If I have told you earthly things,
and ye believe not,
how shall ye believe,
if I tell you of heavenly things?
In the beginning when man was created upon the Earth, it was a garden paradise under the watchful eye of God. This period was a Golden Age ... until, a rebellious angel led us to a fall from grace and we lost the innocence of Eden. After this descent, "the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them." These mighty men of old created a new, materialistic civilization and prosperous, powerful empires flourished. The good gods looked on, interceding whenever possible to assist mankind through what had become a tortuous existence.
As the aeons past, earthlings forgot their divine heritage, became spiritually arrogant and greed and avarice consumed them. The Atlantean race embarked on a conquest to colonise more lands, inflicting slavery and tyranny, until they met a formidable adversary in the brave Athenians. From beneath Poseidon caused the Earth to quake during this epic battle; 'and seized with fear in the world below was Aidoneus, lord of the shades... lest above him the earth be cloven by Poseidon, the Shaker of the Earth, and his abode be made plain to view for mortals and immortals... so great was the din that arose when the gods clashed in strife.'
The victorious men of Athens saved themselves from subjugation and liberated others. But Zeus the lawgiver and supreme god of shining Mount Olympus, wishing to purge the Earth of this wretchedness; 'collected all the gods into his most Holy habitation, which being placed in the center of the World, sees all things that partake of generations'.
After the gods had convened, Zeus inflicted a severe punishment on the warmongers. He unleashed a mighty thunderbolt and in a single day and night of torrential rain, earthquakes and tidal waves, a deluge engulfed the lands and mankind was virtually annihilated! When the waters receded the continents were unrecognisable, where there had been land there was now sea and seas, desert and once fertile fields were swamped. The Atlantic was no longer navigable and the few, scattered survivors were isolated.
People had been reduced to a rudimentary lifestyle, amongst the ruins of their once resplendent cities, but they each retained some memories of their lost heritage and their history and cosmogony became our 'myths.' Many cultures, supposed to have developed independently of each other on opposite sides of the world had counterpart heroes, and deities corresponding to nature's elements, only their names were different and this universal pantheon dramatised similar stories, including floods.
How could so many diverse races, deemed to have no prior contact, conceive of a separate realm below the Earth... unless of course, it was real? The entrances to the subterranean world were on the banks of the Ocean and at the edge of the circle of the Ocean, there were also crevices and openings in the floor of the Earth...
Egyptians called it the Halls of Amenti, or Duat, the land of the dead and it was a place where souls were judged in the Afterlife, by Osiris, the god of renewed life, represented by the imperial dragon. Described as a valley, bordered by mountains with a river harbouring serpents and demons, it had secret gateways in the east and west, guarded by sphinx. In the papyrus of Nebseni, (The Book of the Dead) it was shown with a canal, at the end of which is a boat, containing a flight of seven steps, the symbol of ascent.
It was also the source of the Nile, as the visionary Akhenaten's hymn to Aten declared: 'It is in the underworld that you make the Nile. And bring it forth at your will. So that mankind might live.' The spirit of Osiris, rose up yearly with the life-giving inundation from three fountains at the Equator.
The underworld is identified as the course of the sun through the twelve hours of the night. In the Book of Pylons souls hoped to journey in the merjet boat ('the barque of millions of years') of Ra, or Khephri, whose sacred emblem is the scarab beetle, placed over the heart of a mummy and inscribed with a phoenix and verse from the Book of the Dead to guide the deceased in the Afterlife... as they sailed on the river Duat. Spells from the Book of Pylons (gates) allowed the soul to go through the portals of Osiris and there, with his protection they could pass the guardian monsters on the path.
So it is Osiris, accompanied by Horus, to whom the hawk is sacred and Anubis, the jackal headed deity, who the ka (the dead's double) meets in the Judgement Hall of Death where the heart is weighed against a feather, watched over by Thoth, represented by an ibis. The ka divided into two when the mortal body died and became the ba (the soul) and the akh (the spirit.) The akh took the form of a human-headed bird and flew to the underworld, where it could stay if it knew the correct procedures to follow, while the ba remained in the tomb, furnished with all it would require for a happy stay.
