Hel…More Crowded than Hell

Odin’s Ride to Hel by W.G. Collingwood
Odin’s Ride to Hel by W.G. Collingwood

The Norse didn’t do things the easy way. Their Norse mythology features a world called Hel, and it seems to be mildly correlative to the Christian Hell…but there aren’t just sinners in Hel. Oh, no, not at all.

Hel seems to be a dumping ground for a whole lot of species that had nowhere else to go. It was considered the home of the dishonourable dead. The honourable dead, on the other hand, ended up in the hall of Valhalla on Asgard, or they were sent to the goddess Freyja’s afterlife field, Fólkvangr.

The Norse referred to the souls that go to Hel as the Náir (nár in Norse = cadaver, or deceased spirit, or corpses of the damned).

There were a whole lot of species duking it out in Hel*:

Heljar-sinnar (“Hel’s followers”, infernal champions),

Heljar-meyjar (“Hel’s maids”, underworld messengers),

Heljar-hrafnar (“Hel’s ravens”, birds that brutally tore out the eyes of náir who, in life, committed perjury),

Heiptir (“furies”, demons who are armed with limar (thorn-rods) to punish souls; counterparts of the Erinyes — Greek)

Vanar-Drekar (“dragons of despair”, enormous reptiles that left behind trails of flame and were said to cause earthquakes by shaking their wings)

Eitr-Drekar (“venomous dragons”, serpents that tortured the souls of thieves and murderers by shooting burning poison at their chests),

Fíflmegir (“monstrous brood”, chaotic monsters of the deep who will join Loki’s army during Ragnarök),

Dolgar (“ghostly enemies”, undead fiends who become stronger at night, causing strife and enmity; adversaries of the gods),

Ásmegir (“sons of the Æsir”, beings who dwell within the more peaceful regions of Hel), and

Uppregin (“upper powers”, deities who live in Hel but perform significant functions in the world above, e.g. Sól, Máni).


It’s quite the list, isn’t it? And some of the descriptions about the species/races are brow raising.   (As most of the species and gods in Norse mythology can interbreed with each other and humans, it’s a stretch to call them all as separate species…but they’re not races, either, as they’re substantially different in appearance – it’s a conundrum I’m still sorting out for myself).

Clearly, there’s upper regions, and more peaceful regions, which means the other regions must be just awful.

Can you imagine what would happen if these guys were unleashed upon Earth? No wonder the citizens of Valhalla are expected to defend us when that happens**.


(*from Wikipedia.)

(**or if you don’t want to be bothered imagining it, check out The Branded Rose Prophecy.)


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