Skip to main content
Select Source:

Underworld

Underworld

Techno rock group

For the Record

Underworld Comes Together

A Very London Sound

Trainspotting Soundtrack Success

At the Forefront of Electronica

Selected discography

Sources

For the British ensemble Underworld, merging past and presentas well as chilly synthesizer-driven nuances with genuine emotive soul into futuristic rhythmshas resulted in a critically praised and commercially viable series of records. The band, wrote Barry Walters in Rolling Stone, create darkly physical grooves that seduce psyche, body and soul without resorting to instant hooks or easily understood concepts. Though they gained fame when two of their songs were included in the hit 1996 film Trainspotting, the forming members of Underworld, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, had been making music together for several years already. Both were accomplished songwriters and engineers who were well-versed in cutting-edge electronic instrumentation and production styles.

Hyde and Smith met at an art college in Cardiff, Wales, England, around 1980. Hyde has played guitar since the age of eleven and been in numerous bands, while the Welsh-born Smith was raised in a household headed by his minister father, and was heavily influenced by gospel music as a result. Smith also played the piano, and as

For the Record

Members include Darren Emerson (born c. 1971), turntables; Karl Hyde (born c. 1958), guitars, vocals; and Rick Smith (born c. 1960, in Wales, England), keyboards.

Hyde and Smith were signed to CBS Records in the early 1980s as the band Freur; formed Underworld MK1, c. 1988; released two albums before disbanding; formed current version of band with Emerson, 1991.

Addresses: Record company V2 Records, 14 E. 4th St., 3rd Floor, New York NY 10012.

a teen became a fan of the legendary 1970s German band Kraftwerk, who pioneered synthesizer music. In 1981 Hyde and Smith formed a moody, drum machine-based act they called Freur, and were signed to CBS Records. Their haunting, darkly spiraling 1983 single, Doot Doot, charted well in the United Kingdom, was a huge hit in Italy, and even found its way into the alternative radio scene in North America.

Hyde and Smith were uninterested in becoming the next Depeche Mode. They remained in Wales, against industry advice, spent their advance on a car, and were soon dropped by CBS. From there, the duo formed Underworld MK1, which allowed them to pursue another musical direction that featured far less electronic-based instrumentation and leaned heavily toward funk. Aftera record deal with Sire and two albumsUnderneath the Radar, released in 1988, and 1989s Change the Weatherthey had achieved minor success in Australia, and were invited to open on the farewell tour for the Eurythmies in the late 1980s. They played to huge stadium crowds, and the experience left a negative impression on the pair. Within three dates, it was like, This is awful Smith told Urb writer Tamara Palmer. This is really awful. I stood in front of like 30,000 people. It was nice for five seconds, and after that it was awful.

Underworld Comes Together

After parting ways with Sire, Hyde became a guitar playerfor hire and toured with Iggy Pop for a time. He also spent a great deal of time in New York City, where he used to frequent a bar called Jackie 60 with Deborah Harry of Blondie. Meanwhile, Smith relocated to the Essex town of Romford, England, where he met 20-year-old Darren Emerson, asuccessful money-markets trader who also worked as a part-time DJ. At the time, the acid-house music scene had firmly taken hold in England, and Smith and Emerson began setting down tracks in the studio that merged the darkly electronic vibe of Freur with the more danceable rhythms of the first formation of Underworld. Hyde returned from touring and joined them in the studio.

Mother Earth was the first single the threesome cut together, created solely for Emersons DJ set in a local club. That was our outlet, Hyde told Raygrun magazine. We didnt have radio or any system for playing live; Darren was our shop window. Both Mother Earth and Dirty were released under the name Lemon Interrupt because of contractual issues with Sire over the Underworld MK1 name. At the time, Hyde and Smith also formed Tomato, an art collective/graphic design firm that over the decade evolved into art and music installation projects as well.

Their first record as Underworld, Mmmm Skyscraper I Love You, became a huge underground hit in England, and they were soon signed to a label called Junior Boys Own, a subsidiary of London Records. Another record, Rez, was also a massive club hit. Both tracks were included on their 1994 debut, dubnobasswithmyheadman, an album termed by Raygunas rife with electronic melodies so warm you could curl up inside them, and rhythms so powerful and methodical that they left you with no option but letting it all out. Underworld also made an impact with their live performances, shows that merged Emersons DJ talents with Hyde and Smiths years of performing, and featured spectacular visual shows created by the Tomato creative collective as well. Request magazine declared that the album crystallized a moment. The groups mix of live instrumentation and back house rhythms appealed to both dance and rock audiences, while its stunning live gigs, including one 14-hour long improvisation performance, solidified its reputation.

A Very London Sound

Underworlds second album, Second Toughest in the Infants, was released in 1996. It incorporated the burgeoning jungle beat flavors then sweeping the British music scene, gained serious critical approval, and managed to sell a respectable 87,000 copies in the U.S. alone. Reviewing it for the Village Voice, Ben Williams declared it to be an album that manages to be as accomplished as the first while expanding upon its sound. Williams went on to note that as a band, Underworld finds poignancy in the ambience of modern urban life, sculpting its repetitive blips and pulses into a seamless sonic flow that turns mechanical banality into emotional gold. Williams continued, This is a very London sound, one of tube stations and corner-shops and dingy cafes: rain-soaked, gray, yet at times possessed of a still, tragic beauty that contradicts the constant forward motion of its rhythms.

Underworld were one of the first techno acts to integrate lyrics into their songs, though, as Raygun noted, Hydes fragmented poetry wont stand up to any logic test, although, in a way, abstraction seems the sensible stylistic match for a genre thats not big on meaning or interpretation. As Hyde explained in the same article, I respond with the recording of the voice to the groove; the music comes first always.

Trainspotting Soundtrack Success

Though the original British release of Second Toughest in the Infants did not include the track Born Slippy, the song was integrated into the American version released later that year as a result of its inclusion on the soundtrack to the 1996 cult favorite Trainspotting. The film, by director Danny Boyle, was a success on both sides of the Atlantic for its wry, often painfully comical depiction of a group of Scottish drug addicts. Born Slippy was released in England in the spring of 1995, and after it became indelibly associated with the successful film and best-selling soundtrack, went on to sell over a million copies. It was also named single of the year by several British music magazines, and finally brought the band greater recognition in North America.

Fittingly, Underworlds next effort received a massive marketing push from their label, now tied with New York Citys V2 Records. Beaucoup Fish was written in fits and starts, as midway though the recording process, the band was compelled to honor a commitment to do a European tour. They used the opportunity to try out the songs live, and found the strategy resulted in a far different sound in the end. It made us cut out much of the frou-frou and get rid of a lot of the unnecessary padding, Hyde told Billboards Dylan Siegler.

At the Forefront of Electronica

Released in the spring of 1999, Beaucoup Fish was a massive critical success stateside. The first single, Cups, was singled out for particular praise. They re-engineerthe old-school Detroit-style synth that swerves through Cups until it sounds sleek enough for a BMW commercialthen chop it down into pseudo-Latin breaks and icy chunks of melody, wrote Details Pat Blashill, while Entertainment Weekly David Browne called its dozen minutes something weve long been waiting for the Tree Bird of electronica!

In his review, Browne praised the band for progressing creatively overthe past five years. Beaucoup Fisfeels like a stimulating new beginning. Wipe away its dusting of frost and youll encounter mystery, beauty, and alluring rhapsodies, with the warm, pulsating beats serving as the musics heart. Browne also wrote of the backlash against electronica, heralded as the next big thing, and noted that no one should have ever expected such amelodic music to top anything. The critic termed Beaucoup Fish a record that proves how many more places this music can wander, how it can grow and reinvent itself.

Reinvention and artistic progression have been constant in Hyde and Smiths career since their days together as Freur. We embrace a lot of the sounds and rhythms that go on around us,

Hyde told Rolling Stone writer Todd Roberts. I think thats a way forward [for music]. Id like to think that people are opening their minds a lot more.

Selected discography

(as Underworld MK1) Underneath the Radar, Sire, 1988.

(as Underworld MK1) Change the Weather, Sire, 1989.

dubnobasswithmyheadman, Junior Boys Own, 1994.

Second Toughest in the Infants, Junior Boys Own, 1996.

Pearls Girl (EP), Junior Boys Own, 1996.

Beaucoup Fish, Junior Boys OwnA/2, 1999.

Sources

Billboard, November 23, 1996, pp. 13, 20; March 20, 1999, pp.11, 80.

Details, February 1999, p. 69.

Entertainment Weekly, April 4, 1999.

Raygun, March 1999.

Request, April 1999.

Rolling Stone, October 3, 1996, p. 32; April 29, 1999, p. 68.

Spin, April 1999.

Urb, January/February 1999.

Village Voice, May 21, 1996, p. 57.

