Landmarks of the Underworld
Although the underworld(s) are considered transitory - like all otherworlds - there are fixed landmarks that can be visited across time, which can act as 'starting points' depending on your culture or your practices. Here are some of the 'landmarks' found within my own practices, and the practices of others. Many of these are universal.
You may notice other landmarks in your own journeys, feel free to make a note of these places, or any rules that you learn in these places that may be specific to it - such as certain offerings you may have to leave, or certain places you might have to avoid. When I say things in this article like 'it is considered a safe place' etc. I am referring to the collective wisdom of my ancestors, and other shamans and shamanists that I have interacted with over the course of 10 years. It is all a collection of personal gnosis, but valid none-the-less. This list will be added to as I continue to gain experience and learn of the experiences of others.
The Fountain - The fountain seems to be a place that I have known a few shamanists to come to when they descend to the underworld. This fountain tends to be ornate, and 'man-made', though it seems ancient and not specific to any one religion. This fountain trickles fresh water, as though from a spring, and smells sweet and tempting. I have heard some say that the water is refreshing and helps them back to the middleworlds, but I have also heard others say that to partake of any food in the otherworlds is also dangerous and unwise.
It is considered one of the few safe places in the underworld, though I would still tread cautiously.
The Forest of Dead Trees - A forest of dead, grey, skeletal trees that never seemed to fall down. They sometimes shelter dead, grey, skeletal animals that never seem to die or disintegrate. All this happens on a dead, grey ground that never shifts and changes. This is the forest of dead trees. I have found in my own practices that this is a place I come to frequently. It stretches out what seems endlessly, and it is said many doorways to many other worlds, places, events and times happen within this forest. Strange gods and spirits, and the ancestors of lost Oraite drift there. Many are not benevolent.
The Underground Palace/s - Often made of bone, ice, sculpted rock, grey stone, these formidable palaces tend to house demons (powerful spirits) or deities that can lure you into traps, or alternatively grant favours at a high price. Many shamanists are steered clear of such places by their spirit helpers. Often, travelling near these palaces, one encounters great villages, tempting foods and material wares. In the Norse mythos, these Underground Palaces are sometimes inhabited by Duergar and other earth-based wights that can be benevolent or malevolent; but mostly just indifferent to humankind.
Great Ladder / Great Stairs - They go on forever, upwards or downwards. You can walk a great ladder for days or weeks or years in the underworld never reaching a new destination. Are they tricks? Maybe. Or are we trusting too much in the solid familiar? Maybe that too. I avoid these, unless I am directed to use them.
Ropes - Ropes are far more helpful than the great ladders / stairs, but they tend to be harder to climb! These usually lead directly to the middleworlds. They can hang directly from the sky or from ceilings / tree branches etc. As always, be careful, some ropes are just tricks! When in doubt, trust the advice of your spirit helpers.
Gates - These are usually guarded by beasts, underworld dogs, people etc. and it's not easy to get through them much of the time! Yet you will find that you need to negotiate these barriers (in all the otherworlds) if you want to get to certain destinations.
Dunes - A great desert in the underworld seems to go on eternally, it is hot, desiccated and dry (or alternatively it is a desert of ice; cold and windy). There are traps here laid by mischievous spirits and malicious ones, caves to fall into, illusions and delusion to follow. These dry places are unpleasant, but many demons who take soul fragments tend to hide here, and so traversing the deserts of the underworld is a skill required by Oraite and many other shamanists.
The Ocean of Black Water - It is said that when a deceased spirit drinks this water, they realise they are truly dead. When shepherding the dead to a place where they find peace, encouraging them to drink from this ocean can help them move on. It is further said that when they cross the ocean of black water, they reach a place where they can no longer be contacted by any except those given the training to reach 'the land of the dead.' Many Oraite and ancestral shamans choose to stay in the otherworlds, instead of moving onto the 'land of the dead,' but sometimes it is necessary to cross this ocean. This is only done by experienced shamanists.
There are different ways of doing this. Some cultures had a boatman who could be coaxed to carry a living soul over by trickery or coin, other cultures required the spiritual animist to depress their breathing, to give away their 'life' and make themselves feel and be 'dead' on the inside. This technique was dangerous, because it meant that the shaman risked losing their own life-force on what is already a dangerous journey. In our practice, we swim across the ocean ourselves. This is also a journey that carries great risk, as soon as we absorb, swallow or breathe in the spray of the black water we believe ourselves to be truly dead, and it is only through the help of our assistant spirits and spirit helpers (many who cannot cross over with us) that we are able to make the journey back.
