Nergal (Erragal, Erra, Engidudu) means 'lord who prowls by night' , the Unsparing, god of the underworld, husband of Ereshkigal, the Goddess of the Land of No Return. He does not seem to be originally Sumerian, and it can be said that his name is a construction of Babylonian theologians meaning Lord of the Underworld. Thus, Nergal can be considered a generic term that syncretises many Underworld deities, such as Ninazu, Girra, Erra and especially, Meslamta'ea. As Erra he is a hunter god, a god of war and plague diseases. He can open the doorposts to the underworld to allow the passage of a soul. Mystically, we can say that His is the task to test our limits through lifeīs hardest trials. Nergal can be onsidered a somber aspect of Shamash. Nergal appears in many myths: in the Epic of Gilgamesh, He allows Enkidu's spirit to visit Gilgamesh at the behest of Ea. His position as a Judge of Souls in the Underworld is achieved by passion and lovemaking, being told in a myth called Nergal and Ereshkigal*, a delightful and passionate love story that takes place in the Land of No Return. In another myth, called Erra and Ishum*, Nergal commands the Sebitti, seven warriors who are also the Pleiades, who help him when he feels the urge for war. The Sebitti prefer to be used in war instead of waiting while Erra kills by disease. Nergal, is the second child of Enlil and Ninlil, the Air God and his consort. His cult center in the Sargonid period seems to be Kutha, his cult being promoted by the kings of this dynasty. He was also worshipped in Assyria by Sargon II and his descendants

*Both myths are in Gateways to Babylon


Nergalīs birth is part of a remarkable tale of love and redemption, called Enlil and Ninlil, or the Begetting of Nanna, the Moon God. Nergal is conceived in the Underworld as follows: after Ninlil was raped by Enlil and he condemned by the Assembly of the Great Gods to descend to the Underworld, Ninlil descends right after him for the rescue, and the first barrier she has to face on her journey down is a serious Doorkeeper of a mighty Gate.

A remarkable dialogue follows up, where the somber gatekeeper says that Ninlil should go back, that the doors of the Underworld are closed to her. Ninlil insists and asks whether the Gatekeeper has seen Enlil. The gatekeeper replies in a cryptic way, saying that his Lord Enlil commanded him to stay silent, and that the young god had commanded him not to allow Ninlil to proceed, because the journey was too risky. Ninlil insists, and the gatekeeper concedes Ninlil passage, but only if Ninlil lays with him and his seed descends to the Underworld, instead of the seed of the baby of light, Nanna, who is growing in Ninlilīs womb.

Thus, in these sentences the Gatekeeper reveals himself as Enlil, an Enlil in disguise, who had been prevented from revealing himself to her probably as a mighty test set up by the laws of the Underworld. Having forced himself upon Ninlil first, Enlil now had to beg for Ninlilīs attention, not knowing whether she would accept him, but having to try anyway.

The Gatekeeper/Enlil replies that he is pledged to serve Enlil and ransom him with his very life. He adds up that the deep sorrow he feel for his lord is now rooted within hiim like a Tree that Bears Fruits in the Lowest Depths. And he begs her to lay with him for just a night.

Ninlil, who had seen beyond the appearances the True Essence of Enlil, agrees, and the following day, when he again tries to dissuade her from proceeding, she says she has to go on. And something else she adds up.

Ninlil: ' This seed of yours that grows within me now, I'll call him Nergal-Meslamtaea, and his will be the knowledge of the hard mysteries of Conflict, Wounding and Diseases so that humanity and the gods know about Peace, Healing and Wholeness in all levels.'

Thus, Nergal is conceived in the Underworld, the Child of Sorrows of a young couple who had still to learn how to love and accept each other in full measure. It is remarkable that the God of War is conceived in the Inner Real where Balances are Restored by the Brave and Worthy, for only those descend and return, whereas the others fail and get trapped there.

This is the first clue to understand the dignified face of Nergal. Because as people do not know well about peace, love, health and wealth, He is Justice applied to the bitterest end, War, which is the hardest way humanity has found to learn and start anew from utter destruction.

Nergal is called the Lord of Limits and God of Necessity in The Phoenician Letters.

Personally, He has taught me a profound lesson. To know oneīs limits is not to be limited by what one finds. For it is in the deep knowledge of what we cannot do that lies the answer to the things we can do best and thus should apply all our resources to get them done in all worlds and spheres.


Extracts from The Phoenician Letters (Davies and Zur, Mowat Publishing, Manchester, 1979)

a) Nergal as the Lord of Justice and Master of the Limits of the Created World

"Nergal, as all men know, is portrayed in the likeness of a warrior fighting for the right and needing always to do so, and this is Law. ... that should be used for the safekeeping of the order of creation and the kingdom. "

b) Nergal and the Laws of the Land

Now, in the kingdom, our laws should reflect this inevitability. Penalties should be clear, quick and precise. When the people know that justice is theirs quickly, they will be content, for they know that inside them it is immediate, and they expect that law outside them shoud be the same. Let there be no man stronger than your law. Therefore make you sure that your officers and judges be strong men, who are not swayed by money or favour. Back their words and their penalties, even against the strongest powers in the land, even the priests, reserving to yourself alone the prerogative of mercy. Thus shahll you make your streets safe, your people content. Let them clearly know, and have read to them by proclamation regularly the limitations which the law of your land imposes on their actions. When the law is known, they themselves will ensure that it is followed. ...

Now, my lord, see one of the beauties of nature: when there are laws to obey, these laws are continually tested by men to see whether they be certain or not. A law which has no basis in natural law will be broken continuously, and your judges will not be able to administer it. A law which is mixed, good and bad, will be evaded, broken not in fact, but in spirit. Review the laws continually. Where they are being evaded, reform them. Where they are broken continually, see why this is so. Are they broken by one section or the people? Then it is a law that benefits one over another, and it must be changed.

Here we can see how to keep the law in good repair. For it is like the soil and the climate of mankind, wherein the plants men may be regulated so that they may flower and come to fruition, each in the way which is best for him, in the light of the others. It is akin to the gardener who allows liberty to certain plants, for they take up little room, but others he rigorously prunes. He weeds, waters and nurtures some plants so that the garden may be kept in order, and the chaos of nature, the primitive state, be kept at bay.

c) Law and Liberation

"All the devices and schemes of men should be used to free men. It is true that for the ignorant these devices may be a means of bondage, but that is the nature of man, it is the law, the judgement which he birngs upon himself. Ignorance is always and everywhere bondage, and you can see that the criminal who was referred to before is working from ignorance. The ignorant person does not know what moves him, and fear is the cause of ignorance, therefore the mark of ignorance is fear. Whatever raises fear in man causes ignorance, and brings the judgement of Nergal upon him. The soldier does not fear the sword, or the archer the arrow. The priest does not fear the ascent of the sacrifice, or the voice of the godīs statue.

Nergal is the burner, the destroyer, for this is the last limitation."

This is no doubt a remarkable text to redeem the bad press Nergal has suffered by the unwise.


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