Hell: Roots of the Modern Concept

By Barbara G Walker

The two essays below, Hell and Hel, taken from Barbara G Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, do much to explain the modern concept of Hell. Walker's feminism is notable, and is good for a few chuckles in an otherwise thorough and scholarly compilation. We thought this of special interest to post today, in view of the fact that -- as noted in the Weekly Letter -- Jim Condit Jr believes that Birdman is going to Hell.

 

Hell

Though Christian theology gave its underworld the name of the Goddess Hel, it was quite a different place from her womb of regeneration. The ancients didn't view the underworld as primarily a place of punishment. It was dark, mysterious, and awesome, but not the vast torture chamber Christians made of it.

Greeks called the underworld Erebus, Hades, or Tartarus, from the "tortoise" incarnation of Vishnu, who was supposed to support the earth in the form of a tortoise. Shades of the dead dwelling in Tartarus endured no torment other than the general cheerlessness of being dead. Lacking blood, shadows, voices, and vital energy, they waited yearningly for rebirth.

Like the realms of earth and heaven, the underworld had its social hierarchy. Queen Persephone or Hecate, her consort Pluto or Hades, and magistrates like Aeacus, Rhadamanthys, and Minos, who were wizard-kings on earth. There were spirits like Hypnos (Sleep), Morpheus (Dreams), and Thanatos (Death).1 Sometimes, as in the medieval vision of fairyland, the underworld was a place of sensual delight. In the Elysian Fields, souls of the enlightened ones were tended by the Goddess's divine nymphs. Like the Egyptian nether god, Seker or Amen, Hades was "the unseen one", the ubiquitous Hidden God in his intra-uterine, sleeping, or dead Black Sun phase. Lord of the Underworld or Lord of Death, he was also a phallic deity, holding the "key" to the nether yonic gate, as his heavenly counterpart Petra (Peter) held the key to the Pearly Gate of Celestial Aphrodite. The nether god was supposed to deposit his semen in rocks, where it solidified into precious gems, a western version of the Jewel in the Lotus. Thus he was Lord of Riches also. Romans called Hades by the name of Dis, short for Dives, "the rich god."2 Most savior-gods who "harrowed hell," or plowed the earth-womb, were credited with the power to reveal buried treasure, a power inherited by the Christian devil.5

Egyptians called the underworld Amenti, Khert-Neter, Neter-Khertet, or the Tuat. It was both a hell and a paradise, a place of judgment and rebirth. Egyptian religion didn't emphasize punishment for sin. Egypt's savior Osiris came to save humanity not from everlasting torture, but from death.4 Egyptians feared death, which they called an "abomination," and devoted most of their religious efforts to avoiding it.5

Egyptian pictures of "the wicked" being destroyed in underworld fire-pits were interpreted by Christians as torments of damned souls. However, these "wicked" were not necessarily human. They were supernatural enemies of the sun god: spirits of darkness, mist, storm. The fire-pits seem to have represented the burning clouds of sunrise and sunset. Even when victims were human, their burning was not eternal.

(QUOTE) Egyptians did not believe in purgatory or everlasting punishment.... [T]he wicked were slaughtered daily and their bodies consumed by fire, but each day brought its own supply of these, and thus the avenging gods were kept busy daily, and the fire-pits were filled with victims daily. There is no evidence in the texts that the Egyptians thought the burning of the same victims could go on forever (UNQUOTE).6

The idea of eternal torture in hell arose with ascetic patriarchal religions like that of Zoroastrian Persia. Masculine preoccupation with pain stood in contrast to the matriarchies' preoccupation with pleasure, a psychic outgrowth of the severities of the ascetic life. There is reason to believe hell's nastier torments were invented primarily to intimidate women into obeying new patriarchal laws.

