10 Different Versions of HELL
What do you fear most about death? Are you worried you’ll be met with an endless abyss or that your soul will be sent to an infernal pit of torment and punishment? People from all throughout time have feared being damned to an eternity in hell, but what they were fearing depends on the belief system they followed. Let’s take a dive into the afterlife for a better understanding on the top ten versions of Hell!
The Egyptian Hell
Like much of Egyptian mythology, the concept of Hell is a complicated one. Like many belief systems, it all starts with the judgment of a subject. Before being granted passage into the Underworld, the decedent’s heart was weighed against a feather. If the heart was heavier, their soul would be destroyed and their heart engulfed by the demon Ammit, or the “Swallower of the Damned.” Earlier iterations of Egyptian Hell depict the damned having to walk on their heads and ingest their own excrement and urine. They would also be decapitated, disemboweled, flayed, and be given no food, water, or air to further their suffering.
In Slavic mythology, Peklo isn’t necessarily considered hell but rather a place where a person must undergo a re-education to be placed on the Golden Path of Spiritual Enlightenment, or the Slavic equivalent of heaven. For some of us, that sounds like hell… The souls of the dead don’t face the fiery depths of judgment or eternal torture and their time in Peklo is not intended to be everlasting. How long a person spends in Peklo and how well the re-education process goes depends on how they were in life, meaning a great sinner will spend more time in the Slavic “hell.”
To followers of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, Naraka was believed to be a hellish underworld, though its depiction may change slightly between the different systems. Ultimately, Naraka was not the sort of place you wanted to spend your time after death. Though one’s time in Naraka wasn’t eternal, in Jainism it was depicted as being a length of billions of years. In Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, souls were sent to Naraka based on the karmic actions of their flesh-and-blood existence. In most depictions of this version of hell, the soul is trapped until all of the negative karma accumulated dissipates, finally allowing the soul to enter a more pleasant afterlife.
Chinese mythology talks of a place known as Diyu, a hellish land of mazes, levels, and chambers that souls of the sinful are forced to navigate to atone for their discretions. The number of trails changes between Buddhist and Taoist readings, but the most common are either three, four, ten, or eighteen levels. Each section of Diyu subjects the sinner to torture until their soul “dies,” at which point they’re restored and forced to undergo the torture and punishment again.
There’s no perfect moniker for the terror-filled underworld of Mayan mythology than Xibalba, which translates to “Place of Fear” or “Place of Fright.” Being sent to Xibalba had less to do with how you lived your life and more about how you died. To the Mayans, only those that suffered a violent death would avoid being sent to Xibalba, which was viewed as a world filled with ferocious predators and ruled over either 9 or 14 death gods. The Popol Vuh described Xibalba as being filled with tests and trials meant solely to entertain the death gods through death or humiliation of the subject.
If you’ve ever wondered why Christians are always atoning for something, consider the ultimate end they may have to face if they push themselves farther from God. On one hand, some believe hell to be a place of punishment for those that rebel against God and sin while other Christians think that the representation of hell is misconstrued and doesn’t necessarily involve an eternity of torment. Instead, Hell is viewed as separation from God and the anguish that such a divide would cause.
Standing opposite of Elysium, Tartarus is either a region of the underworld or the name given to the entire underworld, found below where Hades, the lord of the underworld, resides. Where Hades’ kingdom was a place for the dead, Tartarus was delegated specifically to the most heinous of people, deadly beasts, or the imprisoned rivals of gods. In Tartarus, sinners undergo severe punishment that was determined based on the crime committed. Rhadamanthus, Aeacus, and Minos would judge the souls of the dead and determine who would be banished to Tartarus.
Kind of taking a classical approach to hell, the Celtic version, also known as Uffern, is said to be a “lake of fire.” Watched over by Arawn, the souls that enter Uffern were forced to undergo a series of punishments for the sins performed in their mortal form. In different versions of Celtic mythology, Uffern’s king Arawn is also known as Annwfn or is believed to have been ruled by King Nudd or his son, Gwyn ap Nudd. Uffern may also refer to the Otherworld, a realm of gods.
The Qur’an is said to depict three different versions of hell. The first is a beast that can be summoned by God while the second is a crater on the underside of the world, made up of concentric circles that a soul must pass to enter a paradise. To get across the circles, the individual must cross over a bride said to be the width of a razor’s edge. Then there’s the third, a far more classical idea of hell as a place of scorching winds and boiling waters, the damned are said to have their burnt skin replaced with new ones to continue their punishment.
O le nu'u-o-nonoa
To the Oceanic mythologies, O le nu’u-o-nonoa was another word used for Sa-le-Fe’e, the Samoan iteration of hell. Known as the “Land of the Bound,” O le nu’u-o-nonoa housed souls that were bound and watched over by the spirits Ita-nga-ta and Moso, which were known for their malicious nature. Those that were forced to the Land of the Bound typically had to do so for not worshipping the Samoan gods and for acting on sin.