The Underworld

The Underworld, also known as the Otherworld or Netherworld, is featured in most mythologies around the world.  It is a realm of the dead, where the souls of the recently departed go in their afterlife.  Many versions of the Underworld are seen as places of abundance and joy, and reward for good work during their mortal life.

World mythologies call the Underworld by several names:
Celtic – Annwn, Mag Mell, Tír na nÓg, Hy-Brasil, Ablach, Sídhe mounds
Norse – Hel, Niflheim, Valhalla, Gimlé, Vingólf
Greek – Hades, Elysium, Tartarus, Asphodel
Roman – Inferno, Avernus, Orcus/Hades, Pluto
Egyptian – Aaru, Duat, Neter-khertet, Amenti
Christian – Heaven, Hell

Celtic Mythology
In the Celtic world, the Underworld was known by many names.  The Welsh concept of the Underworld was known as Annwn, a world of delights and eternal youth ruled by Arawn/Gwyn ap Nudd.  In Irish mythology, Mag Mell (‘delightful plain’), was a place of pleasure thought to be a mythical island far off the west coast of Ireland or a kingdom beneath the ocean (similar to the realms of Hy-Brasil or Emain Ablach).

Tír na nÓg (‘land of youth’) or Tir Tairngire (‘land of promise’) is another Irish concept of the Underworld, an earthly paradise of supernatural beings and a few lucky mortals who were invited to stay.  Similar to Mag Mell and Hy-Brasil, Tír na nÓg was seen as a place far to the west of Ireland, on the edges of the map, which could only be reached by an arduous journey or by a special invitation.  Famous residents of Tír na nÓg was the mortal Oisín who was brought by Niamh of the Golden Hair (Niamh Chinn Óir), as well as one of the places settled by the Tuatha Dé Danann after being banished from Ireland.

File:Frank William Warwick Topham Voyage of King Arthur and Morgan Le Fay to the Isle of Avalon 1888.jpg

Another concept of the Underworld comes from the sídhe, or faery people, of Ireland.  It is thought that when the Milesians (Celts) invaded Ireland, they banished the Tuatha Dé Danann who then took refuse in the sídhe mounds.  These mounds can still be seen today in the form of barrows or hollow hills (cnocs) which are inhabited by faery rulers such as Knockma, Finvarra, or Ainé.

Norse Mythology
The concept of the Underworld in Norse Mythology is related to the World Tree, Yggdrasil (Germanic Irminsul).  It was thought that brave warriors would be chosen by the Valkyries to travel to Asgard to join Odin in Valhalla or Freyja in Fólkvangr.

The base of Yggdrasil is the home of the Underworld realms of Hel/Helheimr and Niflheim/Niflheimr.  Hel was the Land of the Dead, ruled by the goddess Hel, daughter of Loki.  When humans were not accepted to Valhalla or Fólkvangr, they went to Hel’s hall Elivdnir.  Niflheim was a place of Ice and Fog, the lowest of the nine realms, and has been associated with the region of Hel.

File:Odin rides to Hel.jpg

There was also Gimlé/Gimli, a beautiful place where survivors of Ragnarök (the end of the world) were thought to live.  Also described as the golden roof of a building in Asgard where righteous men go when they die, similar to Vingólf, one of the buildings of the gods.

Greek Mythology
In Greek Mythology, upon death the soul was separated from the corpse and transported to the entrance of Hades.  Hades was either at the outer bounds of the ocean or beneath the depths or at the ends of the earth.

Tartarus was similar to Hades in that is was far beneath the earth, and was the place where Zeus cast the Titans after defeated them, along with his father Kronos who became king of Tartarus.  The Fields of Punishment was where those who wreaked havoc on earth or committed crimes against the gods were banished.  The Fields of Asphodel was where ordinary souls who did not commit crimes nor achieve any greatness would inhabit.