Zoroastrian priests insisted women who were unfaithful to their husbands would go to hell and have their breasts torn open with iron kbs. Women who scolded would be forced to lick hot stoves with their tongues. Women who showed disloyalty to men would be hung up by one leg, while scorpions, snakes, ants, and worms dug their way in and out of their bodies.7 A similar vision inspired Grunewald's medieval picture of the hellish torments in store for those who committed the crime of loving.8 But not even the Persians supposed the torments of hell would go on forever. That refinement of cruelty was left to the Christians.

The Jews adopted the Persians' hell as a place for punishing the majority of women, judged hopelessly unworthy of the Father-god's heaven. Men could be consigned to hell for holding too much unnecessary conversation with their wives, or for taking feminine advice.9 The female creation-river Gihon was converted into Gehenna, the Jewish hell's river of fire, whose name was sometimes applied to the whole land. The kingdom of Gehenna was 60 times as large as the world. Each of its "palaces" had 6000 "houses," and each house had 6000 vessels of fire and gall awaiting the sinner. Prince of Gehenna was Arsiel, copied from the Chaldean "Black Sun" Aciel, the negative deity corresponding to the god of light in the celestial realm.10

Judeo-Christian tradition populated hell with all the biblical baalim, even those who had been identified with Yahweh himself: Behemoth, Leviathan, Baal-Peor, Baal-Zebub, Baal-Rimmon, Belial, Asmodeus, Molech, Lucifer, Satan, Tammuz, Dagon, Nehushtan, Chemosh (Shamash), Apollyon: even Baal-Berith, the "God of the Covenant." These were joined by gods and goddesses of classical religions: Hades, Pluto, Diana, Persephone, Hermes, Python, Hecate, Minerva, Venus, Cybele, Attis, Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn, Adonis, Pan, Lamia, Medusa, Lilith — plus all the gods and goddesses of Germanic and Celtic paganism. Even those who were artificially canonized, to convert their old shrines into churches, were often simultaneously diabolized and consigned to hell in the guise of demons.

There was a curious medieval passion for identifying, classifying, and naming all the demons. Sorcery required knowledge of their names and titles. An exorcist could do nothing until he learned the name of the demon he dealt with. The Gospels said even Jesus needed to learn the names of the Gadarene devils he exorcised (Mark 5:9). Thus, many sources provided lists of demonic names.

One of the most interesting dissertations on hell was Johann Weyer's Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, published in the 16th century when Weyer served the Duke of Cleves as a healer and diviner. Weyer said there were exactly 7,405,926 demons, divided into 72 companies. These figures had already been reported in the Talmud.11 Supreme Chief of the Infernal Empire and founder of the Order of the Fly was Beelzebuth (Baal-Zebub), the old Philistine Lord of Flies. His lieutenants included Satan, Leader of the Opposition; Pluto, Prince of Fire; Moloch, Prince of the Land of Tears and Grand Cross of the Order of the Fly; Baal, Commander-in-Chief of the Infernal AOT'es and another Grand Cross of the Order of the Fly; and Lucifer, Lord Chief Justice of hell.

Baal-Berith, erstwhile God of the Covenant, filled the post of Minister of Treaties. Nergal, husband of the Babylonian underground Goddess Eresh-kigal, became hell's Chief of Secret Police. The Royal Household included Melchom (Milcom) as Paymaster, and the Philistine god Dagon as Grand Pantler. The Hebrew elephant god Behemoth (originally Ganesha, father of Buddha) was Grand Cup-Bearer. Among the Masters of the Revels, Asmodeus held the post of Superintendent of Casinos. Antichrist was only an insignificant juggler and mimic.12

The infernal hierarchy also maintained embassies in various European countries. Thamuz, or Tammuz, was Ambassador to Spain. Baal-Rimmon, Phoenicia's "Lord of the Pomegranate," was Ambassador to Russia. England's ambassador was Mammon, whose appointment reflected continental resentment of the English zeal for commerce.

Sexual prejudice also extended to the denizens of hell. There was only one token female among hell's governing spirits: Proserpine, called Arch-she-devil and Sovereign Princess of Mischievous Spirits. Astaroth (Astarte) was present only in masculine disguise, as a "duke" of hell and its Grand Treasurer. The Goddess Belili took two male shapes, as Belial and Belphegor, hell's ambassadors to Turkey and France.

