Journey Through the Underworld


The pit awaits, awash with flames and darkness. Watching and waiting to swallow sinners whole.

Jacob Blodgett, Staff Writer

The Underworld: a place of fire and brimstone where evil souls are thrown into its dark maw and punished for all eternity. Around the world, different cultures believe in different versions of the underworld that range from a solemn, wandering existence to a flaming landscape filled with demons waiting to torture souls for eternity. No matter what culture underworld or death myths originate, certain elements are almost always present.

The most notable is that the path to the underworld is by crossing an underground river. In some, souls must cross a river by paying a ferryman, while in others, the souls have to traverse a river of flames while pale, horrid creatures circle and attack them. When the souls cross, many must face judges that determine whether the souls go to a peaceful place or straight to Hell. Depending on the culture and previous life of the soul, the journey can be short and sweet or long and arduous. In Chinese mythology, if a soul had gossiped and had hurt someone, their tongues would be pulled out by demons. Those who had lied to elders would be left in freezing water without clothing. In Japanese mythology, souls must journey over mountains of knives and wastelands to find judges who will decide if the soul must continue on to Heaven or go to Hell.

Ancient cultures respected and feared death. They knew that it was an inevitable point in life and did whatever they could to make sure that they go to heaven and enjoy the afterlife. The Mayans used human sacrifices and other offerings to please the Lords of Xibalba. The Norse, wanting Valhalla, fought bravely and with honor so they could be chosen to serve Odin at the end of the world. The Norsemen, who did not die in battle but by old age or sickness, were sent to Helheim to be ruled by a decaying goddess.

With flames and punishments awaiting sinners, the ancients had good reason to fear the pit. The myths surrounding the terrifying place are extensive and detailed, and much of what happens in the underworld cannot be mentioned. The Christian Hell is the singular place that many do not want to go. It takes punishments from all around the world and makes them worse.

Are these places real, or are they just fiction to make people stay on the right and good path? The stories and myths say that it exists and that it is open to all sinners. There is a balance to this dark pit, the light of Heaven, where all good and generous people go to live in mansions and gardens of plenty. Both are waiting, but the individual is responsible of where they are going.