Folktales often feature distant lands or enchanted realms – places of mystery and wonder.
Stories of other worlds
Folktales often feature distant lands or enchanted realms – places of mystery and wonder. These other worlds will often have some kind of magical quality, with strange creatures, powerful forces, and unusual laws that govern them.
Many cultures have different versions of another world – a fantasy land where things are different. Irish mythology has Faerie, Finnish stories often speak of Lintukoto, and Japanese mythology imagines Takamagahara, the realm of the sun-god.
It is no surprise that people are drawn to stories about imaginary places. They offer an entertaining escape from the mundane world, allowing us to explore new possibilities and experience something different.
By journeying through these enchanted lands, we can also learn more about ourselves and our place in the universe – we see our own world in a different light, and learn to better appreciate it.
The other realms in traditional folklore are often beautiful paradises, with lush landscapes and abundant wildlife. The legend of Shangri-La speaks of an idyllic valley hidden deep within the Himalayas, where people live for centuries without aging or illness. The inhabitants of this realm possess great wisdom and knowledge that they use to help others who come seeking their aid. Real-life explorers have sought this valley, as they struggled to tell the difference between fact and folklore.
In Finnish mythology, Lintukoto is a paradise at the edge of the world, where birds migrate every winter. The name translates as ‘home of birds’, and was full of golden birdsong. People believed that if they could reach Lintukoto, they would find happiness and contentment there forevermore.
Sacred realms are a common feature in traditional folklore – divine places which gods and deities call their home. These places can also serve as symbols for spiritual enlightenment, representing a higher plane of spiritual existence where people can find peace and harmony.
Takamagahara is one such example. It appears in Japanese mythology as the heavenly realm where the sun goddess Amaterasu resides. It is said to be located at the highest point of heaven and can only be accessed by those with special powers or knowledge.
The Land of Manu is another sacred realm, this one found in Ancient Egyptian mythology. When the sun god Ra descended from the sky at the end of the day, he rested in the Land of Manu, before rising again in the morning.
The other realms in traditional folklore are not always places of beauty and wonder. They can also be the homes of monstrous beings. These places represent a darker side of reality, where people must confront their inner demons before finding peace within themselves.
Greek mythology speaks of an island inhabited by the Laestrygonians. These beings are monstrous giants – ravenous cannibals and the enemies of Greek heroes. This island was meant to be far away from civilization and only accessible by sea.
Biringan is another monster realm, this one found in Filipino mythology. It was said to exist between two worlds – the physical world and the spirit world – and is inhabited by powerful entities known as aswangs, or shape-shifters. People believed that if they ventured too close to this realm, they would never return home again.
Gateways and portals
In many folktales, gateways and portals allow characters to travel between different realms. In the ancient Greek myth of Persephone, Hades abducts her through a portal in the ground that leads to his underworld kingdom. Similarly, in Irish mythology gateways to the enchanted realm of Faerie can be found at the base of hawthorn trees.
In some stories these portals are guarded by powerful creatures such as dragons or giants. For example, in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, Jack must defeat a giant before he can access its kingdom in the sky.
Mythical realms are often inspired by real places. Mount Olympus is a real mountain in Ancient Greece, which was also believed to be the home of the gods. This mountain was said to have a magical aura that could only be accessed by those with divine powers – a concept which may have been based on its remote location and difficult terrain.
Similarly, Avalon from Arthurian legend is believed to have originated from Glastonbury Tor in England, while Asgard from Norse mythology is thought to have been inspired by Scandinavia’s rugged landscape. Wherever a piece of physical landscape is frightening or breathtaking, it inspires stories of other realms.
Other worlds in modern media
Modern literature has embraced the idea of other realms. Fantasy novels such as J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or C.S Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia feature magical realms populated by mythical creatures and powerful wizards. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy follows Lyra Belacqua on her journey through multiple worlds in search of knowledge and power.
Science fiction also uses fantastical settings to explore our own reality. For example, Frank Herbert’s Dune is set on an alien planet with its own unique ecology and culture that serves as a metaphor for human society. These tales provide an escape from reality; they allow readers to imagine themselves in different places where anything is possible – from defeating evil in magical worlds to discovering new galaxies far away from home.