Masculinized Goddesses appeared also in Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire infernal, an imitation of Weyer's Pseudomonarchia, showing portraits of a male "demon Ashtoreth" and a male "demon Eurynome." Even Lilith was masculinized as a hellish "prince" in Alexis de Terreneuve du Thym's list of devils: "Beelzebub, the supreme chieftain; Satan, the dethroned prince; Eurinome, prince of death; Moloch, prince of the Land of Tears; Pluto, prince of fire; Pan, prince of the incubi; Lilith, prince of the succubae; Leonard, grand master of the Sabbaths; Daalberith (Baal Berith), high pontiff; and Proserpine, the arch she-devil."

What Weyer's solemn imitators never understood was that the Pseudomonarchia was really an elaborate joke, invented as a caricature of earthly hierarchies. Humor and skepticism were equally foreign to the Age of Faith, when the core of learning was credulity. It was a childlike age. Generations of would-be Magi soberly studied Weyer's mockery in search of demonic names to use in magic charms.

Weyer not only mocked the Christian hierarchy; he also defended witches. As a physician, he was called to examine some of the Inquisition's victims, and pronounced them harmless, deluded women who could not be held responsible for the statements wrung from them by torture. He tried unsuccessfully to halt the tortures and burnings. For this he was accused of heresy and indecency. Father Bartolomeo da Spina scorned Weyer with heavy-handed irony: "Recently Satan went to a Sabbath attired as a great prince, and told the Assembled witches they need not worry since, thanks to Weyer and his followers, the affairs of the Devil were brilliantly progressing."'4

But, Weyer aside, hell was not a joke. It was perhaps the most sadistic fantasy ever conceived by the mind of man. It was described, painted, and contemplated with incredibly perverse relish. Berthold of Regensburg said sinful folk must imagine their punishment in hell as the pain of a body made white-hot in a white-hot universe. "Let them count the sands of the sea-shore, or every hair that has grown upon man and beast since the days of Adam; let them reckon a year of torment for each of those hairs and, even then, the sinner will be only at the outset of his unending agony."Martin of Braga said anyone who renounced Christianity would be "put physically into eternal fire in hell, where the inextinguishable flames burn for ever... and such a man shall long to die again, and not feel the punishment, but he will not be allowed to."16

Churchmen claimed the fires of sexual passion were transmuted into the fires of hell, blown by the breath of God into a heat fiercer than any earthly flame. A single drop of sweat from a damned soul would pierce living flesh like an arrow and burn like acid. One was told to imagine the pain of being covered with such sweat, forever.17 The story of sinner's sweat was often told throughout the Middle Ages. It may have been inspired by a passage from the Mahabharata: "As the lord of gods, whose energy is infinite, became angry, a terrible drop of sweat came out of his forehead, and as soon as that drop of sweat had fallen to the earth, an enormous fire like the fire of doomsday appeared." [Hello - Could this be the a-bomb?]

Perhaps the worst part of the hell-vision was theologians' insistence that the joy of the blessed ones in heaven couldn't be complete unless they were permitted to gloat over the sufferings of the damned. St. Gregory the Great assumed with appalling naturalness that the "good" people in heaven would be entirely without pity. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "In order that nothing may be wanting to the felicity of the blessed spirits in heaven, a perfect view is granted to them of the tortures of the damned." Other fathers of the church proclaimed that, while the greatest pleasure of the saved would be contemplating the Divine Essence, their second greatest pleasure would be watching the damned writhing in hell. They couldn't feel sorry for loved ones or friends in torment, because their opinions would always be identical with God's; and God apparently reveled in sinners' pain.19

Thomas of Cantimpre mentioned some "simple folk" who worried about having to watch former friends or relatives suffering in hell. He said these worries were foolish, because no one in heaven could grieve for anything. He cited the Blessed Marie d'Oignies, who saw in a vision that her dead mother was damned, and so stopped mourning for her at once.20

St. Bernardino of Siena argued that heaven must be perfect, and perfection couldn't be achieved without "due admixture of groans from the Damned." Only a few people were good enough to be saved; the vast majority would go to hell. This was the orthodox opinion.

