Chronarchy (chronarchy) wrote,

Mapping the Otherworld

I have recently become very interested in the notion of otherworld maps. Part of this is a desire to understand my own initiatory journey, and to use them as a method of "comparing notes" to druidkirk and others who have or will go through this initiatory experience. You'd be surprised, though, how complicated it can be to actually locate a map of the otherworld.

I spent some time (about three weeks, actually, at this point) seeking out and examining maps of the otherworld. Many are drawn on the drums used to send people into ecstatic trances, and depict the upper and lower worlds. It is interesting to me that the lower world often seems "deeper" than the upper world is "high". This could be a trick of the egg-shaped drums that one often finds, or it could be that the drum is a reflection of this deeper underworld.

It interests me that there is a notion in almost all of them of a center space, and also a notion of that axis mundi that cuts through the center. Most often, we find an otherworld divided into three parts, which fits nicely with our IE way of looking at things in ADF.

What interests me particularly, though, is the notion of a lowerworld map from Native Americans (seen at left). I particularly like the story Dr. Goodman provides in her Ecstatic Trance: New Ritual Body Postures: A Workbook about an oil company in British Columbia who were negotiating with a Native American tribe for the location of a pipeline. They brought in a map on elk skin that covered the entire conference room table, and described the locations thusly: "Up here is the home of the souls of the dead. There is the path one has to follow. This is the wrong path, and over here is the worst path. Over there are all the animals. All this has been discovered in a dream." (Goodman, 76) It reminds us that no matter how modern or how developed, our landscapes can still be overlaid with sacred landscapes in bold ways.

Through these thoughts on maps of the worlds beyond, I find myself reflecting upon the Orphic tablets that guided souls to the Greek underworld. These were basically elaborate sets of directions, telling you where to go and what body of water to drink from. One reads:

You will find a spring to the left of the house of Hades,
And standing beside that [spring] is a white cypress.
Do not approach closely to the spring.
You will find another, flowing cold water
From the pool of Memory, and before it there are guards.
Say: "I am a child of Earth and starry Heaven,
But my lineage is heavenly [alone]. You must see this yourselves.
I perish and am withered with thirst. Give [me] quickly
The cold water flowing from the pool of Memory."
And they themselves will give you to drink from the divine spring,
And thereafter you shall reign among the other heroes."
(Lincoln, 51)

There is a notion here that perhaps we can understand the ways beyond life, the paths that must be traveled, before we reach them in that final journey. Trancework seems to be the key to reaching those places in advance, to making the paths well-traveled before one encounters old age and death for the first time. It also seems to me that those who can travel those paths are obligated to help others know and understand the signposts along the way.

There is something different about the cosmos now in my mind. It is not the same as it was three weeks ago. I think that this is part of why I am so interested in the way these otherworlds fit together: not only is the cosmos inhabited by a greater number of spirits that I can perceive, but it is also differently accessible than it was before. I find myself thinking on it almost like a game of "Chutes and Ladders," at any given time, you may end up ascending or descending in new and interesting ways.

So far, I have seen only the world below, not the world above. I was thinking about it this morning, though, and as I watched Usas give way to Surya, I remembered a petroglyph I found a picture of once, and found myself thinking, "Truly, if there is a way to the heavens, it is accessed most reliably through the appearance of dawn upon the horizon."

I am very interested in spending time exploring and cartogrifying these other worlds, though I doubt I will do too much actual production: I'm more the "student" type than the "producer" type, I tend to think. What I really am excited about, though, is the notion that we can draw these maps, compare our notes with others who have been to these places, and find ourselves adding to our own collective experience as a result.


  • Goodman, Felicitas and Nauwald, Nana. Ecstatic Trance: New Ritual Body Postures: A Workbook. Binkey Kok Publications : Holland. 2003.
  • Lincoln, Bruce. Death, War, and Sacrifice. University of Chicago Press : Chicago, IL. 1991.
  • Nauwald, Nana. Flying With Shamans In Fairy Tails and Myths. Binkey Kok Publications : Holland. 2003.
Tags: friends, initiation, pictures, trance

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