Nergal is a Mesopotamian solar deity associated with the sun at noon and sunset, and at the summer solstice. The sun’s direct rays scorch the ground in that part of the world, so it’s not surprising that Nergal is identified with pestilence, destruction, and war.
Over time Nergal becomes associated with not just warfare but with the shadowy underworld, the land of the dead. Nergal convinces his wife Ereshkigal to join forces with him and two rule over the dead.
Nergal crops up in ancient non-biblical texts and is also mentioned in the Old Testament:
“And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal”¹
From his destructive and bellicose aspect, Nergal is linked with the planet Mars in Babylonian astrology. Unlike contemporary astronomy’s secular view of the night sky, the ancient Babylonians imbued the heavenly bodies with mystical powers.
As Christianity gained dominance Nergal was regarded as a demon or the devil himself. Specifically, he was one of the dark spies of hell. Pious Jews also viewed Nergal as a demonic being.
Because he was a god of fire, the desert, and the Underworld and also a god from ancient paganism, later Christian writers sometimes identified Nergal as a demon and even identified him with Satan. According to Collin de Plancy and Johann Weyer, Nergal was depicted as the chief of Hell‘s “secret police“, and worked as “an honorary spy in the service of Beelzebub.”²
Nergal is also the name of a Polish rock star and frontman for the group Behemoth. The musical Nergal has raised a few eyebrows among Catholic bishops and attempts were made to block his media appearance on Polish TV. Because music conveys transformative power it’s not surprising that the bishops would be upset by and oppose Nergal but turn a blind eye to, say, literature about the devil.