Raymond Lull was condemned as a heretic for trying to teach that Christ's mercy would save nearly all men. Christ was not that merciful; only the mother Mary was that merciful. An Ethiopian Christian legend said Mary was distressed to see her kinfolk in hellfire, and asked God to give humanity holy writings that would save them.21

The sadism implicit in the fantasy of hell was all too graphically enacted by the inquisitors' tortures and burnings. The Inquisition's handbook directed that "eternal damnation should begin in this life, that it might be in some way shown what will be suffered in hell."22 The inquisitor Bodin considered even slow burning a negligible punishment in view of its sequel: "Whatever punishment one can order against witches by roasting and cooking them over a slow fire is not really very much, and not as bad as the torment which Satan has made for them in this world, to say nothing of the eternal agonies which are prepared for them in hell, for the fire here cannot last more than an hour or so until the witches have died."23 Of course, the witches so mercifully slain often had been subjected to unendurable tortures already for weeks, months, or even years.

The inquisitor Nicholas Remy said witches "are justly to be subjected to every torture and to put to death in the flames; both that they may expiate their crimes with a fitting punishment and that its very awfulness may serve as an example and a warning to others." To help them remember the occasion, witches' children were to be stripped and beaten with rods around the stakes where their mothers were burning.2'* Inquisitors obviously disliked children. They burned "witches" 10 or 12 years of age, or even younger.25 At Wirzburg in 1629, children as young as 7 were executed for witchcraft, plus many others of 10,12,14, or 15 years.26

Up to the 19th century, hell was used as a convenient way to throw the "fear of God" into children. Father Furniss's Sight of Hell presented the following edifying fantasies to young people:

(QUOTE) Of two little maids of sixteen, one cared only for dress, and went to a dancing school, and dared to disport in the park on Sunday instead of going to mass: that little maid stands now, and forever will stand, with bare feet upon a red-hot floor. The other walked through the streets at night, and did very wicked things; now she utters shrieks of agony in a burning oven. A very severe torment—immersion up to the neck in a boiling kettle—agitates a boy who kept bad company, and was too idle to go to mass, and a drunkard; avenging Barnes now issue from his ears. For like indecencies, the blood of a girl, who went to the theatre, boils in her veins; you can hear it boil, and her marrow is seething in her bones and her brain bubbles in her head. "Think, "says the compassionate father, "what a headache that girl must have!"(QUOTE)27

Dutch theologian Dirk Camphuysen opposed such crude training of the young, on the theory that it was more disturbing to sensitive minds than corrective of sinful ones. Unable to refrain from committing some sins, people developed a personal conviction of doom, "which necessarily produces such great fear and agony in the soul, that life is too frightening for them, and they find death by their own hand. Of this there are not a few examples, and some of them known to me personally. Others do not go as far as suicide, but fall into fits of melancholy and despair, sometimes ending in madness."28

John Wesley was so implacable as to maintain that the whole Christian religion depended entirely on the horrors of hell. If there were "no unquenchable fire, no everlasting burnings," then all New Testament teaching is a lie, and there is no reason to believe in the revelation of heaven.29 Yet some theologians disagreed. Johann Cloppenburg said in 1682: "It is absurd that God should be angry forever, and punish the finite sins of creatures with infinite punishments."10

Some thinkers maintained that only an evil God could create a hell so savage and deliberately allow human beings to fall into it, when he had the power to prevent this. The doctrine of free will was invented by the church to counteract this logic; but, as Bayle showed, "absolute free will is of no real use in justifying hell or in theodicy in general." Man's free will "does not exculpate God from being ultimately responsible for the sins He punishes, unless one takes from Him His omniscience as well as His omnipotence.... [I]f, before the creation, He foresaw that most men would abuse their free will and commit sins, he could have refrained from creating them."" The same sentiment was put forth more than 2000 years ago by the author of 2 Esdras [Second Book of Esdras (also known as the Ezra Apocalypse) One of the apocryphal books eliminated from the English Bible but appearing as an appendix to the New Testament in the Latin Vulgate.]., who demanded why God had bothered to create Adam if he couldn't restrain Adam from sinning.

