On Thursday, August 9, We Honor The Goddess Ereshkigal
“Kakka went down the long stairway of heaven.
When he reached the gate of Ereshkigal, he said,
‘Gatekeeper, open the gate to me!’ (Sumerian Myth)
Ereshkigal is the Sumerian and Babylonian Death Goddess. She was the Queen of the Dead and of the Underworld long before she was joined by a male god (and then Nergal managed to become co-ruler of the Underworld only by raping her). Ereshkigal is so terrifying that the Sumerians never described Her in any detail, though the Babylonians said that when She was enraged, Her lips were black and Her face was a livid blue.
Ereshkigal has a palace in the Underworld and is due a visit by those entering. When Inanna, (Goddess of Life, Love and War) trespassed on Her domain by descending into the Underworld, Ereshkigal dealt with Her as She dealt with all newcomers to the Land of the Dead. At each of the gates of the Underworld, Inanna was ordered to remove a piece of jewelry or clothing until She stood before Ereshkigal naked. Ereshkigal then spoke a single word that slew Inanna instantly:
“She spoke against her the word of wrath.
She uttered against her the cry of guilt
She struck her…”
(from “Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Underworld”)
And then Ereshkigal hung Inanna’s nude corpse up on a stake. The Goddess of Death had swallowed up the Goddess of Life. But having done so, Ereshkigal began to suffer the pains of childbirth. Yet the Goddess of Death could not give birth and so She lingered in misery.
At last, Enki, God of Abzu (the watery abyss and also semen) and Wisdom, grew anxious over Inanna’s failure to return and so created two special beings to go to the Underworld and rescue Her. Being made as sexless neuters, the creatures did not violate the laws of the land of Death. They found Ereshkigal in Her painful and fruitless labor. They sympathized with Her pain, echoing Her cries and complaints. Grateful for their attentions, Ereshkigal offered them any gift they wanted. They asked for no gift but Inanna’s body, still hanging from its stake. The Goddess of Death gave it to them and only then was Inanna restored to life with the Bread of Life and the Water of Life.
As a dark moon Goddess, Ereshkigal represents the devouring of life and its subsequent renewal. She rules over the magickal arts, secret knowledge, and oracles. Her animals are those that live beneath the earth – dragons, serpents and snakes – and those that love the night – owls, ravens, crows, black dogs and black horses.
© 1999, 2000, 2001 by Sarah Nunn
Ereshkigal: Goddess of the underworld, consort of Nergal. Some consider her a dark side or aspect of Ishtar. When Ishtar descended into he underworld to save Tammuz, Ereshkigal tricked her into leaving some part of her clothing at each of the underworld’s seven gates as she passed thru them. Standing naked at the seventh gate, Ishtar threw herself on Ereshkigal; but like Samson shorn of his hair, she was powerless. Ereshkigal confined Ishtar until the wily Ea contrived her release with a trick.
Erishkigal (Babylon) “Queen of the Underworld” Death. Viewed by some as a demon. Ereshkigal, variously considered Inanna’s sister or sister-in-law, was supreme goddess of the underworld. When angered, Ereshkigal’s face grew livid and her lips grew black. She did not know why Inanna would visit her, but she allowed her in, and then instructed Namtar, her messenger and vizier, the Fate-Cutter, the herald of death, to release his diseases upon Inanna. Ereshkigal had a palace in the underworld and was due a visit by those entering. When Inanna trespassed on her domain, Ereshkigal “…fastened on Inanna the eye of death. She spoke against her the word of wrath. She uttered against her the cry of guilt. She struck her. Inanna was turned into a corpse,…And was hung from a hook on the wall.”
When Nergal, the unsparing god of the underworld, arrived to give Ereshkigal a throne upon which to sit and give judgement, she offered him food, drink, a footbath, and enticed him with her body. Eventually he succumbed and they slept with each other for seven days. Enraged when he wished to leave her, she sent Namtar to heaven to request that the gods send Nergal to her to be punished as one of the few favors she had ever received. If they would not, she threatened to raise the dead who would then eat and outnumber the living. Nergal was brought back. In some versions of the myth, Nergal took control of Namtar’s attendant demons, grabbed Ereshkigal from her throne by the hair, and threatened to decapitate her. In this position she proposed marriage to him. In both versions he accepted, they were married, and he became her consort.
Belit-tseri, the female tablet-scribe, knelt before Ereshkigal and Sumuquan, the cattle god resided in her underworld court. Heroes and priests resided there, as well, and mighty kings served others food. So we can see that Ereshkigal had actual, not referred, power. She ruled death as an equal portion of the span from creation to destruction. She judged and commanded both men and women. She had sexual autonomy and authentic agency. She acknowledged and displayed her rage without apology. She had genuine bargaining power and was able to use it even under extreme duress.
Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld From the temples, Inanna prepared to descend into Kur, the Underworld. She put on the shugarra-crown, the small lapis beads around her neck, the double strand of beads at her breast, her gold bracelet. She put on her royal robe and put ointment on her eyes; she tied her breastplate to her chest and picked up the lapis measuring rod and line. Finally, she called to her servant, Ninshubur. “I am descending to Kur. ‘If I do not return, set up a lamentation for me by the ruins. Beat the drum for me in the assembly places; circle the houses of the gods. Tear at your eyes, at your mouth, at your thighs; dress yourself in a single garment, like a beggar. Go to Nippur, to the temple of Enlil. When you enter his holy shrine, cry out: ‘Oh Father Enlil, do not let your daughter be put to death in the Underworld!”” (Wolkstein & Kramer)….
