The Spirit World, and or The Umbra
umbra: Latin: shadow. A complete shadow (as of the Moon) within which the source of light (the Sun) is totally hidden from view.
The Umbra is a realm existing alongside, and yet separate from, the material world. Some consider it an alternate dimension.
The term "Umbra" is generally used, particularly by werewolves, to refer specifically to the "Spirit Wilds," or Middle Umbra. However, there is much more to Umbral cosmology than this.
The material world is the world we are all familiar with; people live in cities, connected by highways, eat at McDonalds, and watch TV. Crime happens in the silence between police sirens. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Near Umbra collectively refers to the three Umbrae and the Gauntlet. Though each infinite in scope, they are all contained "within" Earth: the boundary of the system is Earth's atmosphere.
Separating Earth from the Umbrae is a membrane known as the Gauntlet. Some humans almost manage to get close to the Gauntlet in times of bliss, meditation, or creativity: this state is known as the Periphery.
The Gauntlet is thinner in places such as a haunted graveyard or the wilderness, and thicker in places such as laboratories and shopping malls. The relative strength of the Gauntlet determines the ease with which one can cross it, or "step sideways." The Gauntlet is usually treated as a single phenomenon, when it is actually sort of three Gauntlets in one: one separating Earth from the Astral Plane, one protecting from the Spirit Wilds, and one blocking access to the Underworld. The latter Gauntlet is also referred to as the Shroud by Wraiths, and as the Stormwall by agents of the Orpheus Group.
Directly "overlapping" the material world is a portion of the Umbra known as the Penumbra. The Penumbra mirrors physical reality, but reality as it is "supposed" to be. A toxic waste dump site will swarm with malevolent Banes, a city will be covered in cobwebs woven by Pattern Spiders, and a grove of trees will stand taller and wilder.
The appearance of the Penumbra seems to be based on the viewpoint of the viewer. Werewolves will see it in a more animistic fashion, with an immense Moon dominating the sky (the Sun, conversely, tends to be much smaller), and everything represented by a spirit. Some mages may see it more representing ideals and concepts rather than spirits. Other mages (and the lucky vampire who makes it here) will see things in a state of decay: a swollen red sun shining on crumbling buildings and rusting husks of cars. An uninformed observer may assume, based on description, that there are three different Penumbrae, one for each Umbra. This is a mistaken assumption, however: if three different travelers arrive in the Penumbra, each viewing a different "facet," they are still able to see and contact each other. Despite the varying perspectives, there is truly only one Penumbra.
For this reason, it's possible that the Shadowlands/Wastelands is simply one aspect of the Penumbra.
Although directionality when discussing Umbrae is an exercise in futility, if we were to step and look at the universe from a fourth-dimensional perspective, then this may apply.
That said, if one were to go "up" from the Penumbra, one would reach the Astral Reaches, also called the Astral Plane, the Astral Umbra, the High Umbra or the Upper Umbra. The Astral Reaches are the realms of thought, of idea, of concept. This is the Umbra most frequently traveled by mages.
The High Umbra or Astral Umbra is a place that can broadly be considered a reflection of the consciousness of the entirety of humanity. It can be divided into the Vulgate, a region where various common ideas (invention, love, hand-to-hand combat) form small microcosmic realms that interact frequently with one another as human ideas and beliefs change, the Spires, a region where major abstract ideas such as War or Love form sizable realms, the Courts, where major societies such as the Mount Olympus of myth and the Court of the Hindu pantheon (gods included) can be found, and the Epiphanies, a realm of ultimate abstraction unattainable by most mortals.
Interestingly, while certain afterlives (such as realm that are apparently the Christian Heaven and Hell) seem to play themselves out here, evidence suggests that they are not populated by the souls of the dead but instead by beings who exist as a fundamental part of the realm.
The Middle Umbra
Unlike the High Umbra, the Middle Umbra is not organized hierarchically. Instead, it is divided into a series of discrete realms of physical reality divided by gulfs of relative emptiness and pockets of spirit activity. Roads between realms vary considerably (moon paths and trods being two examples). Realms in the Middle Umbra usually have their own Gauntlet and many are apparently infinite in their own private scope. While many realms in the Middle Umbra resemble the abstract realms of the High Umbra, the important distinction is that the realms of the Middle Umbra exist independently from the consciousness of humanity, while the High Umbra does not.