Carol Brennan

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Underworld." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Underworld." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/underworld

"Underworld." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/underworld

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Underworld

666. Underworld (See also Hell.)

  1. Aidoneus epithet of Hades. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 14]
  2. Amenti hidden world where the sun sets. [Egypt. Myth.: Leach, 42]
  3. Anunnaki lesser Sumerian underworld deities. [Sumerian Myth.: Benét, 41]
  4. Aornum entrance through which Orpheus descended to Hades. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 25]
  5. Aralu desolate land of no return. [Babyl. Myth.: Leach, 69]
  6. Avernus, Lake entrance to the maw. [Rom. Lit.: Aeneid ; Art: Hall, 147]
  7. Dis god of nether world; identified with Pluto. [Rom. Myth.: Leach, 315]
  8. Duat one of the Egyptian abodes of the dead. [Egypt. Myth.: Benét, 290]
  9. Erebus god of underground darkness. [Gk. Myth.: Benét, 319]
  10. Ereshkigal queen of underworld; Persephone equivalent. [Sumerian Myth.: Benét, 319320]
  11. Hades realm of departed spirits. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 499]
  12. Hel ruled over world of the dead. [Norse Myth.: Leach, 488]
  13. Nergal god ruling the world of dead. [Sumerian and Akkadian Myth.: Parrinder, 203]
  14. Niflheim region of perpetual cold and darkness; afterworld. [Norse Myth.: Wheeler, 259]
  15. oak leaves, garland of emblem of Hecate, goddess of the underworld. [Gk. Myth.: Jobes, 374]
  16. Orcus nether world of the dead. [Rom. Myth.: Wheeler, 270]
  17. Pluto god of underworld. [Gk. Myth.: Howe, 224 ]
  18. Sheol abode of the dead. [Hebrew Theology: Brewer Dictionary, 499]
  19. Styx river of Hades across which souls of dead must travel. [Gk. Myth.: Howe, 259]
  20. Tartarus infernal regions. [Gk. Myth.: Hall, 147]

Unfaithfulness (See FAITHLESSNESS .)

Ungratefulness (See INGRATITUDE .)

Unkindness (See CRUELTY, INHOSPITALITY .)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Underworld." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Underworld." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/underworld

"Underworld." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/underworld

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Underworld

Underworld

From all parts of the world come myths and legends about the underworld, a mysterious and shadowy place beyond ordinary human experience. The underworld is the realm of the dead, the destination of human souls in the afterlife. In some traditions, it is also the home of nonhuman, supernatural, or otherworldly beings such as fairies, demons, giants, and monsters. Although usually portrayed as a terrifying, dangerous, or unpredictable place, the underworld appears as a source of growth, life, and rebirth in some myths. Many descriptions of the underworld include elements of earthly life, such as powerful rulers and palaces.

The most common idea of the underworld is that it lies beneath the everyday world. The passage from this world to the other may begin by descending into a cave, well, or pit. However, the distance between the two worlds is more than physical, and the spiritual journey involved often includes great peril. The souls of the dead are the principal travelers, but sometimes living heroes, mystics, and shamans also make the journey.


The Land of the Dead. Many cultures believe that after death the soul travels to the underworld. In some traditions the passage to or through the underworld is part of a process that involves judgment of the individual's deeds when alive, and perhaps punishment for evil deeds. In others the underworld is simply the destination of all the dead, good and bad alike.

Some of the earliest descriptions of the underworld occur in myths from ancient Mesopotamia*. One tells how the fertility goddess Inanna, later known as Ishtar, descends into the kingdom of the dead, ruled by her sister Ereshkigal. Trying to overthrow Ereshkigal, Inanna is killed. The other gods convince Ereshkigal to release Inanna, but Inanna cannot leave the underworld without finding someone to take her place. She determines that her husband, Dumuzi or Tammuz, should be her substitute. Some scholars believe that this myth is related to the annual death and rebirth of vegetation.

The underworld Inanna visits is the same as that described in the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, in which the character Enkidu has a vision of himself among the dead. The underworld described is a dim, dry, dreary place called the House of Darkness, a house that none who enter leave. The dead dwell in darkness, eating dust and clay. Although recognizable as individuals, they are pale and powerless shadows of their former selves.

supernatural related to forces beyond the normal world; magical or miraculous

shaman person thought to possess spiritual and healing powers

epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

This Semitic* image of the underworld appears in early Jewish mythology. The Jewish underworld was Sheol, which means "pit."


*See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

It held all the dead who had ever lived. Over time, as the idea of judgment in the afterlife took root in Jewish and then Christian belief, the early, neutral concept of the underworld changed. Sheol became a place of punishment and torment for the souls of sinners.

The ancient Greek vision of the underworld was, at first, much like that of the early Semitic cultures. All the dead went to the same placea vague, shadowy underworld populated by the ghosts, or shades, of the dead. This realm is sometimes called Hades, after the god who ruled it. Gradually the underworld of Greek and then Roman mythology became more elaborate. The kingdom of Hades was said to lie either beyond the ocean or deep within the earth, separated from the world of the living by five rivers: Acheron (woe), Styx (hate), Lethe (forgetfulness), Cocytus (wailing), and Phlegethon (fire). Cerberus, a fierce, three-headed, doglike monster, guarded the entrance to the underworld, which consisted of various regions. The souls of the good dwelled in the Elysian Fields or Islands of the Blessed, while those who deserved punishment went to a deep pit called Tartarus.

To the Maya of Mesoamerica, the underworld was a dreadful place, but not one limited to sinners. Only people who died a violent death went to a heaven in the afterlife. Everyone else entered Xibalba, the underworld, whose name meant "place of fright." Any cave or body of still water was an entrance to Xibalba.

The dead were not confined to the underworld forever. In the Mayan sacred book Popol Vuh, the Hero Twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqúe outwitted the lords of Xibalba and left the land of death. The souls of kings and nobles could also escape from Xibalba if they were summoned by living relatives during the Serpent Vision ceremony.

The Aztecs of central Mexico believed that the underworld consisted of eight layers, each with its own dangers, such as drowning or sharp blades. Souls descended through the layers until they reached Mictlan, the bottommost part of the underworld.

Mesoamerica cultural region consisting of southern Mexico and northern regions of Central America

The underworld of Japanese mythology was Yomi, land of night or gloom. It was empty until the creator goddess Izanami died after giving birth to the god of fire. The maggots that appeared in her dead body grew into a host of demons who populated Yomi and tormented the souls of the wicked. Although Yomi was said to be a dark region of barren plains and lonely tunnels, artists often portrayed it as an underground palace crowded with the dead and demons. Also there was Emma-ô (the Japanese version of Yama, the Buddhist god of death), who judged the souls as they arrived inYomi.


The Journey to the Underworld. Many myths tell of heroes who entered the underworld while still alive. Those who survived the ordeals of the journey often returned to the living world transformed by the experience, perhaps bearing special wisdom or treasure.

Some heroes wished to rescue or reclaim a loved one who had died. In Greek mythology, Demeter went down to the underworld to try to bring back her daughter, Persephone, whom Hades had carried off. The Greek hero Orpheus* traveled to the underworld in search of his wife Eurydice.

Chinese Buddhist mythology tells of a hero named Radish, a disciple of Buddha. Before leaving on a journey Radish gave his mother, Lady Leek Stem, money for begging monks. The mother failed to give the money to the monks, but she lied to her son and said that she had done so. When Lady Leek Stem died, she went to hell.

Radish became so holy that he was made a saint named Mulian. With Mulian's enlightenment came the knowledge of his mother's torment. He went to hell to save her, although Yama, the king of hell, warned him that no one had the power to change a sinner's punishment. On his way Mulian had to travel past 50 demons, each with the head of an animal and swords for teeth. By waving a wand that Buddha had given him, he was able to make them disappear. Finally Mulian found his mother, nailed to a bed. But he could not release her; only Buddha could change a sinner's fate. Mulian asked Buddha for mercy for his mother, and after the proper prayers Buddha released Lady Leek Stem from hell.

The Ashanti people of Africa have a myth about Kwasi Benefo, who made a journey to the underworld. Kwasi Benefo married four women in turn, and each one died. Miserable and alone, he decided to go to Asamando, the land of the dead, to seek his lost loves. He went to the place of burial and then beyond it, passing through a dark, silent, trackless forest. He came to a river. On the far side sat Amokye, the old woman who greets dead women's souls. She felt sorry for Kwasi Benefo and allowed him to cross the river, though normally the living are forbidden to enter Asamando. Soon Kwasi Benefo found the invisible spirits of his wives. They told him to marry again, promising that his fifth wife would live and that they would be waiting for him in the underworld when his time came to die. Kwasi Benefo fell asleep and awoke in the forest. He brought from the underworld the precious gift of peace of mind, which allowed him to marry and live a normal life for the rest of his days.


Mirror Worlds

The underworld is sometimes a mirror image of the world above. According to some African myths, the underworld is just like the ordinary world except that it is upside down. Its people sleep during the day and are active during the night. In the Congo, tradition says that the world of the living is a mountain and the underworld of the dead is another mountain pointing downward. Chinese myths tell of "China plowed under," an underworld inside the earth that mirrors every province and town in the world above.

enlightenment in Buddhism, a spiritual state marked by the absence of desire and suffering

The Otherworld. In some myths the underworld is a kind of alternative reality, a land not merely of the human dead but of different beings who live according to different rules. Celtic* mythology contains many accounts of an otherworldly realm. Its


*See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

location was said to be far away on remote islands or lying beneath the sea or the ground. Certain caves or hills were believed to be entrances to this otherworld.

In Wales the otherworld was called Annwn, which means "not-world." It had a number of different sides. Primarily, the otherworld was the kingdom of the dead, and its grim ruler was known as Arawn to the Welsh and Donn to the Irish. However, the otherworld could also be a joyous and peaceful place or a source of wisdom, magic, and enchantment. The fairies, demons, spirits, and other supernatural beings who lived there were neither purely good nor purely evil. Depending on the circumstances, they could bring humans either harm or good fortune.