Ereshkigal is the elder sister of Inanna. She represents the dark, cthonic side of the Eternal Feminine. While she is confined to Attalu, the realm of the dead, her power is felt in all realms. She is a Goddess who will have her due. Humans, men especially, ignore Ereshkigal at their peril. Those who do not know her, or pretend not to, are rootless and foolish.
Ereshkigal rules with her consort Nergal over Attalu and the seven Annunaki, dread judges of the Abyss.
Caves are especially fine places to invoke or commune with Ereshkigal, but any lonely place on a dark moon midnight is suitable.
(Irkalla) Queen of the Underworld, a chthonic goddess whose realm was the depths below the Inner Sea of Abzu. She was recognized as Guardian and Patroness of the Dark City. Together with her consort Nergal she rules this underworld, also called ‘the big land’, from which no-one returns.
One day Nergal was sent to Ereskigal from the heavens, with an offering of food. They proceeded to fall in love, and when Nergal had to leave, she threatened Anu that unless Nergal was send back to her, for ever, as a husband, she would revive the dead and send them back to earth, so that they would outnumber the living. Her minister Namtar had to go to heaven as her messenger, for Ereshkigal felt that she was already pregnant. He successfully relayed the message, for at last Nergal came storming down the stairs, broke down the seven gates and burst into the goddess’ palace straight into her passionate embrace.
Ereshkigal is dark and violent, as befits her role as goddess of the underworld. As ruler over the shades, Ereshkigal receives the mortuary offerings made to the dead. Often praised in hymns, in the Sumerian cosmogony she was carried off to the underworld after the separation of heaven and earth.
FROM: Avatars of the Goddess
ERESHKIGAL: Ereshkigal is the Sumerian mistress of death and ruler of ARALU, the “Land of No Return.” An ancient poem, “Hymn to the Locust-tree,” explains that “Ereshkigal had received the underworld as her share” of creation. It is a dry, dusty place beneath Abzu, the “sweet waters of the underground.” Aralu is a dimension of eternal darkness, a huge communal grave where languishing spirits eat dust and moan in sorrow. Another description from Sumerian myth states:
The pure Ereshkigal herself upon her throne,
The Annunake, the seven judges, pronounced judges, pronounce judgment before her,
They fastened their eyes upon her, they eyes of death.
At their word, the word which tortures the spirit…
The sick woman was turned into a corpse,
The corpse was hung from a stake.
One of the most complex ancient myths about the underworld involves the legend of Inanna (Ishtar in some translations), Ereshkigal’s sister, who makes a disastrous trip to the place of the dead. The beautiful Inanna, determined to shame her sister, decides to travel to the underworld to mock Ereshkigal and her lowly status as ruler of the damned. She dons her most glamorous clothes and finest jewelry and sets out for Aralu. Word quickly spreads to Ereshkigal that her sister is coming, charming everyone in her path.
Ereshkigal becomes jealous and orders her guards to seize a garment from Inanna at each of the seven gates she must pass through on the way to the depths of hell. Inanna does so, arriving naked and enraged at her sister’s throne. A heated argument erupts over the incident, and Ereshkigal has Inanna impaled on a hook, her her body quickly turns green and decays, much to Ereshkigal’s delight. The CHTHONIC deity displays her sister’s withered corpse as a trophy in the halls of Aralu.
Meanwhile, in the upper world, Inanna’s handmaid, who knows of the sisters’ feud, works for Inanna’s release. After intervention from a number of Sumerian deities, Ereshkigal reluctantly agrees to give up her sister’s corpse. The gods revive Inanna with water and the grass of life, but the judges of the dead will not let her leave the underworld until she finds a substitute to take her place in hell. Inanna agrees to send a replacement back to her sister’s kingdom.
A ghastly demon escort sees Inanna back to the land of the living. Upon her return, she discovers that her husband, Dumuzi, rather than mourning her loss, as been celebrating her absence with wine, women, and song. She immediately selects him as her substitute and sends him to Aralu to suffer in her place. Inanna eventually pities Dumuzi’s plight and works out an arrangement with Ereshkigal so that he has to stay in hell for only six months of the year.
Another legend tells how Ereshkigal used her wiles to trick NERGAL, a vain and lecherous warrior god, into taking up residence in the land of the dead. When Nergal ventures to the underworld to meet this legendary queen, Ereshkigal charms him into sharing her bed, knowing that this will seal his doom. After the seduction, the gods refuse to allow him to return to the upper world, so Nergal weds Ereskigal and becomes the king of the dead. Together the couple oversees the souls of those who have departed Aralu.
“The Encyclopedia of Hell.” Miriam Van Scott. St. Martin’s Press. ©1998
Ereškigal: Ereškigal, whose name can be translated ‘Queen of the Great Below’, is also known in Akkadian as Allatu. She is the goddess who rules the underworld, mother of the goddess Nungal and, by Enlil, of the god Namtar, who serves as her messenger and minister. Ereškigal’s first husband was the god Gugal-ana, whose name probably originally meant ‘canal inspector of An’ and who may therefore have been identical with Ennugi. In the Sumerian poem ‘Inana’s Descent to the Underworld’, Inana tries to gain entry to the underworld by claiming that she has come to attend the funeral rites of Gugal-ana, the ‘husband of my elder sister Ereškigal’. The son of Ereškigal and Gugal-ana was the god Ninazu. In another tradition, Ereškigal married the god Nergal, as related in the poem ‘Nergal and Ereškigal’.
Ereškigal lived in a palace located at Ganzir, the doorway to the underworld, protected by seven gates, all of which could be bolted and each of which was guarded by a porter.
“Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. An Illustrated Dictionary.” Jeremy Black and Anthony Green. University of Texas Press, Austin. ©1992