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Is Gozer the Gozerian Actually the Sumerian God, Ninazu? An Exploration of Ghostbusters Lore

Updated: Mar 27

Most of you probably don't know this, but I am a huge Ghostbusters fan. In fact, my daughter and I regularly dress up as Ghostbusters and make trips to the cemetery to capture ghosts. (Yes, we go at night when there are no funerals.)

The very first movie I ever saw in the theaters was Ghostbusters II when my mother would give me $5 to go to karate class . . . but I would sneak off to the movies across the street, instead. With the premier of the new Ghostbusters movie this week, it's like Christmas, the Fourth of July, and all of our birthdays rolled into one.

Of course, I'm not just a diehard Ghostbusters fan; I'm also an ancient Near Eastern expert, as well. So, in celebration of the Ghostbusters franchise finally making a comeback—I've been waiting my whole life for this dream to come true—I thought it would be fun to explore parallels between the original Ghostbusters villain, Gozer the Destructor, with actual Sumerian deities and demons. I wanted to know which ancient divinity most closely parallels Gozer, and I think I found a pretty good match.

Gozer the Gozerian

I will briefly introduce key details about Gozer within Ghostbusters lore for those who don't know. Deriving information from Tobin's Spirit Guide, certain important characteristics about this exiled Sumerian deity will prove helpful in identifying his counterpart in real-world ancient history:

  • NAMES: Gozer the Gozerian; the Destructor; the Traveler; Volguus Zildrohar; Lord of the Sebouillia; Flattop

  • ORIGIN: Sumerian; 6000 BCE

  • CULT: Worshipped by Mesopotamians and Hittites

  • CHARACTERISTICS: Death and Destruction

  • MYTHOLOGY: Would bring about the end of the world

  • SIBLING: Tiamat, goddess of chaos

  • ATTENDANDANTS: Vinz Clortho, Zuul, & Idulnas

  • MAJOR TEMPLE SITES: Shuruppak (modern-day Tell Fara, Iraq)

  • RANKING: Class 7 Entity (very powerful demon or god)

  • WEAKNESS: Allows conquered people to choose the form of their destructor

  • MANIFESTATIONS: Stay Puft Marshmallow Man; Torb; Sloar

According to in-universe information, Gozer was the Sumerian god of destruction whose cult began around 6000 BCE. Gozer Worshipers, or "Gozerians," repeatedly tried to entice this god into bringing about the end of the world. However, his sister, Tiamat, banished Gozer from the prime 1984 dimension, forcing him to wander from dimension to dimension. Hence, Gozer is nicknamed "the Traveler."

Over the millennia, though, secret Gozerian cults kept the memory of the Destructor alive by constructing secret temples around the world, including in New York City (55 Central Park West, to be exact) and Summerville, Oklahoma. Gozer was summoned back to the prime dimension twice where the Ghostbusters defeated him in 1984 and again in 2021.

Destroyer Gods, Nergal & Resheph

It should be obvious that the Ghostbusters universe takes place in a completely different dimension from our own, so there will not be any direct parallels between Gozer and actual Sumerian deities. This is apparent from a number of in-universe historical inaccuracies, such as the claim that Sumerians worshipped Gozer in 6000 BCE. The Sumerians in our dimension didn't exist until about 4000 BCE. Or the odd differentiation between "Sumerians" and "Mesopotamians" in Ghostbusters literature as though they were two different people groups. Sumerians were Mesopotamians!

The God, Nergal

Nevertheless, there are quite a number of surprising similarities that make comparing mythologies a lot of fun for a Ghostbusters fan like myself. For instance, the main Sumerian god of destruction was named Nergal, who was ruler of the underworld—his name means “Lord of the Great City" (i.e., of the Underworld)—and he was worshiped by the people of Kutha (modern-day Tell Ibrahim, Iraq), a city about 20 miles northeast of Babylon. Nergal had widespread influence in Mesopotamian culture. The Akkadians identified Nergal with their own underworld deity Erra, so that by the 1st millennium BCE, the two names became virtually interchangeable. Both gods were associated with the more sinister aspects of the sun, bringing fire, plague, famine, drought, war, flood, sudden death, and chaos in general. The Hittites would have called this underworld god Leluwani.