Celtic folklore is filled with legends of living people who entered the otherworld. Some went voluntarily, like King Arthur of Britain, who led an army into Annwn to capture a magical cauldron. Others were lured into the otherworld by fairies, sometimes in human or animal form. The theme of a human straying into the otherworld appears in many European fairy tales that draw on the old notion of the underworld as a supernatural realm. In such stories, a human who ate or drank while in the otherworld could never leave. Those who resisted food and managed to leave found that time had different meanings in the two worlds. After spending a single night in the otherworld, a person might return to the world above to find that years had passed.


The Source of Life. The underworld does not always represent the kingdom of the gloomy dead or the home of dangerous beings. In some myths it serves as the point of contact between the surface world of the living and the earth's powerful creative forces. Among the Ibo people of Western Africa, Ala, the goddess of the underworld, is also the earth goddess who protects the harvest, which emerges from the ground. Ala receives the deadburial is thought to be placing the dead in her pocket or womb. However, Ala also ensures life by making people and animals fertile.

cauldron large kettle

The creation myths of many Native American cultures say that people and animals emerged from an underworld or series of underworlds. In these stories the underworld is a womb in which life is nurtured or prepared until the time is right for it to enter the world. One of many emergence myths is told by the Zuni, who say that the Ahuyuuta twins were sent deep into the earth by their father the sun god to guide unformed creatures up to the daylight. Once above the ground, the creatures changed into human beings.

According to the Jicarilla Apache of New Mexico, in the beginning all people, animals, and plants lived in the dark underworld. Those who wanted light played a game with those who liked darkness. The light-lovers won, and the sun and stars appeared. Then the sun, looking through a hole in the roof of the underworld, saw the surface of the earth, which was covered with water.

Eager to reach this hole in the underworld, the people built four great hills that grew upward. But after girls picked the flowers from the hills, the hills stopped rising. Then the people climbed to the roof on ladders made of buffalo horns. They sent the moon and sun through the hole to light the world and dispatched the winds to blow away the water. Next they sent out animals. Last of all, the people climbed up into the new world. Once they reached the surface, they spread out in four directions. Only the Jicarilla stayed in the original homeland near the hole that led up from the underworld.

See also Afterlife; Elysium; Hades; Hell; Inanna; Izanagi and Izanami; Orpheus; Persephone; Sheol; Styx; Xibalba.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Underworld." Myths and Legends of the World. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Underworld." Myths and Legends of the World. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/underworld

"Underworld." Myths and Legends of the World. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/underworld

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Underworld

Underworld. Domain in which the dead are (or were) believed to have continued existence—‘life’ would be too strong a word (see SHEOL). Whereas it was once thought that all the dead ended up in the same place somewhere beneath the earth, it was later believed that the evil were separated from the good, and that only the evil were in the underworld, which then became a place of punishment. In this way hell developed from the underworld.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Underworld." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Underworld." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/underworld

"Underworld." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/underworld

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

underworld

underworld the mythical abode of the dead, imagined as being under the earth; in classical mythology, various heroes such as Odysseus and Aeneas were said to have visited the underworld and to have returned.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"underworld." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"underworld." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/underworld

"underworld." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/underworld

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

underworld

un·der·world / ˈəndərˌwərld/ • n. 1. the world of criminals or of organized crime. 2. the mythical abode of the dead, imagined as being under the earth.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"underworld." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"underworld." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/underworld-1

"underworld." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/underworld-1

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

underworld

underworld •Roald • unlabelled (US unlabeled) •ribald • untroubled • unruffled •newfangled • unwrinkled •bespectacled •untrammelled (US untrammeled) •Arnold • Reginald •Donald, Macdonald, Ronald •unexampled • unprincipled •uncrumpled • Harold •Fitzgerald, Gerald, herald •emerald • embattled • unmetalled •untitled • disgruntled •untravelled (US untraveled) •unrivalled (US unrivaled) • Tynwald •Ostwald • Oswald • sozzled • world •dreamworld • underworld •afterworld • netherworld

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"underworld." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"underworld." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/underworld-0

"underworld." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/underworld-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Underworld

UNDERWORLD

UNDERWORLD . The term underworld refers to the subterranean region inhabited by the dead. It is often the place of punishment of the wicked, the unrighteous, the unredeemed, the unbelieving, or the lost. The concept of an underworld is an ingredient in most belief systems in the history of religions, but there is no definite evidence indicating that the idea was present in the earliest stages of human culture. In the oldest strata of Egyptian and pre-Vedic Indian cultures, however, there exists a rich store of archaeological material suggesting that the aristocratic segments of society, at least, believed in some kind of an afterlife. But even in these early records of postmortem existence, there does not seem to have been a distinction between heaven, the realm of the blessed, and hell, the realm of the damned.

Later, when the two realms came to be differentiated, each religion appealed to its own set of criteria when determining the fate of an individual after death, whether blessed or damned. These criteria could be defined by birth, by ritual initiation into the community, by the performance of prescribed sacramental rites, by belief in a deity or in a set of teachings, and so on. Such standards were commensurate with the way the religion defined the proper relationship to the sacred.

Primitive and Archaic Religions

Tales of heroic journeys to the underworld, often undertaken on behalf of the entire community, are extremely widespread among tribal peoples throughout the world. Particularly notable for such lore are the Maori of New Zealand; the Algonquin, the Ojibwa, and various Plains tribes of North America; the Zulu, the Ashanti, and the Dogon of Africa; and numerous other societies in North Asia (especially Siberia and Mongolia), Central America, and South America.

If one disregards for the moment the detailed differences among the various accounts of the postmortem journey to the underworld, one can observe a common theme among many such stories. A heroic figure undertakes a descent into the belly of a chthonic or marine monster, a creature often identified as Mother Earth, the Mother of Death, or the Queen of the Night. He pursues a strenuous journey through her body, during which he encounters numerous obstacles and dangers. He finally reemerges into the world of the living, either through a natural orifice in the monster's body or through an opening that he himself creates. As numerous scholars have convincingly demonstrated, the ordeal of being ingested by a theriomorphic creature and of passing through the various channels of its body is symbolic of an initiatory ordeal whereby the hero conquers death or the fear of death and, in some cases, wins the prize of immortality.

The hero is submitted to a test or an ordeal in which he must either prove himself capable of overcoming the obstacles that lie in his path or prove himself capable of defeating the enemy that blocks his passage. The descent into the underworld is also a quest for special, esoteric knowledge or wisdom that is denied all other living beings who have not undertaken such a journey. As the possessor of this secret knowledge, the hero often serves as a mediator between the living and the dead or as a psychopomp who personally conducts the souls of the deceased to the underworld.

The typical shamanistic story of the descent into the underworld is exemplified in a tale of the Goldi peoples of Siberia. A shaman traps the soul of the deceased in a sacred pillow by beating his sacred drum. After mounting a notched tree in order to get a preview of the journey to follow, he summons two tutelary spirits to assist along the way and then, with the deceased and his ghostly companions, sets off on a specially prepared dogsled, furnished with a basket of food for nourishment. After encountering numerous obstacles along the way, the travelers arrive in the underworld. Using a fictitious name to protect his identity, the shaman deposits the deceased with his relatives in the underworld. He then returns immediately, armed with warm greetings and small gifts for the living from their subterranean kinsmen.

A prototypical example of the story in which the descent into the underworld is symbolically identified with the return to the mother's womb is found in the religious lore of the Maori of New Zealand. Maui, the heroic representative of the Maori, returned at the end of his life to the hut of his ancestress, Hine-nui-te-po, the Great Mistress (of the Night). He leapt into her body as she slept, made his way without difficulty through the various channels within her body, and had just emerged halfway from her open mouth when the birds that had accompanied him burst into laughter. Aroused by the screech of the birds' laughter, the ancestress abruptly clamped her mouth shut and cut the hero in two with her sharp teeth. Because of this misfortune, humans ever since have been mortal; had Maui successfully escaped his ancestress's body, they would have become immortal.

Many tribal peoples situate the land of the dead in the west, on the western side of the world, or simply at some distance west of the village. Many scholars (most notably E. B. Tylor and F. Max Müller) have argued that this practice is confirmation that most myths and rituals pertaining to the journey to the underworld are elaborations of a core solar myth.

While there no doubt is a kernel of truth in this view, there are other equally significant layers of meaning invested in these stories and practices. One important theme concerns the descent of a hero into the belly of a ferocious marine creature and his reemergence through the mouth or anus of the beast in an effort to conquer death and gain immortality. A second theme is of an arduous journey through wild and monster-infested areas in search of a precious object (magical ring, sacred fruit, golden vessel, elixir of immortality, etc.) that will benefit the hero or his people. In a third theme, a tribesman submits himself to a deadly ordeal in order to pass from a lower to a higher stage of existence and thereby achieves a superhuman or heroic state of being. In yet another theme, a hero shoulders the onerous task of traveling to the subterranean regions where the Mother of Death or the Queen of the Night reigns supreme, thereby gaining knowledge of the route to the shadowy realm and of the fate of those who reside there.

