The Shamanic Spiritual Worldview: The Lower, Middle, and Upper Worlds

The 3 spiritual worlds within the context of the shamanic worldview.  Get it broken down for you - from top to bottom. 

by Sarah Petruno, Shamana

I first learned about the Shamanic way of viewing the world on my honeymoon.

My husband and I went to the Yucatan Peninsula.

One of our experiences was a day trip through the Mayan Peninsula in which we planned to swim in sacred caves and bike through ancient civilizations.

We started the day by visiting a Wildlife refuge that also contained underground caves of water, once used as sacred burial grounds.

As we approached the swimming cave, called a cenote, we were met by a Shaman.

Me, my husband, our guide, and the shaman stood together outside of the entrance to the cenote.

What happened next, I didn’t understand at the time, because this was my first experience even meeting a Shaman to begin with. I surveyed my surroundings - I saw the entrance to the cenote, and outside of it, there was a pot boiling and 4 mugs. Nearby, a smoking wand of bundled herbs in a dish, and a sacred space had been arranged surrounding the well above the cenote.

I tried to be as respectful as possible during the entire encounter, though I had no idea how to act. Somehow, I found myself participating in an ancient ceremonial ritual while on my honeymoon.

The shaman began to speak what I now identify as a prayer of intention while an herbal tea continued to brew over a fire. As he spoke, he slowly moved the wand of bundled, smoking herbs around the circle. Over the tea, then over each one of us, while continuing to speak a prayer of intention.

We were being cleansed and prepared to enter into the sacred space below the earth, the cenote that had once been used as a sacred burial ground.

As soon as he completed the prayer and intention ceremony, we were each handed a ceramic mug of the steaming beverage and we were instructed to drink.

Then, and only then, we were allowed to enter the cave.

We climbed down a wooden ladder into the underwater cavern below and we jumped into the water.

Floating in the crystalline waters, our guide began to tell us a story of the 3 worlds.

The lower world, the middle world, and the upper world.

In that moment, he said, we were in the lower world.

We were underground, in a pool of pure water, surrounded by bones of the deceased.

Fascinated, but only half understanding these brand new to me concepts, I tried to take in as much as I could. I wasn’t sure if he meant I was in hell or a dark place, but as I expressed this confusion - he assured me that this was no hell. That the lower world was incredibly sacred and nothing but good.

He said that my confusion that equated hell with the lower world was all too common, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

At the time, I had no conceptualization of the anything outside of the physical world. My brain couldn’t even grasp the idea of a spiritual world that was separated into 3 layers, represented by a tree’s roots, the trunk, and the branches.

Later, I would come to know exactly what he was talking about very well.

The 3 spiritual worlds within the context of the shamanic worldview.  Get it broken down for you - from top to bottom. 

The Shamanic Worldview

Through the eyes of the shamanic spiritual practitioner, and those who ascribe to this worldview, there’s a layer of spiritual life beyond what we see in the physical world.

We can’t always see it, but it’s there, and we live within it.

The Spiritual World, in the simplest sense, can be divided into 3 different “zones”:

The Lower World - represented by the roots of a tree, sitting just at the earth and below it

The Middle World - represented by the trunk of the tree, just above the earth

The Upper World - represented by the branches of the tree, in the sky above the earth

You can kind of think of this in the way that might think of the layers of a lake or of the ocean, a top layer, a middle layer, and a bottom layer.

None of the layers are better or worse, or particularly good or bad, but what you find in each of the layers is different. Different species of fish and aquatic life exist at each of the layers. Sure, there’s some mixing across layers and zones of life, but most individual species tend to spend most the time in their own zones.

It’s the same way with the zones of separation in the Spiritual World.

Here’s how it works:

The Lower World:

This is considered the realm of nature spirits and the natural world.

Spiritual individuals that are more connected to the Earth live here: animal guides, power animals, tree spirits, plant spirits, crystal spirits, elementals, gnomes, fairies, and many other Earth aligned Spirits take up residence in the lower world. There’s nothing bad or unsafe about the lower world, and it is indeed considered safe and sacred. There is Divine, Source energy located deep within the Earth that those in the lower world are connected to.

If you’ve ever done a guided meditation to meet an animal guide, and you’ve had to journey down into a cave in the Earth to meet them - this is why. Spiritually, they reside below us, as symbolized by the tree’s roots at and below the Earth’s surface.

The Spirits that exist here are generally connected to Source energy below and are considered “safe” to interact with in their connection to the Divine.

The Middle World:

This is realm represents the plane of the physical world and those who live there, as represented by the trunk of the tree and the space between the Earth and the Sky. This include us, humans, as we walk above the Earth and live in the physical world. This also includes Earthbound Spirits and non-crossed over entities that are not connected to Source energy.

Interacting with Spirits that exist in this realm is recommended to be done with caution, as most are not aligned directly or immediately with Source energy.

The Upper World:

This realm is represented by the branches of a tree that exist in the sky. The Upper World is what is typically referred to as The Light, Source, the Divine, or Heaven. Ascended Masters, Angels, Spirit Guides, Teachers, and Deceased Loved Ones who have crossed over reside in the Upper World.

Spirits who call this realm of existence home are considered safe to interact with and their energy is connected more to the Divine Source of energy located in the Sky.

In short, the Lower and Upper Worlds are considered spaces where different Spirits in alignment with Source energy exist - it just depends on if they more closely align with the Spiritual Energy above or below, the Sky or the Earth.

The Middle World is the space in between. It’s where Spirits that are currently living out incarnations on Earth live (us), and it’s also where those who have died and have not yet crossed over exist. Spirits not necessarily in alignment with Source energy exist here. This is the space for individuals who are tied in some way to a physical existence, either living or dead.

If this is your first exposure to these Worlds, give it some time to let it sink in.

I have found that it’s easiest to digest if you compare your conceptualization to a drawing of a tree or to the layers of a body of water.

Nothing is positive or negative about any of the parts of the tree or the layers of a lake - it’s just what exists in each area is different.

As for me, I had completely forgotten about this entire experience until a few years after my trip, when I awoke from sleep and suddenly realized the magnitude of what I had learned in the Mayan jungle while on my honeymoon.


LAST UPDATED: September 25, 2015

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