Descent to the Underworld: The Little-Known Practices and Symbols in Ancient Mythology of the Great Below

Descent to the Underworld: The Little-Known Practices and Symbols in Ancient Mythology of the Great Below

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man,” wrote Joseph Campbell wrote of a basic pattern. A heroic journey is a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure to later come home transformed.

Orpheus and Eurydice, 1806

Orpheus and Eurydice, 1806 (Public Domain)

Within this concept, the underworld is notable as a place where a hero could descend and prove himself. For the ancient Greeks, the underworld represented a point of no return. However, there are some who managed to descend to the realm of the dead and who returned to the land of the living. This journey to the underworld usually provided the hero or upper-world deity with a special object, a loved one, or a heightened knowledge. The ability to enter the realm of the dead while still alive, and to return from it, is considered proof of the hero’s prowess and mastery over himself and the world around him or, in the case of the goddess Persephone’s return from the underworld, the cyclical nature of time and existence.


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