In wrestling with the problem of God's responsibility for hell, theologians of the 17th and 18th centuries often found themselves forced by their own logic into a basically Manichean image of an evil God. Sterry said "an angry, revengeful God is no God at all, but a projection of men's evil passions.... If sin is part of God's plan, then the sinner as much as the saint can claim to be fulfilling God's will." Jurieu admitted "the absolute impossibility of reconciling God's hatred of sin with His permission of it." He re-phrased Esdras's question: "If God has an infinite hatred of sin, why, having foreseen it, has He not prevented it? Why has He made men be born who, He well knew, were to damn themselves?" Bayle described God as "a lawgiver who forbids man to commit crime, and who nevertheless pushes man into crime, and then punishes him for it eternally." Thus he must be a God "in which one could have no trust, a deceiving, cunning, unjust, cruel nature; He is no longer an object of religion."'2 Whiston even concluded that the very existence of hell must condemn God in the eyes of humanity:

(QUOTE)The exquisite torments of these most numerous and most miserable creatures, are determined without the least pity, or relenting, or bowels of compassion in their Creator, to be in everlasting fire, and in the flames of Hell: without abatement, or remission, for endless ages of ages. And all this for the sins of this short life; fallen into generally by the secret snares of the Devil, and other violent temptations; which they commonly could not wholly either prevent, or avoid... instances... of the absolute and supreme power and dominion of the cruel and inexorable author of their being."(UNQUOTE)

Political implications of the "problem" of hell were set forth by Petersen:

(QUOTE)What fruit has the doctrine of eternal damnation borne up till now? Has it made men more pious? On the contrary, when they have properly considered the cruel, frightful disproportion between the punishments and their own finite sins, they have begun to believe nothing at all, and have thought that these books of Holy Scripture have just been compiled by the priests, who made up such threats for the common people as they thought fit, in order to keep them in check.(UNQUOTE)

Of course blaming the fiendishness of hell on God, or Satan, or Adam, or any other mythic figure was a way of avoiding recognition of the fact that its real inventors were men. Eastern sages were more frank; they said "the torments of hell are morbid creations of the individual's own ideas." " The ideas of the individual, however, were created by the society—in the case of hell, by the church. As Chaucer's Summoner slyly said, people sometimes thought the friars came by their familiarity with hell in a direct manner.

(QUOTE)This friar boasts his knowledge about Hell, And if he does, God knows it's little wonder; Friars and fiends are seldom far asunder. (UNQUOTE)

Though the possibility is seldom recognized, there are many indications that the Christian vision of hell in its sadistic horror was one of the leading causes of disillusionment with Christianity itself. Hell was necessary, otherwise there was nothing for "salvation" to save from; yet it often seemed people were sent to hell for no greater sin than being human. William Blake said, "When thought is closed in caves, then love shall show its root in deepest Hell."'7

In the end, scholars were forced to renounce hell because it made God look more vindictive than man, though few dared admit that the vindictiveness sanctioned and stressed by the church was really man's alone. Shaftesbury said it was impossible to adore a God "whose character is to be captious and of high resentment, subject to wrath and anger, furious, revengeful... (of) a fraudulent disposition, encouraging deceit and treachery among men, favorable to a few, though for slight causes, and cruel to the rest." Bayle found it impossible to exonerate "a good and omnipotent God" from responsibility for the world's evils, though he made humanity suffer for them. The problem became "infinitely more difficult when He has also to be exonerated from causing the suffering and wickedness of the next world.

