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The tree was gone, and the world was gone, and the morning-gray sky above him was gone. The sky was now the color of midnight. There was a single cold star shining high above him, a blazing, twinkling light, and nothing else. He took a single step and almost tripped.
Shadow looked down. There were steps cut into the rock, going down, steps so huge that he could only imagine that giants had cut them and descended them a long time ago.

Shadow, Chapter Sixteen

The afterlife or the underworld is the dimension or plane of existence where all living beings go after their death. It is made up of several different realms, from the Hall of Forgotten Gods (for the Old Gods) to the Egyptian Duat.

Significance in story[]

Significance in narrative[]

Chapter Three[]

Falling asleep into the Motel America, Shadow has a nightmare where he visits the Hall of Forgotten Gods.

Chapter Sixteen[]

Shadow is in the darkness with a single star above. There are steps in the rock and he climbs down them, wearing the same jeans and t-shirt he wore when he first encountered Zorya Polunochnaya and she gave him the moon. She is waiting for him and tells him that all his questions can be answered but they can never be unanswered. He gives her back the 1922 silver liberty dollar and she tells him it brought him liberty twice and it will now light his way before placing the silver dollar back into the sky. She tells him to choose his path among hard truths or fine lies. Shadow chooses Truth and Zorya Polunochnaya asks Shadow to pay the price with his name. She reaches up to his head and pulls out a white flame on her fingertip, closing her hand around his name. She points him to the right-handed path.

Shadow proceeds down the path, seeing himself in prison, seeing himself beating up Larry Powers and B.J. West three years prior, seeing himself walking out with the money from the robbery, sees his trial where he was convicted of assault. He continues walking, stopping at a Chicago hospital room where his mother is dying of lymphoma. He continues walking farther back into his memories to where he and his mother are in Northern Europe and he is asking her about his father.

He moves on to an underground pool of water and drinks from it before reaching another moment in time where his mother is younger than he's ever seen her before. She is dancing with a man whom Shadow recognizes with little surprise as Mr. Wednesday. Shadow sees the salt on her lips and back of her hand before Mr. Wednesday takes her away. Shadow doesn't follow.

At a bend in the path, Shadow encounters Bast in human form. She points to three paths, telling him one way will make him wise, one will make him whole, and one will kill him. He tells her he is already dead and she replies that death is relative. He doesn't know which way to choose so she says she can choose for him if he trusts her but it will cost him his heart. She reaches inside his chest and pulls it out, closing her hand around it until it is gone. She tells him to take the middle path and to keep moving because the clock is ticking while the gods are gathering on the Mountain preparing for war.

The path splits again and he recognizes one path as the Hall of Forgotten Gods he dreamed about once before. He chooses another path but it doesn't seem right either, so he heads down the center path as Bast had directed him. A splashing noise reaches Shadow in the darkness and he waits on the shore as Mr. Ibis rows a boat over. As they row back to the other side, Ibis tells Shadow he is his psychopomp, there to escort him from the world of the living to the world of the dead. Even though Shadow didn't believe in the Egyptian gods, they believed in him and are now there to guide him on his way.

They disembark and Ibis takes Shadow to Anubis to be dissected and judged, leaving Shadow feeling painfully exposed as all of his sins are examined. Anubis asks for Shadow's heart and Bast passes it to Ibis. If Shadow's heart is too heavy, it will be fed to Ammet, the Eater of Souls. Anubis brings out a pair of golden scales and places a feather on one side and Shadow's heart on the other as Ammet lurks in the shadows, waiting. The scale balances out and Shadow is allowed to choose where to go next. Shadow asks for no heaven or hell but to simply rest and let it end. Mr. Jacquel opens a door to Nothing for Shadow and he walks through joyously.


Significance in series[]

TBA

The different realms of the Afterlife[]

The Hall of Forgotten Gods[]

The Hall of Forgotten Gods is the afterlife where statues, carvings and rough-hewn images of the Old Gods who faded away due to lack of worship are stored. Shadow compares it to a "dark museum" and calls it an "endless memorial hall". After dreaming about it in Chapter Three, Shadow sees the Hall again during his travel into the afterlife. Arriving at the crossroad, he sees one path leads to the hall of forgotten gods, and can hear "long echoes of tiny noises" and "the noise that the dust makes when it settles". The Hall of Forgotten Gods is divided into two rooms.

