Mythology Journeys Of The Underworld Essay, Research Paper
Journeys of the Underworld
Throughout time, Myths have been used through civilizations in order to explain the “unexplainable”. Different cultures describe their difficulties and what their gods did in order to solve these. Because most of the disasters or difficulties were tied together or somehow the same, the myths tend to overlap. More important than the similarities are the differences among the
cultures, because all of them beautifully tell their own “side of the story”.
One of the most apparent parallels in mythology are the stories of Ishitar (Babylonian) and Persephone (Greek). Ishitar portrays one of the agricultural myths as to why there are seasons, specifically winter. She goes into the underworld to seek out her lover. Her evil sister, the goddess of the underworld, makes Ishitar follow through with many different deeds to get passed the gates of the underworld. After being stripped naked, she pleads to the gods for help. While she had been in the underworld, all activity had stopped in the world above her. They obliged by sending a distraction for her sister, and Ishitar found her way to the world above ground, where she found that activity began again. The halt of activity symbolizes winter. Much like the story of Ishitar, is that of Persephone and Demeter. Persephone is taken into the underworld by Hermes, where she is forced to stay until the gods bade her to the world above, so her mother would stop grieving and make the harvests grow again. Before Persephone leaves, Hermes makes her eat a pomegranate seed, meaning that she would have to return to the underworld. Knowing of this, Demeter and Hermes split their time with Persephone. When she was in the above world, harvests would flourish, yet when she was in the underworld, crops would stop growing, and the above world would grow cold; thus, the story of the seasons.
Another type of myth is that told of Marwe (Kenya). Hers is so typical because it exemplifies the happiness coming out of the underworld. Many stories don’t portray the underworld as being a horrible place, such as hell. This particular story tells how Marwe becomes so discontented with the fact that she killed herself and missed her family, that her underworld guide felt sympathy for her and granted her riches and the promise of a husband. Because Marwe’s heart was so genuine, out of all the husbands she could choose from, she chose one with a skin disease that made him unattractive. Marwe went with what her heart told her and picked this man, finding him to be the most handsome and prosperous man in the land. Another typical attribute of myths was also at the ending of this one. After the couple became happy, Marwe’s husband was killed for his riches. Because of her links with the underworld, Marwe was able to get him back, only to have him kill his murderers.
Unlike many typical myths, Indian myths such as Savitri and Nachiketas follow their own stories. In both myths, the main characters are very wise and get their wishes granted by the god of the underworld, Yama. Savitri is granted her wishes for both her undying love for her husband and her wisdom. She was the most brave person ever to venture with Yama to his gates, he realized that her love was stronger than what wishes he could grant her. Although this revelation happened only after Savitri outsmarted Yama by telling him that since she was a woman, she was entitled to more than his tellings of “man never being allowed into the underworld”. In the story of Nachiketas, he waits for three days to be taken away from the above world. Because Yama makes Nachiketas wait for three days, he is allowed three wishes. Nachiketas’ wishes are so well thought out and brought from the heart rather than materialistic nature, Yama is forced to tell him the mystery of what is beyond death. After this knowledge, Nachiketas is granted immortality and his family becomes prosperous. Although both of these myths were told by the Indians, Yama is shared in Tibetan myth also. Yama in this myth tells the fate of the dead by hearing their stories. If they lie and do not obey, then they will most likely get the red light, which symbolizes violence and torture. Yet, if the dead respond honestly, they will most likely get a white light, which symbolizes heaven and purity.
Tibetan myths aren’t the only ones which punish for the refusal to obey. Many of the tribal myths punish for those that do not obey. In the story of Sayadio, his young sister had died, and his mission was to capture her soul. After finally luring her soul into a gourd, a little girl disobeyed and let Sayadio’s sister’s soul out, and the girl’s soul vanished along with his sister’s. The myth of the Algonquin Spirit Bride is also one of following directions and rules. A young man went into the underworld to find his recently deceased bride. After much hunting, he finds her, but is told that if he looks at her while taking her away, he won’t be allowed to have her. Temptation takes the better of the young man, and he looks at his bride. Luckily, the gods take pity upon him and grant him the right to see his wife as soon as he dies. A similar story, but Greek in nature is told, yet is much darker. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice tells of Orpheus charming his way into the underworld just so he can have Eurydice back . Once he had charmed his way almost out, he forgot the only rule that he had to obey: not to look at Eurydice until they were fully out of the underworld. Not resisting temptation, Orpheus looked back at his love, only to see her vanish back into the underworld.
The Chinook also used myths to teach obedience. In the story of BlueJay, he constantly disobeys his older sister, Ioi, thinking that she is “lying” to him. He goes against her will, and finds a wife of which she doesn’t approve. After taking his new (but dead) wife to five worlds to get her back into the world of living, Blue Jay refuses to pay his new inlaws with a lock of his hair. This disobedience turns Blue Jay into a bird, where he is forced to fly and live in the underworld.
Disobedience also came into account in the Greek and Persian myths. Both cultures believed that there were three judges waiting in the underworld. These three judges were there to cast you away to which world you belonged to. If the particular person had been obedient and sinless their entire lives, they were taken to heaven. If they proved to be neutral with both good and bad aspects, they were taken to Purgatory, where the person was cleansed of their sins. If they proved to be full of sin, they were immediately taken to hell.
Out of the myths throughout all cultures, all of the stories of the underworlds are inter-related. Whether they teach moral stories, such as obedience, or whether they explain why things are the way they are ( i.e. changing of seasons), the correlation between the underworld myths can be shown through many different levels. They can be shown through parallels between the
cultures or parallels among one culture. Whichever way myths are used to portray what they want, they always are able to fully capture the meaning of what the cultures intended.