How Hell Works: A Short Guide

The first round of Dante's hell

Second round

Third circle

Fourth circle

Fifth circle (the rest - lower - circles of hell are described below, in the sidebar to the article)

Where is he, the afterlife? Some ancient peoples burned the dead: this is a sure sign that the soul should ascend to its new abode in heaven. If it was buried in the ground, then it will go to the underworld. If sent on the last journey by boat, it floats into the country overseas, at the very edge of the Earth. The Slavs had very different opinions on this score, but all agreed on one thing: the souls of those people whom nothing holds near their former dwellings fall into the hereafter, and they lead about the same existence there - they harvest, hunt ... Those who because of a curse, or an unfulfilled promise, or something else they can’t leave their bodies, they remain in our world, either dwelling in their former shells, sometimes taking on the appearance of animals, natural phenomena or simply ghosts of failure. It can be said that the afterlife of such souls is our own world, so this is not the worst version of posthumous existence.

Egyptian hell

Everything will turn out worse if you find yourself in the afterlife of the ancient Egyptians, where Osiris reigns. During his earthly incarnation, he was killed and dismembered by his own brother Seth. This could not but affect the character of the lord of the dead. Osiris looks repulsive: he looks like a mummy clutching the signs of pharaonic power in his hands. Sitting on the throne, he presides over a court that weighs the actions of new arrivals of souls. The god of life Chorus introduces them here. Hold on to his hand tightly: the sokologolovy Choir is the son of the underground king, so he may well put in a word for you.

The courtroom is huge - this is the entire vault of heaven. According to the instructions of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a number of rules should be followed. List in detail the sins that you did not have time to commit in life. After that, you will be asked to leave a memory about yourself and help relatives by depicting a court scene on a papyrus scroll. If your artistic talent is at its best, you will spend the rest of eternity here, participating in the affairs of Osiris and his many divine relatives. The rest will be cruelly executed: they are thrown to eat Ammatu, a monster with a hippo body, paws and mane of a lion and a crocodile's mouth. However, the lucky ones may find themselves in his mouth: from time to time there are “sweeps” in which the affairs of the wards of souls are again reviewed. And if the relatives did not provide appropriate amulets, you will surely be eaten by a ruthless monster.

Greek hell

It’s even easier to get into the afterlife of the Greeks: you will be taken away by the god of death Thanatos, who brings here all the “fresh” souls. During large battles and battles, where apparently alone he can’t cope, Thanatos is assisted by the winged Kerrs, who carry the fallen into the kingdom of the ever-dark Hades.

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In the far west, at the edge of the world, a lifeless plain extends, in some places covered with willows and poplars with black bark. Behind it, at the bottom of the abyss, the muddy bog Acheron opens. It merges with the black waters of Styx, nine times encircling the world of the dead and separating it from the world of the living. Even the gods are wary of breaking the oaths given in the name of Styx: these waters are sacred and ruthless. They flow into Kotsit, the weeping river that gives rise to Summer, the oblivion river.

You can cross the channel of the Styx in the boat of old Charon. For his work, he takes from each a small copper coin. If you do not have money, you can only wait for the end of time at the entrance. Charon's boat crosses all nine streams and disembarks passengers in the cloister of the dead. Here you will meet a huge three-headed dog Cerberus, safe for incoming, but ferocious and ruthless to those who are trying to return to the sunny world. On a vast plain, under a chilling wind, among other shadows, calmly wait your turn. An uneven road leads to the hall of Hades itself, surrounded by a stream of fire Phlegheton. The bridge above it abuts against the gates on diamond columns. Outside the gates is a huge hall made of bronze, where Hades himself and his assistants, judges Minos, Eak and Radamant are seated. By the way, all three were once people of flesh and blood, as we are. They were just kings and ruled their peoples so well that after death Zeus made them judges of all the dead.

With a high probability, fair judges will cast you even lower into Tartar - the realm of pain and groans, located deep beneath the palace. Here you will have to meet the three old sisters, the goddesses of vengeance Erinnii, whom Hades set to look after the sinners. Their appearance is terrible: blue lips, from which poisonous saliva drips; black cloaks like bat wings. With balls of snakes in their hands, they rush through the dungeon, torches illuminating their path, and make sure that everyone drank the full cup of the punishment put to him. Among the other "indigenous people" of Tartarus are the Lamia, the child-stealing Lamia, the three-headed Hekate, the nightmare demon, and the corpse eater Evrin. Here you will meet many mythical personalities. Tyrant Ixion is forever chained to a wheel of fire. Chained giant Titius, who insulted the tender Summer, peck two vultures. The blasphemer Tantalus is throatedly immersed in fresh, clean water, but as soon as he, tormented by thirst, bends down, she backs away from him. Danaids who killed their husbands are forced to infill a holey vessel endlessly. The quirky Sisyphus, who had once deceived the spirit of death of Thanatos, and the intractable Hades, and Zeus himself, rolls a stone up the hill, which breaks down every time he approaches the summit.

Christian hell

The images of Christian hell are largely inspired by the ancient Greeks. It is among Christians that the geography of hell has been studied in more detail. Getting there is a bit trickier. Already in the apocryphal books - those that were not included in the Holy Scriptures or were excluded from it later - various opinions were expressed about the location of hell. Thus, the Book of Enoch places the devil himself in the eastern lifeless desert, where Raphael “makes a hole” into which he lowers him, bound hand and foot, and rolls it on top with a stone. However, according to the same apocrypha, the soul will head in the opposite direction, to the west, where it will "moan" in the recesses of a high mountain range. At the end of the VI century, Pope Gregory the Great, distinguishing two hells - the upper and the lower - placed one on the ground, the second under it.

