Go To Hel!

You would take offense if someone spit that phrase in your face.  We know what they mean.  To roast eternally in a hopeless, painful fire.  Bad Karma.  Real bad.

Why is the most severe punishment any human or god could devise (at least in modern, Western philosophical thinking) called “Hell”?  The basic reason is that our present day mythology is based on dualism.  Other mythologies recognize a unity with oneself and the world, an inherent balance and mixture of good and evil.  The Judeo-Christian-Islam world demands one to align and identify with good and fight against evil.  The J-C-I are united in disparaging, if not outright condemning any nature religion for a mind-set different from their own.  The Indo-European mythology had to do more than supplant the ancient Goddess religion, it had to make it evil in order for the people to align with them, against the pagan, nature philosophy.

Norse mythology tells of a Goddess of the Underworld called Hel.  She is one of three children begotten by Loki, a trickster god.  Out of the what-ever, the All-father has a flash of prophecy.  He knows Loki’s offspring will bring misfortune to all the gods.  What to do?  He brings them from Giantland where they are being raised and casts Hel into Niflheim, giving her supremacy over nine worlds–if she would share her bounty with those sent to her (meaning men who die from disease or old age).

Her home and adjacent lands are surrounded by high walls and imposingly large gates.  Her hall is named Éljúdnir, and She sits on her throne showing a body half flesh colored, and half black (or sometimes corpse-blue).  Many travel to Her queendom, but never without fear in their hearts.  Those who die a straw death (i.e. in their beds) cannot escape her realm and are reborn.  Only those who die heroes are lead directly to Valhalla (the place of light) by the Valkyries. Those who go to the house of Hel become known as Helleder, meaning Hel’s men.  Odin dared make the trip, but only because he needed specific information found only in Hel’s domain.  And Frigg vowed all Her love and favor to any messenger who would dare travel to Hel’s land.

In medieval times Helleder changed into Harlequin, the lover of Columbine the Dove-maiden.  Other medieval legends speak of Hel as Brunnhilde (Burning Hel), the leader of the Valkyries.  The Celtic Lord of Death had the title of Helman.

Germans regarded Holla (synonymous with Hella, Hel) as Queen of the Elves, and also as Queen of the Witches.  Holla is cognate with holy, heal, hallow, hello, whole, all, halo, and holly.  She began as Goddess of each home’s hearth fire, and later became associated with the fires of Hell. One German legend states Hel was a fire-mountain; and it is written the emperor Theodoric became immortal when he entered Hel’s womb through a volcano.

Why is Hel’s queendom in the Underworld?  Caves have been used for millennia for shelter and for temples.  They are natural places to contact unseen powers and forces, for in the dark of the cave, there is no time.  Caves have for centuries been associated with female genitalia (both vagina and uterus), therefore connected with sexuality and fertility.  In later myths, dragons or gnomes lived in caves, guarding treasures which others could obtain only through risking their lives.

In the beginning, Hell appears as a uterine shrine or sacred cave of rebirth.  The rebirth or reincarnation occurred in Her sacred cauldron.  Along with the cave, this is another symbol of rebirth.  Hel with Her cauldron-womb heated by and filled with healing fire is similar to the volcanic Mother-mountain (Latin caldera).  In the Pacific Islands Mother Hell or Mother Death was a volcano entered through a sacred cave.  Pele keeps souls of the dead in regenerative fire.  Pele and Hel may have linguistic connections since “p” and “h” may be interchanged in Indo-European languages.

The early Celts linked cauldrons with fertility, abundance, source of inspiration, receptacle of souls, and reincarnation of the dead.  Odin once drank magic blood (menstrual blood?) from a cauldron of wisdom (a woman’s womb?) in order to obtain divine power.  Alchemists used cauldrons as an integral part of their experiments in changing lead to gold or silver, increasing the size of gem stones, or in spiritual transformation.

Cauldrons require heat in order to complete their work, whether it is cooking a stew or regenerating souls.  The fires of Hell have come directly from the cooking fire.  Infernus meant an oven in the earth.  And an oven is merely a small cave or womb where raw materials are transformed.  A Roman proverb states, “the oven is the mother”.  Roman ovens and bakeries were often associated with the Goddess, whose sacred prostitute-priestesses were called “Ladies of the Bread”.  Holy orgies were called Fornacalia (oven feasts) from fornix (oven) which gives us the present day furnace and fornicate!  Naturally Christian leaders taught that tasting the sacred fire of eternity through fornication was a sin.

Hell still exists today, and not entirely in the Judeo-Christian sense of place.  November 1st has been celebrated for a long time in Alfablot rites for Holla in order to raise the souls of the dead.  In Christian areas the day is known as All Saints Day followed immediately by All Souls Day, and in Mexico is celebrated as Dia del Muerte, Day of the Dead.

Numerous ballads and sagas have depicted encounters between mortal men and supernatural women and were known collectively as hellish, that is hellig, medieval Danish for holy.

Northern shamans believed they could put on the Helkappe, a magic mask or Hel-met.  They thought the Helkappe would make them invisible, enabling them to visit the Underworld and return to this world alive.  The Helkappe probably represents the shamanic trance wherein death and resurrection were experienced in a vision.

Hell, and therefore the Goddess Hel, has a permanent place in our present day mythology, language, and our very lives.  So, the next time someone wishes you to, “Go to Hell!”, smile sweetly and say, “Thank you.”  There is no better place to be in this chaotic world than cradled in Hel’s cauldron of transformation.

Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale

“Though Norse memories of Hella

were filled with fear and terror,

still the Goddess Holla shook Her feather bed

causing the snowflakes to fall in the northern woods

as Her image could be seen in the halo of the moon,

and Her presence could be felt

in each sacred grove or hollow

where the hidden people danced about

bringing joy to She who sat upon the throne,

to Holla who protected all souls

and all spirits of the forest lands,

perhaps those who had once roamed Finnish Forests

as the mystical Haltija.”

           Go to Hel!!!  Good Karma.  Real good Karma.


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