The nature of many an Indo-European sacred text about the Afterlife, the Underworld (and, indeed, just about everything else – but those subjects especially), is that it is a combination of “Preview” and “Guidebook”.
It’s possible to do a full-on travelogue which goes into often quite (gruesomely) graphic detail, of course; but for various reasons – probably connected rather closely to the relative paucity of persons who’ve come back from there er .. post-mortem – that’s not what we’ve that’s not what we’ve tended to find within the primary Indo-European liturgical canons.
Instead, we often tend to get much more brief, even almost ‘insubstantial’, ‘obscure’ [not least in its older Latinate sense, wherein it means something akin to “spooky”] accountings. At the risk of a grave pun, just the bare ‘bones’ of ‘what lies beyond’ in some cases.
Now, in keeping with this tradition – albeit for somewhat different reasons – the following piece isn’t going to be a hugely in-depth nor all-comprehensive examination of either Indo-European planetology/cosmology in general, or eschatology/soteriology in specia. Instead, it’s going to just briefly guide you through a few resonant kernels thereof [this is hardly the first time I’ve been er .. metempsychotic], as occurred to me when reading through two of the Yama hymnals of the RigVeda.
We do, of course, have rather more in-depth articles upon several of these points presently in the drafting-stages; but those are going to be deep(a) dives – and this is really more of an introductory ‘primer’.
It’s not *all* about Death, either. Death, as they say, is only the beginning …
Now, no discussion of the Realm in question, would be complete without mention of its Lord. In these Hymnals, it is Yama [‘Death’; although also ‘Twin’], a formidable figure of storm-cloud countenance and Kingly station, a knower of the secret ways between the worlds [for He hath tread upon them first and thusly therefore shown the way], and the master of the eventual fate (placement) of those who should happen to progress unto His Realm.
We shall save in-depth iconographic discussion of Yama for another article ; except to note that the Gada, the Mace with which He is equipped (inter alia), is a traditional ensign of the Law and its Enforcement – hence of the Dumezilian Second Function … and which we still see today in the form of the Gavel of the Judge, or the ceremonial Mace of Parliaments or Congress.
And also to note that Yama is referred to as being accompanied by two Hounds [Their names, although not given in these RigVedic Hymnals, often considered to be ‘Syama’ [‘Black’, or a seriously dark blue-black akin to the Norse concept in this area .. ‘Bruise-Black’, ‘Corpse-Black’ – the colour of Death], and ‘Sabala’ or ‘Sharvara’ or ‘Karvara’, all of which mean “Spotted” – as, interestingly, does “Cerberus”. Therefore rendering “Spot the Dog” an Indo-European concept of veer-y impressive pedigree [although there is an alternative possible reconstruction for ‘Cerberus’ meaning ‘the growling one’, reflecting his sentinel role, and which may underpin the *other* Hel-Hound of the Norse, ‘Garmr’] … and straightaway we begin to see some parallels in perhaps surprising directions.
For the notion of an Ancestor and often a Dead luminary even Deity, accompanied by two Hounds, is to be found also with Nordic Odin [Freki & Geri], but also with Vedic Rudra [names often given as ‘Sarva’ and ‘Bhava’; Bhairava in particular continues the canine association through His Vahana], and the hunter Orion [identified with Rudra in some traditions, not least of which being the astrological – particularly when the two Dogs that are Canis Majoris and Canis Minoris are added in].
I personally believe that this is no accident, and that it is in fact a rather direct result of all three running off a quite a substantively similar fundamental deific complex. One which also includes within its broad scoping ambit, Lord Yama – an interpretation which is leant some considerable support via the *direct* identification of the constellations of Orion’s two Hunting Dogs with the Hounds of Yama in some Hindu astrology.
And that leads us on to our next important, salient, and pervasively *resonant* point.