NERGAL AND ERESHKIGAL

RE-ENCHANTING THE MESOPOTAMIAN UNDERWORLD

 

Note: Preliminary version. Complete article will be presented in the files of the series "Journeying the Mesopotamian Underworld"

by Lishtar


1. INTRODUCTION

The myth of the Marriage of Nergal and Ereshkigal can be briefly summarized as a passionate love story that takes place in the Mesopotamian Underworld, where the main characters are Ereshkigal, the inflexible goddess of the Land of No Return, and Nergal, the stubborn god of War and Pestilences. However, there is much more to this myth than a simple love story, starting with the fact that it is unique in world myth and religion a myth that is love story with a happy ending in the realm of the Dead. Recently, Professor Rivkah Harris analyzed Nergal and Ereshkigal in the light of the standards for the expected behavior of men and women towards gender and sexuality in Ancient Mesopotamia (refer to her essay in the section of Essays of Gateways). In what follows, our analysis of the myth of Nergal and Ereshkigal will focus on the following aspects which have not as yet been covered in depth by the literature:

a) on the mighty figures of Ereshkigal and Nergal and the fascinating account of their love story, which is indeed a tale of the awakening of two lonely deities to each other. Until Ereshkigal and Nergal meet and fall for each other, both are powerful deities, very much alone, self-contained and all-in-one-selves. We can say that he is the outsider god and she the outcast goddess of the Mesopotamian pantheon, solitary and the sole rulers of their realms, i.e. Ereshkigal rules the Underworld, the Land of the Dead and of Ancestral Memory, whereas Nergal is the God of War and Pestilences. But as the myth unfolds, both will open up to each other, bond and become the mighty rulers of the Mesopotamian Underworld. Many Assyriologists have seen this myth as Ereshkigal´s surrender to Nergal, relinquishing her sole authority over the realm of the dead to him, a male god. I will propose a new interpretation to this passage. I see Ereshkigal´s surrender in this case to Nergal not as an act of passivity. Instead, she gives up separateness in order to be fulfilled by the beloved´s essence without losing sight of her own uniqueness. Remember that the proud and rude god of the first section of the myth descends to the Depths divested of his powers to bow to the designs of the Underworld and the goddess, very unwillingly at first. As the myth unfolds, he changes as much as she does. So the union of Ereshkigal and Nergal humanizes both goddess and god, a fact that has been overlooked in the literature.

b) It is implicit in the marriage of Nergal and Ereshkigal the redemption of the Mesopotamian Underworld in the sense that the Land of the Dead, Justice and Ancestral Memory is transformed in a place where passion and connectedness can be found.

These points are frequently overlooked and are of paramount importance to heal Underworld experience in Ancient Mesopotamia as well. The idea implied in the myth that the Underworld can also be a place for love and passion side by side to justice and balance constitutes a living legacy still valid for our times. Based on the above, we would like to add that the re-enchantment of Ereshkigal and Nergal and the Underworld is a much needed step to retrieve the image of wholeness of all realms that also are mirrored in our souls. Because by the Duranki, the Bond between Heaven and Earth, all that is above is the same to all that is below, a truth our Mesopotamian soul ancestors knew and tried to live to the fullest.

 

2. FACTUAL DATA ON THE MYTH

Two different versions of the myth of Nergal and Ereshkigal are extant. The earlier one, found at Tell El-Amarna in Egypt and dating from the fifteenth or fourteenth century BCE is a very abbreviated and probably incomplete story of some 90 lines. The much later seventh-century BCE Late Assyrian version from Sultantepe is much longer, perhaps consisting of some 750 lines. A later Neo-Babylonian fragment from Uruk restores some of the passages missing in this account. Both versions have many lacunae and present, therefore, numerous problems; at many important junctures in the text, the breaks leave one guessing. Nevertheless, the basic outline of the story and its themes and motifs are fairly clear.

