When I first saw this topic listed for the Pagans Down Under blog-o-rama, I despaired. Lately, things have been slow on the blog front, and I am grateful to have a topic prompt to get the juices flowing. But ‘The Underworld’? There’s a list of reasons why that’s difficult, and some of them have materialised as drafts. Does one write about the Underworld specifically, in terms of an Underworld Otherworldly location they might happen to participate with in terms of myth? In terms of say just Scandinavian lore, which? Hel, Niflheim? Perhaps I should write about Dwarves, Dark Elves? Perhaps I should focus on beings not readily associated with the chthonic, but who regularly live rather subterranean lives, like Freyr and Gerdr? That appeals, and I love reading about these things myself, but they are written about by those better equipt to discuss the myths than I am. Plus, my myths, those I hold to and draw from, as they come to be a part of my practice, have strayed from the page. By about a half-world. That’s a new list.
I’m not inclined to detail my trance-vision experience on the blog. Because. What wisdom and information I glean from such experiences that might be useful to others, I regularly share publicly, but the details of how I come to get them, the spirits I work with and the records of my travels do not belong here. It’s just good witchcraft. Besides which, such things are no longer recognisable as being a thing that one might write about, as I said, Norse, British, Australian. Such confessions could leave me flapping in the eclectic wind of shame. Though it makes perfect sense to me, and I understand the paths by which I come to this unusual practice and experience, once ripped from memory and the context of my experience, they may not translate all that well, if at all.
But turn to my journals I did, searching for some interesting tidbit that might be helpful, interesting. As I read I began to think that even if I were inclined to share they might prove altogether boring. Any adventures downward bound seem always to feature a great deal of detail regarding dirt and rock.
And who wants to read about that?
Oh. Me. I love rock. I like to take pictures of it. Touch it. I like to collect it, and am reminded of my extensive collection packed away in NSW. It’s too heavy to move, so it stays safe in my sister’s garage. Perhaps I should get rid of some of the rocks, it has been suggested. I am mortified by the thought. My favourite souvenir gift from friends’ travels is a bit of rock. There are rocks and stones scattered all about the house. Some people like shiney stones and cut and tumbled crystals. Meh. Rock. I like to test their nature by how long it takes me to alter their surface temperature in my hand. How quickly they cool. It’s little wonder that whenever I enter into the land in a trance-vision my first thought is to get down details I recall of the rock…
And there is something interesting indeed. For most “Underworld” or “Underworldly” has become a theme rather than a location. We use the word “cthonic” to describe an aesthetic, often it denotes something that is at odds with the mundane, as opposed to “Upperworldly” which is often used to describe those things that favour man, are helpful or kind, or to that which we might aspire. The chthonic is dark, destructive and readily associated with evil. It is an odd thing. If one cares to read the myths and compare the nature of things that live in the Otherworlds one might see that there is little difference at all in terms of whether they will help or hinder, whether they are creative or destructive. One only need look at older accounts of the Faery Folk of Britain, or of dwarves and dark elves in the Norse to realise, really, the only difference, for the most part is where they live.
The Shining Folk will just as quickly wear your skin as aid you in your travels. When it all comes down to it, the words have always denoted a location, and a nature only in terms of that location. In the very first place underworldly and chthonic things live under or in the ground, and upperworldly things live above ground or in the sky. And by ground and sky, I mean imminent, immediate Nature. You can probably see both from where you are right now.
To get there one must travel through Midgård.
The dream, the vision, the nature of the ecstatic experience is very often, and maybe necessarily written in code, symbols, euphemisms, metaphors and similies. It is always best expressed in poetry and art, rather than ledger and list. For a long time then we have understood the inner component of this experience, how it is necessarily a translated one. Have we forgotten the immediate outward component?
This I think, stands as the core reason I began writing about the Australian Land from the perspective of witchcraft. One can read the myths and folklore and see there actual locations, hills, mounds, mountains, rivers, wells, actual natural phenomena. Doorways into the other realms are themselves things that do exist as material real things. They are crossroads, trees, caves, streams, beaches. Actual, real, places you can visit, walk to, point out on a map and take a photo of. (Though, I confess, taking photos of places that one might use in this manner never turns out quite as you would expect. Weird.) It is the practice, not the locations in the Lore I took to heart.
Our European Ancestors buried their traditions and myths in the ground, along with their dead. The spirits belonged to nature where they lived, the trees and mountains and rivers. For those in Australia, the idea of visiting the Trollkyrka for a bit of that ol’ time pagan ritual, is a lovely one, but if I actually want to do any sort of work more regularly than what I might visit Sweden, I am just going to have to find out where the trolls gather in Hobart.
Really, I don’t think it is as hard as it might seem.
I don’t think it is hard at all. Not if we remember that fundamental little thing about the Underworlds; they are not an abstraction, a place of fancy, but they are, now, directly beneath you. There the bones of the ancestors rest, there the spirits of rock and root reside. There is something magical about entering into it, and almost all of us have had that experience, even in the prosaic group tour experience of the caves. There the cold creeps, the rock weeps, the ancients left us clues on the wall.
And because they are where the dead rest most physically and immediately, they are a memory to those that live. Because from them the Green Realm emerges, they are a boon to those that live. Because into them we all must enter, they are a hope to those that live. To get there before our bones join the Dead, we do not need to travel too far at all. I have many times before written about how we connect with the Land that does not feature in the myths. On water, on place-names, on the land as healer and dreamscape. All of which it is and surely more and unfathomable.
Uti midnattens timma
då sjärnor beglimma,
prelatus han tystnaden bjuder
och männerna alla det lyder.
De falla till markone ner,
prelatus han bistert mot rymderna ser.
Och svärjan och formlar i dälderna skallar
prelatus han kallar på andar.
Allom de fick på sitt spörje ett svar,
ingen av androm fick då höra varom det var.
In the midnight hour
when stars glitter,
the prelate asks for silence
and this is obeyed by all the men.
They fall down onto the ground,
the prelate looks grimly at the heavens.
And incantations and summons echo in the dells
the prelate is summoning spirits.
Everyone received an answer to their question,
no one heard from another man what the answer was.
~ from ‘Folk Poem of Trollkyrka, Tiveden’ by B.G. Carshult (1941) in Gudanatt, dagar och nätter i Tiveden, H. Lidman (1972)