Myths about Hell & Subterranean places

Cultures throughout history describe entrances into underworlds. Below is a list of ancient civilizations and the underworlds that they describe in their oral, pictorial, and written histories. Hell is related to the concept of the underworld. In the myths of many ancient cultures, the underworld was the mysterious and often gloomy realm of the dead. Although usually imagined as a dark underground kingdom associated with caves and holes in the earth, hell was not always a place of punishment and suffering. Later belief systems introduced the idea of an afterlife in which the wicked received punishment, and hell was where that punishment occurred. The word hell was thought to have originated from the Norse word “Hel.” Each culture had various representations of the concept and some don’t believe in the concept at all, but it is an interesting part of our history in many cultures.

GREEK: Hades

In older Greek myths, the realm of Hades is the misty and gloomy abode of the dead (also called Erebus), where all mortals go. Later Greek philosophy introduced the idea that all mortals are judged after death and are either rewarded or cursed. Very few mortals could leave his realm once they entered: the exceptions, Heracles, Theseus, are heroic. Even Odysseus in his Nekyia, calls up the spirits of the departed, rather than descend to them.

There were several sections of the realm of Hades, including Elysium, the Asphodel Meadows, and Tartarus. Greek mythographers were not perfectly consistent about the geography of the afterlife. A contrasting myth of the afterlife concerns the Garden of the Hesperides, often identified with the Isles of the Blessed, where the blessed heroes may dwell.

ROMAN:

In Roman mythology, the entrance to the Underworld located at Avernus, a crater near Cumae, was the route Aeneas used to descend to the realm of the dead. By synecdoche, “Avernus” could be substituted for the underworld as a whole. The Inferi were the Roman gods of the underworld.

For Hellenes, the deceased entered the underworld by crossing the Acheron, ferried across by Charon, who charged an obolus, a small coin for passage placed in the mouth of the deceased by pious relatives. Paupers and the friendless gathered for a hundred years on the near shore according to Book VI of Vergil’s Aeneid. Greeks offered propitiatory libations to prevent the deceased from returning to the upper world to “haunt” those who had not given them a proper burial. The far side of the river was guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed dog defeated by the Roman Heracles. Passing beyond Cerberus, the shades of the departed entered the land of the dead to be judged.

HEBREW: Sheol

In Judaism She’ol[3] is the earliest conception of the afterlife in the Jewish Scriptures. It is a place of darkness to which all dead go regardless of the moral choices made in life and where they are “removed from the light of God” (see the Book of Job). She’ol is a concept that predates the Christian and Muslim ideas of judgement after death and also predates, and is different from, Heaven and Hell. It is unclear whether Sheol was to be considered a real place or a way of describing the unknown status of a person’s conscious being.

The word “hades” (underworld) was substituted for “sheol” when the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek (see Septuagint) in ancient Alexandria around 200 BCE (see Hellenistic Judaism).

In the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) Sheol is the common destination of both the righteous and the unrighteous flesh, as recounted in Ecclesiastes and Job. The New Testament (written in Greek) also uses “Hades” to refer to the abode of the dead. (Revelation 20:13) The belief that those in Sheol awaited the resurrection either in comfort (in the bosom of Abraham) or in torment may be reflected in the story of the New Testament of Lazarus and Dives.[4] English translations of the Hebrew scriptures have variously rendered the word Sheol as “Hell”[5] or “the grave”.[6]

NORDIC: Svartalfheim

In Norse mythology, svartálfar (Old Norse “swart elves” or “black elves”, singular svartálfr) are beings who dwell in Svartálfaheimr (Old Norse “world of the swart elves” or “world of the black elves”). Both the svartálfar and Svartálfaheimr are solely attested in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. Scholars have noted that the svartálfar appear to be synonymous with dwarfs and potentially also the dökkálfar (Old Norse “dark elves”).

The Svartálfar and Svartálfaheimr are solely attested in the Prose Edda, in which they are mentioned in two books; Gylfaginning (Svartálfaheimr) and Skáldskaparmál (svartálfar). In chapter 33 of Gylfaginning, the enthroned figure of High tells of the binding of the wolf Fenrir. High relates that when Fenrir had grown so large that the gods began to grow concerned, the god Odin sent the god Freyr’s messenger Skírnir down to Svartálfaheimr to “some dwarfs” who made the silky yet immensely strong fetter Gleipnir from six fantastical ingredients. Whereas the other fetters failed, Gleipnir succeeds in binding the wolf.[1]

In chapter 35 of Skáldskaparmál, it is detailed that the half-god Loki once cut the lustrous golden hair of the goddess Sif, wife of the god Thor. Upon hearing of the shearing of his wife’s locks, Thor, taking hold of Loki, intends to break every bone in Loki’s body until Loki swears to get svartálfar to make “a head of hair out of gold that would grow like any other hair”. Loki then goes to a group of dwarfs, the Sons of Ivaldi, who not only smith Sif’s hair but also various other important objects owned by the gods, and the tale continues.[2]

