In my Daughter of Ravenswood series, I’ve created my own vision of a two layered underworld. In the Shadow Glades, spirits who are not yet ready to be dead roam freely. In the Sanctum of the Dead, the spirits of those who have died and never want to return, rest in peace.
When Meagan learns that she can move between her world and the Shadow Glades, she enters it to help spirits out, and to return spirits who don’t belong in the land of the living. In Truth Unveiled she stamps down her fear to try and rescue her father’s spirit:
I belonged as much in the Sanctum of the Dead as in the living world. And as much in the Shadow Glades as any spirit alive. All I had to do was drop my defenses to go straight to the astral plane. I stroked the bone and dropped it back into my pocket. I didn’t need it.
Generations of ancestors clapped their hands. A drumming sound seemed to echo off the walls.
Crouching, I pulled my knife from my belt, ready to attack. But I was the only one in the crypt. It was my own foot beating against the floor, as if it had a mind of its own. A nervous laugh twittered from my mouth.
I’d been to the Shadow Glades before. With Nightwing’s help, I’d carried Evie back. I really thought I’d pulled her out. But that was before all this.
Vibrations shook inside my chest. Quintus was wrong: I believed in pure necromancy. But it wasn’t about using and abusing spirits. It wasn’t about using the dead to influence the living. It was a gift, a precious gift of travel between the astral planes. It was my choice if I used the gift to gain benefits for myself or help the dead and the living in any way I could.
Father was there in the Shadow Glades. I almost saw him in my peripheral vision, as if through a veil of transparent silvery georgette.
On the other side of the veil, smoky mist rose like a moor covered in a thick white fog that lifts from the ground. Granite gravestones pushed through ashen moss. A black telegraph wire stretched along charcoal poles that reached into the distance. I’d been here before.
I reached toward the veil. It disappeared as soon as my fingers touched it.
My feet squelched through decaying, soggy leaves. There were no trees, not a branch in sight, but it smelled like a damp forest after a shower of rain. Just like it had when I tried to pull Evie out. Shades of gray upon oyster gray surrounded me.
Stone statues loomed out of the mist. My sleeve caught on the outstretched fingertip of a weeping angel. I yanked away and backed into a creepy metal angel, his armor milky green, huge wings outstretched, his large hands clasping a sword thrust into the granite base.
Heat leeched from my face. What was I thinking, stepping into this world as if I owned it? My leg muscles tightened, ready to run. I spun around, but the crypt had gone.
Winterhurst Cemetery had disappeared.
Lately, underworld has come to mean the criminal underbelly in the modern world, it’s also a movie title, several games and books … but once upon a time it referred to the kingdom of the dead, hidden deep below the surface of the earth and ruled by the god Hades.
I love the rich layers, the deep understanding of human relationships that form the bedrock of ancient mythology. The world-building is incredibly rich, the patterns and shapes have become deeply embedded in our literature and still inspire stories today.
The kingdom of Hades was surrounded by five rivers:
- Acheron -river of woe,
- Cocytus -river of lamentation,
- Phlegethon -river of fire,
- Styx -river of unbreakable oath,
- Lethe -river of forgetfulness.
The ancient Greeks believed that when someone died, a boatman carried their soul across the river Acheron. They entered the kingdom of Hades through a diamond gate which was guarded by a three headed dog-also with a serpent’s tail, a mane of snakes and the claws of a lion-called Cerberus. He allowed the dead to enter but let no one out.
The dead souls were judged according to the way they had lived. The majority went to the Plain of Asphodel, the heroic to the Elysian Fields, while the wicked were tormented for eternity in Tartarus.
When christianity spread across the ancient world, some myths were appropriated, others were tweaked to make them fit the new stories, and others were discarded.
I rather enjoy these older stories, with a physical underworld, ruled over by flesh and blood gods, and all masterfully told in a vividly painted world.