What does it mean to go into the underworld? The concept of the underworld or Hades(the greek name for hell), for that matter, has been studied by religious scholars for a while now. Each and every culture has their own version of the underworld or Hades. The Old Testament concept of the underworld is known as Sheol and in the New Testament is known as Hades. In literature, Dante is taken into hell by Virgil and journey’s his way through to eventually find the light in Paradisio otherwise known as paradise in the Divine Comedy. Within Christian theology, Christ is taken down into hell and then rises out of it through what is known as the resurrection.
The examples given above only offer a small view of the concept of the underworld. Dante, in his example, was guided through the torment and Virgil was with him. Dante wasn’t alone in his hell. So again, what does it mean to go into the underworld? I believe it’s something, like Virgil and Dante, we must all go through. In John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” the adversary also known as the fallen angel Satan says this: “The mind is its own place and, in itself can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven”. Satan says this after he has been thrown out of heaven into hell. While Milton’s advice, an imitation of Hamlet’s guidance to Horatio, seems good, is it really that simple? We might be able to create a heaven of our own hell but I believe that in kindness and love that we must go into the depths of the underworld together.
The corona virus, while still wearing masks in 2021, may almost be over. We are still unsure about the nature of the world and certain vaccine mandates seem to permeate themselves in all aspects of life. Ideological division still spectrally looms itself over the nation. While all of this affects of us corporately, we can still have a positive impact individually. Going into someone else’s underworld may be daunting but is also necessary. There’s a beauty in giving attention to friends and family who need it. People need to talk, grieve, make decisions, and contemplate. When we go into their underworld, we can, in some way make a “Heaven out of hell” for them. This is nature of joy itself. I’m not talking in terms of happiness but rather true joy. Joy we can find in ourselves but also give to others. If we can give joy to others in the midst of their hell then we can deliver them from their underworld. So often, our underworld, I believe is created out of external stimuli. External stimuli such as social media, socio-economic status, and the idealism of perfection can create an underworld around us. But does any of this actually define who we are? Our inherent being? I don’t believe that these things define who we are. We are so much more beautiful than we have ever imagined. Our underworld can be of our own making but it’s not who we are.
Milton’s adversary may have made a “heaven out of hell” but it was what Michael, the archangel, said to Adam that brought him out of the underworld of guilt and shame. I believe this can help us as well. Michael said to Adam: “Add deeds to thy knowledge answerable. Add faith, add love, add temperance, add patience, add virtue, then will thou not loathe to leave this paradise but will possess a paradise within thee that shall make thee happier far”. Milton’s didactic advice from Michael to Adam shows us the nature of true paradise. It’s in ourselves but we can help each other get there with love and out of the underworld.