- • "- .m 5 B,,*, 740. 4. Budae, G.E. 1,264. 5. Book of the Dead, 550. 6. Book of the Dead. 161. 7. Campbell, Oc.M., 199. 8. Hughes. 203. 9. Cavendish, P.E.. 146. 10. Budge, G.E. 1,275. 11. Wedeck, 94. 12. Waite, C.M., 186-87. 13. de Givry, 132.141. 14. Castiglioni, 253. 15. Coulton, 18. 16. J.H. Smith. D.C.P., 241. 17. de Voragine, 649,651. 18. O'Flaherty. 121. 19. H. Smith, 206. 20. Cavendish, P.E., 153. 21. Coulton, 18-20; Budge, A.T., 1%. 22. Kramer & Sprenger, 79. 23. Robbins, 179. 24. Cavendish. P.E.. 213. 25. R.E.L. Masters, 271; Summers, G.W., 488-91. 26. Robbins. 554-55. 27. H. Smith. 376. 28. Walker, 90. 29. Cavendish, P.E., 139. 30. Walker, 84. 31. Walker, 47. 32. Walker, 112. 119,195, 201. 33. Walker, 99-100. 34. Walker, 244. 35. Waddell. 89. 36. Chaucer, 321. 37. Wilson, 227. 38. Walker, 49,185.

The following is another article from the Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets that gives us further information on the concept of Hell as it is popularly understood in the present day:

 

Hel

Norse Queen of the Underworld, whose name became the English "hell." Dead heroes who went to the house of Hel were known as Helleder, "Hel's men,"1 Sometimes they were ancestral ghosts known as Hella cunni, "kinsmen of Hel," corrupted in the medieval mystery play to Harlequin, lover of Columbine the Dove-maiden, who was another version of the Goddess.4 The Celtic Lord of Death, wearer of the apex or pointed tiara of divinity, bore the title of Helman.5

The early "hell" seems to have been a uterine shrine or sacred cave of rebirth, denoted by the Norse hellir.6 The notion of Hel as a cauldron-womb filled with purgative fire may have been related to the [photocopied text unclear]. In the Pacific, Mother Hell or Mother Death was often a fire-mountain entered by way of a sacred cave. The Hawaiian volcano-goddess Pele, like Hel, kept souls of the dead in regenerative fire. Pele and Hel may have had linguistic connections, as p and h may be interchanged in Indo-European languages. In Malekula, the dead live in a volcano under the Goddess's rule: "Abiding in that fire is bliss; there is no fear of being consumed." Japan's sacred volcano was named for the fire-goddess Fuji, "Grandmother" or "Ancestress."7 Similarly, Hel was a fire-mountain according to German legend; the emperor Theodoric became immortal by entering her womb through a volcano.8

The Infernus of classical paganism contributed to the Christian amalgam of images of Hel's land. Infernus meant an oven in the earth; an old Roman proverb said "the oven is the mother." Roman ovens and bakeries were associated with temples of the Goddess, whose harlot-priestesses were often called Ladies of Bread. Their orgies were called Fornacalia, "oven-feasts," from fornix, the "oven" which gave us both "furnace" and "fornicate."9 Naturally, Christian authorities maintained that tasting the sacred fire of eternity through "fornication" was a sin.

Medieval legends spoke of Hel as Brunnhilde, "Burning Hel," also the name of a leader of the Valkyries, otherwise known as Hild the Avenger.10 Another of her names was Matabrune, "Burning Mother," who gave birth to King Oriant, a version of the Oriental sun god born at dawn from the bowels of the earth.11

Magic fire surrounding the Valkyrie's castle was an allegory of cremation fire, through which a hero passed enroute to Hel. Cremation of the dead was later forbidden by the Christian church, on the theory that cremation destroyed the body and prevented "resurrection of the flesh" according to the orthodox dogma. The more practical reason for outlawing cremation was that, as a pagan ceremony, it brought no revenue to the church.12 It was profitable, however, to cremate witches while they still lived; inflated charges were made for every rope, nail, and stick of wood.13