Incidentally, looking into the lapping waters of the ocean will reveal precognitive visions.
The Land of the Dead - The place/s where many of the deceased go. The appearances of this place are many and diverse, depending on who you are visiting and how they died. It is a dangerous place where dead people can still be holding onto the soul fragments of person's living. It can also be a place of trickery, despair and longing. Anyone who has lost a loved one and has unresolved business (i.e. is still grieving) is not encouraged to go here alone, or without the assistance of another human who can intervene if necessary. This in my experience is a preliminary place before an actual paradisical land of the departed which I don't know of anyone having reached.
The Great Tree - A gigantic, gnarled tree. The Great Tree is sometimes known as the world tree, or Yggdrasl in Norse culture, and is a common fixture in many different cultures. The root system in the underworld is usually complex and enormous, containing numerous openings. Some of these openings lead back to the middleworld, and some don't. By the root system of this great tree live spirits, gods, some of the greater ancestors, and are also places that many deities frequent. The root system of the great tree is a source of wisdom. It is possible to find an opening that leads to:
The Centre of the Earth - A place I haven't myself visited. Thought to be an empty place, either filled with heat and fire (the sun within the earth), or like a limbo place without any solid matter at all, it is thought that the Void could be found here; that lack of spark that existed before this universe, and yet is a part of this universe. This is very rarely a place that any soul fragments visit - in fact I'm not sure myself of any soul fragments visiting here if lost. Therefore visits to this place are not often called for.
The Happy Village - A village which appears to be happy, prosperous and hardworking. People smile to each other, children play in the street, and you can smell bread baking and meat cooking over a fire. The longer you spend in this place, the more sinister it becomes. Some people might have animal tails, yet other children may suddenly turn into dogs and chase and kill a chicken that was once a child. You notice sleight of hand between the false smiles of merchants, everyone is ripping each other off. And the more you notice how deceptive this place is, the more they tend to notice you.
The Happy Village is a place where soul fragments can be tricked into staying, taken in by the external appearance of the place. However once the residents in the village notice you (especially if you are looking for soul fragments), they become more obviously dangerous, attempting to trick you into giving your real name, into abandoning your spirit helpers or ancestors, and decrying your own flaws and insecurities. Given the chance, they will steal fragments of your own soul. You may even notice - or have noticed - that they 'money' they steal off each other each belongs to a person who has lost a soul fragment. In this village, the souls of other people can become trapped here, turned into money that is only used for deception and the continuation of falsehood.
The Plateau/s - Grey, green, black, brown plateaus of endless soil or mud or dirt or even concrete. These are flat, dark places, often not illuminated (and certainly not be celestial beings like stars or the moon), and frequented by lost children, shadows, demons and prowling animals and beasts.
The Killing Fields / The Abbatoirs - Gigantic places of dismembered / brutalised body-parts. For me, it is a great black place underneath a giant pyramid, that Sekmet Het-hert often visits. At other times it is a series of artificially created abbatoirs designed for mass slaughter, sometimes decommissioned yet still stinking of death, decay and haunted by demons. For others it might be a battleground, or some place that is literally knee deep (or more) in body parts. None of the body parts are alive per se, but sometimes they animate, shift and seethe underneath the force of all the bugs and creatures feasting on flesh - cleaning bones that never seem to become clean.
During initiations, body pieces are sometimes scattered here to confuse the initiate.
The Homes (Tents) of Ancestors - On a winding trail, and kept well separate, is a variety of homes / tents / yurts filled with ancestor after ancestor, keeping their own home and tending their own bleak garden in the underworlds. They can be visited and offered gifts and in turn offer wisdom, but beware, not all ancestors mean well and some are outright malevolent (and some are demons, tricking you into believing they are your ancestors). I met Aka Oslo, an ancestor, on this trail, when I travelled the underworlds as a wolverine.
The Northern Plains / The Ice Fields / The Frozen Wastelands - Here you can find a woman; maybe a goddess, maybe a demon, who created all the illnesses, hardship and 'sins' that populate the middleworlds and our own earth. In Vilturj, she is often known as Ucza. She goes by many names, and many appearances, and can be hard to find. She rarely bothers herself with taking or looking after soul fragments in her 'domain,' but will visit those who visit her. I have heard (having not visited her myself) that she is polite and well-mannered, and often appears as a once-beautiful middle-aged woman, or a beautiful woman. She is more trustworthy than a deity like Lesavny, but it seems just being in her presence can transmit mysterious illnesses, bad 'luck', and other adverse conditions which most humans generally try and avoid. Some people believe the polite advice she gives is worth the 'price' of health or wellbeing.