Ereshkigal and the Persephone Myth
One of the most fascinating characters to me in myth, Sumerian or otherwise, is Ereshkigal. For people who know me, this might seem obvious. Queen of the Underworld, zombies, dead people, ghosts. I have make-believe zombie preparedness posters in my office at work. However, my love of all things morbid and creepy is not the key reason I’m interested in Ereshkigal.
Many people do not see her as a sympathetic character. Like most other gods in mythology everywhere, she is vicious, cunning, vengeful, all of the delightful qualities of ancient gods. But if you know her whole story, suddenly, the reasons for her ruthlessness take on a different tone.
She did not begin as a dark frightening goddess of the dead. By all accounts, her story began very much like Persephone’s. She began as a young beautiful maiden sun goddess. Until she was raped, abducted, and dragged to the Underworld by a dragon named Kur, at least in one version he is a dragon. In others he is a mountain. At one point, the Underworld is referred to as Kur…Until, unlike the demure Persephone, she kicked her rapist’s ass and took over the Underworld. From this point on, the Underworld is referred to by one of her other names, Irkalla. This seemed to mark the shift in dominance. If Persephone had been depicted differently than she was, rather in the same way as Ereshkigal, it would have ended with her kicking Hades’ ass, and renaming the Greek Underworld Persephone. Ereshkigal was not going to be content with becoming the consort of some controlling jerk. She was going to take his stuff and kick him to the curb.
So basically, she starts as a rape victim, and instead of succumbing to the fate someone else was forcing upon her, decides somehow to use her circumstances to her advantage and create her own future. I don’t know about anyone else, but that is much more interesting to me than just her label as the goddess of the Underworld, it was how she got there. Like Thelma and Louise, told the Addams Family way, and with a happy ending.
Though I didn’t go into her backstory in Pazuzu’s Girl, I made a reference to it, when she told JD that she would look after his abused mother when the woman died, because she ‘understood what it was to feel powerless’.
I’m now writing a sequel to Pazuzu’s Girl, in which Ereshkigal’s origin story will be told from her point of view.
I can’t help but wonder if she were a real woman today, she would probably be jailed for doing the things she does, and then there would be protests for her by feminist groups, Facebook campaigns with her face representing women’s rights. Interesting to think of the tropes we see throughout history showing up in different ways, perceived differently in different ages.