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Olympian Goddesses and Gods. Underworld

The Underworld's dark allure has fascinated humans for centuries. Chances are many of us have passed through it, sometime or other. Fortunate to be issued a return ticket.
Text title Underworld

Summary of Contents: Underworld in Mythology | Where to Enter | Return Ticket | How to Contact the Dead | Hades' Hall | What Odysseus Did | Final Key to Open Hell's Gate

Underworld in Mythology

In the distant past when people believed our earth to be a flat disc surrounded by ocean, what lay beyond was said to be the Underworld.

A bleak, sunless desolate place where the dead endured a shadow half-life. As described by the ancient Greek writer Homer in his epic story Odyssey.

That story told of how sorceress goddess Circe advised hero seafarer Odysseus where the Underworld is and how to open it up.

The Underworld Mythological references

Welcome to the Underworld

So, when the heirs of hero Odysseus discovered across the ocean and way over the horizon were other lands peopled not by pallid ghosts but living humans of various healthy skin colours.

And if you journeyed onward far enough beyond, you arrived back to where you started; Circe’s description to Odysseus seemed a riddle.

So where is the Underworld?

'Below,' chorused the poets who revised direction, and pointed to the dark abyss of great caves into which rivers poured and disappeared. Wherein labyrinthine channels led to dark mysterious realms.

'That’s where the dead reside.'

And so the Underworld was discovered, if not mapped.

Everyone assumed its rivers Acheron and Cocytus, and the nine-looped Styx prevented any casual exploration by the living or escape by the dead. Once shipped to Hades’ shore by ferryman Charon whose fee for passage was not negotiable, his ticket one-way.

Only swift Hermes, sweet Orpheus and strong Hercules could access past the guardian Cerberus’ fifty ferocious heads.

Only they knew a way through the tangle of barren willow and dark poplars in the Grove of Persephone, to enter Hades’ great gate and then return to the light.

For everyone else that gate was closed, and no one then knew what happened to the dead.

Decorative illustration

Got a Return Ticket?

Death and taxes are life’s twin certainties, so it says in an old book. End of life as we the day-to-day living understand it, comes to us all.

When the body-bag is zipped up most of us assume oblivion cancels all our dues.

But death is complicated, more so than most of the living care to consider.

When the heartbeat falters until it pulses no more, and the chest stops heaving, that would seem to be the end of our journey. But that is not the end of life however much it may seem to be.

No. Finality happens only in the Underworld.

Circe might have told hero Odysseus that, but Homer related only her instructions for how to get there and contact the dead.

Hades Hall Facility

Homer told of how the gates of Troy city were opened by the Greeks and catastrophe arrived with sword and fire.

As smoking embers cooled, the victors searched for what was worth taking, fired up by what they had lost. Achilles along with other heroes, on their way to Hades.

Surviving hero Odysseus headed home with his share of plunder, and soon got lost on the way. Chased from island to island, and cursed by the Cyclopes, Odysseus landed on the sorceress goddess Circe’s isle.

Holidayed there for a year before realising he still wasn’t home with his wife, Penelope. So Circe told him the dead would help him find his way home.

She knew of a clever poet among the ghosts, blind poet though he was. She told him how to summon the dead and where to do it. 'Go to Hades’ Hall,' she said.

'Who shall guide me on this voyage?' asked quick-witted Odysseus. 'The House of Hades is a port no ship can reach.'

Circe told him to set the ship’s mast, to spread the white sail and let the North Wind blow him all the way across the River of Ocean until he came to a wild coast forested with tall poplars and willows.

Circe told him to beach his boat there by Ocean’s swirling stream; to find Persephone’s Grove, the only entrance into Hades’ Kingdom of Decay.

'By the rock where the sacred rivers flow into the Acheron,' Circe urged.

'What do I do then?' asked Odysseus.

Decorative mandala illustration
Circe's map of the edge of the world.

How Odysseus Contacted the Dead

Circe told him the magic ritual to summon the dead. 'Dig a trench as long as your forearm. Pour into it a drink offering to all the dead,' she counselled.

'Honey mixed with milk then wine and then water. Sprinkle white barley-meal over the mix and then offer prayers to the poor feeble ghosts.'

She told Odysseus to promise them if they helped him, his first act on getting home was a gift to feast on in the Underworld, the best cow in his collection. 'And throw gold and jewels into the fire,' she urged generosity.

Circe named the ghost most likely to know how the lost king of Ithaca could make it home safe with all his treasure taken from Troy city.

'Summon the ghost of Teiriseus, the blind poet from Thebes city,' Circe said, and then revealed the final gift to open death's door into Hades Hall.

'Promise Teiriseus your finest black sheep all to himself.' To the list of valuable inducements for everyone else was added a white ram and a black ewe.

That would do the trick and open the gate, so Homer told.

'On this many dead men's ghosts will come to you,' promised Circe. 'And tell your crew to remove the fur and cast it into the fire, with prayers to Hades and Persephone,' was Circe's final direction.

Illustration of decorative figurehead
"Does that work?" Nick Hammond asked out-of-body survivalist Margo Williams."

Underworld Invites

"Let me tell you this: There is a way into the Underworld without troubling Charon. And a way out, though that is more difficult to find.

To get in and out safely you will need Hades to show you the way, though safety can never be guaranteed.

Nor should it be expected.

Is the price livestock and a spilled cocktail offering? No, but that probably will gain you Hades' questioning attention and entry into his Underworld facility.

Sooner or later.

Goddesses, Gods and You

What kind of Heaven do you expect. Soft fluffy paradise of eternity, or oblivion of nothingness? Out-of-body survival expert Margo Williams discovered a surprisingly simple system of management and afterlife recycling.

There are many goddesses and gods in the community. Speaking their name aloud evidently sends a signal; creates a link to wherever they are at any given moment. If it works for you as it worked for Margo, and they respond, be respectful but be yourself. Honesty and thoughtfulness are appreciated.

Sacrifice nothing but your time. Most of them seemed approachable and appreciated being remembered.

The ancient temples that still can be found in some places, although mostly broken, are huge monumental structures; impressive sacred spaces, their scale designed to impress, to be worthy of divine visitation.

However, it is not the size and splendour of any sacred space but the sincerity of the person seeking contact.

Anywhere can be a temple.

Related: Olympian God Hades.

Source of Circe and Odysseus' dialogue. The Odyssey, Homer. Butler trans.

Thank you for your company on this short introduction to ghosts and Underworld mysteries. If you would like to know more about Margo Williams' experiences and suggestions for how to survive in the hereafter read this book. Now available from Amazon.

Book cover link to purchase Olympian Goddesses and Gods Consequence
Olympian Goddesses and Gods Consequence. Now available from Amazon.co.uk