For Egyptian mortals, the Pharaoh was the channel to the Afterlife from which he was 'resurrected', rejuvenated and god-like during rituals at the Heb Sed Festival. The incantations of this ceremony are contained in the oldest known records on Earth, the pyramid texts at Saqqara. The main purpose of the spells in the hieroglyphics (the god's words) was to enable the King to gain admittance to the otherworld beyond the 'Lily Lake' in the east. There lies 'the fields where the gods were begotten,' Sekhet Hetepet (the original Elysian Fields) also known as Punt...the celestial paradise.
The text reads; 'thou art gone alive to sit on the throne of Osiris. Re-Atum does not give thee to Osiris'. The text is adamant that King Unas is not dead... but alive in the underworld. Unas takes his seat on the horizon: 'The doors of the horizon open themselves, it's bolts slide… He comest to thee, O his father… Mayest thou grant that this Unas seize the Cool Region… standest over the places of the primeval ocean… thou risest with the father Atum. Thou goest up and openest thy way through the bones of Shu, [the air] the embrace of thy mother Nut [the sky] enfolds thee.'
Nut the sky goddess was spangled with stars, she had two suns, one near her mouth and one at her womb. The Valley of Duat was in the body of Nut. In a union with her brother Geb, the earth god, she produced Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys. Together with Nut and Geb's parents, Shu and Tefnut, and their father, Ra, they made up the nine original deities of the Ennead; and the gods wrapped in their white garments were always waiting to welcome the King at the lakeside,''Our heart was not glad till thy coming,'' they say.
Belief in an Afterlife, which is an extension of previous lives and goes on and on ad infinitum... was the crux of Egyptian ideology and permeated the traditions of the living. Even animals were deemed sacred and honoured with embalming and mummification after death. The Apis-bull, inhabited by the soul of Osiris, was deified and entombed eternally in subterranean catacombs at Saqqara, where millions of preserved animals were found in niches along passages which extended for several kilometers below ground. Cats, birds and baboons (sacred to Osiris) were thought to convey messages to the gods and provide company in the Hereafter.
However, the spirit can only enjoy peace and contentment in the underworld with the gods, as long as the soul remained undisturbed in the tomb. Much care was taken to secrete the burial chambers deep in the rock, for if the mummy should be destroyed, the ba and akh would become homeless, and die a much feared second death. That is why pyramids, looming above the desert sands, can not be the tombs of Kings.
In Greece, the netherworld called Hades, meaning unseen, was also the realm of the dead, which was well mapped as a mirror image of the outer world (as above, so below.) It had plains and mountains with deep cave systems but so far beneath the surface, an object dropped would take nine days to land. Reached by the River Styx, after paying Charon the ferryman, it was divided into the regions of Erebus and Tartarus, where Minos and his brother Rhadamanthus were judges.
Those who had been good and virtuous were destined to remain in Elysium, a land of bliss and perpetual sunshine with gold, mineral riches and treasures guarded by griffins. There was the Asphodel Fields where the souls of men remained in limbo or became birds and the Punishment Fields, where it was the destiny of evildoers to endure damnation, scourged by the Furies in the darkness of Tartarus, the deeper part where no light shines and all waters originate. All rivers flow into the chasm of Tartarus and flow out of it again. The worst offenders were those who had sinned against the gods themselves, with the greatest crime of all being abuse of the gods' hospitality.
Odysseus, the hero, on his return voyage from the Trojan war, sailed on the current of Oceanus to the 'house of the dead,' at the boundary of Earth to speak with the ghost of his departed mother, and that of Tiresius and Lord Agamemnon. When he passed by the isle of the bewitching Sirens, who would entice him into the abyss, Odysseus plugged the ears of his men and was tied to the mast to hear their sweet singing, without plunging to a watery grave.
