Ereshkigal in Near Eastern mythology (Babylonian – Assyrian) was the goddess of the underworld, married to the war god Nergal.
Ereshkigal ruled over the Mesopotamian realm of death. She is Inanna’s sister, rival, or alter-ego as descriptions of her and her realm are found in the Sumerian hymn, The Descent of Inanna (available in English translation). This is the descent Inanna makes into Irkalla-Ereshkigal’s realm of death.
Ereshkigal is great and powerful and possesses power over life: has access to the Water of Life and is capable of resurrecting the dead.
She is a tempestuous, volatile and aggressive. She commands and compels the dead with her powers are invoked in necromantic spells from the magical papyri of Alexandria, Egypt.
An Akkadian hymn recounts the union of Ereshkigal and Nergal. Nergal was delegated to deliver food offerings to Ereshkigal and they unexpectedly fell passionately in love and she conceived. When Nergal returned to his home in the court of the spirits, Ereshkigal threatened the supreme authorities with an army of the raised dead to devour the living unless Nergal was sent back to her. Unless her “request” was granted, the dead would outnumber the living. No attempts were made to call her challenge and Nergal was allowed to return.
Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld
Ereshkigal plays a prominent role in the myth known as ‘Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld’ . Inanna is the Queen of Heaven and Ereshkigal’s younger sister. In the myth, Inanna journeyed to the Underworld to observe the funeral rites of Gugalanna, Ereshkigal’s husband. Although Inanna was allowed to pass through the seven gates of the Underworld, Ereshkigal instructed her gatekeeper, Neti, to remove a piece of clothing or jewelry from her sister as each gate was opened. This may be interpreted as the gradual removal of Inanna’s power as she progressed deeper into the realm belonging to her sister. Finally, when Inanna reached Ereshkigal’s throne room, she was completely naked and powerless. After the Annuna of the Dead passed judgment on her, Inanna was killed by Ereshkigal and her corpse hung from a hook on the wall. The gods succeeded in rescuing Inanna and removed her from the Underworld alive.
Manifestations: Ereshkigal may manifest as a woman but she may also appear with a lioness’ head on a woman’s body.
Attributes: Her scepter is a snake.
Allies: Gestinana and Belit-Seri, Lady of the Desert, serve as Ereshkigal’s personal secretaries, writing down her decrees.
Animals: Snakes, scorpions, lions
Realm: Irkalla, realm of no return; realm of the dead.
Offerings: Made to the dead find their way to Ereshkigal.