The Demon-God, Resheph

Religious syncretism in the ancient Near East was a complex and multifaceted process, shaped by the interactions between different cultures and religions over millennia. This phenomenon involved the blending of diverse religious beliefs and practices, resulting in the creation of new religious systems or the incorporation of elements from one tradition into another. For example, deities worshipped in Canaan, like El Elyon and Hadad, show parallels to the Mesopotamian pantheon, reflecting a shared religious heritage or mutual influence. Indeed, early Christianity, Judaism, and Islam also exhibited syncretistic tendencies, particularly as they encountered and adapted to the prevailing cultural contexts of the different pagan groups.

Hence, the West Semites identified Nergal with Resheph, who was a prominent figure in the Western part of the Fertile Crescent, deeply revered from Syria and Palestine to Egypt. While scholars grapple with the origins of his name, many suggest it symbolizes something akin to "he who is burning," hinting at connections with fire, lightning, and even plagues. Historically, Resheph's veneration dates back to the third millennium BCE, notably at Tell Mardikh-Ebla, Syria. He is frequently associated with the underworld, serving as a chthonic entity and gatekeeper. His worship encompassed roles as diverse as being a war deity and a bringer of diseases, wielding his signature bow and arrow. Despite his fearsome nature, Resheph maintained a dual reputation of being both malevolent and benevolent, capable of causing harm but also offering healing.

In Egypt, from the New Kingdom period, the cult of Resheph flourished, particularly under Pharaoh Amenophis II, who regarded him as a divine protector. Resheph's iconography in Egypt reflects this double-edged character, depicted sometimes as benevolent and sometimes as dangerous. This complexity carried over to the Phoenician-Punic sphere, where his worship evolved to blend with local traditions and gods of classical Greek mythology. By the 4th century BCE, the Cypriots identified Resheph with Apollo while others identified him with Mars. Indeed, the description of rešep and qeṭeb in Deut 32:24 (RSV “burning heat” and “pestilence”), as well as descriptions of Apollo in the Iliad, match very closely with the depiction of Nergal from Mesopotamia, showing a strong syncretistic connection throughout the Mediterranean world.

In the Hebrew Bible, Resheph underwent an even bigger transformation, from a potent deity to a more subdued figure, perhaps a demonic entity, under Yahweh's dominion. He is depicted as a force of pestilence and death, albeit in a demythologized form. This evolution from a revered god to a symbolic figure of calamity showcases the shifting religious landscape of the ancient Near East and reflects the complex nature of Resheph as both destroyer and protector.

Why Ninazu is the Real Gozer . . . well, sort of.

So, there you have it. Gozer the Gozerian is really just Nergal-Resheph. Right? Well, not exactly. I actually think there is a slightly better divinity from the ancient world that more closely matches the Lord of the Sebouillia; and that is the netherworld god, Ninazu. This particular demon-god is relatively minor and comparatively little is known of his place in the Sumerian pantheon. Nonetheless, his primary association with Ereshkigal as her son is deemed the most archaic tradition by scholars, suggesting that later connections, such as those positioning him as the son of Enlil and Ninlil, might reflect the merging and assimilation of divine roles, notably with the high-god Nergal.

So, here is why I think Ninazu matches Gozer best:

Similar to Gozer, who was worshipped in lower Mesopotamia, Ninazu was also venerated at Mesopotamian cult centers, such as southern Enegi and northern Eshnunna. Like other chthonic beings from this region, he was a god whose domain spanned the underworld, healing, and warfare. It is the healing aspect of ancient destroyer gods that may have drawn the medical surgeon, Dr. Ivo Shandor (from Ghostbusters), to research the Cult of Gozer in the first place—and then build temples for Gozer to usher in the end of the world. Intriguingly, Ninazu's name, rooted in the Sumerian language, translates to "lord healer," a title that belies his infrequent associations with medicinal practices.

Of course, Ninazu's most profound attributes lie with the underworld where he may have once stood as the preeminent god before being eclipsed by figures like Ereshkigal and Nergal. His epithets, such as "steward of the great earth" and "lord of the underworld," align him with the chthonic realm, shared among deities such as his son Ningishzida and the formidable Nergal. Despite eventually being replaced by another god named Tišpak, Ninazu maintained a cohort of devotees in the city-state of Ur, sustaining his presence beyond the Old Babylonian period and the decline of other Mesopotamian empires. This weak continuation of worship matches with what Ghostbusters lore says about Gozer, who appears to have fallen out of popularity but never quite disappeared from human memory.