Ancient Egypt

The afterlife of the Egyptian nobility is described in the Pyramid Texts. Royalty were believed to ascend at death to the Blessed Lands, or Fields of the Blessed, in the heavens. According to the Pyramid Texts, members of the aristocracy traveled to the celestial spheres to dwell there like gods, often traveling on the ship belonging to Re, the sun god. Highly elaborate and expensive mortuary rites, charms, and incantations were offered for the nobility to guarantee that the soul of the deceased would enjoy a blissful existence in the world beyond. The life in that world is largely similar to this one but is free of the difficulties and misfortunes that plague the lives of even the powerful and wealthy. The afterlife of the common people is outlined in the Coffin Texts. Commoners were believed either to remain near the tomb after death or to travel to the netherworld.

The dead traveled to many different realms, some to the east but most to the west. It is now believed that the dead went in different directions because the disembodied spirits were thought to move about with the sun and the stars. The west was the primary destination of the souls (ka ) of the dead. Darkness and night were identified symbolically with death and postmortem existence. The realm of the dead was located sometimes in the sky and sometimes beneath the earth. This region was ruled by Osiris, the king of the dead. While still a mortal, Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth and then resurrected by his sister-wife Isis. He subsequently became the chief ruler of the nether realm.

Assyria and Babylonia

In the views of the ancient Akkadians and Babylonians, the underworld is a dreadful place. To get there one has to pass through seven gates and remove a piece of clothing at each. The realm is organized on the order of a political state under the tyrannical rule of a king and a queen, Nergal and Ereshkigal. In the text entitled "Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World" (Pritchard, 1969, p. 107), this realm of the dead is described as

the Land of no Return the dark house which none leave who have entered it the road from which there is no way back, the house wherein the entrants are bereft of light, where dust is their fare and clay their food. Where they see no light, residing in darkness, where they are clothed like birds, with wings for garments, and where over the door and bolt is spread dust.

Once in the underworld, the fate of the deceased is improved or worsened depending on whether the body is buried according to the prescribed funeral rites and is provided by the living with food, clothing, and other accoutrements required for the journey to the other realm.

One name for the netherworld is Kigal ("the great subterranean realm"). Kigal is an element in the name of Ereshkigal, the "queen of the underworld" and sister of Ishtar. This domain was also known as Kutu, the sacred city of Nergal, a chthonic deity who was lord of the netherworld. The gateway through which each soul is required to pass is situated in the west, where the Babylonians watched the descent of the sun. All graves provide entrance to this shadowy realm. Having entered the main gate, the dead are then ferried across the river Hubur by a four-handed, fierce-faced ferryman to "the Great City." This city is a gigantic metropolis, encircled by seven walls, each wall surmounted by a gate and each gate guarded by a demon. At the very center of the complex is the lapis lazuli of Ereshkigal. Befitting her position as queen of the realm, she is surrounded by numerous attendants: a plague god who executes her orders, a scribe who announces the names of the new arrivals, and seven fierce, iron-willed judges called the Anunnaki. There are a host of demons who spread pestilence and suffering throughout humanity and keep the queen plentifully supplied with new residents.

Greece and Rome

In ancient Greece the belief in the postmortem survival of the soul stretches back to earliest times, as is suggested by evidence of food, drink, clothing, and entertainment provided in the grave. Already in Homer a clear distinction between the corpse and the ghost was made. The Iliad (3.278-279, 19.259) contains the belief that the gods punished or rewarded souls at death. It was thought that the souls of the living are supplied from the stock of souls in Hades.

Despite the rich stock of ideas native to the Greek islands regarding the dead and the underworld, from the time of Homer Greek writers showed no hesitation in drawing freely from other religious traditions and in synthesizing these foreign elements with indigenous material. Most of the borrowed elements were derived from Egypt (particularly the Osiris cult and the Book of Going Forth by Day ) and from Mycenae. From Crete they adopted the idea of elusion ("paradise") and the figure of Rhadamanthys (one of the three infernal judges). From Mycenae they received the idea of weighing the soul in the balance.

The earliest Greek accounts of the postmortem journey of the soul to the underworld are to be found in the Iliad (1.595, 3.279, 5.395396, 15.187188) and in the Odyssey (11). At the moment of death, the soul (psuche ) is separated from the body, transformed into a ghostly double of the person (eidōlon ), and transported down to Hades, an enormous cavern below the surface of the earth (Odyssey 11.204222). Here the souls of the dead are capable only of "flitting around as shadows while exuding shrill chirping sounds." This dismal domain is the very antithesis of the realm of the "blazing sun"; it is a place where one sees only "the cold dead" and is an altogether "joyless region." The shades of the dead are unconscious and incommunicative until they have imbibed a quantity of blood, the essence of life. So morally neutral is the life of the dead that all distinctions pertaining to social station, political position, and religious latitude are obliterated, thus rendering even a mean and destitute existence in the world highly preferable (Odyssey 11.487491) to the office of rulership over Hades.

In ancient Greek cosmology, Hades lies within the ocean, perpetually shrouded in clouds and mist. Here there is no sunlight, only eternal darkness. The shades are depicted as being weak and extremely melancholy, always in search of escape from their sufferings and finding none. Especially painful are the sufferings of those who were either not properly buried on earth or not suitably nourished with sacrificial food offerings. The dire nature of the torments suffered by the inmates is graphically depicted in the story of Tantalos. Standing in water up to his chin, he found to his chagrin that the water mysteriously evaporated each time he sought to quench his thirst; surrounded by flowering fruit trees, he found that the wind blew the fruit away as he reached out to grasp it (Odyssey 11.582592). Hades is separated from the realm of the living by a treacherous body of water, made up of five rivers (Lethe, Styx, Phlegethon, Acheron, and Cocytus). The entrance is guarded by Kerberos, a ferocious dog with three (earlier poets said fifty or one hundred) heads whose necks are encircled by venomous serpents. Here Minos judges the deeds of the deceased and provides the laws that govern them in the underworld. But the evidence seems to indicate that none of the laws meted out justice in the form of rewards for the righteous and punishment for the wicked.

According to Vergil, Rhadamanthys presides over a court of justice in which a variety of corporeal, mental, and spiritual retributions are distributed according to the nature of sins committed in the upper world. Nowhere in all of world literature is the drastic distinction between the two destinies after death presented in more painfully dramatic terms than in his Aeneid:

This is the place where the road divides and leads in two directions: one way is to the right and extends under the ramparts of Dis [i.e., Pluto] to Elysium [i.e., Paradise], but the left path leads to the evil realms of Tartarus, where the penalties for sin are exacted. To his left Aeneas spots a deep cave enclosed by a triple fortification around which flows Phlegethon, seething with flames and tossing rocks about in its tumultous torrents. (6.540579)

Aeneas encounters a gargantuan door that even the gods are powerless to penetrate, guarded by the ever-wakeful Tisiphone (one of the Furies). From inside, he hears horrifying groans and wailings from victims being lashed with whips and chains. Within this dismal kingdom of darkness and death reside a host of personifications of abstract entities: Grief and Cares, Diseases, Senility, Fear, Hunger, Toil, War, Discord, and countless other forces that afflict the life of every creature with misfortune and distress.

Not until the time of Plato does one encounter the notion that the righteous will be feted with sumptuous banquets "with garlands on their heads," or that the wicked will be plunged into a pit filled with mud, "where they will be forced to carry water in a sieve" (Republic 2.373cd). Plato may have believed that the earthly experience of the fear of Hades is equivalent to being there already and that the suffering inflicted by a guilty conscience is sufficient punishment for the wicked act committed. This view coincides with the theory that Plato adopted many primitive beliefs about the fate of the soul and gave moral and psychological interpretations to allegorical tales (see Gorgias 493ac). Similarly, for the poet and philosopher Empedocles the psuche ("soul") is the bearer of guilt, and the world of the senses is the Hades where the individual suffers for that guilt (frags. 118, 121). Also, Plato, who perhaps more than any other ancient thinker shows a genuine concern for the immortality of the soul and the judgment it undergoes after death, presents divine rewards and punishments in terms of reincarnation into a better or worse earthly life, rather than in terms of heaven and hell. In the Laws (904d) he suggests that Hades is not a place but a state of mind and adds that popular beliefs regarding Hades should be invested with symbolic value only.

Judaism

References to the underworld in the Hebrew scriptures are vague and derive largely from beliefs common throughout the ancient Near East (especially Egypt and Babylonia). Numerous terms are used to designate this shadowy realm, the two most popular names being Sheʾol (a word that seems peculiar to Hebrew) and Geiʾ Hinnom (Gr., Geenna; Eng., Gehenna ). Some euphemistic substitutes for the latter are erets ("earth" or "underworld," 1 Sm. 28:13, Jb. 10:2122), qever ("grave," Ps. 88:12), ʿafar ("dust," Is. 26:5), bor ("pit," Is. 14:15), and shaat ("pit," Ps. 7:16; "the land of darkness," Jb. 10:21).

The historical Gehenna, or Geiʾ Hinnom"Valley of ben Hinnom," or "Valley [of the son(s) of] Hinnom"was located near the city of Jerusalem at the site of a cult in which children were sacrificed (2 Kgs. 23:10, Jer. 7:31); it was known popularly as the "Valley of Slaughter" (Jer. 19:56). Even before this time, the valley was used as a site for human sacrifices to the god Moloch (2 Chr. 33:8), and afterward, as a place where the city's rubbish was burned. In mythology, Gehenna was located beneath the earth or at the base of a mountain range (Jon. 2:7) or beneath the waters of the cosmic ocean (Jb. 26:5). This realm is sometimes pictured as a horrifying monster with mouth agape (Is. 5:14), a realm where persons of all classes are treated as equals (Ez. 32:1832).