File:Goethe Elysium crop.jpg

The Elysian Fields, or Elysium, was where the souls of those who especially distinguished went after death, particularly those who were associated with the gods or performed exceptional feats.  While in Elysium, the soul had a choice to either stay or be reborn.  If the soul achieved Elysium three times, they were sent to the Isles of the Blessed to achieve eternal paradise.

Also in Greek mythology, there were five rivers that flowed in both the real world and the Underworld.  The River Styx was the most prominent Underworld river, also known as the ‘river of hatred’, and was thought to circle the Underworld seven times.

Wiki – Underworld, Annwn, Mag Mell, Tir na Nog, Celtic Otherworld, Hel, Gimle, Greek Underworld

© A Year And A Day (2013)

Persephone, The Maiden

Persephone is a Greek vegetation goddess, daughter of Zeus and the harvest goddess Demeter (Roman Ceres).  Also known as Kore or Proserpina, she was also Goddess of the Underworld.

File:Persephone Hades BM Vase E82.jpg

Demeter searched for nine days for her daughter, however was told by Helios what had really happened.  Hades had abducted Persephone, with the permission of Zeus, and brought her into his Underworld realm to be his bride.  Demeter, angry and grief-stricken, rejected the world of the Gods, and withheld her gifts of fertility so that no crops grew.

Zeus finally gave in and commanded Hades to release Persephone.  Unfortunately, Persephone had eaten some pomegranate seeds while in the Underworld, which bound her to remain in that realm.  As a compromise, Persephone was allowed to spend part of the year with her mother on earth.

Persephone

It is thought that the time Persephone spent with her mother was a time of joy, where Demeter would allow the earth to bloom with flowers and life.  However the time when Persephone was in the Underworld, the world was dark with very little growth and life, acknowledging Demeter’s pain and suffering.  This represents the seasons, the bountiful spring and summer, and the dark bleak winter.  Through this, Persephone/Kore was called ‘the Maiden’ and represented spring’s bounty.

Persephone and Demeter are central figures in the Eleusinian Mysteries, initiation rites held in the city of Eleusis based on the cycle of death and rebirth.  The Mysteries became very popular and promised life after death to initiates.

Sometimes Persephone and Demeter are thought to be two faces of the same goddess.  Also, Kore (‘the Maiden’), Demeter (‘Earth Mother’), and Persephone (‘Destroyer of Light’), can also be thought of as the classic Maiden, Mother, Crone triple goddess figure, from birth to death to rebirth.

Persephone was usually depicted as a young springtime goddess, holding a sheaf of grain and a flaming torch.

Thalia Took – Kore
Wiki – Persephone
Theoi – Persephone

© A Year And A Day (2013)

Nyx, Goddess of Night

I recently read a book that mentioned the goddess Nyx, so I thought I would take this opportunity to learn more about her.

Nyx, the Greek goddess of Night, is one of the first-born elemental gods.  These primeval gods also include Earth (Gaea), Air, Sea, Sky, Fresh Water, Underworld, Darkness, Night, Light, Day, Procreation and Time.

She is the daughter of Chaos and sister/wife to Erebos, God of Darkness.  Homer called her the subduer of gods and men, and that Zeus himself stood in awe of her.

Nyx is mentioned in many ancient texts and stories, including the birth of the cosmos, describing how in the beginning there was only Chaos.  From Chaos came Darkness (Erebos) and Night (Nyx), and from Nyx was born Air (Aether) and Day (Hemera), conceived by Erebos.

Nyx had many children, most of which represented the ‘darker’ aspects of humanity, such as the Three Fates, Nemesis, Sleep, Death, Doom, Misery, Deceit, and Strife.

She is often described as a winged goddess or riding in a chariot across the sky, shrouded in mist, bringing stars and the night behind her.  She is said to reside in the western part of Hades, where she and her sister/daughter Hemera (Day) would pass each other at sunrise and sunset.

Interestingly, The Barbed Pentacle compares Nyx with Elvira, Mistress of the Dark!

It is thought Nyx can either be helpful or harmful, bringing sleep and relief, or pain and death.

Thalia Took
Theoi
Goddess A Day

© A Year And A Day (2012)