Ninazu the Destroyer

The ancient text, "Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur," is a monumental work that offers deep insight into the ancient Sumerian worldview, its religious beliefs, and their cultural ethos. Encompassing over 500 lines, of which roughly 400 are well-preserved, the poem is organized into five stanzas, or kirugu, varying in length but unified in their portrayal of despair and destruction. The opening stanza sets the somber tone, revealing the devastating decree handed down by the four chief deities of the Sumerian pantheon—An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursag—heralding doom for Sumer and its inhabitants. This divine verdict sets the stage for the ensuing narrative of destruction.

As the poem unfolds, the second kirugu meticulously chronicles the downfall of Sumer, city by city, painting a vivid picture of devastation that sweeps from north to south. Particularly poignant is the fate of the Egidda (from the city Ennigi) smitten by its tutelary deity Ninazu (lines 209–212), described with the following words:

Ninazu planted the weapon on the neck of the Egidda, He caused an evil wind to blow on Ninhursag of the … house, She fled like a dove from (her) cote, brought … into the steppe, “Oh my destroyed city, destroyed house,” bitterly she cried.

In line with his destroyer aspect, it is important to note that Ninazu was often syncretized with (or was viewed as a hypostasis of) both Nergal and Resheph (burning fire gods). Thus, it is significant to note that Gozer also took the form of a giant sloar where, in the Ghostbusters universe, sloars are living furnaces whose insides roast its victims.

Tiamat & the Moving Torb

The warrior aspect of Ninazu, especially pronounced in the city of Eshnunna, showcases another dimension of his character with overlaps to Gozer. Ninazu is notably dubbed the "king of the snakes," a title underscoring his dominion over serpents and highlighting his invocation in rituals aimed at countering snakebites—a practice illuminated by texts in Elamite and Hurrian (not just Sumerian or Akkadian).

While Gozer is not exactly associated with snakes, his sister Tiamat is. According to Tobin's Spirit Guide, Tiamat developed an antagonistic rivalry with Gozer, and it was Tiamat's followers who banished Gozer from the prime dimension. Although concrete artistic representations remain elusive, textual references paint Ninazu with symbols of snakes and the mythological "snake-dragon" mušḫuššu, which may be the same dragon-divinity overcome by Tišpak (Nanzu's replacement).

In other words, there are interesting overlaps between Gozer's battle with the serpent-dragon Tiamat and Nanzu's association with the dragon mušḫuššu. In fact, in our dimension, Tiamat actually battled with (and was defeated by) the Babylonian god, Marduk, who is syncretistically tied to the ophic Ninazu (via Nergal, who was often described as the "might" of Marduk). The difference being that in our dimension, Tiamat was defeated and destroyed, whereas in the Ghostbusters universe, Tiamat is the victor.

This detail is not the only connection that Gozer has with Nanzu and snakes. As Vinze Clortho explains, Gozer destroyed another set of Gozerians called the Vuldronaii when he took the form of a "large and moving torb." It just so happens that torbs are semiserpentine creatures that kind of look like giant eels with arms.

Vinz Clortho & Zuul

Significantly, just like Gozer and his two main emissaries (the terror dogs Vinz Clortho and Zuul), Ninazu was also associated with black dogs, a later iconographic symbol of death. Moreover, as discussed above, Ninazu was also associated with the mušḫuššu, a mythological hybrid that boasts scales, the hind legs of an eagle, the forelimbs of a lion, a serpentine neck and tail, a pair of horns, and a distinct crest, making it a figure of awe in the ancient world where it was prominently featured on Babylon's Ishtar Gate from the 6th century BCE. The name "mušḫuššu" itself, derived from Akkadian and Sumerian roots, suggests a "reddish snake" or "fierce snake."

What I think is really fun is how ancient depictions of the mušḫuššu look like skinnier versions of the terror dogs, especially when they flank images of Marduk. Indeed, the fact that ancient Near Eastern gods, including Nanzu, regularly had attendants who followed them (to do their bidding) matches quite well with Gozer and his two terror dogs.


So, can it be said that Ghostbusters likely took inspiration from Ninazu when creating the villain, Gozer? Probably not. Nor can we say there is a direct one-for-one parallel between the two characters. However, what can be said is that Gozer the Gozerian does share some striking similarities with other ancient Sumerian gods. If Gozer were a real-life deity, then we would expect to read about this interdimensional being in the annals of ancient Mesopotamian mythology because the two systems have a lot of really good overlap.

I hope you enjoyed learning about some obscure Sumerian gods, and I hope you enjoy the new Ghostbusters film!

1 Comment

May 08

Great article

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