Sheʾol is another term used to designate the realm of the dead or the subterranean spirit world, where the destinies of the righteous and the wicked are the same. Heaven and Sheʾol are thought to be the two farthest extremities of the universe (Am. 9:2). Sheʾol is positioned at the nadir of a dark pit at the very base of the universe, into which the blasphemer who aspires to be equal with God will fall. But the term also refers simply to the state of death or to the grave (see Prv. 23:1314, Ps. 89:49). The viability of this interpretation of the term is further confirmed by the fact that the Septaugint frequently translates sheʾol as thanatos ("death").

The Hebrew scriptures place the domain of the dead at the center of the earth, below the floor of the sea (Is. 14:1315, Jb. 26:5). Some passages locate the gates that mark the boundary of Sheʾol in the west. This realm has been depicted as a place pervaded by dust and darkness (Jb. 10:2122), as it was in Mesopotamian thought. In contrast to the Babylonian netherworld, which boasted a large company of demonic creatures, both the Hebraic underworld and heaven are ruled over by one and the same God whose sovereignty extends throughout the universe (Ps. 139:78, Prv. 15:11, Am. 9:2). There is a strong suggestion in Psalm 73 that God will manifest his grace to the righteous by taking them to heaven, where they will exist eternally with him. The people of God will, therefore, be saved from Sheʾol to live with God forever, but the unrighteous will face a deprived existence in the chambers of the subterranean regions (Ps. 49).

According to the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Enoch (22:913), Sheʾol is not an abode of all the dead, where the souls merely exist as vague shadowy figures devoid of individual characteristics, but is a spacious realm with three subdivisions: One realm is allotted to the righteous who have been vindicated in life, one to sinners who were not submitted to divine judgment before death, and one to those whose deeds were judged during life and found wanting. in time, Sheʾol came to be identified with Gehenna, the pit of torment, an idea that, in turn, informed the Christian concept of Hell (Hb. 2:5).

In the postbiblical Jewish apocalyptic tradition, among the seven heavens that extend above the earth, sinners are confined to the second heaven to await final judgment. North of Eden lies Gehenna, where dark fires perpetually smolder and a river of flames flows through a land of biting cold and ice. Here the wicked suffer numerous tortures (2 En. 39).

Elsewhere within the same book, the Angel of Death inquires of Jehoshua whether there are any gentiles (or "descendants of Esau") in Paradise or any Children of Israel in Hell. Included in the reply is the observation that those descendants of Esau who performed righteous deeds on earth are rewarded here but sent to Hell after death; Israelites on the other hand receive punishment while living and inherit the joys of Paradise after death. According to Josephus Flavius (37100 ce), historian of the Jewish War of 6670, the Essenes of the Dead Sea area believed that the righteous retire to the western region, where their lives are undisturbed by rain, cold, or heat and where they enjoy cooling breezes continuously. The wicked, however, are condemned to a dark, chilly hell where they suffer eternal torments.

Christianity

New Testament writers drew upon the postexilic Hebraic picture of Gehenna in formulating their understanding of the destination of the damned. Gehenna was imagined to be an enormous, deep pit that perpetually ejects clouds of putrid-smelling smoke from burning garbage, a pit where bodies of criminals and lepers are disposed of. Two significant alterations in the Hebraic concept of hell deserve mention: (1) there is a much sharper distinction between the realm of the blessed and the realm of the damned, and (2) the standard applied at the Last Judgment is defined by a person's attitude toward the person of Jesus and his teachings. In the Gospels the prevailing concept of the underworld is epitomized in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:1931). It would appear that the rich man is sent to Hell merely on account of his great wealth in this realm, whereas Lazarus is transported to "the bosom of Abraham" (Heaven, Paradise) in recompense for his sufferings and poverty. Hell is imagined as an invisible world, situated beneath the realm of the living, a blazing inferno of such intensity that even a drop of water applied to the tip of the tongue could bring welcome relief. It is also a distant land beyond a great gulf across which no movement is possible in either direction.

Whereas Hades remains at a great remove from the realm of the living, Paradise is situated in the immediate presence of God. The wicked in Hades and the righteous dead "at home with the Lord" await the final resurrection.

According to the eschatology of the Book of Revelation, a millennial reign is followed by the resurrection of the saints, and then by a period of universal conflict at the end of which Satan will be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone, preparatory to the resurrection of the remaining dead and the Last Judgment. Both Death and Hades are hypostatized as subterranean vaults that surrender the dead to be judged, after which Death and Hades themselves are thrown into the lake of fire, thus actualizing "the second death," that is, condemnation to the eternal fires of Hell (Rv. 20:1115, 21:8). The remarkable feature of this account of "final events" is that Hell is homologized with the lake of fire to which the wicked are condemned, and it is itself punished by being cast into the same lake of torment. Supposedly the cosmic cataclysm that signals the termination of the current world order, the final defeat of Death and Satan and the Last Judgment, is a preview of the fate of the wicked in Hell. The nature of Hades can be inferred from the depiction of the realm of the blessed as a perpetually sunlit land in which the righteous are never discomfited by the blazing sun. There they are faithfully fed by the divine shepherd, refreshed by ever-flowing fountains, and relieved of their tears of grief.

Augustine (354430 ce), the father of early medieval theology, perpetuated the concept of Hell as a bottomless pit containing a lake of fire and brimstone where both the bodies and the souls of humans and the ethereal bodies of devils are tormented (City of God 21.10). Thomas Aquinas (12251274) laid much of the foundation for the philosophical concept of Hell that shaped and informed the idea of Hell in the minds of poets, painters, sculptors, and novelists for centuries to come. For him, Hell never lacks space to accommodate the damned. it is a place where unhappiness infinitely exceeds all unhappiness of this world, a place of eternal damnation and torment where the suffering of the damned is intensified by recalling the glory of the blessed while no longer able to perceive the glory firsthand.

Dante (12651321) derived the theological framework for his notion of the underworld from the Old and New Testaments and Thomas. In the third chapter of the Inferno he describes the descent into Hell. Accompanied by his guide Vergil, Dante approaches the Inferno and sees the gate of Hell, the entrance to the city whose inhabitants live in suffering and eternal pain. Dante is conducted along a circular pathway leading from the gateway to the bottommost zone of Hell. He passes in succession through nine separate circular zones, each of which contains smaller cells where individuals or groups of the damned live. Charon waits on the near bank of the river Styx, ready to ferry his miserable passengers across the waters. As Dante and his guide move from circle to circle they encounter a variety of types of sinners sorted into groups according to their chief vices. On reaching the fourth ring of the ninth circle, the two travelers are confronted by Dis (Lucifer), who with his three mouths devours Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. The arduous journey of Dante and Vergil through the Inferno is completed with a horrifying descent into the interior of the body of Lucifer. Finally they arrive at a spot situated directly beneath the place of Christ's crucifixion on Mount Golgotha from where they once more see the stars.

The history of Christianity is dotted with periodic expressions of heretical dissent concerning the existence of Hell, notably by Origen, Erigena, Voltaire, and Nietzsche. But it was not until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when rationalism began to find its voice, that a widespread decline of belief in Hell developed in Western culture. The concept of Hell as an actual spatial domain has virtually disappeared or been reduced to the level of allegorical interpretation. This transformation of the idea is exemplified in The Fall in Camus's warning "Don't wait for the Final Judgment. It takes place every day" and in Sartre's declaration in his play No Exit that "hell is other people."

Islam

Cosmology appears to have been a matter of interest in early Islam not for its own sake but "only as a doctrinal framework for understanding the cosmic field of divine providence and human accountability" (Smith, 1981, p. 9). Muhammad himself does not seem to have held to a clearly defined and detailed picture of a realm of the dead.

According to the Qurʾān, there are seven layers of heaven extending above the earth toward the celestial abode of God. Corresponding to the layers of heaven are seven descending depths of a vast funnel-shaped fire (alnār ). The topmost level of the netherworlds is Gehenna. This realm of death and torment is connected to the world of the living by a bridge that all the souls of the dead must traverse on the day of judgment. The varieties of punishment meted out to the damned become more painful and severe with each level of descent.

At the partition between Paradise and the Fire stands Zaqqum, a tree that exudes a stifling odor and has blossoms composed of demons' heads. Eating the fruit of Zaqqum burns the stomach like molten metal (surah 7:4650). The tree separates the two worlds, yet provides a point from which a person can see both realms simultaneously. Beside it is a wall or barrier that divides humanity into separate classes according to the moral quality of their deeds in the temporal world.

Each of the seven fiery realms is assigned a specific name. An inventory of these names reflects the Muslim attitude toward nonbelievers: hāwiyah (abyss for hypocrites), jaīm (fierce fire for idolators), saʿīr (blazing fire for Sabaeans), jahannam (purgatorial fire for Muslims), lazā (flaming fire for Christians), saqar (scorching fire for the Magi), and uamah (raging fire for Jews).

