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Ereshkigal, queen of Irkalla

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May 15th, 2014

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Character Name: Ereshkigal, Lady of the Great Place

Pantheon: Sumerian

Parentage: Nammu & An

Patronage: Queen of Irkalla, Mistress of Souls

Residence: Ereshkigal lives in Irkalla, in a palace made of lapis lazuli and gold. There is no other residence that she owns. On her visits to the mortal plane, she finds a place to rent if she is staying more than one night, but it is rare for her to be away from her home that long. And she never goes anywhere that is considered to be like "heaven," as it is too bright for her to handle and causes her pain.

Personality: Strong-willed and stubborn are the words most frequently used to describe Ereshkigal by those that know her well. Dark and vicious by those that don't. She is all those things and more.

Kidnapped at a young age, she quickly learned to think on her feet and rely on herself, and it gave her an independence that few others of her generation had. Oh, there were strong women in her family and extended family; those that knew their mind and how to manipulate things to get what they wished. Ereshkigal didn't bother with manipulating; she simply stated what she wanted, then worked towards that goal. When she's determined to make something happen, she can be relentless.

And when she doesn't get her way, she can be impossible. Because it so rarely happens that she's denied something she wants, Ereshkigal can be quite violent in her temper when she is told no. That violence is not only physical, but can also be psychological. She is hardly squeamish. Whatever it takes to either get what she wants, or get revenge on whoever has denied it to her. Or both. Usually both.

However, she doesn't feel that she is hard-hearted. Ereshkigal will be the first to point out how deeply she loves her children, and how passionately she adores her husband. Even when she wants to rip his head off. She can be a tender and compassionate woman, with the right people, and given the right circumstances. A loving and devoted mother, she taught her sons and daughter the value of independence and strength of will. She's terribly proud of each of them.

Her hobbies, which generally consist of collecting things, naturally run toward the macabre. In one case quite literally, as she collects items of Danse Macabre. She also collects anthropomorphic taxidermy, not because she likes to see a rat playing a miniature banjo, but because it amuses her to leave things like that for Nergal to find. And there is a fascination with hooks, particularly meat hooks from early butcher shops and abattoirs. She has an entire wall full and will sometimes spend an hour or two sharpening the points and shining them like they were a prized silver tea set. Ereshkigal likes to see them gleam.

Unconstrained, tenacious, and wild, Ereshkigal does nothing in half-measures. She loves deeply, hates without fetters, and lives life according to her own standards.

History: After Enlil separated An and Ki, An was inconsolable and wept continuously. Nammu heard her son's pain and comforted him. From this union, twins were born: Enki and Ereshkigal. And they were inseparable. Ereshkigal loved the story that they had been born holding hands, though she wasn't entirely certain that was actually possible. If it were, though, she had no doubt that she and Enki wouldn't let something as small as childbirth keep them apart. Enki was not only her brother, he was her best friend and most constant companion. As she grew, there were certain aspects of living in the Heights Above that bothered Ereshkigal, but as long as she had Enki, she knew that all would be well. And she could be happy.

But when she was a young woman, she caught the eye of another brother, a half-brother. An had father Kur, the great dragon, and he took it in his mind to steal Ereshkigal away. He took her from her home in the Heights Above to Irkalla, the Underworld, and there hid her away from everyone. She hated him. He'd taken her away from her beloved Enki, and Ereshkigal, never one to shy away from a fight, let Kur know that she would never love him. If he was lonely, he should have kidnapped another girl.

It was then that Kur began asking her questions to which she had no answers: Who would she become in the Heights Above? What tasks would be given her? What rewards would be offered to her? Did she not deserve more? Did she not desire something to call her own? Ereshkigal wanted to put him in his place, but she couldn't. Because he was right. Her male relatives, even her darling Enki, were all certain of their path because it had already been given to them. But what of her? Why should she accept less just becaus she was a woman?

So it was that when Enki bravely made his way to rescue her, Ereshkigal was forced to tell him that she would not be returning with him. She had a home now, a kingdom really, with not only the title of queen but the responsibility that came with it. How could she turn her back on that for a life lived in his shadow as his twin? As much as she loved him, she could not go back with him. She was sure, as they'd always shared a like mind, that since it broke her heart to refuse him, it must have broken his to accept her answer. There were many tears, but Ereshkigal sent him away with a parting gift: seeds that would become the Huluppu Tree, the Tree of Knowledge.

After that, for a time, she busied herself with learning her new role, refining the way she wanted her kingdom run. When she grew homesick, Ereshkigal would sometimes take a trip to the middle lands, the space between the Heights Above and the Great Land Below, the place where mortals lived. She would never again be able to stand the brightness of the Heights Above, but the middle lands gave her a chance to see the sunshine. And sometimes see her family. She met with Enki now and then. And on one memorable occasion, she saw Enlil, and gave in to his seduction. It was how she came to have her beautiful, clever son Namtar, who would become her vizier.

