Building Underworlds, Divine Dwellings, and the Afterlife

Today we’re stepping back into the mythology and religion of your world to talk about underworlds, homes of the gods, and the afterlife. How much of this is myth and how much is reality will depend on your established rules regarding the metaphysical aspect of your world.

The Underworld

Hades, Hell, Hel, Sheol… All of these evoke images of darkness and death. Which is why this point is going first, ’cause it’s the one we least want to dwell on. Your world’s underworld could be ruled by a god, or could be devoid of gods or leadership. It could be physically under the world, it could be an alternate plane, or it could be somehow adjacent to the basic world. It could be a place all dead go when they die, it could be a punishment for the wicked, or it could be a dwelling for demons (or some combination thereof).

Is there any way to access your underworld? If so, who can use it and how is it used? Is it open only to deities (or half-deities, if there are such beings in your world)? Is it open only when someone dies? Perhaps at certain times of year? Do people enter in efforts to bring back the dead, a la Orpheus and Eurydice? Is it possible for such efforts to succeed, or are they doomed from the start?

How is your underworld referred to by people in your world? Is it feared? Written off as myth? Considered taboo? Does it have a name?

Divine Dwellings

These are generally the opposite of underworlds: divine paradises fit for the gods… since that’s who lives in them. Do gods in your world dwell in the ordinary world, or somewhere set apart? If on earth, then where? Do they blend with humans so that they can get a personal view of the world, or do they live on unattainable mountain peaks? What happens if they’re discovered? If they live apart, then how does that separate place relate to earth? Is it accessible? How? How often? By whom?

Does this divine dwelling serve as a resting place for the righteous, as well, or solely a place for the gods? Do the people in your world even know about it, or is it secret? If they know about it, is it viewed with awe? Suspicion? Hope? Anticipation? Fear? What is this dwelling called?

Are there more than one of these places, maybe for different gods in a pantheon? Or one for the gods alone and one for the gods to commune with the righteous fallen?

The Afterlife

First off, does your world have an afterlife? Does your core culture believe in one? Do they believe in both a punishment and a reward, or just one? Do they believe in any in-between? Do they believe in something like reincarnation? If so, does that interact with a more permanent afterlife or is the cycle of reincarnation perpetual? If there is both punishment and reward, where is the break between them? What earns a positive afterlife? Faith? Works? For whom? Are there any who are barred from the afterlife, either from eternal bliss or from moving on altogether? Are there ghosts in your world?

Where does the afterlife take place? In the home of a god? In an underworld? In someplace in-between? Is there a temporary place before a more permanent one is instated at the end of the world? (Is there an end of the world? Maybe I’ll write a post about fantasy apocalypses.)

Remember that all of your answers ought to align with the underpinnings of your world and/or with the religion and cultural values of your particular culture.

Have you considered these elements of your world before? Does your world have any of these elements, or is it strictly a one-plane world? Let’s chat in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “Building Underworlds, Divine Dwellings, and the Afterlife

  1. Wow thank you for writing this! It’s really helpful and straightforward!
    This aspect of fantasy is the only one I’ve really struggled with. I’m still hesitant even as I finish up the final draft of my fantasy book. I was raised as a Christian, and the idea of more than one God is foreign in concept and almost seems ‘wrong’ but I did do it and I’m satisfied with what I’ve done.
    Developing underworld… I have an idea for it now, thanks to this I’mfeeling like I should go ahead with it, and definitely I’ve already developed the divine dwellings. Thanks again, you’ve given me even more ideas!!!

    1. I think there are ways the multiple gods can be done wrong and ways that they can be done right, but I don’t think they’re inherently problematic. It’s more a matter of conviction, as I see it. (I might write a blog post about that at some point, actually.)
      I’m glad this post was able to help you out as you work on that! Blessings on the rest of your worldbuilding! :)

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