 

3. STORYLINE

Basically, the storyline goes as follows. The celestial gods decide to hold a banquet. According to cosmic regulations, the gods of heaven cannot descend to the Underworld, nor can chthonic deities ascend to the heavens. So a messenger is sent to Ereshkigal, Mistress of the Great Land, asking the mighty goddess to choose and send a messenger to receive her "food portion" from the table of the heavenly deities.

Here we have a first major healing for the image of the Underworld and Ereshkigal. The Great Goddess of the Land of No Return is not ignored by Anu, the Skyfather. Indeed, it is explicitly stated in the text that Ereshkigal´s presence at least by proxy matters to the father of the gods, who accords his daughter due respect for her cosmic position in the Depths Below. Ereshkigal chooses Namtar, her faithful minister to represent her. Namtar in Sumerian means fate, so whoever contradicts Namtar´s designs, contradict his or her destiny. Thus, Namtar ascends "the long stairway to heaven", and the celestial gods gods respectfully stand for greetings and to kneel in front of Namtar according to the Uruk version, as befits the messenger of the Great Goddess. Thus, all stand [or kneel] except for Nergal, god of war and diseases. Nergal must then make amends for his insult.

In the earlier account, Nergal is apparently summoned to be punished by execution. But the cunning god Ea [Enki in Sumerian, the god of the Sweet Underground Waters, Magick and Crafts, comes to Nergal´s rescue by giving him seven demons, personification of plagues, to accompany him for his defense. With their help, Nergal is able to reach Ereshkigal and he overpowers her and becomes her husband. In the later version, far more elaborate and in some crucial passages very different, Nergal makes two visits to the Netherworld. It is unclear whether on thefirst visit he is to receive a pardon from the goddess or whether he attempts to defy her. Here too the cunning god Ea/Enki comes to Nergal´s aid. For the first occasion, Ea has him make a throne of chair of many different woods perhaps as a compensatory gift.

Two points should be made here. The first is related to the special wood Nergal´s throne should be made of, which certainly relates to the trees of the Underworld deities which can be also classified as the Lords of the Eternal Return, once They are the Dying and Resurrected gods, such as Damu, Dumuzi, Ninghizida. Furthermore, it should be added that celestial deities such as Nanna/Sin, the moon god, and Utu/Shamash also travel to the Underworld, to return daily to the Heights Above. Secondly and not least important, Stephanie Dalley in Myths from Mesopotamia explains the significance of the throne as an attempt to "ensure that Nergal can escape from the underworld and elude death", connecting it to the ghost´s chair in lexical texts. I agree with Dalley´s views.

So Ea instructs Nergal not to accept the hospitality he will be offered as a guest - not to sit on a chair, not to eat bread or meat, not to drink beer, and not to wash his feet - and also tells him "not to do with her that which men and women do".

Ea´s instructions to Nergal can be summarized by the following: "don´t experience what you are offered, refuse whatever is given to you and most of all, do not open yourself up to Ereshkigal in the most intimate way". It is also a recurrent pattern in Mesopotamian myth and religion that if one wants to return from the Underworld, one should not accept food and drink from the Depths Below. See my discussion and Adapa´s (Twin Rivers Rising) brilliant treatise on Mesopotamian Religion in the Religion and Magick section here in Gateways). Damu, the Divine Child of Mesopotamia, only eats a lavish banquet on his honor upon being released from the Underworld as well. It is clear therefore that to accept the hospitality of the Underworld is to accept the Underworld´s designs and stay there for good, unless otherwise stated by Ereshkigal and chthonic deities. However, no other deity in the Mesopotamian pantheon has ever descended with a throne, a symbol of rulership, as both a gift and a challenge perhaps to the Underworld´s Great Queen. No other deity is advised against lovemaking to Ereshkigal. Thus, Nergal´s descent is unique in all aspects.

On the first visit, of which many lines are missing, Nergal apparently heeds Ea´s advice. But after a break in the text, the goddess is found stripping for her bath. This time

He gave in to his heart´s desire to do what men and women do,
The two embraced each other
And went passionately to bed

Perhaps it is time now to explore in more detail the mighty figures of Ereshkigal and Nergal, and establish some interesting points to deepen our understanding of their love story embedded in this great myth.

