Underworld
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Basic Information

The Underworld is the mythological Land of the Dead. Often, but not always, it will be The Bad Place, distinct and separate from Heaven. Depending upon the details of whatever religion and mythology is telling the tale, it may or may not be Hell per se or even based on morality: it may just be the place where dead people go if they died a particular way or didn't get the correct funeral rites. Souls of the dead were often guided to the Underworld by a psychopomp, but it could also be the place your soul ended up if you didn't live the correct kind of life (or face the glorious death) that would please, impress or satisfy your culture's psychopomp and/or Gods. Your mythological mileage may very.

As the name implies, the Underworld is usually subterranean, and may even be a Hollow Earth. Or it could be an Otherworld or separate Plane of Existence.
The adjective Chthonic literally means "beneath the earth", but is generally only used for Gods, spirits and other denizens or features of the Underworld.
The term Katabasis literally means "descent" or "movement downhill" but is often used to refer to when a character (usually a live mortal) in a myth enters the Underworld without dying. Often such a trip is taken to rescue or resurrect someone who has died, but it may be just to gain information or prophecy that only the dead know.

Mythology Underworld Names and Variants Underworld Inhabitants (including Chthonoi, Spirits, etc) Psychopomps Katabasis delvers
Akkadian mythology Allu, Anu, Anunnaku, Ereshkigal, Etemmu, Gallu, Humbaba, Mamitu, Nergal, Utnapishtim
Albanian mythology Ferri E Bukura e Dheut
Altaic Mythology / Turko-Mongol Mythology Tamağ Erlik King Gesar
Armenian mythology Spandaramet
Australian Aboriginal mythology Baiame (Kamilaroi), Eingana Barnumbirr
Aztec mythology Mictlan Mictlantecuhtli, Mictecacihuatl, Chalmecacihuilt, Chalmecatl Xolotl
Babylonian mythology Irkalla Erra, Nergal, Ninlil, Sursunabu, Ur-shanabi, Utnapishtim
Balinese mythology Batara Kala, Dewi Sri, Setesuyara
Bon mythology gNyan
Buddhist mythology Patala, Naraka (also Niraya) Yama Apsara, Jizo Avalokiteśvara, Devadatta, Kṣitigarbha, Phra Malai
Canaanite mythology Mot, Arsay, Reshep
Celtic mythology Annwn, Mag Mell Aed, Arawn, Cwn Annwn, Donn, Gwyn ap Nudd, Manannán mac Lir, Pwyll Gwyn Ap Nudd, Ogmios King Arthur, Pwyll Pen Annwn
Chinese mythology / taoism Diyu Mogwai (Chinese Culture), Yanluo Ox Head and Horse Face
Christian mythology Hell, Purgatory Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, The Devil Archangel Michael and (possibly) Angel of Death Jesus (see Harrowing of Hell and Pistis Sophia), Dante Alighieri
Egyptian mythology Aaru, Duat, Neter-khertet, Amenti Aken, Aker, Am-heh, Amunet, Ammit, Andjety, Anubis, Apep, Apis, Astennu, Ha, Imiut, Isis (mythology), Mehen, Naunet, Nehebkau, Nephthys, Nu (mythology), Nut (mythology), Osiris, Ptah, Seker, Thoth Anubis Meryre the Magician, Osiris
Elamite mythology Jabru
Estonian mythology Toonela Vanapagan
Etruscan mythology Karun, Culsu, Februus, Leinth, Mania, Mantus, Nethuns, Tuchulcha, Vanth and potentially many others Karun, Vanth, and possibly Culsu, Culsans, Leinth and several others.
Fijian mythology Burotu, Murimuria Degei, Ratumaibulu, Samulayo
Finnish mythology Tuonela Kalma, Kipu-Tyttö, Kivutar, Lovitar, Surma, Tuonen akka, Tuonetar, Tuoni, Vammatar Kalma Lemminkäinen's mother
Georgian mythology Kveskneli sasuleti
Germanic mythology Helheim, Niflheim
Greek mythology Elysium, Asphodel Meadows, Tártaros Cerberus, Charon, Hadēs, Keres, Persephone, Thánatos Charon, Hermes, Hecate Aphrodite, Demeter, Dionysus, Heracles, Hermes, Odysseus, Orpheus, Persephone, Pirithous, Psyche, Theseus
Guanche mythology Echeide, Guayota
Haida mythology Ta'xet, Tia
Hindu mythology Patala, Naraka or Yamaloka Yama Shiva, Yamaduta Indra, Emperor Yudhishthira
