“Great Lady Under Earth”, Irkalla
Animal: Dragons, snakes, owls, ravens, black animals
Family & Other Connections
Older sister of Ishtar. Mother to Nungal, Namtar and Ninazu.
Information & Stories
Ereshkigal ruled over Irkalla, the land of the dead or the underworld. In the story “The Descent of Ishtar”, her sister journeys to Irkalla, and Ereshkigal traps her. She rules that Ishtar may only go free if she sends someone back to take her place. Eventually Ishtar sends her husband Tammuz as her replacement.
In some stories Ereshkigal rules Irkalla with the God Nergal, although the relationship between them in not agreed upon. In some versions Nergal has been sent to Irkalla to punish Ereshkigal, but relents when she pleads for mercy and instead makes her his wife. The version which I believe is closest to the original has a very different dynamic between the two though;
In this version, Nergal and Ereshkigal fall in love with each other while he is in the Underworld. When he returns to the land above, Ereshkigal is upset and angry, and vows to find him and get him back! She sends her vizier, Namtar, to plead her case before the Gods, and eventually Nergal returns. This time he accepts the relationship that was developing between them, and becomes Ereshkigal’s true consort – and not just her lover. They rule equally over Irkalla, but it is acknowledged that the power and position are rightfully Ereshkigal’s and she has chosen to share them with him of her own desire.
I believe that this is more accurate because, as the Goddess of the Underworld, Ereshkigal is understood to be both powerful and respected. She is not a Goddess to be conquered but to be feared. She can take care of herself, and is proactive in getting what she wants. To me it feels that twisting the relationship between Ereshkigal and Nergal is done for the sole purpose of robbing her of power. Instead of being put forward as a strong female figure, she is turned into the submissive lesser-half of her husband. That is not what a relationship should be, and not how a Dark Goddess of the Underworld would behave.
Ereshkigal is a Dark Goddess and represents the decline of life, and death before the eventual rebirth. She is associated with the magical arts and arcane knowledge.
Ereshkigal receives the mortuary offerings made to the dead.
Ereshkigal is supposed to be terrifying in appearance. Babylonians described her with black lips and a blue face when she was enraged.
Click the thumbnail to view a larger version.