(Just as a quick warning, there’s discussion of self-harm and suicide in here.)
If Athena was my gateway into paganism, Ereshkigal was the goddess who pulled the rug out from under me. I first encountered her while I was taking a class in Near Eastern Mythology during my freshman year. My first serious relationship was going down in flames, I was fighting off panic attacks almost daily without understanding what they were, and I had migraines that left me in my dorm room for days, hiding from everyone.
I didn’t realize at the time that I was falling apart. I was self-harming because I thought it kept me from hurting others. I got a job on campus and hated it. I barely made it to class, but I spent hours in the library, looking for answers in comparative mythology. I knew Ereshkigal from reading the descent in class. I figured I had nothing to lose, calling on her.
What followed was a migraine so bad that I didn’t go to work and lost the job I hated. My relationship finally ended, as I realized it was not my responsibility to keep my boyfriend from killing himself. I finally banished my most persistent personal demon, and lost my closest ally in the process. I learned that my Great Grandmother had died and my family had held off on telling me because they didn’t want me to miss school for the funeral. I missed most of a week of classes as I tried to work out whether any of this mattered in the grand scheme of things.
Finally, on a Friday evening when my roommate had gone home for the weekend, I lay on my bed in near-darkness and asked Her if I could just die already and save everyone the trouble.
She laughed, not unkindly, and told me that if I really wanted to die, I would have the strength to cut deeper. I looked at the box cutter I’d been using and nodded and tried again. I cut deeper than I ever had, deep enough that I could see clearly the bone-white inner skin along where I had cut. It seemed to take an eternity for the bleeding to start, as I stared at it. As I waited, I realized I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want other people to suffer because I was broken.
In retrospect I can see that this was a facet of the OCD and its sister anxiety. The fear that i would be violent, that I was sinful and people around me would be punished, is not atypical of OCD. At the time I just knew I was a plague that didn’t belong in society. Ereshkigal offered to break me in a different way, severing ties so that I no longer felt I could be used against people I loved. I agreed.
I don’t know exactly what she did. All I knew at the time was that it hurt, and I thought that she was removing my heart and replacing it with sand and ash. I asked her what I owed her in return and she smiled again and said I would learn.
In the morning, my anxiety had receded. My feelings for my family had been dulled, so I no longer felt responsible for them. With the vocabulary I have now, I would say that she separated my wyrd from theirs.
I worked closely with Ereshkigal for about five years, and during that time, true to her word, my anxiety flared up but did not consume me again. When we parted ways, she took that part of me with her, and I was left a very different person.