At the confluence of the deep Acheron and the river Styx in the land of the dark Cimmerians, hidden in vapour and cloud, Odysseus had discourse with the ghost of Tiresias by necromancy. He invoked the dead by digging a pit, into which flowed the blood of an unblemished black ram. A black sheep was sacrificed in honour of Zeus, Hades and Gaea, the primeval prophetess and source of the vapours which influence the seer.
The dead of Erebus flocked to the pit and Odysseus kept them at bay with his sword until he had spoken to the seer Tiresias, who drank of the blood, before he prophesied. Tiresias spake; ''For whomso of all these spirits departed on earth, Thou sufferest to drink of the blood, he will tell thee the truth, But whomso thou grudgest will silent return to his place.'' So saying, the spirit of Lord Tiresias tells Odysseus the way home and then 'enter'd the mansions of Hades, his oracles told.' Acheron is also the name of a river in modern Greece, still reputed to give access Hades.
Orpheus, the celebrated poet and musician, saved his companions on the Argonautic expedition from yielding to the Sirens, by playing magical music on his golden lyre. Taught by his muse-mother Calliope, the dulcet tones of the minstrel could calm the waves and send dragons to sleep. But Orpheus, in his inconsolable grief at the death of his lover Eurydice, pleaded with Zeus for permission to visit the underworld and beg for her release. The rulers of the lower-world, seduced by the ravishing music of Orpheus, restored Eurydice to life and allowed her to follow him home, on the condition that Orpheus did not look back until they had reached the land of the living. Orpheus could not resist and turned his head to see his lovely wife... Eurydice uttered a cry and vanished forever from his sight, to the world below.
Persephone, the Queen of the underworld, was bound to marry Hades (Aidoneus) after eating pomegranate and she was destined to spend one third of the year there. Hades rose up in his chariot through a great fissure in the earth to abduct Persephone, when she was gathering flowers in a meadow one day. The crops withered until Persephone returned to the upper-world in the spring. As Pluto, the Prince of the underworld, (entered through a cave near Naples) was a giver of wealth and all good food, like corn, came from the depths of his domain, which contained treasures as well as the souls of the dead.
A subterraneous tunnel was said to stretch from Arcadia in Greece, to Naples and was frequented by unhappy lovers. Within it, Pan, the sensual satyr chased nymphs, while delightful shepherdesses collected water from a crystal fountain and tended their gentle flocks. Colourful butterflies, solicitous honey bees and turtle doves flew amongst fragrant herbaceous plants. The Alcyonian Lake in the swamps of Lerna, in which Heracles fought the Hydra, was used as a portal to Hades by the wine-god Dionysus when he rescued his mother Semele from the underworld. The heroine asked her illicit lover Zeus to reveal to her his true nature as storm god and was burned up by the awful glow of that revelation. To retrieve Semele from the nether regions, Dionysus went to Lerna and dived into the bottomless lake.
Legends of the nether regions abound, but especially in Mesoamerica, the unmarked polar “dark region” symbolizing death and the underworld, around which everything was observed to revolve. Quetzalcoatl was the sun god or 'Plumed Serpent' and Lord of Tula, the Toltec Capital City which is inter-changeable with Meru, “the place of peace, a real place, open to those of pure heart,” at the Navel of Earth.
The ‘Feathered Serpent’ reigned over a time of peace and plenty until he was defeated by Tezcatlipoca, (his dark side) god of night and the rain of the north, together they manifest cosmic polarity, like Sammael the fallen angel and the archangel Michael, who fought with his angels against the dragon. 'And the great dragon was cast out; that old serpent, called the Devil' (Revelation 12,9.)
Quetzalcoatl was the one cast out after his moral downfall, and expelled from Tula. He wandered over the face of the Earth, represented with a beard and wearing long white robes and carrying a staff, and he wore the solar disk, a prominent motif in ancient Egypt. The ubiquitous Quetzalcoatl (Kukulkan, to the Maya) was endowed with the same civilizing qualities as Thoth, (Hermes) who also wore the winged, solar disk.
