Since the dawn of mankind, peoples have been in need of religion and deities to whom they have prayed for various causes. By studying different mythologies of early civilizations we can notice that almost every one of them had two parallel worlds of the afterlife, in which people are descending. Depending on their merits and sins, an individual’s spirit can travel to the paradise or to the infernal world. In this text, we shall see how old civilizations looked at their parallel world of hell.
At the beginning of our journey across the world of ancient folk, we shall visit the old Egyptian lands. Egyptians comprehended afterlife so serious, more than any other culture. The underworld beneath the oceans of sand was the realm of the god Osiris. The dead were traveling to him in the West direction and have to pass the gates which were protected by a two-headed lion. On that mysterious path, the spirit of the deceased should overcome many traps set by evil demons. Along the way, the deceased should say payers and magic words. Finally, the fate of the deceased’s soul was in the hands of Osiris and Anubis. If the soul was easy as a feather, the dead could enter the underworld and if it was not, the monster Shallower would eat it.
The representation of the gods Anubis and Osiris, next to Anubis sits the monster Swallower
Ancient Greeks had their own hell in which god Hades reigned. Souls of deceased humans had to go to the underworld, but could never leave. The gates of hell were guarded by the three-headed dog called Cerberus. Hermes, the messenger of the gods, was leading the dead to the hell to the river Styx. The boatman Charon has then sailed the dead across the river. So that’s how the souls of the dead enter the realm of underworld deities Hades, Persephone and Hecate. Moreover, those who were murderers in their lives and those who tricked the gods dwelled on the very bottom of hell in eternal torment. But, the good souls went to the fields of Elysium to feast with the gods.
Aztec polytheists believed their underworld was called Mictlan. Master of Mictlan was Mictlantecutli who was the god of the dead. When the death of an Aztec occurred their relatives should bury him with presents for the underworld god and his abhorrent wife. Mayan underworld was called Xibalba, in which the gods of death dwelled.
In Slavic mythology, the underworld was called Nav, the place where spirits of the dead were eternally resting. Those souls were symbolized as the stars. The god of Nav was called Veles.
Painting of the god Veles
Hel was the goddess of the underworld in Norse mythology. She was the daughter of the treacherous god of fire Loki and her realm was also called Hel, located in Niflheim (world of mist). The term hel was later used in the English language as hell to determine Christian infernal world.
Picture of the infernal goddess Hel from 1889
Celtic tribes of Western Europe believed their underworld was called Mag Mell. Only those who died honorable could enter Mag Mell. Celts believed it was placed somewhere far away on an island or in the depths of the sea. According to some old Celtic legends, the king of Mag Mell was Tethra, the Fomorian.
Kur’s master, NERGAL
Sumerians and Akkadians of Mesopotamian land as well had the parallel world of hell called Kur. God Nergal reigned there with darkness and terror. Every night the Sun went to Kur to shine amongst the dead gods and people. Utu, the god of the Sun, was also the judge and his was the decision who deserved hell, and opposite.
Relief of the Kur underworld
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