Scholars have commented that, as both attestations mentioning the beings and location appear to refer to dwarfs, svartálfr and dwarf may simply be synonyms for the same concept.[3] Scholar John Lindow comments that whether the dökkálfar and the svartálfr were considered the same at the time of the writing of the Prose Edda is also unclear.[4]

CHRISTIAN: Hell

Christian views on Hell are mostly united in the belief that Hell is a place or a state in which the souls of the unsaved will suffer the consequences of sin. The New Testament speaks of the after-death fate of the wicked, using the Greek words γέεννα (gehenna) and ταρταρῶ (tartarō).

In the New Testament, it is described as the place or state of punishment after death or last judgment for those who have rejected Jesus.[1]

Hell is generally defined as the eternal fate of unrepentant sinners after this life.[2] Hell’s character is inferred from biblical teaching, which has often been understood literally.[2] Souls are said to pass into Hell by God’s irrevocable judgment, either immediately after death (particular judgment) or in the general judgment.[2] Modern theologians generally describe Hell as the logical consequence of the soul using its free will to reject the will of God.[2] It is considered compatible with God’s justice and mercy because God will not interfere with the soul’s free choice.[2]

Only in the King James Version is the word “Hell” used to translate certain words, such as sheol (Hebrew) and both hades and gehenna (Greek). All other translations reserve Hell only for use when gehenna is mentioned. It is generally agreed that both sheol and hades do not typically refer to the place of eternal punishment, but to the grave, the temporary abode of the dead, or underworld.[3]

HINDU: Aryavartha

Āryāvarta (Sanskrit: आर्यावर्त, “abode of the Aryas”) is a name for Northern India in classical Sanskrit literature. The Manu Smriti (2.22) gives the name to “the tract between the Himalaya and the Vindhya ranges, from the eastern to the western sea”.

The Vasistha Dharma Sutra I.8-9 and 12-13 locates Āryāvarta to the east of the disappearance of the Sarasvati in the desert, to the west of Kalakavana, to the north of the mountains of Pariyatra and Vindhya and to the south of the Himalaya. Baudhayana Dharmasutra (BDS) 1.1.2.10 gives similar definitions and declares that Āryāvarta is the land that lies west of Kalakavana, east of Adarsana, south of the Himalayas and north of the Vindhyas, but in BDS 1.1.2.11 Āryāvarta is confined to the Ganges – Yamuna doab, and BDS 1.1.2.13-15. Patañjali’s Mahābhāṣya[citation needed] defines Āryāvarta like the Vasistha Dharma Sutra.

Some sutras recommend expiatory acts for those who have crossed the boundaries of Āryāvarta. Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra recommends this for those who have crossed the boundaries of Āryāvarta and ventured into far away places.[citation needed]

The Gurjar Pratihar king in the tenth century was entitled as Maharajadhiraja of Aryavarta.[1]

KABALLAH: Hollow Earth

Our common conception is that Heaven is out there somewhere in the sky or in space, while Hell is underneath us, deep underground or at the planet’s center. This would be accurate if the planet had a wholly solid interior, but it does not. Our planet is a hollow shell and at its center is a luminous sun or anomaly. It is engineered wisely and economically so that both the outer convex surface and the inner concave surface can be inhabited. This is possible when it is realized that the planet’s gravity is in the middle of it’s shell, and not its center. Polar openings connect the two surfaces in an unbroken fashion, and two suns, one outer and one inner, illuminate and warm both areas. Air and water flow also circulate unbroken from inner to outer and vice versa with the ice caps acting as a filtering system.

TIBETIAN: Niraya

The Narakas of Buddhism are closely related to 地獄 Dì Yù, the hell of Chinese mythology. A Naraka differs from the hells of Abrahamic religions in two respects. First, beings are not sent to Naraka as the result of a divine judgment and punishment; second, the length of a being’s stay in a Naraka is not eternal, though it is usually very long.

Instead, a being is born into a Naraka as a direct result of his or her accumulated karma and resides there for a finite period of time until that karma has achieved its full result. After his or her karma is used up, he or she will be reborn in one of the higher worlds as the result of karma that had not yet ripened.

In the Devaduta Sutta, the 130th discourse of Majjhima Nikaya, the Buddha teaches about hell in vivid detail.

Physically, Narakas are thought of as a series of cavernous layers which extend below Jambudvīpa (the ordinary human world) into the earth. There are several schemes for enumerating these Narakas and describing their torments. The Abhidharma-kosa (Treasure House of Higher Knowledge) is the root text that describes the most common scheme, the Eight Cold Narakas and Eight Hot Narakas, described below.

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