Goddesses of the Underworld

Beyond the veil of the mundane world, lies the mysterious realm of the underworld. Niflhel, the netherworld, the Asphodel Meadows, Hades, hell – whatever you want to call it, the Chthonic cosmic chrysalis has been a part of human belief as long as we’ve existed. This shadowy realm beckons tales of gods and goddesses who hold dominion over it. Every culture has its own version of this place, and their own beings who rule there, and guide souls on their journey through the dark realm. 

The underworld is a place of death, yes – but it’s also a place of rebirth, transition, and transformation. Even though it is commonly associated with darkness and shadows (often depicted as a place to fear), it’s a place of profound insight and revelation. 

There’s a figure that is often encountered in this realm, called a psychopomp. This is a deity who guides souls from life to the afterlife. These guides, like the ethereal ferryman, ensure the safe passage of souls beyond the veil. You’re likely to know who I mean when I speak of the Grim Reaper, but there’s also the Valkyries who lead you to Odin’s hall, Baron Samedi who will meet with you and tell you jokes while your family grieves, and even the Aurora Borealis is believed to lead you across the realms – plus many more. 

There’s also a strange similarity between the stories of the fae realm and the underworld. They share beings who can walk between realms, the veiled wisdom, the way the fae realm seems to always be in twilight, there are only certain times the portal to these worlds can be accessed, and the idea that if you eat the food while visiting their realm, you cannot leave (pomegranate seeds, anyone?). I’m not saying fairies are ghosts and the fae realm is the spirit world… or am I?

Moving on! Underworld deities inspire themes of transformation, shadow work, and rebirth. Their stories reflect our human journey through darkness, embodying the cyclical nature of life and death. These deities still resonate in the world of modern witchcraft, as they challenge us to grow – to confront our inner shadows and transform them into sources of power and wisdom. So, let’s go through some of the Chthonic deities we’ve come to know throughout the world:

Persephone: In Greek tales, Persephone shines as a dual figure – the goddess of spring’s blossoming and the queen of the underworld’s shadows. Her story of her descent into the depths of the underworld represents the delicate dance between life and death. Her annual return to the surface symbolises the cycles of rebirth and the transformative power of the underworld’s embrace. 

Ereshkigal: In the realms of Sumerian mythology, Ereshkigal emerges as the powerful goddess of the underworld. With her realm of gloom, she strikes a balance between life and death, wielding authority over the souls who journey to her domain. Ereshkigal’s duality mirrors her fearsome yet respected nature, embodying both the lightness and darkness of existence. 

Hecate: Hecate is a multifaceted Greek goddess with dominion over magic, crossroads, ghosts, and the realm of the underworld. She embodies the triad of past, present and future, as well as the interconnectedness of the mortal and spiritual worlds. Hecate’s association with crossroads symbolises her role as guide and guardian of liminal spaces. 

Hel: Hel is the enigmatic ruler of Helheim (situated in Niflheim), the realm of the deceased. With one half of her body veiled in shadow and rotting, and the other half thriving in light, she embodies the dual nature of existence – life and death intertwined. As the guardian of those who pass away outside the glory of battle, Hel governs a realm that represents the quieter passage to the afterlife. 

Nephthys: Revered for her roles in mourning, protection, and the afterlife, Nephthys stands as a guide and companion to the departed souls on their journey to the beyond. Often depicted as a nurturing and compassionate presence, she offers solace to the bereaved and watches over those who venture into the realm of the dead. 

As you navigate the shadow realms and its mysteries, remember that within it resides a light we’re only able to sit in once we’ve journeyed the dark; a light that will reveal profound truths.

For those drawn to the wisdom of these deities and others like them, a world of rituals, offerings, and shadow work awaits. Crafting altars that resonate with the essence of these goddesses (or gods), performing meditations that explore the depths of their stories, and creating offerings that honour their mysteries are all forms of connection. There are many ways you can practise shadow work, and asking one of these deities to be your guide as you work through it is always enlightening and empowering. As always, you can adapt any of these practices to feel right for you. 

Jade is a shadow worker and lunar witch, an experienced witchcraft facilitator, and hosts the 8-week High Priestess course: Dedicant.