Some myths suggest that Hel was originally envisioned as not fiery but dark: a Crone-goddess like Black Kali, eater of the dead. As the Nether Moon, she was called Nehellenia. Her ancient altars were found in Holland at the mouths of the Rhine.14 Vases and statues from her shrines were discovered in Zealand in 1646.15 Sometimes, her underworld was not hot but ice cold, as if serving as a model for Dante's innermost circle of the Inferno. The cold, dark Queen of Shades was Nef-Hel or Nifl.

Hel was supreme and inescapable, seizing even gods in her embrace. The Swedes said Odin the Heavenly Father was buried in a barrow known as Hel's Mount.16 Because she was associated with mountains, Hel sometimes merged with Mother Freya. A fate-spinning Goddess called Hel of the Air was worshipped on the [photocopy unclear].17 She was simultaneously diabolized as feminine counterpart of the Prince of the Power of the Air (Odin-Sastan) who led the Wild Hunt. Tenth-century witchcraft texts said the heathen women rode forth under the leadership of "the witch Holda."18

Like her Greek twin Hecate, Hel sometimes wore all three faces of the Triple Goddess. The German poem Gudrun represented her as the ruler of Holland, incarnate in three virgins living in a mystic cave: Hild, princess of Isenland, Hilde, princess of India, and Hildburg, princess of Portugal. All three resembled mermaids or wood nymphs. The legendary Prince Hagen married all three Hels, after the usual ritual combat with an elder king.19

Ballads and sagas depicting such encounters between mortal men and supernatural women were collectively described as "hellish"— that is, hellig, medieval Danish for "holy."20

Pliny said all the inhabitants of "Scatinavia" (Scandinavia) were children of Mother Hel, thus they were called Helleviones.21 They considered their Goddess incarnate especially in elder trees, which were still called Hel-trees or elven-trees in the Middle Ages. Danish peasants prayed at elder trees to the Hyldemoer, that is, Hel-mother, or Elder-mother.22

Hel's ancient connection with fertility was still evident in her medieval titles, Lady Abundia or Satia (abundance, satiety). In this guise she led the "ladies of the night" called Hellequins, who rode forth to receive offerings of food and drink from common folk, promising in return to bring prosperity on the house.23 Apparently these were not mere legends but real women, carrying on the Goddess's nocturnal festivals. Hel was despised by the church, but the common people seem to have thought her more benevolent than otherwise. Her underworld was reached by crossing a river, like the Greek Styx; the river was Gjoll, "Wailing." On the bridge that crossed it stood the Goddess's emanation", Modgudr (Good Mother), ready like the Orphic Persephone to greet the deceased and see him safely into eternity.24

Northern shamans believed they could put on the Helkappe, a magic mask or Hel-met, which would render them invisible like ghosts, and enable them to visit the underworld and return to earth again without dying. The Helkappe seems to have represented the shamanic trance, in which death and resurrection were experienced as a vision. See 'Mask'.

l.Turvillc-Petre, 55. 2. Rank, 73. 3. Steenstrup, 149. 4. Potter & Sargent, 52,73. 5.Knight,D.W.P.,78. 6. Wainwright, 113. 7. Campbell, P.M., 336,450. 8. Borchardt, 242. 9. Neumann, G.M.. 286. 10. Oxenstierna, 191. 11. Baring-Gould, C.M.M.A., 579. 12. Pepper & Wilcock, 226. B.Robbins, 111-13. 14. Reinach, 138. 15. Johnson, 211-12; Hays, 145. 16. Johnson. 165. 17.Guerber, L.R..99. 18. J.B.Russell, 81. 19.Guerber, L.M.A., 23-25. 20. Steenstrup, 186. 21. Ramsay, 23. 22. Keightley,93. 23. J.B. Russell, 146. 24. Branston,91.

 

 

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