Many people see our current ecological crisis as also a spiritual crisis for humanity. While I wholeheartedly agree, I’m coming to understand that our eco-spiritual conversations often overlook something important. We need to meet, up front, our beliefs about the Underworld—the mysterious physical and spiritual domain under our feet, extending into the body of the planet, all the way to the center of the Earth.
Our indigenous ancestors considered the Underworld to be an important spiritual realm, along with the Middle World or Day World, and the Upperworld. The Underworld was known to be the home of powerful forces, beings, and deities, both material and spiritual. Ancestral people honored and co-created with these Underworld energies, thus supporting balance and wholeness in the land and all its inhabitants.
The beliefs of most people today, in contrast, are aligned with pervasive human supremacy and flavored with facile ideas from both religion and psychology. Modern people typically think of the Underworld (if they consciously think of it at all) as some hazy combination of bad, dark, scary, evil, worthless, shameful and threatening; as a hellish place to be either avoided completely, or “healed” in their psyche and spirit—even while the ongoing exploitation and ruining of the actual body of the land for human benefit continues apace.
Regardless of our religion or spiritual path, it is crucial that we meet and harmonize with the Underworld in all its aspects. Until we come into good relationship with the true physical and psychospiritual Underworld, we can’t effectively address humanity’s seemingly inexplicable, destructive impulses toward Nature’s lifeweb.
Where do we start?
One important key is coming to know the sanctity of all matter; acknowledging that matter is as sacred and mysterious as spirit; indeed, that spirit resides IN matter, and matter in spirit.
In our contemporary, human-centered culture, we are conditioned to divide the world dualistically into black and white, good and bad, heaven and hell. Similarly, we reflexively believe that matter and spirit are opposed to each other: Matter is bad, spirit is good. Matter is fallen and messy, spirit is redeemed and pure. Matter is unimportant and disposable, spirit is worthy and eternal.
We resolve these dualities when we see everything not as infinite sets of opposites, but as an interwoven, inclusive totality, which is an inherent quality of Gaia Herself. Instead of matter and spirit being opposed, matter and spirit, together, complete Gaia’s tapestry. Each is as sacred and necessary and beautiful as the other.
When we change our perspective in this way, we can understand that matter, as well as spirit, comprises light. The mycorrhizal fungi in the soil facilitate vital chemical reactions, while the radiant immaterial beings of Nature might choose to ally with us if approached with humility. The minerals layered beneath the soil contain their own wisdom, down to the atomic level and beyond, which is alchemically potentialized by those ancient spiritual beings sometimes called dwarves and gnomes. And the glowing star-matter at our planet’s core bestows infinite light to Gaia and blesses all Her dimensions and realms.
Our early ancestors knew all this. They did not envision the Underworld as dark or heavy, but instead as lit from within by powerful, beneficent Earth Light.
When we cut through our own and society’s unbalanced aspirations toward “Heaven,” we come to know that the stars in the Heavens and the star at the center of the Earth are equally full of blessings. It then becomes unthinkable to consider the material world as separate from and inferior to ourselves, and to go on wrecking it with impunity.
Let’s begin to shift our beliefs about the Underworld in all its spiritual and material aspects, and come to know the realms beneath our feet, and the beings who live there, as full of light and wisdom. As we do this, we will discover the gift of essential transformation that dwells in the true Underworld. In the same secret ways that rock becomes soil and soil becomes plants, we will transform into who we really are, and fully receive the gifts of Gaia’s light.