The Qurʾān depicts Gehenna in highly pictorial and terrifying terms. It is referred to as the "Fire of Hell" (89:23) and is depicted as a kind of four-legged beast. Each leg is composed of seventy thousand demons; each demon has thirty thousand mouths. Each of the seven layers of the Fire is punctuated by a gate manned by a guardian who torments the damned. The term Gehenna refers both to the topmost sphere and to the entire realm of seven spheres. Whenever this beast of hell is transported to the place of final judgment, it sends forth a buzzing, groaning, and rattling noise, along with sparks and smoke that shrouds the entire horizon in total darkness (15:4344, 39:71).

The realms of the blessed and the damned are separated by a towering wall. Those who inhabit the heights of this partition can view the inhabitants of both worlds and recognize each group by their distinguishing marks. The blessed are recognizable by their smiling countenances; the damned, by their black faces and blue eyes (57:13). There is also a hint of the existence of a purgatory or limbo for beings whose deeds are neither extremely good nor extremely bad.

Both the Qurʾān and the adīth present a wide variety of reasons why a person may be condemned to a life of torment. The fundamental cause is lack of belief in God and in the message of his prophet, Muammad. Other reasons include the following: lying, corruption, lack of faith, blasphemy, denial of the advent of the judgment day and of the reality of the Fire, and lack of charity. Leading a life of luxury and believing that wealth brings immortality also lead to condemnation.

The postmortem journey of the soul of the redeemed or the blessed through the various layers of Heaven in the company of the archangel Gabriel is contrasted with the difficult and painful journey of the souls of the damned downward through the many spheres of Fire. The victims of the torments of Gehenna are represented as sighing and wailing in their wretched condition (11:106). Their skins are alternately scorched to a black crisp and then renewed so that they can suffer the torments of Fire over and over again. They are compelled to wear garments made of fire or scalding pitch, and boiling water is poured onto their heads, melting their insides and skins. Iron hooks are used to retrieve them every time they try to escape (22:1922).

In time, Muslim theologians began to emphasize God's grace and mercy and to downplay his anger and wrath. The belief arose that after a certain period of purgation the angel Gabriel would intercede on the sinner's behalf and release him from the Fire. It was later believed that in time the Fire would be extinguished and all sinners pardoned.

Hinduism

Vedic references to an underworld are so few in number and so vaguely conceived that many scholars have argued that Vedic religion lacked a concept of hell. More recent studies (see Brown, 1941) have demonstrated that references to a realm of postmortem suffering do signal a genuine, if relatively undeveloped, conception of hell in the Vedic literature.

According to gveda 7.104 and Atharvaveda 8.4, the Vedic Hell is situated beneath the three earths, below the created order. It is characterized as a gigantic, bottomless chasm or abyss, a place of no return. In this infinitely deep pit, there is no light, only deep darkness (cf. gveda 2.29.6). In the very deepest realm lies the cosmic serpent, the archdemon Vrtra (gveda 1.32.10), who fell there after Indra slew him.

Some texts describe the Vedic Hell as insufferably hot or unbearably cold. It is a realm of absolute silence (gveda 7.104.5) and of total annihilation, a state that is depicted semi-anthropomorphically as lying in the lap of Nirti, the destroyer. This region of eternal torment is populated not by those who committed wrongs inadvertently but by those who consciously and intentionally pursued unrighteous ends: Vtra, antidivine forces (asuras and dasyus ), demonic powers (rākasas ), and sorceresses (yoginīs ) dwell here. The inhabitants of Hell are those who live at cross-purposes with the universal law (ta ).

Hell stands in an antithetical relation to the ordered universe, based not on ta but anta. Here there is no order, no gods, no sun, no warmth, no fecundating waters, nor any of the elements vital to the creation and maintenance of creaturely existence. Here in the lap of destruction (nirti ), there is only death and nonexistence (asat ). It is the opposite of the created, ordered, and illuminated realm.

Later, in the Vedānta, hell came to be conceived in more strictly philosophical terms as the realm of pure nonbeing. Contrasted with this was the realm of being (sat ), the realm of living beings and of life itself that came to be referred to as brahman, the limitless and indefinable fulcrum of being.

In the Upaniads, the paths leading to the realms of the blessed and the wretched are envisioned as the way of the ancestors and the way of the gods, respectively. Little importance is accorded to the idea of hell as the destiny of the unrighteous. The emphasis is rather on rebirth as the consequence of an unrighteous past life. In the Yama-Naciketas episode in the Kaha Upaniad, the young man Naciketas receives instruction on the postmortem state from Yama, the lord of the dead. Rather than directly addressing a matter so subtle that not even the gods understand it, Yama informs Naciketas of two paths leading to different ends: the way of pleasure and the way of goodness. Yama recommends that Naciketas choose the latter, thereby avoiding rebirth.

But in the Purāas (collections of classical Hindu mythologies), hells are depicted in terrifyingly graphic terms as places of extreme suffering and deprivation. In the Rāmāyaa (7.21.1020), Rāvaa, the ten-headed demon, witnesses a scene of indescribable wretchedness on entering Yama's abode. He hears the agonizing cries of the wicked being gnawed by dogs and devoured by worms. Pitiful screams shoot across the Vaitarani River from parched people on hot sand who are being sawed in half. The thirsty cry out for water; the hungry, for food. Pale, emaciated specters run to and fro. The righteous, on the other hand, inhabit grand palaces and dine on sumptuous meals, surrounded by beautiful, sweet-smelling maidens dressed in exquisite garments. In the Mahābhārata (12.2.25) Yudhihira is ushered into an enormous dark chamber that is cluttered with foul-smelling hair, heaps of raw flesh, and countless pools of blood, corpses, worms, deformed animals, hideous monsters of incomparable ugliness, and ghosts of terrifying presence. As will become standard in the later Purāas, a specific form of punishment is assigned to each of the subterranean chambers. In the underworld called Kumbhīpāka ("cooked victuals") the wicked are boiled alive in giant vats of boiling oil; in Śalmali, thorns from a silk-cotton tree are used to torture the wicked.

The Agni Purāa (chaps. 340 and 342), one of the eighteen major collections of classical mythology, perpetuate a theme that blossomed in the Upaniads. This is the idea that the course of a person's life in this world is governed by the ritual and moral quality of his deeds. One's experience in the next world is governed by the fruits of those deeds. Yama determines the infernal region to which each wicked soul repairs or the womb into which it is to be born, according to the deeds of the previous existence. The terrifying members of Yama's retinue usher the soul to a place where they prepare an account of its good and evil deeds. The soul initially reaps the benefits of its good deeds in the form of physical and spiritual delights, after which it is returned to hell for a period of suffering in order to purge the residual effects of its evil deeds. If the number of merits outweighs the demerits, the person is reborn into a pure and prosperous family; if the obverse is the case, he may be committed to a lengthy life of suffering in one of the hells or be reborn as an animal, insect, or other base form of life.

The pathways connecting this world with the various hells are dreadful to behold and extend for a total of 164,000 human miles. According to most classical cosmologies, there are a total of 28 major infernal regions situated below the lowest stratum of another 7 netherworlds. Each region lies along a vertical line of descent and is subdivided into 144 smaller chambers, to each of which is assigned an appellation describing its definitive characteristics, for example: Ghora ("horrifying"), Taralatara ("trembling"), Bhayanaka ("terrifying"), Kālarātri ("dark night of devouring time"), and Dīpta ("the blazing realm").

Each chamber is presided over by five guards with the terrifying faces of carnivorous animals and birds, who administer the form of punishment appropriate to the place. The guards cast their condemned wards into dreadful places of punishment. Some souls are cast into gigantic frying skillets or into caldrons filled with boiling oil, molten copper, or iron, while others are tossed onto the upturned tips of sharp pointed lances. Others are submitted to severe lashings with leather straps or heavy bastinados or are forced to drink beverages of boiling metals or noxious solutions of animal urine and human excreta. Still others are broken physically on the rack, dismembered, and then parceled out to vultures, hyenas, and other avaricious creatures of the infernal regions. Each of these dreadful realms is filled with the sounds of screaming, wailing, and moaning.

Secular Visions

Among a growing number of religious intelligentsia the world over, both heaven and hell are gradually being sublimated or transmuted into psychological entities or realms, with the personal and collective unconscious serving as the source of both positive and negative feelings, images, and attitudes. Even the general mass of people in industrialized countries who claim to retain a belief in an underworld of some description have, in practice, largely transposed many of the ideas and themes previously associated with the underworld (e.g., divine judgment, suffering, torment, disease, death, and mental and physical anguish) into the arena of contemporary human affairs.

See Also

Afterlife; Hades; Heaven and Hell.

Bibliography

General Works

Brandon, S. G. F. The Judgment of the Dead. London, 1967.

Mew, James. Traditional Aspects of Hell (Ancient and Modern) (1903). Ann Arbor, 1971.

Ancient Near Eastern Religions

Heidel, Alexander. The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels. 2d ed. Chicago, 1963.

Frankfort, Henri. Kingship and the Gods. Chicago, 1948.

Pritchard, James B., ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 3d ed. Princeton, N.J., 1969.

Greek and Roman Religions

Dietrich, B. C. Death, Fate and the Gods. London, 1965.

Farnell, Lewis R. Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality (1921). Oxford, 1970.

Nilsson, Martin P. A History of Greek Religion. 2d ed. Translated by F. J. Fielden. Oxford, 1949.

Judaism

Charles, R. H. A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life. 2d ed., rev. & enl. London, 1913.

Ginzberg, Louis. The Legends of the Jews (19091928). 7 vols. Translated by Henrietta Szold et al. Philadelphia, 19461955.