He was warmly welcomed wherever he went but when he reached the netherlands in the east, at the edge of the sea, from whence everyone had come, Quetzalcoatl was 'self-immolated' and arose like a phoenix to become the Evening Star (Venus, a symbol of love.) It was believed that the Toltecs came from an undisclosed island, in ancient times. The sacred Codices also describe a deluge in which a man called Coxcoxtli and a woman, Xochiquetzal survived and found safety on Mount Colhuacan, but the aftermath of this event was a confusion of ‘tongues.’
Tezcatlipoca had only one leg, having lost the other when the gates of Mictlan, the lower world, were shut on him in haste, he replaced Quetzalcoatl as the principal deity of the Aztecs, who feared him greatly. The Aztecs chose the most handsome captive for the blood sacrifice to Tezcatlipoca. The still beating heart of the victim, in the persona of the god, was the offering, ritually removed by an obsidian knife.
Some scholars, who investigate the ancient mysteries of Central America, are keen to relate Quetzalcoatl to an actual person, who traveled the earth spreading enlightenment and good-will, yet Black Tezcatlipoca, the ''smoking obsidian mirror'' from Mictlan, is referred to strictly on metaphorical terms. But metaphysical would be a more apt synonym for this deity who could exert such a profound and bloodthirsty influence on the customs of mighty empires.
Viracocha, the Inca god of water arose from his home at the bottom of Lake Titicaca and created islands and cities and the human race before disappearing, back into the depths of the lake, just as he had come... It is said that the Inca treasure was hidden from the Spanish in a subterranean river and gallery, two thousand leagues beneath the American continent, which extends from the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, to Lake Titicaca. A path veering away from the underground river, inevitably leads to the underworld.
It was the duty of all Maya, through initiation, to conquer death and ascend to the heavens. This was demonstrated by the hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque, who were notably experts at the ballgame, which symbolized the planetary movements, with the ball being the sun moving in and out of the underworld, which was represented by the ballcourt itself. The account of this game and it’s links to the Afterlife occurs in the Popol Vuh.
Summoned by the gods of the underworld to display their ball playing prowess, the twins survive a series of tests to defeat the old gods of death. The last stage of the contest saw the hero twins perform miracles and bring the dead back to life. ‘Then the boys ascended into the middle of the light, and they ascended straight into the sky, one being the sun, one being the moon. When the day comes, when the night comes, the two Hunahpu and Xbalanque, one or the other is always present.’
Amerindian shaman believe in three cosmic zones, the sky, the earth and an underworld, 'where the sun continually shines' for there shall be no night there, (Revelation, 21,25.) These planes are connected by the Earth's axis, symbolised by a tree or pillar, (the backbone of Osiris) entwined by a serpent.
Shamans take psychotropic plants, peyote and jimson weed, (sacred and god-given) to stimulate the pineal gland, which in conjunction with pain, deprivation and fasting, will induce initiates to a near-death state, (like Odin hanging from Yggdrassil, over the abyss without food or water, with a self-inflicted wound) whereupon they have an out of body flight to these other worlds. Certain locations, like cross-ways or waterfalls are paths of entry between the worlds and shaman know the mystery of the break-through plane.
A fine silver cord connected to a spot above the eyes is attached to the astral body and they can soar through the air, transmogrified into a bird. Free of their bodies, these 'medicine men' have transcendental encounters with the non-human entities of mythology; there they commune with the gods and return invigorated and 'born-again' with supernatural powers, like the ability to make rain and heal the sick.
Montezuma's sister, Princess Papan was roused from the dead to tell her brother of his forthcoming doom and the end of the Aztec Empire. Papan said that after death she found herself in a great valley with mountains all around, and followed a path which led to a raging river. There she saw a youth in a long robe, fastened by a shining diamond. He had long fair hair, golden wings and a mark, like a cross on his forehead.