The first room is bigger than city, and each statue has a name burning on the floor in front of it. This is the room where are "the gods who have been forgotten, and now might as well be dead [...] found only in dry histories [...] all gone, but their names and images remain with us." Among these forgotten gods are found:

  • The statue of a womanlike thing, with naked breasts hanging flat and pendulous, a chain of severed hands around her waist, sharp knives in both of her hands, and instead of a head twin serpents with bodies arched, facing each other, "ready to attack". Shadow feels "something profoundly disturbing" when looking at the statue, a "deep and violent wrongness". It is the statue of Coatlicue ("skirt of snakes"), the Aztec goddess said to be the mother of the moon, the stars and the god Huitzilopochtli. Her flacid breasts are the remains of her pregnancies, and her unusual head is due to a self-sacrifice by decapitation she performed during the creation of the world.
  • The statue of a man with white hair and a necklace of teeth, holding a drum. It is the statue of Leucotios, also known as Loucetios, a Gallic god whose name might have meant "lightning" and who was identified with the Roman god Mars during the Gallo-Roman era.
  • The statue of a broad-hipped woman with monsters dropping from the vest gash between her legs. It is the statue of Hubur, a mythical river at the entrance of the Sumerian netherworld. Scholars identified Hubur as a source of fertility and life in early Sumerian religion. The Babylonian creation myth of Enuma Elis refers to Hubur as "mother sea, who fashions all things", which links her to another deity, which is the one actually referenced by the statue: Tiamat, the monstrous and primordial goddess of chaos and the sea in the Babylonian religion, who birthed the gods and later armies of monsters. The link between her and Hubur is reinforced by the fact one of Tiamat's alternate names is "Ummu-Hubur".
  • The statue of a man with the head of a ram, holding a golden ball. It is the statue of Hershef, an Egyptian god of creation and fertility born from the primordial waters, and who was worshiped in Heracleopolis Magna.

The second room is vaster than the first, and contains the representations of the gods who "passed out of memory. Even their names are lost. The people who worshiped them are as forgotten as their gods. Their totems are long since broken and cast down. Their last priests died without passing on their secrets." This room contains a "whispering noise", a "low "susurrus" causing chilling and inexplicable fear in Shadow. Among these gods whose very existence was lost we found:

  • The skull of a mammoth, polished and brown, with a small woman with a deformed left hand wearing a hairy ocher cloak. It is the representation of Nunyunnini.
  • Three women, each carved from the same granite boulder, joined at the waist, their faces with an "unfinished, hasty look" but with breasts and genitalia "carved with elaborate care". It seems to be an early form of the "triple goddess" archetype, that Neil Gaiman is known to use a lot in his fictions. The style of the statue also reminds of some Prehistoric figurines.
  • A flightless bird (that Shadow does not recognize), twice Shadow's height, with a beak like the one of a vulture but humans arms.
  • An octopus-faced god. This is a clear nod to Cthulhu, the fictional deity created by H. P. Lovecraft.
  • A mummified hand.
  • Falling rocks.
  • A forest fire.

The Duat[]

The Duat consists of many worlds, which lie beyond five doors in a vast desert. Anubis brings the deceased to sit with him, where he weighs their heart against a feather. Those whose hearts are balanced with the feather are led to five doors, which bring the deceased to one of the many worlds of the Duat.

The afterlife of the New Gods[]

During Shadow's travels throughout the afterlife in Chapter Sixteen, he encounters a crossroad. One path leads to the Hall of Forgotten Gods, the other to what clearly appears to be the Hall's equivalent for the New Gods.

Shadow does not enter this area, but from what he sees, it is a corridor with a "Disneyland quality", made of walls of black Plexiglas with lights set in them, blinking and flashing "in the illusion of order, for no particular reason, like console lights on a television starship". Shadow also hears a deep "vibrating bass drone", which he can feel in the "pit of his stomach".

The Nothing[]

After an exhausted Shadow Moon is judged by Anubis' scales in Chapter Sixteen, Shadow is allowed to choose where to go next. Shadow asks for neither heaven nor hell but to simply rest and let it end. Anubis opens a door for Shadow and he walks through joyously. Behind it, is said to be "nothing" - not darkness, not even oblivion, simply nothing. Inside this nothingness, referred as both "Nothing" and "Nowhere" by the narration, Shadow is left empty, "cleaned" and void of all memory, identity, shape and existence until he is reduced to being nothing. However, as the narration points out "Even Nothing cannot last forever", and later Whiskey Jack takes Shadow out of the Nothing and summons him to his own Backstage.


Gallery[]

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Graphic novel


Notes and trivia[]

  • The Duat is the Egyptian realm of the dead, presided over by Osiris.
  • Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab created a home and linen spray based on the Hall of Forgotten Gods, as part of their "American Gods - Home and Linen Spray" line. It is described as "Ancient incense and charred sacrifices echoing through time".
  • During Shadow's travels in the afterlife, Bast tells him that of the three ways the crossroad will offer him, one will make him "wise", another will make him "whole" and the last will "kill" him (Bast notes that you can still die in the afterlife, death being a "relative thing").
  • In the BPAL illustration for the Hall of Forgotten Gods, the artist Julie Dillon added a representation of the "Palaeolithic Venus", figurines of Upper Palaeolithic representing round faceless women with prominent breasts and belly, theorized to be symbols of health or fertility, or even representations of a mother or grandmother goddess.

References[]

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