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In Babylonian mythology, Irkalla (also Ir-Kalla, Irkalia) is the underworld from which there is no return. It is also called Arali, Kigal, Gizal, and the lower world. Irkalla is ruled by the goddess Ereshkigal and her consort, the death god Nergal.
Irkalla was originally another name for Ereshkigal, who ruled the underworld alone until Nergal was sent to the underworld and seduced Ereshkigal (in Babylonian mythology). Both the deity and the location were called Irkalla, much like how Hades in Greek mythology is both the name of the underworld and the god who ruled it.
The Sumerian netherworld was a place for the bodies of the dead to exist after death. One passed through the seven gates on their journey through the portal to the netherworld leaving articles of clothing and adornment at each gate, not necessarily by choice as there was a guardian at each gate to extract a toll for one's passage and to keep one from going the wrong way. The living spirits of the dead are only spoken of in connection with this netherworld when someone has been placed here before they are dead or wrongly killed and can be saved. The bodies of the dead decompose in this afterlife, as they would in the world above.
As the subterranean destination for all who die, Irkalla is similar to Sheol of the Hebrew Bible or Hades of classic Greek mythology. It is different from more hopeful visions of the afterlife of the contemporaneous Egyptians and which later appeared in Platonic philosophy, Judaism, and Christianity. Though it can't be seen as hell, like from a Christian perspective. Irkalla had no punishment or reward, being seen as a more dreary version of life above, with Erishkigal being seen as both warden and guardian of the dead rather than a sinister ruler like Satan or death gods of other religions.
- Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia by Jeremy Black and Anthony Green (ISBN 0-292-70794-0)
- The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels by Alexander Heidel (ISBN 0-226-32398-6)
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