The Middle Umbra is also notable for the influence of the Triat and the presence of entire hierarchies of spirits associated with them. While many realms are not controlled by one of the Triat, most realms have also been touched by one or more of them.
When going "out," or "sideways" from the Penumbra, one would attain the Spirit Wilds, or Middle Umbra; hence the term "stepping sideways," so popular among the Werewolves. This is the Umbra most frequented by werewolves, and is the Umbra of spirit, of essence. In the Middle Kingdom, this Umbra is known as the Yang World.
The Underworld is rightly named such, although it is also called the Afterworlds, the Lower Umbra, or Dark Umbra. It is home to the Restless Dead, the Wraiths who still cling to the world because of something left undone. Very few have the desire to travel here. This is the Umbra of memory: emotion invested in things which no longer exist. Even Wraiths themselves can be said to be creatures of memory and passion — although whether it is the memory of those still alive or of the Wraiths themselves which keeps them alive is unknown. In the Middle Kingdom, this Umbra is known as the Yin World.
There is a gravity of sorts in the Underworld, but it has nothing to do with mass. Instead, all things are drawn inevitably to Oblivion, the end of all things.
There are several zones which pass through the Near Umbra. If the Near Umbra can be seen as a triple-layer cake, zones exist as slices into the cake. An ant walking across a layer might keep walking over a slice, or he might travel into the slice. So it is with zones. An individual could walk travel through the Astral Reaches without ever knowing she has just stepped through a zone, or she might enter into the zone and find an entirely new realm of existence within.
The most well-known of the zones is the Dreaming. The Dreaming exists in a similar fashion to the Umbrae, yet somewhat separate from them as well. There exists the Near Dreaming, the Far Dreaming, and the Deep Dreaming. Either within the Deep Dreaming or further beyond it lies Arcadia, the fabled home of the fairy folk.
The Digital Web
The Digital Web is a sort of extension of the Internet, but unlike the Internet appears to have no basis in hardware: it is a network without servers or cables. Most remarkably, anyone (even mundane humans) with the right equipment can interface with it. While holistic immersion is possible, only certain mages are capable of it. Entire digital realms exist within it, and it is considered by many the "new frontier" to be conquered. The Virtual Adepts currently have the best handle on this growing zone.
Ostensibly discovered in the 1950s, the Digital Web is actually the remnants of the Ahl-i-batin's Web of Faith, a spiritual information network that collapsed during the Dark Ages.
Not one but a series of versions of the theory of the existence of a Hollow Earth. Superficially similar to the types of realms seen in the Middle Umbra, the Hollow Worlds are noteworthy because they can be reached by mundane humans through use of certain subterranean passages, mine shafts, and unremarkable elevators. Furthermore, some argue that the Hollow Worlds constitute an entirely different type of Umbra, and call it the "Inner Umbra," claiming that if Earth is a theater and the world beyond the lobby is the Umbra, the area backstage is where the Hollow Worlds can be found. In any case attempts to cross the Gauntlet into the Hollow Worlds invariably fail, baffling most theorists on Umbral topography. The Sons of Ether are especially fond of this zone, because of how well suited it is to high adventure.
This mysterious region seems to migrate through all parts of the Near Umbra, causing localized hallucinations that are at once impossible and highly personal. Victims of the Mirror Zone have described unexpected encounters with past lovers, dead enemies, and other personal relations, as well as having witnessed those around them apparently exhibit radical changes in personality. These manifestations only last a short while (leaving the victim disoriented and often leading to misunderstandings with others who did not experience the zone), but can be highly confusing and potentially dangerous if the hallucinations prove hostile.
This strange region permeates the Near Umbra, connecting all places to all other places through a series of small tunnels. Most notably, almost all supernatural, magical, and technological phenomena simply cease to function within this region. Guns won't fire, werewolves lose their spiritual gifts, and mages can't alter reality. The one exception is abilities that allow a person to cross a Gauntlet - by traveling to another place in the Null Zone and passing back through into the Umbra, a traveler will enter another locations, seemingly at random.
These roaming scenescapes can be discovered in any part of the Umbra and overtake a traveler's senses to display some event of titanic proportions repeatedly until the Vista moves on. Events might include the Big Bang, Armageddon, or some other moment of catastrophic creation of cataclysm. The trapped viewer is safe from the effects of the Vista, and cannot affect them. Were it not for the disappearance of those individuals trapped within, they would seem nothing more than a roving holistic hallucination.