What is the Underworld in Witchcraft & Spirituality?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the underworld lately.

Photo shows a mushroom with a red top on the moss covered floor of a forest
Photo by Egor Kamelev

Partly because I just ran a course on ancestor work that I called Underworld Journey, that was all about exploring and getting to know your own personal underworld. Partly because I’m working on a collaboration that’s all about underworld explorations!

And it’s got me thinking: what IS the Underworld?

There’s the obvious: it’s a land separate from our own, the land of the dead. It’s the place where we go once we can no longer inhabit the land of the living. Stories, myths, beliefs in an underworld come from all over the world and tell us about a land of the dead. It’s a land inhospitable to the living – we tell stories of the heroes who brave the underworld and return. Whether it is Hel, Tartarus, Purgatory, Irkalla or any of the MANY other underworlds that exist in the stories of different cultures the world over. This is the Underworld of myth and story: Persephone and her descent, Inanna and her journey through the seven gates of hell. This Underworld is the land of the ancestors. And it’s one that can have both collective and personal manifestations.

At the same time as this The Underworld is a land of the dead it is also a land of abundance. In the Orphic Hymns Pluton (Hades) is called “wealthy” and considered to have domain over all of the resources below the ground – the very resources that allow life to flourish in the living world.

There are also individual underworlds. Those dark nights of the soul. The trials of growth and transformation we can undergo in life. Ego deaths. Shedding old aspects of ourselves and birthing new.

And physical underworlds: caves, swamps, mushrooms, the damp underside of a rock…

This is where we get poetical. Because these many things are all the Underworld.

The Underworld is complex. It is generative. It isn’t and couldn’t ever be simply one thing. The Underworld is many, legion. The Underworld is primordial, mysterious, timeless, a realm of death and a realm of transformation.

The Underworld is “under” not in a sense of hierarchical inferiority, not lesser or lower. Rather, the Underworld is under in the sense of being secret, hidden. The Underworld is under in the sense of being the origin, being at the root.

The Underworld is a place where things go to die, to be composted, recycled, remade, reborn. It is a place of death, rebirth, transformation. It is the home of the dead, the home of the phoenix reborn, the home of seeds & roots & mycelium. Creation and destruction all at once. The compost that decays and the compost that feeds life.

It is a space of potential.

I’ve been engaging in underworld spaces for a while. (maybe all my life? I’ve got a 12th house sun, after all!) The gifts my explorations in this space have brought me have been many: connection to my ancestors, the unearthing of hidden family secrets, a deep sense of myself, access to “forgotten” wisdoms, the kind of abundance that springs from deep within the earth, space to hold and process my grief and sadness, education in the kinds of earth-inspired processes that can teach new ways to live beyond capitalism.

The lessons the Underworld teaches are unique to each person who travels in the Underworld. How will this space of hidden secrets, death, rebirth, transformation, creation, and destruction transform you? That’s for you to find out.

To help you get a taste of the Underworld, to tune in and encounter this magical space, I created a Spotify playlist! This playlist will help you encounter the Underworld and move with its magic. Get the playlist here!

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