the dictionary of norse mythology


HEL HELA Hell The goddess of death and the underworld. Hel was the daughter of the god loki and the ogress angrboda. Her brothers were fenrir, the wolf, and jormungand, the Midgard Serpent. According to snorri sturluson, Hel was terrible to look at, for one-half of her was greenish black and the other a livid white, with flesh that seemed to be rotting like that of a corpse, and her face was gloomy, grim, and sinister. The great god odin cast Hel down to niflheim, the realm of cold darkness and death. He bade her Hel, queen of the underworld, is shown here with her hound, Garm. Illustration by Johannes Gehrts, Anthony Mercatante Collection look after all the wicked and miserable souls who had died of sickness, corruption, and old age. Dead heroes went to Odin's glorious hall, valhalla. Hel's palace was called eljudnir, and here she entertained the dead in a grisly kind of way Her table was called Hunger her knife, Starvation her bed, Sickness and the curtains around it, Misfortune. It was said that in times of famine and plague Hel left her ghastly realm to roam the Earth on her three-legged white horse and to rake up the survivors and sweep them with her broom down to Niflheim. Although the gods looked upon her with loathing, Hel had more power than Odin once someone was in her power, no one, not even Odin, could reclaim that soul unless Hel gave her permission. In the story of balder, who was killed and went to Nifl-heim, Hel refused to give him up, even though Odin and frigg sent the god hermod to plead and bar-gain with her. The early Christians so feared Hel that they bor-rowed her name to describe the place of everlasting torment reserved for the souls of the wicked—Hell.

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