several times to prevent worshipers and priests from approaching directly. They were also built high to be symbolically close to the gods.

In the home the ancient Sumerians had recessed altars built into their walls. These altars were similar in some ways to the Sumerian temples, but they also had much more variety. A home altar could honor the worshiper’s ancestors, a personal god, or one of the greater gods.

After the ancient Jews lost to the ancient Romans there was a change in tradition from an orientation around the large community of the temple to a set of smaller communities with a Rabbi rather than a priest leading them.

Similarly Temple of Sumer advocates a blending between the Ziggurat and the Altar. This obviously isn’t required, but it is suggested, as many of the gods followed by the modern Sumerians are the major gods of the religion.

The altars of Temple of Sumer are recommended to be high up and turned at a right angle with the statue of the god on the right side and the worshipers on the left facing the god.

Clothing is important, but the way that clothing is used has changed a lot over the last few thousand years. In ancient times a worshiper would wear poor clothing or none at all when approaching their god. For practicality sake we suggest that yo do not dress up, but do not go into every ritual naked. Dress down for the ritual in other words.

The reason that the Sumerians dressed like this is the same reason that they did not approach their gods directly. They dressed in such a way as to show respect to the gods. The gods are our superiors, not our equals, and not our servants. They deserve to be shown every piece of respect that they can be given.


In an ideal world we would all have access to everything that the gods want. We would know what would serve as a suitable substitute when we don’t have what we need. We would have records of what was traditional.

We don’t live in a perfect world. The materials available to us are different from those available in ancient times. Wood an modern tools are readily available while kilns to fire clay in have become less available. Many of the ancient inscriptions have become damaged, or their translations don’t make sense to us.

While we can’t do things exactly the way that the Sumerians did in ancient times, we don’t always want to. We aren’t reenacting the religion; we are reconstructing it. This means that we take the evidence we had of what the gods did like and we do our best to approximate this and improve upon it.

The gods do not always like things that we think that they like. Like us their tastes develop over time. If they do not like something they will let us know. The downside to this is that it takes personal experience, and not every worshiper agrees. This experience is called Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis or UPG.

Most UPG tells us things that the gods do and do not like. Customarily if a food offering is given in good faith, and the gods like it they will make it taste somewhat better than it ordinarily would. If they do not like the offering they may make it taste bad.

Not all UPG will agree. Not all UPG is correct. Not all UPG will even make sense. Keep these things in mind when dealing with the revelations of the gods. Temple of Sumer treats it like witness testimony. It should always be backed up by two unrelated reliable witnesses.

Forms of address

The ancient Sumerians had a wide selection of literary styles, but one element holds true throughout. The triplicate form of description is used throughout Sumerian literature.

You start with a basic description of something to set a framework for the subject. You move on to tell some details that build upon the basic framework. You then conclude with something specific. After this you say what you are going to say about it.

The reason for this is possibly because the Sumerian language has a lot of room for pun and double meaning. Being descriptive in such a way sets context so that the reader or listener can understand what is being said.

You might for example say:

Your servant beseeches you oh god of water
I beseech you oh god of wisdom and magic
I, your servant Edward beseech you far seeing Enki, god of fresh waters
Bless my future endeavors.

When you address the gods you may choose to use this form as a framework for a more traditional chant. It would set the stage with formality and respect, and the god that is being addressed might be impressed with your effort.


Now that the basics have been covered, the ritual itself might seem rather simplistic by comparison. Keep in mind though that this is simply a basic ritual designed by one temple. With the material above you should be able to modify it in order to make it as elaborate as you need.

Approach your altar indirectly and with respect. Check the water basin; if it is low refill it. Light your candle or oil burner. Clasp your hands with your right hand over your left.

Greet your god in a manor befitting that god. Present your offerings and state them as such. If you need the help of the gods this would be the time to do so, but do not come to the gods only to make requests. Remember: you serve them, they do not serve you.

If you are dedicating any pieces to your altar you should do this now. Make sure to symbolically wash the mouth of the statue before adding it to the altar. From this point on, the statue should be treated as a vessel for whatever it represents, even if it represents you.

To conclude the ritual simply bow your head, blow out the candle, and withdraw. Now is the appropriate time to consume any food that is meant for your god. It is to be understood that while you are consuming the physical form of the offering, they are consuming the spiritual form of the offering.

That is it, that’s all that there is to it. You obviously can add more in an effort to honor the gods. Remember however that you are constantly worshiping the gods in the form of your votive worshiper. You don’t need to constantly be doing ritual because of this.