Hittite mythology Dankuš daganzipaš/Dankuš tekan (dark earth) Lelwani
Hopi mythology Maski Maasaw
Hungarian mythology Alvilág
Igbo Mythology Ala
Incan mythology Uku Pacha Supay, Vichama
Indonesian mythology Alam Ghaib Batara Kala, Dewi Sri
Inuit mythology Adlivun Pana, Sedna Anguta
Islamic mythology Barzakh, Jahannam/An-Nār (hellfire), Jahīm, Samūm, Sijjin, Hāwiya Maalik, Zabaniyya Azrael
Jain mythology Naraka, Adho Loka (the lower world)
Japanese mythology/Shinto Yomi, Ne-no-Kuni, Jigoku Hotoke, Izanami-no-Mikoto, Jikininki, Shikome, Shitidama, Shiryō, Susanoo-no-Mikoto, Yama Shinigami Izanagi, Izanami
Jewish/Hebrew mythology Sheol, Gehenna, Abaddon, Tehom (in Kabbalah), Tophet, Tzoah Rotachat, Dudael Azrael
Kassite mythology Dur
Khmer mythology Preas Eyssaur
Korean mythology Ji-Ok
Latvian mythology Aizsaule Veļi, Velu mate, Zemes mate
Levantine mythology Mot, Arsay
Malay mythology Alam Ghaib (The unseen realm)
Māori mythology Hawaiki, Rarohenga, Rangi Tuarea, Te Toi-o-nga-Ranga, Uranga-o-Te-Ra Hina, Hine-nui-te-Po, Kewa, Mahiuki, Rohe, Whiro
Mapuche mythology Pellumawida, Degin, Wenuleufu, Ngullchenmaiwe
Mayan mythology Metnal, Xibalba Xibalba Ixtab Maya Hero Twins
Melanesian mythology Bulu, Burotu, Murimuria, Nabagatai, Tuma Degei, Ratumaibulu, Samulayo
Mesopotamian Mythology Hubur, Irkalla, Kur Allu, Anu, Anunnaku, Edimmu, Ekimmu, Endukugga, Enmesarra, Ereshkigal, Erra, Etemmu, Gallu, Gidim, Gula, Humbaba, Irkalla, Kur, Mamitu, Namtar, Nergal, Neti, Nindukugga, Ninlil, Sursunabu, Urshanabi, Utnapishtim, Ziusudra Neti Dumuzid, Enkidu, Geshtinanna, Inanna, Ishtar, Nergal, Tammuz
Narragansett mythology Chepi
Native American Mythology Degin, Maski, Metnal, Mictlan, Ngullchenmaiwe, Pellumawida, Shipap, Uku Pacha, Wenuleufu, Xibalba Amotken, Chalmecacihuilt, Chalmecatl, Chepi, Estsanatlehi, Great Horned Serpent, Iyatiku, Llao, Maasaw, Mictecacihuatl, Mictlantecuhtli, Supay, Ta'xet, Tia, Uhepono, Vichama, Xibalba Ixtab, Muut Kaknu, Maya Hero Twins
Navajo mythology Estsanatlehi
Norse mythology Gimlé, Helheim, Niflheim, Vingólf Garmr, Hel, Ran (mythology) Valkyrie Baldr, Brynhild (see Helreið Brynhildar), Hermóðr, Odin,
Ob-Ugrian mythology Heini-iki
Orokolo mythology Kiavari
Oromo mythology Ekera
Persian mythology Duzakh Angra Mainyu, Azhi Dahaka, Peri Daena
Philippine mythology Kasanaan Diwata, Magwayen, Sidapa
Phoenician mythology Horon
Phrygian mythology Men (god)
Polynesian mythology Avaiki, Bulotu, Iva, Lua-o-Milu, Nga- Atua, Pulotu, Rangi Tuarea, Te Toi-o-nga-Ranga, Uranga-o-Te-Ra Hikuleo, Hina, Hine-nui-te-Po, Kanaloa, Kiho-tumu, Makea Tutara, Mahiuki, Mahu-ike, Marama, Mauri, Merau, Milu, Miru, Rimu, Rohe, Whiro
Prussian mythology Picullus
Pueblo mythology Shipap Iyatiku
Roman mythology Inferno, Avernus Cerberus, Dea Tacita, Dis Pater, Egestes, Fames, Inferi Dii, Larenta, Letum, Libitina, Mors, Orcus, Pluto (mythology), Proserpina, Viduus Epona, Mercury Aeneas, Anima, Bacchus, Ceres, Hercules, Liber, Mercury (mythology), Proserpina, Ulysses, Venus (mythology),
Romani Mythology Beng
Romanian mythology Tărâmul Celălalt Diavolu, Satana, Necuratu, Scaraoschi
Russian Mythology Dyavol, Satanaya
Saami mythology Yambe-akka
Salish mythology Amotken
Siberian mythology Chebeldei, Kul, Nga
Slavic mythology Nav, Podsvetie, Peklo, Vyraj Crnobog, Flins, Marzana, Nyia, Veles (god) Veela
Sumerian mythology Kur, Hubur Edimmu, Ekimmu, Endukugga, Enmesarra, Ereshkigal, Gidim, Gula, Irkalla, Kur, Namtar, Nergal, Neti, Nindukugga, Ninlil, Urshanabi, Ziusudra
Thracian mythology Thracian Heros
Vodou Guinee Baron Cimetière, Baron La Croix, Baron Samedi, Ghede, Maman Brigitte, Marassa Jumeaux Papa Ghede, Baron Samedi
Wagawaga (New Guinea) mythology Hiyoyoa Tumudurere
Yoruba mythology Esu, Oya Obtala
Zuni mythology Uhepono
Mythology Underworld Names and Variants Underworld Inhabitants (including Chthonoi, Spirits, etc) Psychopomps Katabasis delvers