The young man would not let Papan pass over the river of eternity, until he had shown her the future of her people. He led the Princess through the skeletons of dead men, decayed and full of worms, they were the bones of those of her tribe who would die, suffering torture and agony. She had been chosen by the gods to return to the upper world and warn Montezuma, who was deeply troubled by his sister's vision. The arrival in Mexico of the Spanish conquistadors in 1519, brought about the fulfillment of Princess Papan's prophecy.
Hel was the goddess of the Scandinavian underworld, called Niflheim. It was a land of mist in the far north, surrounded on all sides by the River Gioll, and entered through a cave. As queen of nine worlds, she divided the dead into categories, the righteous went to a place of heavenly bliss but transgressors were condemned to torture. Hel, the daughter of Loki the trickster, was half black and half blue and lived in the dark, damp, dank region beneath the roots of Yggdrassil, the World Ash.
Herodotus, the Father of History told of guardian griffins, born in the Hyperborean Mountains, who could tear a man to shreds. They were the hounds of Zeus ''who dwell about the flood of Pluto's stream that flows with gold'' and Plato declared that the real home of Apollo the sun god, is among the Hyperboreans. Pliny the Elder, a natural historian, wrote in the 1st. Century that the four main rivers of Hyperborea (the Euphrates, the Pison, the Gihon and the Hiddekel - Genesis,2,10-14) are stocked with fish, the skies are swarming with butterflies, bees and an assortment of insects, and in the ancient forests, herds of unicorns roam amidst gnarled trees shaped like monsters.
In Slavonic religious beliefs the dead returned to the womb of Moist Mother Earth by embarking on a journey across a wide sea and money was placed in the grave to pay the passage. Or the spirit may have to climb a steep mountain made of iron. This celestial 'otherworld' of eternal goodness was situated in the rainbow.
In Norse legends concerning the World's end, Loki, (the equivalent of Lucifer) who had been chained to a cavern by the gods as a punishment for killing Balder the Good, escapes over Bifrost (the rainbow bridge) to the land of the frost giants. After this omen, three terrible winters follow, like the Polar night, cold and dark with no summer, for there is no light from the sun or stars. Then comes the final battle of Ragnarok, an orgy of blood-letting in which all men perish! Fire from Muspellheim sweeps across the land, extinguishing life and purifying the Earth in preparation for the renewal of a Golden Age.
Sumerians and Babylonians from Mesopotamia, who received their knowledge from the Anunnaki (seven gods of the underworld) believed the Earth to be a sphere filled with celestial air, embedded in a crystal fortress which swims in the celestial water. Below, the city of the dead was surrounded by seven walls, with seven gates and contained the dwellings of the inhabitants of the nether region, Aralu, the 'Land of no Return,' ruled by Ereshkigal and Nergal, whose symbol was a griffin.
Utnapishtim was warned by Ea, god of the water-depths where the Tree of Life sprouted, (watered by the Tigris and Euphrates and protected by griffins) that Enlil, the earth god of the Golden Age had grown to hate man and resolved to send a flood. Utnapishtim took an ark to the watery kingdom when the deluge was so frightening that even the gods withdrew ‘like migrating birds’ to the remote heavens of Anu, the Father of the Anunnaki. Utnapishtim grounded his ark on the summit of Mount Nisir and released a dove. He and his wife were transformed into gods and allowed to dwell forever in the distant paradise at the estuary of the streams.
Gilgamesh went on an epic voyage to find him and ask about the mysteries of death and life. When he reached the mountain at the Earth's end and passed over the waters of death, he met the far one, Utnapishtim, who gave him the gift of a briary plant, which Gilgamesh left unattended and a serpent smelling it's sweetness, carried it off. It was the plant of rejuvenation and metamorphosis which Gilgamesh had hoped would resurrect his friend Enkidu.
