The Underworld

The Underworld


For depth psychology (the psychotherapeutic tradition of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and related thinkers), the underworld is a rich symbol of the unconscious realm that we enter every night in our dreams. The notion of a world located beneath the surface of the earth where the souls of the dead and certain types of spirits exist is a widespread theme in ancient and modern world religions. The basic idea of an underground realm of the dead probably derives from the custom of burying corpses beneath the earth. Although less-than-inviting realms, the underworlds of the ancient Mediterranean peoples from which Western culture derives (e.g., Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Mesopotamians) were not the realms of torture and punishment that the underworld became in Christianity and related traditions. A less widespread but nevertheless common subtheme in world religions is that this underworld dimension can be reached through a tunnel or opening that leads underground. Many myths relate the stories of heroes who enter the underworld to rescue a beloved one, to gain the gift of immortality, or to accomplish some other heroic task.

In the contemporary world, the underworld has come to be viewed psychologically rather than literally, as a symbol for the unconscious. This is particularly the case among thinkers of the Jungian tradition. It is easy to see how the story of a hero entering and reemerging from the underworld might be viewed as a symbol for our nightly journey through the world of sleep and dreams. Furthermore, ethnographic reports indicate that association of sleep and dreams with death is widespread in human culture. In many different religious traditions, but particularly in the West, the heroic journey to the underworld realm of the dead is not infrequently pictured as taking place in a dream state.

The personal unconscious is, in a sense, the burial ground of one’s past. However, far from being dead, this past continues to influence us—to “haunt” us, so to speak—in some subtle and some not-so-subtle ways. As we wrestle with our psychological patterns, especially under the stimulus of the therapeutic process, we attempt to “resurrect” our buried past and subject it to closer scrutiny. In fact, a large part of the therapeutic process in depth psychology is conceptualized as making the unconscious conscious—entering the underworld and, like the hero of traditional mythologies, bringing some long—buried part of the self back to the realm of light.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
The greatest schemer of all time, the organizer of every deviltry, the controlling brain of the underworld, a brain which might have made or marred the destiny of nations--that's the man!
Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail, That brings our friends up from the underworld, Sad as the last which reddens over one That sinks with all we love below the verge; So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.
That is the view that prevails in the underworld, where the Brotherhood of Man finds its most logical development and candid advocacy.
140-155) But when earth had covered this generation also -- they are called blessed spirits of the underworld by men, and, though they are of second order, yet honour attends them also -- Zeus the Father made a third generation of mortal men, a brazen race, sprung from ash-trees (4); and it was in no way equal to the silver age, but was terrible and strong.
Now Sedna is the Mistress of the Underworld, and the Inuit believe that every one who dies must spend a year in her horrible country before going to Quadliparmiut, the Happy Place, where it never freezes and the fat reindeer trot up when you call.
But it is just in that cold, abominable half despair, half belief, in that conscious burying oneself alive for grief in the underworld for forty years, in that acutely recognised and yet partly doubtful hopelessness of one's position, in that hell of unsatisfied desires turned inward, in that fever of oscillations, of resolutions determined for ever and repented of again a minute later--that the savour of that strange enjoyment of which I have spoken lies.
Before he arose to the surface from that first plunge into the underworld he discovered that he was a good actor and demonstrated the plasticity of his nature.
All seemed well with him, but Freddie Drummond could not quite shake off the call of the underworld, the lure of the free and open, of the unhampered, irresponsible life South of the Slot.
But for the first time in his life, here in the underworld of San Francisco, in all equality he met such persons from above.
Was it a slang term of the underworld for a pistol?
The illustrations are beautifully haunting, adding poignancy to the story and building a sense of claustrophobia as Harry and Agatha head deeper in the Underworld. The tale of Orpheus is not one of the most well-known myths, however, and readers may have difficulty relating to the story.
There was speculation in the underworld he was offering to inform on other criminals in return for having the charges dropped.

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