see also:
Afterlife
Death
Hollow Earth
Otherworld
World Tree

Sources

Bibliography
1. Wikipedia - The chart above is mostly derived from the Underworld, Psychopomp and Katabasis pages on Wikipedia. I melded all the lists on those pages together as my starting point.

Game and Story Use

  • The Underworld is an exciting location for a quest. Revive the recently slain, bargain for souls, track down a cursed public domain artifact, prove you're not afraid to raise a little hell, etc. It'll be epic!
  • If there are multiple pantheons active in your campaign, you may want to consider how much syncretism and interpretatio graeca-style crossover there is. Are all underworlds connected, and multiple gods merely the local avatars of a single core truth? Or is each individually true in it's own way, separate and distinct, with a different final reward for the departed based on their deeds and beliefs?
  • How to get the most out of that giant chart above:
    • The first column is different religions, mythologies and bodies of folklore. Each row across explores that tradition's underworld in link form.
    • The second column is the name of the Underworld in this culture or tradition. Some mythologies have multiple underworlds that you might visit or spend eternity within.
    • The third column is the names of various inhabitants of that underworld. This often includes the rulers of the underworld, various chthonic entities and gods of the dead. These are the important mythological characters (and some mythological creatures) you'd expect to meet if you visited those underworlds.
      • Some of them might even sit in judgement of your soul or sins.
      • Beware, here be monsters!
      • And of course, there's also the dead. The underworld usually features quite a few of them.
        • They may be ghosts or spirits, or they may have more corporeal form as zombies, skeletons, or mummies. This will vary by religion and mythology, and some underworlds may specialize in bodies on a specific condition or type.
        • There may be sinners burning in a firey lake, or suffering eternal torture.
        • There may be gray and indistinct forgotten souls whose detail fade away as their stories are lost to mists of time and even their descendants lose all memory of them.
        • Or, if you're in the Etruscan underworld it might even be a paradoxically family-friendly underworld full of family picnics, grave goods, and surprisingly happy snakes. At least that's what their art and grave goods would lead us to believe.
    • The fourth column lists the psychopomp of this row's mythology. Psychopomps guide the dead to their final resting place. Depending on the characters and mythologies in question, psychopomps may or may not inhabit the underworld. They might just be the ferryman who gets you across the River Styxx (or other local barrier between worlds).
      • Psychopomps are probably pretty busy, but they may show up as "wandering monster" random encounters. They may be on a mission, or transporting the recently deceased, at the time they cross your path.
      • They've most likely got a natural ability to enter and leave the underworld, so if you're looking for someone to trick or bribe to get back to the earth, psychopomps might be worth a shot. Depends on how seriously they take their job, and how strong a celestial hierarchy the local pantheon has in place.
      • It's also possible that if the PCs are visiting the underworld in their own katabasis expedition, they might be greeted at the Gates of Hell by a psychopomp who's interested in being your guide.
    • The fifth and final column is people known to have taken their own katabasis journey in those underworlds. Again, they might be "random encounters" or short cameos. Some are powerful heroes and a few are gods, so if the PCs get stuck in hell and can't bribe the guards or psychopomp to let them out, it's possible one of these katabasis delvers will mount a rescue attempt / jailbreak.
      • Or, you know, maybe Odysseus will just show up with a bowl of delicious blood and ask you for your prophetic insights with no intention of taking you back to Ithaca with him.
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