In his book on the nature of hell, published in 1714, the English occultist Tobias Swinden placed hell in the sun. He motivated his assumption at the same time by the then existing notions of our luminary as a ball of fire and a quote from the Apocalypse (“The Fourth Angel poured out his cup on the Sun: and it was given to him to burn people with fire”). And his contemporary and follower William Whiston declared all heavenly comets as hell: falling into the near-solar hot regions, they fry souls, and, moving away, they freeze. However, it is unlikely that you should hope to get on a comet. The most widely accepted idea is that hell is located in the center of the Earth and has at least one exit to the surface. Most likely, this exit is located in the north, although there are other opinions. Thus, an old poem about the wanderings of the Irish Saint Brendan tells of his journey to the far west, where he finds not only paradise, but also the place of torment of sinners.

And in heaven, and under the earth, and on the earth itself, hell is placed in the apocryphal "The Walk of the Virgin in pain." This book is replete with detailed descriptions of punishments. Asking God to dispel the complete darkness that envelops the suffering in the west, Mary sees how hot tar is being poured on unbelievers. Here, in a cloud of fire, those who “sleep like dead at dawn on Sunday” are tormented, and those who are not standing in church during their lives are sitting on red-hot benches. In the south, other sinners are immersed in the river of fire: those cursed by their parents — waist-deep, fornicators — chest-deep, and throat-“those who ate human meat, ” that is, traitors who abandoned their children to beasts or betrayed their brothers to the king. But the deepest of all, to the crown, are the oath-criminals. The Mother of God here sees other punishments due to lovers of profit (hanging by the feet), sowers of enmity and the Christian followers (hanging by the ears). In the "left side of paradise", in the raging waves of boiling resin, the Jews crucified by Christ suffer suffering.

In the realm of eternal chaos, hell John Milton, author of The Lost Paradise. According to his concept, Satan was overthrown before the creation of earth and heaven, which means hell is outside these areas. The devil himself sits in Pandemonium, the “brilliant capital, ” where he receives prominent demons and demons. Pandemonium - a huge castle with halls and porticoes, built by the same architect as the palace of the King of Heaven. An architect angel, who joined the forces of Satan, was expelled from heaven with him. Myriads of spirits rush along the corridors of the palace, swarming in the ground and air. There are so many of them that only satanic witchcraft allows them to accommodate.

The medieval Christian theologian Emanuel Swedenborg is even more confused. He distinguished three different hells corresponding to the three levels of heaven. And since God rules over all, all three hells are ruled by him through specially delegated angels. In his opinion, Satan does not exist at all as the lord of the kingdom of evil. In the understanding of Swedenborg, the devil is the collective naming of the most dangerous "evil geniuses"; Beelzebub unites spirits striving for domination even in heaven; Satan means the spirits of "not so evil." All these spirits are terrible in appearance and, like corpses, are deprived of life. The faces of some are black, others fiery, others “ugly from acne, abscesses and ulcers; quite a few faces are not visible, while others have only one tooth sticking out. ” Swedenborg formulated the idea that just as the heavens depict one person, so hell in aggregate is only a reflection of one devil and can be represented in this form. The Devil's Maw, leading to the fetid netherworld - this is the path that awaits sinners.

Do not overly trust the opinion of some authors who claim that the entrance to hell can be locked. Christ in the Apocalypse says: "I have the keys of hell and death." But Milton claims that the keys to Hell (apparently on Jesus' behalf) are kept by a terrible half-woman half-serpent. On the surface of the earth, the gates can look quite harmless, like a hole or a cave, or like the mouth of a volcano. According to Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, written at the beginning of the fourteenth century, souls can go to hell through a dense and gloomy forest.

This poem is the most authoritative source about the hellish structure (for details, see the end of the article). The structure of the underworld is described in all its complexity. The hell of the “Divine Comedy” is the body of Lucifer, inside it has a funnel-shaped structure. Starting a journey through hell, Dante and his guide Virgil descend deeper and deeper, not turning anywhere, and eventually find themselves in the same place from which they entered it. The strangeness of this infernal geometry was noticed by the famous Russian mathematician, philosopher and theologian Pavel Florensky. He proved quite reasonably that Dante's hell is based on non-Euclidean geometry. Like the whole Universe in the ideas of modern physics, hell in the poem has a finite volume, but has no boundaries, which was proved (theoretically) by the Swiss Weil.

Muslim hell

Similar to the Christian hell and hell that awaits Muslims. Among the stories of the Thousand and One Nights, seven of her circles are told. The first is for the faithful who died an unrighteous death, the second for apostates, the third for pagans. The genies and descendants of Iblis himself inhabit the fourth and fifth circles, Christians and Jews - the sixth. The innermost, seventh circle awaits the hypocrites. Before getting here, souls await the great Judgment Day, which will come at the end of time. However, the wait does not seem to them long.

Like most other sinners, visitors to the Islamic hell are always fried on fire, and every time their skin burns, it grows again. The Zakkum tree grows here, the fruits of which, like the heads of the devil, make up the food of the punished. Do not try the local cuisine: these fruits seethe in the stomach, like molten copper. Intolerable thirst torments them, but the only way to quench it is to drink boiling water so fetid that they "melt the insides and skin." In a word, this is a very, very hot place. In addition, Allah even increases the bodies of kafirs, intensifying their torment.


Honestly, not one of the described hells causes us good feelings, especially in comparison with our cramped, but generally cozy world. So where exactly to go is up to you. Of course, it is not possible to give full help about the device of hell on the pages of the magazine. However, we hope that our cursory review will help everyone who is there to quickly navigate and greet their new eternity with the words of John Milton: “Hello, ominous world! Hi, Gehenna the Beyond! ”

The article was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 10, October 2005). Do you like the article?

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