 

3.1 UNDERSTANDING ERESHKIGAL AND NERGAL BETTER

By birth Nergal is the second born of Enlil and Ninlil, conceived as ransom price for Enlil to conquer his way back to the Heights Above by Ninlil´s trust and courage in the Myth of Enlil and Ninlil, or the Begetting of the Moon God Nanna. Nergal is therefore the child of the leading couple in the Mesopotamian pantheon, a prince in his own right. Thus another justification for his epithet of Enlil of the Underworld. But Nergal´s conception is also a tale of a trial where both Enlil and Ninlil have to go beyond appearances to apprehend the essence of each other and grow as partners on the make. Stubbornness and impulsiveness are two strong traits of Nergal. However, He can also be said mystically to be the Lord who test our limits through life´s hardest trials.

How many times war and diseases are self-inflicted or caused by our own thoughtlessness? So although our soul ancestors did not know of psychosomatic diseases, they knew for sure a) that many problems in the physical world are caused by the deviation of righteous living (not pleasing to the gods´ designs) and b) that diseases were caused by demons and humans, not being able to divine gods ´ designs for them, had to be punished for this fault. This is why Nergal can be considered a somber aspect of Shamash, the Judge of the Day, whereas Nergal may well represent the Judge and the Healing possible if one survives the Dark Night of the Soul. We must not forget how important was law, order and balance for the ancient Mesopotamians, so in the presence of ultimate desolation, represented by the power of war and pestilences, we can never be fully at ease, but feel a lurking fear in Nergal´s presence. Diseases in Mesopotamia were thought to be caused by angering the gods, and in this aspect, Jungian psychology shows that our soul ancestors were not totally wrong. If the gods can be also seen as energy patterns that ensoul life, angering the gods would mean to open oneself up to self-inflicted diseases such as depression, a well-known gateway to immuno-related conditions which debilitate our own capability to be in balance with ourselves and in relation with the world around us.

Thus, Nergal can be better described as the young god full of raw, primal energy that explodes sometimes as destructive rage, or unbalanced energy. He is also the god who dispenses hard justice to humankind, self-contained, yet needy, but too proud to admit the depths of his desire. Nergal is a loner who does not know well the designs of his heart and soul, perhaps because he has not listened to the wants of his body either. Very much like the image of a Dark Eros, harsh, arid, barefoot and homeless, searching beneath the stars but not finding the truth that for him is to be found with Ereshkigal, his countersexual image, in the depths below. Nergal is the mighty Hunter and Prowler of the Night´s Mysteries, a figure of allure who is also virginal in the sense of untouched. We don´t know of other consorts Nergal might have had, but we do know that once he met the Great Queen of the Underworld, he will not let her go. Thus, Nergal equals Ereshkigal, who is one-in-herself and a mighty goddess as well.

Ereshkigal, on the other hand, is one of the oldest goddesses of Mesopotamia, and according to the Creation myth, Eridu model, She is the daughter of Anu, the Skyfather, and Nammu, the Primeval Mother and Waters of the Sea. She was engendered out of the tears that Anu, the Skyfather, shed for Ki, the Earth Mother, his sister-beloved, when He was forever separated from Her by the impulsive growth of the first couple´s firstborn, Enlil, Lord Air/Wind. Anu´s tears for Ki met the salt waters of Nammu the Sea, and from the mingling of their bodies a Boy and a Girl, Divine Twins were born. Enki and Ereshkigal.

So Ereshkigal is the twin Sister of Enki, the lord of Magic, Crafts and the Watery Deep. Thus She represents the Knowing Within, manifested without as Wise Judgement. Ereshkigal´s name means "Lady of the Great Earth", and suggests She may have been the Underworld aspect of Ninhursag-Ki, the Great Mother and Living Earth, the first daughter of Nammu the Sea. From myths, we also learn that She was abducted by Kur and "took the Underworld for Her domain". Thus, although apparently abducted to the Depths Within and Land´s End, She became the ruler of the Inner realms when She got there.

