The upper and lower worlds in shamanism:
A journey into the invisible shamanic realms

Most of the indigenous peoples of Siberia, like many other places on Earth, believe in the existence of three worlds in our Universe, positioned one on top of another. In general, the concepts of the Upper and Lower worlds are closer in spirit to the theory of parallel dimensions than to the image of worlds literally lying on top of each other like layers of a cake. Although the depth of the sky is considered infinite in the beliefs of Siberian tribes, shamans insist on the existence of a path that allows one to penetrate beyond the heavens. Similarly, although the earth is considered deep and solid, there are many paths through which spirits and shamans can enter the Lower world. Another aspect of the image of the Upper and Lower worlds is that, according to traditional beliefs, they are very similar to Earth, also having the sun, moon, forests, and inhabitants resembling humans. The inhabitants of the Upper and Lower worlds are invisible when they are in our Middle world, and in the same way, shamans traveling in these worlds become invisible in them. The presence of spirits can be indicated by the unexpected crackling of a bonfire and the barking of a fox. They can also be detected by shamans in ecstatic trance.
Shamanic journey to the Lower world


The Lower world is completely similar to ours, with the only difference being that its inhabitants have only one soul, while humans have five. The soul called ami, which is responsible for breathing and body warmth, is absent in them, which is why the inhabitants of the Lower world are cold, and black blood flows in their veins. Some of the inhabitants of this world are also human souls called sane, waiting for reincarnation in our world. The sun and moon in the Lower world are less bright than in ours. According to the beliefs of the Sami people, the reason for this is that their shape is a hemisphere, not a sphere like ours. The Lower world has forests, mountains, settlements, and even its own shamans.

Erlik, the son of the Father - Heaven, rules over this world. He has power over souls, over where and when they will reincarnate in our world. Shamans usually turn to him when they return souls that prematurely went to the Lower world - before the death of the physical body. Apart from these cases, people enter the realm of Erlik only after death.

There are many paths that lead to the Lower World and back. One of them is a journey along the World River, flowing there. This entrance is guarded by Mongoldai Nagts, who does not allow souls whose bodies are still alive to pass through it. Sometimes a living person's soul manages to slip through this entrance, and it must be returned before its absence causes great harm. The World River has many rapids, and it is very risky for a shaman to travel alone. When a shaman dies during the retrieval of someone's soul from the Lower World, it is said that the journey was too dangerous and his soul was lost in this world. It’s also possible to enter the Lower World through caves, whirlpools, springs, as well as through one of the numerous tunnels through which the inhabitants of the Lower World enter ours.

Upper world

The Upper World, like the Lower, looks very similar to the world we live in. However, human souls are usually not encountered there, except for shamans who travel there. This world is brighter than ours: some legends say that it has seven suns. The description of the Upper World suggests that it is similar to ours, but has remained unspoiled by humans, and its inhabitants still live according to the traditional laws of their ancestors. The ruler of this world is Ulgen, who is also the son of Father Sky. Sometimes, when the gates from our world to the Upper World open, people can see its radiance, which looks like rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds. Prayers spoken at such a moment have especially great power.

To journey to the Upper World, one must know how to fly, and shamans, who decide to make the journey there, often transform themselves into birds. Other forms that a shaman can take for this purpose include a flying deer or horse.
The direction of the journey can be straight up or south, where the World River originates. In some cults, before a candidate for shamanhood undergoes initiation in our world, he must journey to the Upper World and receive initiation from the spirits living there.

Another way to reach the Upper World is through a journey up the World Tree, the image of which is represented in shamanic ceremonies as an ordinary tree. In an ecstatic trance state, a shaman climbs up this tree, while his soul ascends the World Tree to the heavens.

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