Graves, Robert, and Raphael Patai. Hebrew Myths. New York, 1966.

Christianity

Dante Alighieri. Inferno. Translated by Allen Mandelbaum. Berkeley, 1980.

Jeremias, Joachim. "Hades." In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, edited by Gerhard Kittel. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1968.

Mew, James. "Christian Hell." In his Traditional Aspects of Hell (Ancient and Modern) (1903). Ann Arbor, 1971.

Walker, Daniel P. The Decline of Hell: Seventeenth Century Discussions of Eternal Torment. Chicago, 1964.

Islam

Asín Palacios, Miguel. Islam and the Divine Comedy. Translated by Harold Sunderland. London, 1926.

Smith, Jane I., and Yvonne Y. Haddad. The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection. Albany, N.Y., 1981.

Morris, James W. The Wisdom of the Throne: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mulla Sadra. Princeton, 1981.

Hinduism

Brown, W. Norman. "ʿThe Rigvedic Equivalent for Hell." Journal of the American Oriental Society 61 (June 1941): 7680.

Gombrich, Richard F. "Ancient Indian Cosmology." In Ancient Cosmologies, edited by Carmen Blacker and Michael Loewe, pp. 110142. London, 1975.

Jacobi, Hermann. "Cosmogony and Cosmology (Indian)." In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 4, edited by James Hastings. Edinburgh, 1914.

Hopkins, E. Washburn. Epic Mythology (1915). New York, 1969.

Macdonell, A. A. Vedic Mythology. Strassburg, 1897.

New Sources

Albinus, Lars. The House of Hades. Aarhus, 2000.

Ariès, Philippe. L'homme devant la mort. Paris, 1977.

Ariès, Philippe. The Hour of Our Death. New York, 1981.

Armstrong, John. The Paradise Myth. London, 1981.

Badham, Paul. Christian Beliefs about Life after Death. New York, 1976.

Bernstein, Alan. The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian World. Ithaca, 1993.

Betz, Hans Dieter. "Fragments from a Catabasis Ritual in a Greek Magical Papyrus." In Gesammelte Aufsätze, vol. 1, Hellenismus und Urchristentum, pp. 147155. Tübingen, 1990.

Bonfante Warren, Larissa, ed. Etruscans and Afterlife. A Handbook of Etruscan Studies. Detroit, 1986.

Borman, William A. The Other Side of Death: Upanisadic Eschatology. Dehli, 1990.

Bosworth, Clifford Edmund. The Banū Sāsān in Arabic Society and Literature. The Medieval Islamic Underworld. Leiden, 1976.

Brandon, S.G.F. The Judgement of the Dead. London, 1967.

Brandon, S.G.F. Man and His Destiny in the Great Religions. Manchester, 1963.

Bremmer, Jan N. The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife. London, 2002.

Cantilena, Renata, ed. Caronte: un obolo per l'aldilà. Napoli, 1995. (Special issue of the journal La Parola del Passato ).

Carey, John. "The Irish Other-World: Hiberno-Latin Perspectives." Éigse. A Journal of Irish Studies 25 (1991): 154159.

Cavendish, Richard. Visions of Heaven and Hell. New York, 1977.

Chiavacci, Leonardi, and Anna Maria, ed. Dante Alighieri. La Divina Commedia. Milano, 1997.

Chirassi Colombo, Ileana. "La salvezza nell'aldilà nella cultura greca arcaica." Studi Classici 15 (1973): 2339.

Clark, R. J. Catabasis. Vergil and the Wisdom Tradition. Amsterdam, 1978.

Coley, Alison E. Indo-European Views of Death and the Afterlife as Determined from Archaeological, Mythological and Linguistic Sources. Los Angeles, 1990.

Colvin, Howard. Architecture and Afterlife. New Haven, 1991.

Cumont, Franz. Lux Perpetua. Paris, 1949.

Eilen, Gardiner, ed. Visions of Heaven and Hell before Dante. New York, 1989.

Eliade, Mircea. Death, Afterlife, and Eschatology: A Thematic Sourcebook. New York, 1974.

Formanek, Susanne, and William R. La Fleur, eds. Practicing the Afterlife: Perspectives from Japan. Vienna, 2004.

Gowan, Donald E. Eschatology in the Old Testament. Philadelphia, 1986.

Griffiths, John Gwyn. The Divine Verdict: A Study of Divine Judgement in the Ancient Religions. Leiden, 1991.

Hillman, James. The Dream and the Underworld. New York, 1979.

Himmelfarb, Martha. Tours of Hell: An Apocalyptic Form in Jewish and Christian Literature. Philadelphia, 1983.

Hinard, Françoise, ed. La mort, les morts et l'au-delà dans le monde romain. Actes du Colloque de Caen 2022 novembre 1985. Caen, 1987.

Hughes, Robert. Heaven and Hell in Western Art. New York, 1968.

Iverson, Kenneth W. Death to Dust: What happens to Dead Bodies. Tucson, 1994.

Klostermaier, Klaus. Mythologies and Philosophies of Salvation in the Theistic Traditions of India. Waterloo, 1984.

Lang, Bernhard. "Afterlife: Ancient Israel's Changing Vision of the World Beyond." Bible Review 4 (1988): 1223.

Le Goff, Jacques. La naissance du Purgatoire. Paris, 1981 (English ed. The Birth of Purgatory, transl. by Arthur Goldhammer. London, 1984).

Moraldi, Luigi. L'aldilà dell'uomo, nelle civiltà babilonese, egizia, greca, latina, ebraica, cristiana e musulmana, con il testo dell'Apocalissi di Paolo. Milano, 1985.

Murray, [Sister] Charles. Rebirth and Afterlife. A Study of the transmutation of some pagan imagery in early Christian funerary art. Oxford, 1981.

Park, Joseph S. Conceptions of Afterlife in Jewish Inscriptions. Tübingen, 2000.

Rohde, Erwin. Psyche. Seelenkult und Unsterblichkeitsglaube der Griechen. Tübingen 18982.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence. Princeton, 1997.

Spronk, Klaas. Beatific Afterlife in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East. Kevelaer, 1986.

Toon, Peter. Heaven and Hell: A Biblical and Theological Overview. Nashville, 1986.

Whaley, Joachim, ed. Mirrors of mortality. Studies in the Social History of Death. London, 1981.

Xella, Paolo, ed. Archeologia dell'inferno: l'aldilà nel mondo antico vicino-orientale e classico. Verona, 1987.

J. Bruce Long (1987)

Revised Bibliography

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Underworld." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Underworld." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/underworld

"Underworld." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/underworld

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Underworld

Underworld

Theme Overview

From all parts of the world come myths and legends about the underworld, a mysterious and shadowy place beyond ordinary human experience. The underworld is the realm of the dead, the destination of human souls in the afterlife. In some traditions, it is also the home of nonhuman, supernatural, or otherworldly beings, such as fairies, demons, giants , and monsters. Although usually portrayed as a terrifying, dangerous, or unpredictable place, the underworld appears as a source of growth, life, and rebirth in some myths. Many descriptions of the underworld include elements of earthly life, such as powerful rulers and palaces.

The most common idea of the underworld is that it lies beneath the everyday world. The passage from this world to the other may begin by descending into a cave, well, or pit. However, the distance between the two worlds is more than physical, and the spiritual journey involved often includes great peril. The souls of the dead are the principal travelers, but sometimes living heroes , mystics, and religious leaders also make the journey.

Major Myths

Some of the earliest descriptions of the underworld occur in myths from ancient Mesopotamia (pronounced mess-uh-puh-TAY-mee-uh). One tells how the fertility goddess Ishtar (pronounced ISH-tahr) descends into the kingdom of the dead, ruled by her sister Ereshkigal (pronounced ay-RESH-kee-gahl). Ishtar is killed trying to overthrow Ereshkigal. The other gods convince Ereshkigal to release Ishtar, but Ishtar cannot leave the underworld without finding someone to take her place. She determines that her husband, Tammuz (pronounced TAH-mooz), should be her substitute. Some scholars believe that this myth is related to the annual death and rebirth of vegetation.

The underworld Ishtar visits is the same as that described in the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, in which the character Enkidu (pronounced EN-kee-doo) has a vision of himself among the dead. The underworld described is a dim, dry, dreary place called the House of Darkness, a house that none who enter leave. The dead dwell in darkness, eating dust and clay. Although recognizable as individuals, they are pale and powerless shadows of their former selves.

This image of the underworld also appears in early Jewish mythology. The Jewish underworld was Sheol (pronounced SHEE-ohl), which means “pit.” It held all the dead who had ever lived. Over time, as the idea of judgment in the afterlife took root in Jewish and then Christian belief, the early, neutral concept of the underworld changed. Sheol became a place of punishment and torment for the souls of sinners.