Historically, the earliest dedication inscription to Ereshkigal, by Lu-Utu, ensi of Luma under the Third Dynasty of Ur, uses the feminine equivalent of the same phrase of Her: "mistress of the land of the setting sun" . So far as is known, Ereshkigal had no special place in the pantheon of Umma at this time, so this may be taken as evidence that Ereshkigal was on the rise at the end of the 3rd millennium. Thus in the Sumerian Descent of Inanna, first known from early second-millennium copies, Ereshkigal rules the Underworld, assisted by other divine powers but without equal. Nothing is heard of Ninazu, Lord Healer and Lord of the Good Tree, or Nergal himself, though Ereshkigal´s husband is named as Gugalanna. The Akkadian Descent of Ishtar preserves the same status of Ereshkigal as the Sumerian. Indeed, from myth we learn that Nergal is much younger than Ereshkigal, as He is secondborn of Enlil and Ninlil, Lord and Lady Air/Wind, conceived himself in the Underworld, as told in the myth of Enlil and Ninlil, or the Birth of the Moon God.

I see Ereshkigal also as the Mistress of Essence, who teaches us to go beyond Appearances, to the Reality of Justice and Ultimate Truth. And although from earlier sources we know Ereshkigal was married to Gugallana, we don´t know of other consorts of Hers, or how the relationship was. We know though that Ereshkigal is mourning deeply for the death of her consort in the Descent of Inanna. Thus, it is quite likely that as Nergal ascends to power in Babylon and Assyria in the religious pantheon because of his connection with war, He becomes the most suitable consort to Ereshkigal, the Great Goddess of the Underworld, for in essence Nergal is the Enlil and the Shamash of the Great Depths, prince and judge as one.

 

3.2 THE AWAKENING

Although Ereshkigal´s first husband is called Gugallana in the myth of the Descent of Inanna, we do not know much about him. What we do know is that Ereshkigal rules alone the realm of the Dead. Until Nergal comes into the picture, Ereshkigal is always depicted in as a figure of power, a mighty goddess, but never as a love or affection-inspiring deity. Neither do we know about Nergal´s former lovers. Therefore, both Nergal and Ereshkigal constitute the sacred image of the Divine Stranger who is known like no Other to each other, a recurrent motif in world mythology. S/He appears in many guises, usually in disguise and brings the gift of sexual desire and connection only for those who are capable to see who S/He really is and are generous in Spirit. Above all, the Wondrous Stranger brings the sacred dimension of lovemaking, and this is implied in the myth by the rank of the characters involved, how they relate to each other and connect to become true partners as the story unfolds.

How can we substantiate the above mentioned premise? Because Ereshkigal receives Nergal, who had offended her in the banquet of the great gods, and treats him as a guest in her realm: she offers him hospitality and ultimately, shows herself to him, and then he cannot deny her. Nergal, on the other hand, descends prepared to stay the minimum space of time possible, willing to deny all the Underworld had to offer. But upon meeting Ereshkigal, he forgets all his preliminary intentions and opens up himself to the Great Goddess: he accepts the Underworld and welcomes Ereshkigal into his arms, spending six days as her lover and being equally loved.

Coming into the body, ours first and then accepting the intimacy of the beloved´s touch, is a pre-condition to be in connection with ourselves and the worlds around us. Unless we pay attention to the warning signs of need in our bodies, we risk severe illness. This is why there is an intrinsic relationship between body, mind, heart and spirit, so the first step for Ereshkigal and Nergal to abandon loneliness and all-one-ness is that they must be aware of their own needs, acknowledge who they are and then reach out for the Wondrous Stranger who will be known as No Other in their lives. These needs are present in the text as physical needs, food, drink, hospitality and lovemaking, with the added dimension of the throne Nergal carved as a gift to ransom his way back to the heights. The meaning of the thone carved out of sacred wood is also sovereignty and rulership that Nergal was going to leave behind in the depths to return to the Heights. However, Nergal forgets all his first intentions. Instead, he decides to accept all the Underworld has to offer, divesting himself of all his powers to be taken by the Goddess as the Beloved and made whole.

