THE THREE WORLDS MODEL IS A COMMON BELIEF across shamanic practices and defines how reality is set up, with reality divided into Lower World, Middle World, and Upper World.
Many journey practices are built around this belief; but while it is common, it is not universal.
Several cultures travel to both Lower World and Upper World, but some travel to only one or the other.
As you gain experience with journeying, I encourage you to visit the realms that call to you and decide for yourself what best fits into your practice.
While the Three Worlds Model is common, it is very important to understand that it is not a cosmology.
The original indigenous cultures did have cosmologies that accompanied their shamanic ceremonies, but Core Shamanism as it is disseminated today does not.
This is not necessarily a criticism, as there are benefits to a methodology that any of us can apply to our own cosmologies, but it is fundamental for your own practice to understand this distinction.
Christina Pratt, director of the Last Mask Center for Shamanic Healing, explains cosmology as the science of the origin and development of the universe.
Cosmologies are the stories that tell us where we came from, how life as we understand it began, and of the beings and places that exist here.
These stories also explain the relationships between these beings and places, and provide us with a framework for understanding the world.
Everyone has a cosmology, whether or not they are aware of this, and we subconsciously use our cosmologies as a lens to understand the world.
Cosmologies can be scientific, religious, or somewhere in between.
As we begin to analyze our own cosmologies, we can start to be more intentional in our stories, rather than moving through the world with preconceptions we have accepted by default from our upbringing.
In the shamanic Three Worlds Model, there are three main planes of existence, two of which can be accessed only by entering non-ordinary reality.
These realms were not invented by shamanic practitioners, but rather discovered by them through journeys to non-ordinary reality.
This is a commonality found in most shamanic practices, and many non-shamanic traditions.
However, the Three Worlds Model does not contain the stories of the whys and the hows.
Instead, this model defines what already is. How one experiences these realms, and how the spirits present themselves within these realms, is where one’s personal cosmology factors in.
Rather than a cosmology, the Three Worlds Model is an explanation of commonalities across shamanic cultures.
The mythology of the World Tree can function as a metaphor for the Three Worlds Model.
This mythological archetype exists in the stories of many cultures, such as Norse, Mesoamerican, and Siberian.
The World Tree is allencompassing, with deep roots that ground it in the earth, a body that flowers and bears fruit, and the tallest of the branches reaching far into the sky.
The roots correspond to Lower World, the trunk of the tree represents Middle World, and the tallest branches reflect Upper World.
The physical realm we inhabit along with all incarnate beings is referred to as Middle World, which is perceived in ordinary reality.
Lower and Upper Worlds exist in non-ordinary reality and can be accessed with our non-physical bodies through journeying.
Middle World also has a spiritual dimension we can journey to. In non-ordinary reality, we encounter a variety of spirit forms.
The spirits found in Lower and Upper Worlds are generally referred to as compassionate spirits, meaning they are benevolent forces and willing to provide help to those of us in the incarnate plane.
However, not all spirits are compassionate. Nonordinary reality is complex, much like ordinary reality, and in addition to compassionate spirits, we can also encounter neutral or harmful spirits.
They can be the spirits of people who passed away but did not successfully cross over, or perhaps elemental spirits.
I do not recommend journeying in Middle World until you have experience in journeying to both Lower and Upper Worlds and have established an intimate working relationship with your helping spirits.
Once you have this relationship, you can call upon your helping spirits to guide and protect you for a journey in Middle World.
There are definitely valuable lessons to be learned in the spiritual dimension of our incarnate realm.
In Shamanism, there is the basic belief that everything has its own energetic field or spirit.
By journeying in Middle World, you can communicate and establish a relationship with the plants, animals, land, and elements around you.
Through this experience, you can learn how to better live in harmony with your surroundings.
Lower World is below Middle World. Some shamanic paths refer to Lower World as Underworld, and while that terminology does not resonate with me, you might prefer it.
Lower World is where we can connect with the essences and archetypes of nature, and our own primal selves.
It is the home of animal spirits and plant spirits, our helping spirits that exist in non-human form. Visiting Lower World helps us remember and understand our place in nature, and it reminds us of the interconnectedness of all organisms.
Lower World is accessed through a passageway that leads us into the depths of the earth.
At the end of this passageway, we pass through a portal that takes us into a new landscape.
This landscape is usually earthy and rich, deeply grounded.
Lower World can look very similar to Middle World or take on otherworldly qualities.
It is not uncommon to find unusual colors or odd proportions, and the laws of physics do not necessarily apply in the same way as they do in Middle World.
We may find ourselves much larger or smaller than usual, and it is common to experience giant plant or animal life.
Upper World is above Middle World and is usually the home of human-form helping spirits.
Upper World is accessed by traveling upward into the skies until we cross a threshold.
This threshold is critical, because if we do not cross this threshold, we can keep traveling upward in Middle World endlessly.
Upper World has, in my experience, a much lighter and more airy feel than Lower World.
The colors tend to be lighter, softer, and more pastel. Sometimes we find structures and temples in Upper World. While Lower World tends to be a more grounded and visceral experience, Upper World tends to be more intellectual.
Where Lower World helps us remember our place in nature and connects us with our primal selves, Upper World helps us push the limits of our intellect and understanding.
While we generally find animal spirits in Lower World, and human-form helping spirits in Upper World, spirits can move freely between realms, so you may encounter them in any of the three realms.