Geographic Gateways to the Underworld

Ancient civilizations, including the Indian Hindu traditions, blended astronomical observations with religious and spiritual beliefs. The Orion constellation was where the vernal equinox was stated to occur, and the Milky Way and the Canis were thought of as forming borders between Devaloka (heaven) and Yamaloka (hell) the Underworld. In this instance, the Milky Way was a dividing river between heaven and hell and the Canis Major and Canis Minor representing the two dogs guarding the Gates of Hell.

Hercules and Cerberus by Peter Paul Rubens (1636) Museo del Prado (Public Domain)

From these ancient origins, the ‘conceptual’ Gate to Hell has journeyed through 4,000 years emerging today in pop-culture, for example, in James Clavell ’s 1959 movie Five Gates to Hell, an action-adventure story set in French Indochina and in the 2014 film As Above, So Below, set in the depths of the Catacombs of Paris which had an inscription marking the entrance to hell. The 2010 fantasy blockbuster Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief has as the main characters two demigods and one satyr, and this Greek gate leads back to the Greco-Roman world, where unusual geological activity in volcanic lakes, caves and mountains created features regarded as actual gateways into the underworld.


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