This is one of the deepest mysteries embedded in this great myth. Nergal and Ereshkigal need to come fully into themselves first and then to awaken to each other´s presence so that love can blossom in all levels. The impossibility to grasp the immensity of the implications of Nergal´s surrender to Ereshkigal are immense, as well as Ereshkigal´s acceptance of Nergal goes beyond words. Our soul ancestors knew of these truths, as we unconsciously grasp them. The moment Ereshkigal and Nergal become a presence to each other, they accept their own needs for the Beloved, and as such they honor and heal the soul-hurts of past loneliness and lack of connection both had endured to re-enchant the Underworld for the first time to the fullest in world religion by bringing love and fulfillment to it. The passionate dimension of their lovemaking sacralizes the Underworld, a major healing to the realm of the Dead and Ultimate Justice yet to be accomplished in the fundamentalist religions of our days, which see the Underworld as the realm of hellfires and suffering. It does not need to be always so if one is willing to make amends and bow to the designs of Ereshkigal and Nergal and connect to the Land of Memories of our own and heal them. I would add that coming into the body is just fully achieved when the Spirit ensouls matter. When Ereshkigal and Nergal fall for each other, it is the Spirit of Love that fills them up, and as such, they become an enduring Presence to last in Wholeness for time immemorial.

"The two embraced each other and went passionately to bed". The wording of these two lines is significant: the use of each other implies a mutual and egalitarian sexual relationship between the two gods. The term passionately comes from the verb to surge, to become spirited, excited, to rage and is frequently used to describe water, horses, lions, storms and warfare. It denotes the intensity and high pitch of the gods´ encounter. The details of their sexual intimacy are few; more is conveyed indirectly than explicitly. For six days the two lay in bed. Each time Ereshkigal is named, she is referred to as queen; significantly, no epithet precedes Nergal´s name, but he is referred to by his other name, Erra. Thus, it is Ereshkigal who is always in charge as the mighty goddess and Nergal who surrenders to her, but it must be understood that there is in fact no surrender in sacred lovemaking, but a blending of selves, or the victory of mind, heart, body and soul in connection.

 

3.3 ERESHKIGAL´S RESPONSE

However, because this is not a simple love story, after six days of lovemaking, Nergal is eager to return to the Heights Above. He leaves Ereshkigal asleep and wins his way back to the Heights, no where to be seen while he ascends. Why six days, one may ask? Seven are the seven planets of antiquity (whose common names are the Moon, the Sun, the Earth, Mars, Venus, Mercury and Jupiter), seven are the levels of inner and outer initiation in this context. Six days means that the initiatory cycle Nergal started to experience in the Underworld is not as yet completed. So Nergal leaves, as a thief disappearing into the night, leaving Ereshkigal alone again in the realm of the depths.

Why was Nergal´s ascent so easy and free from any problems, one may ask? One of the answers may well be that by bowing to the Underworld designs and mating with the Underworld´s Mistress, he has conquered the right to cross the Inner realms, although we must convey he left the Underworld as a fugitive and not as the consort of the Great Goddess of the Land of No Return as yet.

When Ereshkigal is told by Namtar, her faithful vizier, that Nergal has vanished, her rage is expressed in loud and painful ways, but from the standpoint of strength. She says explicitly that he is the love of her delight and that she has not had enough of him! According to Stephanie Dalley,:

"Ereshkigal cried out aloud, grievously,
Fell from the throne to the ground,
Then straightened up from the ground.
Her tears flowed down her cheeks:
"Erra, the lover of my delight -
I did not have enough delight with him before he left!
Erra, the lover of my delight -
I did not have enough delight with him before he left'.

