One of the things I love to teach is the shamanic journey into the Underworld, the purpose of which is to gain guidance, information and healing. Make no mistake, the spirits that live there are real creatures and, even though we have been taught to forget their existence, the inhabitants of the Underworld have never forgotten ours.
The Underworld – also known in Faery lore as the Hollow Hills – is a real place; one we all visit regularly, but one we quickly forget. Any inspired work of art or great musical masterpiece or magnificently designed building started off life as an idea in the Underworld, the nation of images, known to us as the Imagi Nation. Einstein and many other great scientists derived their greatest inspiration from the Underworld.
The shaman apprentice is taught to use what we’ve come to call our Imagi Nation to begin the initiatory journey into the Nation of Images or the Underworld. By using archetypal images to begin, and with a notional letter of recommendation from the shaman, a call sign is sent out to the denizens of the Underworld. And they pick it up and come and collect the journeyer.
After that, we’re no longer in control of the journey, but we are taken by the spirits to be shown various phenomena — landscapes, paintings, movies etc — pictures which speak a thousand words, in unimaginably vivid colours, in the form of metaphorical messages for us to unravel. It’s Through the Looking Glass writ large. It’s the Mother Jefferson Starship of all Trippy Artwork.
Sometimes, the spirits speak directly to us. We may hear it as a voice in our ear. Usually, the voice speaking uses an archaic way of expressing themselves. At other times, it’s more like an instantaneous download. Sometimes, they will put writing in front of us, oftentimes scrolling up like the credits after a film. They love poetry and rhyme and puns.
So who are these spirits we meet in the Underworld? Well, the Underworld is part of the Dreaming Seed of the Land, albeit that it exists in a dimension that we’re generally unaware of. The Land is part of a dream of the Great Mother and it is there that we find the Underworld. All you have to do is dream. A shamanic journey is a more controlled dream.
The spirits of the Land are made up of two kinds of spirits: the Fae and the Ancestors.
The Fae, (otherwise known as the Sidhe or the Gentry or the Little People or the Tuatha da Danaan), are also known as the faeries. So yes, we really do have faeries living at the bottom of our gardens, although they rarely look like the tiny gossamer winged Tinkerbell of Victorian fantasies, or Moth and Peaseblossom of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. On the contrary, some of them are huge. Some are even covered in fur. But mainly, they look very much like you and me and if you passed one on the street when you were in a hurry, you may not even notice them.
The Fae are spirits of the Land and are not to be confused with goddesses or angels.
The Riders of the Sidhe, by John Duncan
Another name for the Fae is the Elders, because they fell from the stars at a much earlier Time than we did, and their experience of Time is very different to ours.
The Fae fell from the stars at what’s known in magical circles as the First Utterance. They followed The Bright One in Her fall to Earth, and they protect Her now as She lies in the Land sleeping. Sometimes She is known as the Sleeper In The Land, or the Sleeping Beauty.
At the Second Utterance, the animals fell to Earth and at the Third, humans fell.
This is the true meaning of the Fall which we find in much mythological literature. It was nothing to do with sinning or being banished from Heaven. That was a much later Christian idea designed to twist the true pagan lore out of all recognition, so that the Church could control the narrative.
Listen up here today because this is the true narrative of the pagan magical lore. You won’t find it in the history books because history hasn’t happened yet.
The Sleeping Beauty
The Bright One is sleeping in the Underworld, where she is protected by a briar rose thorn thicket. She will only awake when the Three Utterances — man, animal and faery — come together in Harmony and Love to create the Fourth Utterance.
Notice the use of the word ‘utterance’ – the Word, the primordial vibration, which resonates at the heart of every atom is at the heart of our spiritual journey here on Earth. All matter comes originally from sound. As with thunder and lightening, this sound is visible as light.
The ‘sleep of 100 years’ of the Sleeping Beauty’s court represents the state of consciousness of humanity, after pricking our fingers on the spinning wheel of destiny. The three faeries who come to her christening are the three muses who spin the wheel of destiny.
The three muses are also an allegory for the three stages of the alchemical process – nigredo, albedo and rubedo – which all of Nature goes through to recreate itself, known as the Alchemical or Divine Marriage.We will only awaken to the kiss of the Prince, our divine partner in the eternal dance of creation.
This is the spiritual initiation which all the ancient sex rites sought to emulate in drama, song and poems. They were an outward show of a inner spiritual practice, in which sex was the magical key. (I go into a lot more detail about this in my book Reclaiming Sovereignty: Shamanic Earth Magic).
Enchantment of the Land
All the Land is enchanted. There have been perpetual choirs chanting since the Elders first fell from the stars, singing to maintain the sacristy of the Land. The vibrations of the sound created by the perpetual choirs set up protective sonar walls around sacred sites. In Glastonbury, the Fae sing continually, in a sort of folksong-cum-military marching band style, about how they “forever defend the Glassy Wall”. I know because I’ve heard them.
We also find our Ancestors in the Underworld, infinitely long, winding and snaking lines of DNA groupings going back tens of thousands of years. When I first met my Ancestors, on my first initiation into the Underworld, they were all lined up along a very long river bank which snaked across the Earth, and I flew over their heads. They were waving and cheering. I didn’t know why …. until we got to the end of the line, and I was shown a family funeral which I had attended on a year before. I was shown that there had been a curse on the family for thousands of years, and I was the one who was going to break it.
I also found my relationship to the Ancestors to be an enormous source of strength when I was undergoing difficulties with my immediate birth family. Even though many family members turned against me, the Ancestors stood by me and without that inner strength they gave me, I’m sure I would have completely lost the plot. (Of course, some of you reading this may think I already have :-)) Shortly after my father joined the Ancestors, he came to me in a journey to thank me, from the bottom of his heart, for all I had done and was doing.
How to reach the Underworld
So how do you get there, to meet the Fae and the Ancestors? Well, you will need to be initiated by a shaman. The shaman’s presence during the proceedings acts as your letter of recommendation. There are also certain protocols that have been laid down by those who’ve gone before us along this well-trodden path, and the shaman will be able to teach you those.
The shaman will also make sure that you know how to conduct yourself — in getting into the Underworld, in how you are when you’re there, and in the all-important getting back.
Initiations into the Underworld are my most favourite part of shamanic teaching work, and I always look forward to doing them. It’s like being present at a birth — or perhaps a better term would be rebirth.