Namtar was still a boy, not quite yet a man, when Gugulanna passed through the Seven Gates into her realm. He was a great bull of a man, his footsteps shook the ground, and Ereshkigal was impressed by him. So much so that he gave Namtar a little brother, Ninazu. But their time together was cut short, in fact Ereshkigal was still heavily pregnant with his son, when Gugulanna was tasked with defending Inanna's honor. Ereshkigal made the argument that there was no honor to defend, given that her little sister could not seem to manage to take a lover without destroying him, and she'd destroyed many. But though An himself told Inanna that she'd deserved what Gilgamesh had said to her, the selfish and self-centered girl threatened to break open the doors of the underworld herself and drag out the spirits of the dead. So Gugulanna answered the call, and Gilgamesh and Enkidu killed him, dismembered him. All because the childish goddess could not take rejection.

When Inanna herself showed up, slapping at the door and demanding entrance with the claim that she was there to pay respects, Ereshkigal debated for a bit on whether to let her in, but in the end relented despite her anger over the loss of Gugulanna. It did nothing but further the insult when Inanna pitched a fit at each gate about the procedure to get in. So when Inanna then threw herself shrieking at the pregnant queen upon her arrival in the throne room, Ereshkigal responded in what she felt was a perfectly reasonable manner: she killed her sister and hung her corpse from hooks to display as she rotted. Unfortunately, this caused not a few problems, given that without Inanna's influence, nothing in the world was procreating. Inanna's servants went about begging for help, and Enki created a pair of androgynous beings to come and retrieve her and bring her back to life. Ereshkigal would likely not have given in, or at least not so quickly, if she had not been in labor at the time. But even with her momentary weakness in agreeing to let Inanna go, Ereshkigal still did her duty as queen. Balance needed to be maintained: once someone had entered Irkalla they could not leave unless someone else took their place, so demons were sent with Inanna to collect the collateral that was due. Inanna, faithless bitch that she was, sent her husband Dumuzi in her place. And Dumuzi's sister took on half of his punishment herself, so they each have half a year in her service.

Truly, the Great Place was becoming far less lonely than it had once been, with all the comings and goings. Though she wasn't as happy as she'd been as a young girl with Enki, Ereshkigal thought that she was satisfied with her life. Her lot was one she'd chosen for herself, and it was her own to make pleasant or not. So when Nergal arrived with an offering of food from the Heights Above, and the gift of a throne, she was taken by surprise to her reaction to him. He was strong and sure, beautifully brutal and confident. She fell utterly in love with him on the spot. It was not a passing attraction, or an itch to scratch, as it had been with Gugulana and Enlil, it was not even simply a convenience as it had been with Kur. It was something deeper, wilder, and impossible to let go.

But he only stayed six nights, knowing that a seventh would tie him to Irkhalla forever. Ereshkigal woke to an empty bed and a broken heart. But she refused to accept his departure. Even as her tears rolled down her cheeks, she was screaming for his return. And she screamed loud and long until she was heard. If he would not be given back to her, she would unleash all of the souls of the dead on the earth and wage a war until the lover of her delight was returned! She wanted Nergal and no other for her husband! When he came back, storming all seven gates to claim her, Ereshkigal knew that her heart had made the right choice.

Though with as stubborn and strong-willed as the two of them are, it's not always the most peaceful of unions. Fights can rage on for years, and she keeps a mental tally sheet of what is "owed" to her husband. None of which diminishes her love for him even a little bit. And making up with him after an epic fight is still as exciting today as it was the first time.

Given her duties and responsibilities, Ereshkigal spends most of her time in Irkalla. She treats it as what it is: a job. She schedules downtime for herself, and that is when she indulges in her hobbies and makes trips to the mortal plane for fun. She very much enjoys visiting New Orleans with its gothic flavor, and she loves that New York is always open, even in the middle of the night.

Miscellaneous: There is only one way into Irkalla: through the Seven Gates. At each gate, an item of clothing or adornment must be left, so that after passing through the seventh, the traveler arrives in the Underworld as they were born: naked, with no weapons, and a purpose to fulfill. All who pass into the Underworld must go through this procedure except those that live there permanently: Ereshkigal, her children, and Nergal (who broke the edicts when he stormed the gates the second time, both bearing weapons and being fully clothed.) Mortal beings can only go in, they cannot go out. But there are a few immortals that pass through Irkalla on occasion, such as Nanna, Ningishzada, and Dumuzi, so it is possible for gods and goddesses to "visit." But there are definite rules for being able to leave, and there is still no way around having to get naked.

Played-By: Mila Kunis
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