A major healing occurs here, because Ereshkigal states clearly the reason for her distress and is not passive in accepting Nergal´s desertion. Namtar proposes to go up to the Heights and bring Nergal back to his mistress and then another impressive passage takes place. For Ereshkigal is not willing to accept her past state of loneliness and separation, and wants Nergal back, and places full responsibility unto the great gods for the final decision.

Fundamentally, Ereshkigal defines that she wants the lover of her delight back and takes action to clarify issues. Strategy is in the goddess´ words, because she carefully tells exactly what Nergal has to do and say to the gods. Her request to the gods is in fact a speech full of subtleties. She first complains about her lonely childhood, about not having known of children´s play and fun as a young goddess, the responsibilities she had taken upon her shoulders as the Great Goddess of the Underworld since an early age. Thus, she states her case from a position of power. The word power in relation to women in patriarchy has connotations of manipulation and cunning. This is not the the case here. Ereshkigal is vocal about what she endured for power, the loneliness of being the Great Judge and is even clearer what and who she desires. Finally, Ereshkigal states clearly her threat, i.e. that she will not hesitate to use all her powers to make herself heard by the gods. Thus, Ereshkigal´s rage is justified, not a passive acceptance of fate as overemphasized by post-Mesopotamian masochist maddonas of sorrow or helpless damsels in distress who need to be rescued, once they are so disempowered to do it themselves. Ereshkigal is distressed, but never helpless and her rage is also under control.

Why can we affirm with all certainty that Ereshkigal´s justified anger is under control? Because Namtar fails to bring Nergal back with him to the Underworld when he ascends for the first time with this task, and Ereshkigal does not go mad with rage. Instead, Ereshkigal analyses her vizier´s account, understands what may have taken place and immediately instructs Namtar to go back and look for the god who shows signs of being uncomfortable with the vizier´s presence.

 

3.4 NERGAL´S RETURN TO THE UNDERWORLD

Namtar fails to recognize Nergal, who is disguised by a spell cast by Enki. He returns and tells his Mistress, "My lady, there was only one god who sat bareheaded blinking and cringing". Nergal is bareheaded, meaning that he is probably divested of his horned crown, one of the symbols of his high status as a god. Secondly, he blinks and cringes in front of Namtar, a most unsuitable behavior for a young and proud god. It is not Ereshkigal whose behavior is to be condemned, but Nergal for not being courteous, for having deserted his beloved without a word, for being in fact such an emotional coward.

Because this is another great Mesopotamian myth, it is not Namtar that brings Nergal back to the Underworld, but the god himself descends out of his free will. Nergal then :

And went up to her and laughed.
He seized her by her hairdo,
And pulled her from the throne.
He seized her by her tresses
[ ].

The two embraced each other
And went passionately to bed.
They lay there, queen Ereshkigal and Erra, for a first day and a second day.
They lay there, queen Ereshkigal and Erra, for a third day.
They lay there, queen Ereshkigal and Erra, for a fourth day.
They lay there, queen Ereshkigal and Erra, for a fifth day.
They lay there, queen Ereshkigal and Erra, for a sixth day.

When the seventh day arrived,
Anu made his voice heard and spoke,
Addressed his words to Kakka, his vizier,
"Kakka, I shall send you to Kurnugi,
To the home of Ereshkigal who dwells within Erkalla,
To say, "That god, whom I sent you,
Forever [ ]
Those above [ ]
Those below [ ]

(about 20 - 25 lines missing at end) (extracted from Before the Muses, by Foster, Yale)

Nergal enters laughing and from a position of a god (or man) who knows what he has to do and does it gladly. Laughter has a sexual connotation, it is an expression of joy and delight. Gone is the emotional coward god now. The god and man recognize the desires of his mind, body, heart and soul and follow them in perfect love and perfect trust that he will not be denied.

