I’ve got the Underworld and Underworld journeys on the brain. I recently shared a post on what exactly the Underworld is – check that out here!
The Underworld is a space of potential and transformation. Primordial and timeless, it’s a place where the old decays, new seeds are planted in the compost, and new growth born of that decay.
Consider the myths of the Underworld. There are many from all over the world. But no matter where in the world you find yourself the Underworld is the the world of the dead. The Underworld as a place of the dead is found in mythologies from Asia to the American continent.
The widespread nature of Underworld myth means that I cannot possible speak to the specifics of all of these many Underworlds. Nor do I want to attempt to do such a thing. And even if I did, the Underworld is legion and defies easy categorization. Everyone who encounters the Underworld has their own experience with it.
But, when I think back on the Underworld myths I am most familiar with: Persephone’s descent, Inanna’s descent, Orpheus and Eurydice, there are some common elements:
- A journey of descent into a shadowy, tricky world and then back up
- Some sort of deity who rules over the underworld
- The loss of some meaningful thing that leads to growth and transformation
Underworld journeys are often confusing and frustrating, with lots of subterfuge, mystery, confusion, dead ends. They can feel harrowing. If you’re in the middle of an Underworld journey that you could use help navigating, here are some allies that you can find in your tarot deck!
1. The Devil
The Devil is the first card I think of when I think of the Underworld. The Devil (or perhaps it may be Hades or Persephone or Hecate or Ereshkigal, from your perspective) rules the Underworld. When we journey through the Underworld it is the Devil that we confront.
I recognize that that doesn’t sound all that pleasant, but here’s where this card comes in:
The Devil is a figure who holds the illusion of absolute power. The Devil is a figure who grants that power to those who ask, to those who negotiate with them.
The Devil is the embodiment of our worst fears who shows us, once we confront those fears, that they are not all that scary after all.
In the movie, The VVitch, the Devil asks, “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”
Through Underworld journeys, through our confrontation with the Devil, we learn how to live deliciously; we learn how to grow and transform.
2. 8 of Cups
Underworld journeys are, well, journeys. Which is what the 8 of Cups illustrates. The 8 of Cups is all about the choice to leave behind something you’ve achieved that just isn’t quite right for you any more. You embark on a journey into the unknown, taking with you only the skills you’ve learned and the knowledge you now hold. It’s just you and your wits.
As an 8 card, the 8 of Cups is a water expression of the Strength card. This is a journey that requires courage. It requires a radical softness, a conviction to follow your intuition and the song of your heart.
But just as the promise of that new dawn, that new project, that more aligned path outweighs the appeal of resting on your laurels and remaining stagnant, the same is true in the Underworld. The risk of this undertaking, the old things that you will certainly have to surrender to the composting of the Underworld, will open you up to great growth and transformation.
3. 6 of Swords
This is a psychopomp’s card. The psychopomp is any figure who facilitates a journey, generally the journey of the souls of the dead into the Underworld. Think about Hermes in Greek myth: always showing up in stories to bring departed souls into the hereafter.
And that’s what we see in the 6 of Swords. It’s not about the journey into the Underworld, specifically, but it is about a journey that you cannot take alone. The journey depicted in the 6 of Swords is a journey the traveler could not undertake alone. They needed the ferry operator to help facilitate their journey and help guide them across the roiling river.
Where can you call on help? Who or what is guiding you in your journey? It’s not a bad thing to need help. Let a friend who knows the path show you how.
4. 4 of Pentacles
Underworld journeys are often experienced externally as fallow periods – moments of deep rest. Sometimes it’s a result of illness or burnout – those moments when the body makes it clear that they’re done, no more hustling, only resting.
The Underworld is, well, UNDER. It is the earth, the foundation, the source of nourishment for seeds. And just like the Underworld nourishes the seeds that grow to feed us, the body is what provides us with nourishment and energy for all the activities and projects of living and growing!
But when we exploit the body by pushing it too hard, just like when we exploit the soil, it will no longer produce. It must rest.
The 4 of Pentacles reminds us that this physical care is essential and that the mundane work of tending to the body, much like the mundane work of tending to your compost pile, can actually be magical work.
5. Queen of Pentacles
Hell often has a queen, whether Persephone or Ereshkigal or Hel. And even if the Underworld doesn’t have a queen, it is still a place of earth and water. These are the elements associated with the Queen of Pentacles. While the dual-elemented nature of the Court Cards is a whole other post I ought to do, to put it briefly: the elements of the Queen of Pentacles are water (as a result of their role as queen) and earth (from the suit of Pentacles).
The Queen of Pentacles, for me personally, carries a deeply ancestral meaning. I sometimes call it the “Italian grandmother” card, in honor of my own grandmothers and the way they were so skilled in homemaking and carework, knew how to throw an amazing party that brought community together, gave great advice, tended to the rituals of the calendar and the family, and always had an abundant meal ready even though they were never particularly wealthy.
What would it look like to tend abundantly to your physical needs? What would you need to do to create a material reality that matched your internal, intuitive knowing? These are the ways the Queen of Pentacles can help us unlock the abundant reality of the Underworld in our every day lives.
The Underworld is the realm of the dead, so I would be remiss to not talk about the Death card.
This card almost never refers to actual physical death. Instead it’s about the many little deaths that make up life: what must be surrendered to continue growing? This can be an ego death, a passing away of old versions of yourself, old beliefs, etc.
What will be the compost for your new growth? While this passing away might be uncomfortable or challenging, the Death card is a reminder that it is this death that creates fertile soils for new growth.
7. The Fool
Any journey through the Underworld will be harrowing. It will require the shedding and composting of things that may be very dear to you. But the transformation, the growth that results will be worth the sacrifice.
Knowing that doesn’t really make it any easier. So sometimes we need the encouragement of The Fool so we can leap into unknown possibilities!
To help you get a taste of the Underworld, to tune in and encounter this magical space, I created a playlist! This playlist will help you encounter the Underworld and move with its magic. Get the playlist here!