In Tibetan mythology, Mount Meru is where the gods reside, with it’s roots in hell, and its summit in heaven, like the Tree of Life. It is surrounded by seven rings of golden mountains, each separated from the other by one of seven circular oceans and in the underworld, where the happy dead found infinite joys and sipped Soma, the intoxicating elixir of vitality and immortality, Yama ruled with Varuna, the All-Seeing Eye of the Universe. Yami, the twin sister of Yama, was Queen of the lower world, where souls must return to be reborn.
For Celts, this paradise was the Vale of Avalon, Summerland, or the Island of Apples, a magical archipelago without grief or sorrow, which has been the abode of the old gods since the dawn of time. It was the souterrain of faeries and sprites beneath rivers, lakes and mounds and food grew naturally on the 'Isle of the Blest' without the need for cultivation. In total contrast to the upper-world, where citizens suffer greatly from cold, heat, rain and snow and are further tormented by quarrels, hunger, thirst, disease and severe anxiety, a text called, the Gesta Regum Britanniae, describes Avalon:
'This wondrous island is girdled by the ocean; it lacks no good things; no thief, reiver or enemy lurks in ambush there. No snow falls; neither Summer nor Winter rages uncontrollably, but unbroken peace, harmony and the gentle warmth of unbroken Spring. Not a flower is lacking, neither lilies, rose nor violet; the apple-tree bears flowers and fruit together on one bough. Youth and maiden live together in that place without blot or shame. Old age is unknown; there is neither sickness nor suffering-everything is full of joy. No-one selfishly keeps anything to himself; here everything is shared.'
In this 'otherworld' nine Muses ruled with pleasing laws. One was the sister of King Arthur, named Morgan le Fay, a necromancer and shape-shifting enchantress, also skilled in the arts of healing. With her magic she could make a city appear visible on the horizon, (a mirage) and seafarers who mistook it for land, met a watery death! Apparitions of enchanted lands are known to occur off the west coast of Ireland and one may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the "summer isles of Eden lying in dark-purple spheres of sea."
Saint Brendan set out in a small ox-hide boat from the shores of Ireland in search of the 'Island of Promise of the Saints' in 540AD, and sailed northwards with fourteen monks, until they were lost! They passed by floating towers of crystal (icebergs) and eventually came to a rocky island where there was sheep as big as oxen. They also passed an isle with trees full of chirping birds, which were the souls of the dead. For seven long years they were driven by the wind through channels and shoals, from island to island, terrified by fire-breathing monsters and attacked by a huge bird called a 'griffa', but whenever the monks landed, the otherworld youth were always waiting to provide their needs.
At last they reached their destination, the 'Island of Promise,' there they found an orchard of luscious fruit trees, flowers, falling streams and fountains, and the marvelous creatures of the Celtic past. On the return journey their boat was enveloped in a magical mist, swirling thickly around them, and within moments Saint Brendan was in sight of home!
Fionnuala, daughter of Llyr, Lord of the Sea who ruled the land beneath the waves called Tir Faoi Thuinn, said, once there was magic on Earth... 'and dragons on huge wings floated in the skies, there were monsters in the sea and silver-horned unicorns ran wild in the forest.' The children of Llyr were changed into swans for nine hundred years, until the sound of a bell broke the spell. They were the people of the goddess Danu whose husband Bile, was god of the underworld. The Tuatha De Danann, as they were known, had green skin and came to Ireland from four magical cities across the sea.
A realm of inexhaustible splendour awaits those who wish to enter through the swirling mist, but they must know how to return, or they may become helplessly lost in a twilight world between this one, and the Mid-World of Immortal Youth. Celtic heroes like, Ossian, who took up this challenge, found that upon his return from Annwn, his loved ones were long since dead and consigned to history… whereas he had not aged.
"The Bible, as well as many ancient texts and manuscripts, make reference to the 'Underworld' below as a real and genuine dwelling place. I am of the opinion, that religions have failed regarding their teaching of a 'Hell' below - because a deep scrutiny of the texts tells more of a 'paradise' rather than a burning abyss" - Brinsley Le Poer Trench, Earl of Clancarty, (Member of the House of Lords.)