Ereshkigal´s and Nergal´s encounter is phrased exactly as it was on the first occasion, with the exception that now the initiatory cycle of seven days is fulfilled. When the seventh day comes, Anu speaks to his vizier giving him a message to be relayed, presumably to both Ereshkigal and Nergal. Though very little is preserved of what follows, we are cued into the heart of its contents in the word forever. Nergal is to remain forever in the Land of No Return to rule over it with Ereshkigal beside him.

 

4. RE-ENCHANTING THE MESOPOTAMIAN UNDERWORLD

No Sumerian version of this myth exists, so we have to turn to modern analysis of this myth, which can be classed in the following categories:

a) the transition of sole rule in the Underworld from a solitary deity to a pair (as suggested by Dalley);

b)  a trend "towards total marginalization and privatization of goddesses" after Sumerian times, according to Frymer-Kensky´s "In the Wake of Goddeses". Ereshkigal is demoted to the position of spouse of Nergal, who then becomes the ruler of the Underworld. Frymer-Kensky also believes that the Akkadian myth was written to account for this takeover; and

c) some Assyriologists also think wrongly, I must add, that in this myth Nergal is sexually aggressive and therefore subdues Ereshkigal to surrender control of the Underworld by overpowering her with Sex. We do not know of how sexually aggressive either Ereshkigal or Nergal were before they meet, so both god and goddess are fairly matched. Both ignited quite the same passionate response in each other.Ereshkigal does spare Nergal´s life when they first meet and he shows tenderness towards Ereshkigal, especially in the Amarna version, when he wipes away the goddess´ tears.

Therefore, in this article, we propose a different approach, which is the re-enchantment of the experience of the Mesopotamian Underworld, as well as the healing of the mighty figures of Ereshkigal and Nergal. We propose the soul-retrieval of the Realm of the Dead and Land of Ultimate Justice, and we affirm that only a civilization that had acquired substantial religious and metaphysical refinement could free the Underworld, the Land of Ancestral Memory, Justice and the Dead from the chains of guilt, damnation and hellfires, through the sacred love story of two of the most complex deities of the pantheon, the Goddess of the Dead and the God of War and Pestilences. Because we can also understand this myth, if we have eyes to see, as both gods participating in the afterlife as soul-mates, equal in power and divinity, not subservient to each other.

It must be stressed that Ereshkigal in all versions of this myth starts from a position of power, and even when she finally takes Nergal as her consort, she never loses her status as the Great Goddess and Judge of the Underworld. It is frequently overlooked that the true sovereign is Ereshkigal, and that it is through marriage to Her that Nergal ascends to the position of Judge of the Dead. The lesson embedded in this part of the myth is that sovereignty in a partnership is not about dominance of one partner over the other, but about finding mutuality and respect for the sovereignty of the other.

Meeting the masculine and the feminine, human and divine within and without, on an equal footing is essential for relationships of integrity. Thus the enduring appeal of this mighty myth which we can perceive, but many cannot spell it out or live by the immensity of its truth. It is remarkable that the Mesopotamians achieved the healing of the Divine Masculine and Feminine in full partnership in their realm of the Everlasting Memory, Ultimate Truth and All-Seeing Justice.The subtlety and depth of this inner teaching contained in the Marriage of Nergal and Ereshkigal is yet to be accomplished in our times, but the Mesopotamians knew of these facts better than us and this is one of their greatest legacies to us. Who saves whom from loneliness and alienation, is impossible to say, because this is a myth of partnership and sovereignty. Nergal and Ereshkigal knew in their souls what Gerhardt Dorn, the 17th Century Swiss alchemist put in a brilliant way:

"Blind Soul, arm yourself with the Torch of the Mysteries, and in the Night of Earth, you shall find your Divine Double. Follow this Divine Guide, for S/He has the keys to your lives, past and to come"...

At the end of the myth, therefore, Ereshkigal and Nergal are not longer alone, alienated either from their deep essences or from each other. The consummation of Divine Love can take place in the Inner Realms of the Depths, and once again, all worlds are made whole.

September 7th 2000

 

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