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For other uses, see Otherworld (disambiguation).

The concept of an "otherworld" in historical Indo-European religion is reconstructed in comparative mythology. The term is a calque of orbis alius or "Celtic Otherworld", so named by Lucan in his description of the druidic doctrine of metempsychosis.

Comparable religious, mythological or metaphysical concepts, such as a realm of supernatural beings and a realm of the dead, are of course found in cultures throughout the world.[1] Spirits were thought to travel between worlds, or layers of existence, usually along an axis such as a giant tree, a tent pole, a river, a rope or mountains.[1][2][3] Red and white are the colors of animals in the Celtic Otherworld,[4] and these colors still animate transcendant religious and political symbols today.

Indo-European reconstruction

Many Indo-European mythologies show evidence for a belief in an "Otherworld"[1] and in many cases such as in Greek,[3] Germanic,[1][2][3] Celtic,[1][2][3] Slavic[3] and Indic mythologies[3] a river had to be crossed to allow entrance to the Otherworld[3] and it is usually an old man that would transport the soul across the waters.[3] In Greek and Indic mythology the waters of this river were thought to wash away sins or memories whereas Celtic and Germanic myths feature wisdom-imparting waters, suggesting that while the memories of the deceased are washed away a drinker of the waters would gain inspiration.[3] The wayfarer will commonly encounter a dog either in the capacity of a guardian of the Otherworld or as the wanderer's guide.[3] Examples of this are the Greek Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hades, and the Indic सर्वरा "sarvarā, one of the hounds of Yama, whose names may derive from an Indo-European *ḱerberos meaning "spotted".[3] In Indo-European mythologies the Otherworld is depicted in many ways, including peaceful meadows, islands and buildings making it hard to determine how the original Proto-Indo-European Otherworld was viewed.[3] However the ruler of the dead was possibly Yemo, the divine twin of Manu the first man.[5]



As was the case in the Celtic mythologies, in Germanic myths apples were particularly associated with the Otherworld.[5] In the Scandinavian tradition mythological localities are featured, as in Irish mythology; however, unlike Irish mythology, an attempt was made to map the localities of the Otherworld rather than list locales associated with it.[2] In the Edda many locations are named including the dwellings of the gods such as Odin's hall of Valhalla or Ullr's dwelling of Ydalar ("Yewdale").[2] The Gylfaginning and the later Norwegian poem the Draumkvaede feature travels into the Otherworld.[2]


In Greco-Roman mythology the Gods were said to dwell on Mount Olympus whereas the dead usually went to the Underworld or Fortunate Isles after death.


  1. ^ a b c d e Gods, goddesses, and mythology, Volume 11, C. Scott Littleton, Marshall Cavendish, 2005, ISBN 0-7614-7559-1, ISBN 978-0-7614-7559-0. Pp. 1286-1287
  2. ^ a b c d e f The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe Hilda Ellis Davidson, Routledge, 2002 ISBN 0-203-40850-0, ISBN 978-0-203-40850-6. pp.67-76
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l The Oxford introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European world J. P. Mallory, Douglas Q. Adams, Oxford University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-19-928791-0, ISBN 978-0-19-928791-8. Page 439.
  4. ^ The Mabinogi and other Medieval Welsh Tales Patrick K. Ford, University of California Press, 1977, ISBN 978-0-520-25396-4. Page 35.
  5. ^ a b Death, war, and sacrifice: studies in ideology and practice, Bruce Lincoln, University of Chicago Press, 1991, ISBN 0-226-48200-6, ISBN 978-0-226-48200-2. Pages. 32-38