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Shamanism: The Myths About The Underworld



Shamanism is an ancient practice rooted in spiritual traditions that connect the physical world with the spirit world. Among the many fascinating aspects of shamanism, the concept of the Underworld is particularly intriguing. This mysterious and often misunderstood realm is referred to by many different names amongst various traditions and is central to the majority of deep healing work that Shamanism and Shamanic Healing delves into. In this blog, we will delve into the myths about the Underworld in shamanism, unravelling its mysteries and exploring its significance to our healing path.


The Underworld: A Misunderstood Realm


The Underworld is often depicted in popular culture as a dark and foreboding place, akin to the hellish realms described in various religious texts. However, in shamanic traditions, the Underworld is not a place of punishment or evil, whilst it is also not a place of paradise or benevolence. It is a realm that is beyond the veils of duality as a whole. If we were to refer to modern psychology, the underworld is the same as the collective unconscious described in a lot of jungian work. This means that it is the place that contains parts of the self that we have been wired to refuse ownership of and even fear on some level. Because it contains these core parts of the self, it is a place of pure potential, providing us with an immense opportunity to reharmonize and befriend the parts of the self that we have shamed and refused ownership of. It is a dimension where spirits reside, and where shamans can communicate with ancestors, spirit guides, and other entities to gain wisdom and healing.


Myth 1: The Underworld is a Place of Punishment


One of the most pervasive myths about the Underworld is that it is a place of eternal punishment for the wicked. This misconception likely arises from conflating shamanic beliefs with those of more familiar religions that have a concept of hell. However, many do not know that the word Hell was actually taken from the Norse word “Hel”, which actually means “place of sanctuary” and refers specifically to the unconscious aspects of the self. In fact, underworld journeying was traditionally referred to as “Helfaring” in Norse shamanic tradition. It’s important to realise that all aspects of the spirit world go beyond the ideas of good and evil. For this reason, the Underworld is a neutral space. It is a realm of transformation and healing, where shamans seek guidance and insight to help their communities.


Myth 2: The Underworld is separate from us


While it is true that the Underworld operates within the lower vibrational densities, the idea of it being separate from us is a misconception. A lot of new age spiritual communities get attached to the idea of the dimensions as hierarchies - 3D, 4D, 5D etc. A common misconception we also see is thinking that once we reach the 5th dimension, we are going to be free of the 3rd dimensional problems of the physical world. This separation is false as all of the different densities are coexisting together. What we are storing within the unconscious parts of the self (in the underworld) has influence over our lives whether we are aware of them or not. Therefore, when we consciously work with our shadow parts and work to integrate them, we paradoxically have greater mastery over our reality as a whole because we realise there is really nothing to fear. 


Myth 3: The Underworld is Always Dark and Fearsome


The imagery of a dark, fearsome Underworld is deeply ingrained in many cultures, but shamanic views are often more nuanced. The Underworld can be a place of shadows and challenges, but it is also a realm of immense wisdom and power. It is a place where we can confront and overcome personal and communal fears, emerging stronger and more enlightened. Because the underworld is the place that contains what we have been programmed to refuse and deny, it contains not only heavy things but also lighter aspects of the self such as unconditional love, playfulness and truth that we may have also learned to deny through fear.


Myth 4: Encounters with Underworld Spirits are Dangerous


Interactions with spirits from the Underworld are sometimes viewed with fear and suspicion. The reason for this is simply because they are dark matter entities and therefore know how to find your vulnerabilities and to make you aware of what it is within yourself that needs work. Because dark matter entities are known to challenge you, they are often seen as malevolent. However, the spirits of the Underworld are not inherently malevolent; nor are they benevolent - they are neutral. Their agenda is simply to help us grow through bringing the neglected parts of the self to the surface for them to be processed. However, one should be prepared for such an endeavour. 


Myth 5: The Underworld is the Same in All Cultures


The concept of the underworld varies widely across different shamanic traditions and is known to be highly personal. In some cultures, the underworld is seen as a dark and foreboding place, while in others, it is a realm of beauty and light. For instance, in Siberian shamanism, the underworld is often depicted as a place of ancestral spirits and powerful animal guides. In contrast, some South American shamanic traditions describe the underworld as a lush, verdant world teeming with life. In Norse mythology, the underworld is often referred to as the Ginnungagap, referring to the place of abyss that birthed all of creation. These differences highlight the rich diversity of shamanic beliefs and the importance of understanding the cultural context of each tradition. Ultimately, one needs to form their own individual experiences of this realm, but many find it will ultimately change according to the needs and intent of the individual. 


Myth 6: The Underworld is a Literal Place


Another common misconception is that the underworld is a physical location that can be reached by travelling downward. In shamanic practice, the underworld is a symbolic and spiritual realm, accessed through altered states of consciousness. Shamans enter these states through drumming, chanting, and other ritualistic practices, allowing them to journey beyond the physical world. The underworld exists in a dimension beyond the physical plane of existence, but continues to have influence over it, representing the inner landscape of consciousness.


The Role of the Underworld in Healing and Transformation


In shamanic practice, the Underworld plays a vital role in healing and transformation. Shamans journey to the Underworld to retrieve lost soul fragments, communicate with ancestors, and gain insights into the root causes of physical and spiritual ailments. This transformative work can lead to profound healing and personal growth for individuals and communities. If we refuse the existence of the underworld and classify it as hell, we are denying our own unconscious aspects and in doing so, remaining in conflict with the shadow self. If we refer to the concept of the world tree from Norse Shamanism, we cannot have the branches of the tree without having the roots. The branches reach beyond the physical plane and into the higher dimensions, whilst the roots reach down deep into the underworld. When we befriend the underworld and use it as the place of sanctuary and healing that it truly is, paradoxically, we will be able to reach higher states of consciousness. As above, so below.





How To Start Working With The Underworld


Working with the underworld starts with shadow work. One should have a genuine desire to better themselves and to face the parts of them that are out of harmony. Working in the underworld is known to bring up suppressed trauma in a very direct way to provide continuous opportunities to grow and heal. My Shamanic Training programs are a great way to safely start working with the underworld. For those wanting to begin their training, my Foundation Course Into Shamanism is a great place to start as it will establish solid foundations for your practice, with more advanced training options for those who want to fully initiate as Shamans. For those who have experience with shadow work and want to unlock the full power of the underworld currents of energy, my Underworld Initiation takes you through advanced initiations to clear your most stubborn blocks to success.


Conclusion


The myths surrounding the Underworld in shamanism reveal much about our collective fears and misunderstandings of the spiritual realm. By exploring these myths and gaining a deeper understanding of shamanic traditions, we can appreciate the rich tapestry of wisdom that shamanism offers. The Underworld, far from being a place of dread, is a realm of potential, transformation, and profound spiritual connection. Through the guidance of shamans, we can learn to navigate this mysterious domain and uncover the hidden truths that lie within.

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