Often, when we are thinking about the afterlife, and the Realm of the Dead, our thoughts quite understandably go downhill. That’s what a “Katabasis” means, after all – “Going Under”. Because we are anticipating that we are heading for some form of “Underworld”. Which is not entirely inaccurate, and nor should it be dismissed as some sort of embedded Cultural Christianity – after all, in addition to the word “Hell”, we find the oldest Christian citations for the concept as Greek “Tartarus”, and Dante’s Inferno is, in addition to being *far* more influential upon many modern persons’ conceptions of “Hell” than anything actually in the Bible, almost straight Indo-Europeanism er … all the way down.
In many traditional Indo-European accountings, we similarly wind up with the Underworld being just exactly that. “Patalaloka”, in Sanskrit, meaning the world under-foot; Odin stating that the way to Niflhel lies *down*; and Tartarus is described as being nine nights’ anvil-fall beneath the Earth in Hesiod.
And we’ll probably wind up considering all of this in much more detail *somewhere else*, but suffice to say that all of these places are in part if not always in their entirety, *negatively connoted*. Places of imprisonment and ‘contrapasso’ [‘ironic punishment’, ‘counterpoint’]. “Hells” we might call them.
Which matters for our purposes, because they have loomed so immensely large within our popular and our mythoreligious consciousness(es) as to have often effectively eclipsed that there are not only *several* sorts of afterlife with their own quite significantly varying (meta)physical/cosmological/planetological locations … but that *under the ground* was very likely almost the *exact opposite* of where perhaps the most important Realm of the Dead (that of hte Glorious Dead, Those Worth Remembering [Amongst The Stars?], The Ancestors with a capital P] was actually to be found.
Or, to phrase it another way, and before we get into the two rather ‘revolutionary’ points about all of this … what we are in fact dealing with is not a “Hell”, but rather “Heaven”. And, indeed, that is rather directly where this Realm of Yama is said to be situated in one of these RigVedic Hymals – Paramevyoman … the Highest, the Preceding Heaven [‘Vyoman’ meaning Sky, Aether, Atmosphere] [there is an attempted variant reconstruction for Paramevyoman to suggest it is “The Lowest Hollow”, but for reasons we shall soon see, I do not consider this to be reliable].
So, to speak plainly – if you were searching for this Realm of the Blessed Dead *underground*, then you would be *looking the wrong way*. At least during the night-time. During the day-time, some have suggested that the earlier Indo-Europeans answered the question “where do the Stars go?” with the suggestion that they were now under the plane of the Earth. Which actually makes quite some intuitive sense, when one thinks about it – after all, we see the Stars wheel across the sky from one Horizon to the other, before eventually appearing back almost at their starting point back in the East again. So obviously Their motion has continued in circuit under the realm [the ‘Loka’ – derived also from the PIE ‘Lewk’ which gives us “Light”, and thence referring to a ‘visible expanse’, a place, a plane, a kingdom] that we, the living, presently occupy (and rather closer in some ways to the caves and the bottoms of tombs and grave-mounds wherein the mortal remains of particular Honoured Dead might be interred) .
So perhaps, what happened is the revolution of the Planes became ‘stuck’ in our various ancestral mythologies … and in just the manner via which Dyaus Pitar’s Latinate expression became “Dis Pater” of the Underworld, the Uppland became somewhere more overtly Chthonic. Although interestingly, never *quite* ceding the Pride-of-Place of some of the greatest heroes and forebears, the Constellations, to the Below-Darkness – even as glow-worms, and glittering gems found in cave-ceilings, served to replicate them somewhat and dimly, ‘mist the Night Below.
In any case, I have digressed again somewhat. I do tend to wander, rather than staying affixed to one precise and laser-straight (nor arrow-parable-ic) path.