The ancient Greek vision of the underworld was, at first, much like that of the early Semitic cultures. All the dead went to the same place—a vague, shadowy underworld populated by the ghosts, or shades, of the dead. This realm is sometimes called Hades (pronounced HAY-deez), after the god who ruled it. Gradually the underworld of Greek and then Roman mythology became more elaborate. The kingdom of Hades was said to lie either beyond the ocean or deep within the earth, separated from the world of the living by five rivers: Acheron (pronounced AK-uh-ron, meaning “woe”), Styx (prounounced STIKS, meaning “hate”), Lethe (pronounced LEE-thee, meaning “forgetfulness”), Cocytus (pronounced koh-SEE-tuhs, meaning “wailing”), and Phlegethon (pronounced FLEG-uh-thon, meaning ”fire”). Cerberus (pronounced SUR-ber-uhs), a fierce, three-headed, dog-like monster, guarded the entrance to the underworld, which consisted of various regions. The souls of the good dwelled in the Elysian (pronounced eh-LEE-zee-uhn) Fields or Islands of the Blessed, while those who deserved punishment went to a deep pit called Tartarus (pronounced TAR-tur-uhs).

To the Maya of Mesoamerica—a region that encompassed a large area of what is now Central America—the underworld was a dreadful place, but not one limited to sinners. Only people who died a violent death went to a heaven in the afterlife. Everyone else entered Xibalba (pronounced shi-BAHL-buh), the underworld, whose name meant “place of fright.” Any cave or body of still water was an entrance to Xibalba. The dead were not confined to the underworld forever. In the Mayan sacred book, Popol Vuh , the Hero Twins Hunahpú (pronounced WAH-nuh-pwuh) and Xbalanqúe (pronounced shi-BAY-lan-kay) outwitted the lords of Xibalba and left the land of death. The souls of kings and nobles could also escape from Xibalba if they were summoned by living relatives during the Serpent Vision ceremony. The Aztecs of central Mexico believed that the underworld consisted of eight layers, each with its own dangers, such as drowning or sharp blades. Souls descended through the layers until they reached Mictlan (pronounced MEEKT-lahn), the bottommost part of the underworld.

The underworld of Japanese mythology was Yomi (pronounced YOH-mee), land of night or gloom. It was empty until the creator goddess Izanami (pronounced ee-zuh-NAH-mee) died after giving birth to the god of fire. The maggots that appeared in her dead body grew into a host of demons who populated Yomi and tormented the souls of the wicked. Although Yomi was said to be a dark region of barren plains and lonely tunnels, artists often portrayed it as an underground palace crowded with the dead and demons. Also there was Emma-0 (the Japanese version of Yama, the Buddhist god of death), who judged the souls as they arrived in Yomi.

Journeys to the Underworld Many myths tell of heroes who entered the underworld while still alive. Those who survived the ordeals of the journey often returned to the living world transformed by the experience, perhaps bearing special wisdom or treasure. Some heroes wished to rescue or reclaim a loved one who had died. In Greek mythology , Demeter (pronounced di-MEE-ter) went down to the underworld to try to bring back her daughter, Persephone (pronounced per-SEF-uh-nee), whom Hades (pronounced HAY-deez) had carried off. The Greek hero Orpheus (pronounced OR-fee-uhs) traveled to the underworld in search of his wife Eurydice (pronounced yoo-RID-uh-see).

Chinese Buddhist mythology tells of a hero named Radish, a follower of Buddha (pronounced BOO-duh). Before leaving on a journey, Radish gave his mother, Lady Leek Stem, money for begging monks. The mother failed to give the money to the monks, but she lied to her son and said that she had done so. When Lady Leek Stem died, she went to hell. Radish became so holy that he was made a saint named Mulian. With Mulian's enlightenment, or elevation of spirit, came the knowledge of his mother's torment. He went to hell to save her, although Yama, the king of hell, warned him that no one had the power to change a sinner's punishment. On his way Mulian had to travel past fifty demons, each with the head of an animal and swords for teeth. By waving a wand that Buddha had given him, he was able to make them disappear. Finally Mulian found his mother nailed to a bed, but he could not release her; only Buddha could change a sinner's fate. Mulian asked Buddha for mercy for his mother, and after the proper prayers, Buddha released Lady Leek Stem from hell.

The Ashanti people of Africa have a myth about Kwasi Benefo, who made a journey to the underworld. Kwasi Benefo married four women in turn, and each one died. Miserable and alone, he decided to go to Asamando, the land of the dead, to seek his lost loves. He went to the place of burial and then beyond it, passing through a dark, silent, trackless forest. He came to a river. On the far side sat Amokye, the old woman who greets dead women's souls. She felt sorry for Kwasi Benefo and allowed him to cross the river, though normally the living are forbidden to enter Asamando. Soon Kwasi Benefo found the invisible spirits of his wives. They told him to marry again, promising that his fifth wife would live and that they would be waiting for him in the underworld when his time came to die. Kwasi Benefo fell asleep and awoke in the forest. He brought from the underworld the precious gift of peace of mind, which allowed him to marry and live a normal life for the rest of his days.

The Other World In some myths the underworld is a kind of alternative reality, a land not merely of the human dead but of different beings who live according to different rules. Celtic mythology contains many accounts of an otherworldly realm. Its location was said to be far away on remote islands or lying beneath the sea or the ground. Certain caves or hills were believed to be entrances to this other world.

In Wales the other world was called Annwn (pronounced AHN-oon), which means “not-world.” It had a number of different sides. Primarily, the other world was the kingdom of the dead, and its grim ruler was known as Arawn (pronounced AHR-oun) to the Welsh and Donn to the Irish. The other world, however, could also be a joyous and peaceful place or a source of wisdom, magic, and enchantment. The fairies, demons, spirits, and other supernatural beings who lived there were neither purely good nor purely evil. Depending on the circumstances, they could bring humans either harm or good fortune.

Celtic folklore is filled with legends of living people who entered the other world. Some went voluntarily, like King Arthur of Britain, who led an army into Annwn to capture a magical cauldron (kettle). Others were lured into the other world by fairies, sometimes in human or animal form. The theme of a human straying into the other world appears in many European fairy tales that draw on the old notion of the underworld as a supernatural realm. In such stories, a human who ate or drank while in the other world could never leave. Those who resisted food and managed to leave found that time had different meanings in the two worlds. After spending a single night in the other world, a person might return to the world above to find that years had passed.

The underworld is sometimes a mirror image of the world above. According to some African myths, the underworld is just like the ordinary world except that it is upside down: its people sleep during the day and are active during the night. In the Congo, tradition says that the world of the living is a mountain and the underworld of the dead is another mountain pointing downward. Chinese myths tell of “China plowed under,” an underworld inside the earth that mirrors every province and town in the world above.

The Underworld as a Source of Life The underworld does not always represent the kingdom of the gloomy dead or the home of dangerous beings. In some myths it serves as the point of contact between the surface world of the living and the earth's powerful creative forces. Among the Ibo people of Western Africa, Ala, the goddess of the underworld, is also the earth goddess who protects the harvest, which emerges from the ground. Ala receives the dead; burial is thought to be placing the dead in her pocket or womb. However, Ala also ensures life by making people and animals fertile.

The creation myths of many American Indian cultures say that people and animals emerged from an underworld or series of underworlds. In these stories the underworld is a womb in which life is nurtured, or prepared, until the time is right for it to enter the world. One of many such myths is told by the Zuni, who say that the Ahayuuta twins were sent deep into the earth by their father the sun god to guide unformed creatures up to the daylight. Once above the ground, the creatures changed into human beings.

According to the Jicarilla (pronounced hee-kuh-REE-uh) Apache of New Mexico, in the beginning all people, animals, and plants lived in the dark underworld. Those who wanted light played a game with those who liked darkness. The light-lovers won, and the sun and stars appeared. Then the sun, looking through a hole in the roof of the underworld, saw the surface of the earth, which was covered with water. Eager to reach this hole in the underworld, the people built four great hills that grew upward. But after girls picked the flowers from the hills, the hills stopped rising. Then the people climbed to the roof on ladders made of buffalo horns. They sent the moon and sun through the hole to light the world and dispatched the winds to blow away the water. Next they sent out animals. Last of all, the people climbed up into the new world. Once they reached the surface, they spread out in four directions. Only the Jicarilla stayed in the original homeland near the hole that led up from the underworld.

The Underworld in Context

Many cultures believe that after death the soul travels to the underworld. In some traditions, the passage to or through the underworld is part of a process that involves judgment of the individual's deeds when alive, and perhaps punishment for evil deeds. In others, the underworld is simply the destination of all the dead, good and bad alike. The different variations of the underworld myth reflect the values of the cultures in which they arose. For cultures that are built on the belief in a mythic struggle between good and evil, the underworld usually represents a place of torment for those not worthy of heaven. For cultures that emphasize the importance of the land as a provider, the underworld might be a source of life instead of just a repository for the dead. For cultures in which the soul is believed to last forever, the underworld can be a temporary station between lives.

The Underworld in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Various versions of the underworld appear throughout art and literature. The most common depictions are of the Christian hell, with notable examples being Dante's The Divine Comedy, an epic poem that provides detailed descriptions of each level of hell, and the Hieronymus Bosch painting Garden of Earthly Delights, created in the early sixteenth century. The Mayan underworld of Xibalba was featured as a central element in the 2006 Darren Aronofsky film, The Fountain, which tells three stories about death and the quest for eternal love.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, find another example of a mythical underworld that has not already been mentioned. What culture does it come from? What kind of underworld is it? How do you think this underworld reflects the beliefs of the culture that created it?

SEE ALSO Afterlife; Hades; Hell; Ishtar; Izanagi and Izanami; Orpheus; Persephone

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Underworld." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Mythology. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Underworld." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Mythology. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/underworld

"Underworld." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Mythology. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/underworld

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.