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Hell, according to many religious beliefs, is an afterlife of suffering where the wicked or unrighteous souls are punished, in most beliefs, by Satan and his many minions.

Hell is almost always depicted as underground. Within Islam and Christianity, hell is traditionally depicted as fiery.[1] Some other traditions, however, portray Hell as cold and gloomy.

Some theologies of Hell offer graphic and gruesome detail (for example, Hindu Naraka). Religions with a linear divine history often depict Hell as endless (for example, see Hell in Christian beliefs). Religions with a cyclic history often depict Hell as an intermediary period between incarnations (for example, see Chinese Di Yu). Punishment in Hell typically corresponds to sins committed in life. Sometimes these distinctions are specific, with damned souls suffering for each wrong committed (see for example Plato's myth of Er or Dante's The Divine Comedy), and sometimes they are general, with sinners being relegated to one or more chamber of Hell or level of suffering (for example, Augustine of Hippo asserting that unbaptized infants, whom he believed to be deprived of Heaven, suffer less in Hell than unbaptized adults). In Islam and Christianity, however, faith and repentance play a larger role than actions in determining a soul's afterlife destiny.

Hell is often portrayed populated with demons, who torment the damned. Many are ruled by a death god, such as Nergal, the Hindu Yama, or the Christian Satan.

In contrast to Hell, other general types of afterlives are abodes of the dead and paradises. Abodes of the dead are neutral places for all the dead (for example, see sheol), rather than prisons of punishment for sinners. A paradise is a happy afterlife for some or all the dead (for example, see heaven). Modern understandings of Hell often depict it abstractly, as a state of loss rather than as fiery torture literally under the ground.


The modern English word Hell is derived from Old English hel, helle (about 725 AD) and ultimately from Proto-Germanic halja, meaning "one who covers up or hides something". Germanic cognates exist in Old Frisian helle, hille, Old Saxon hellja, Middle Dutch helle (modern Dutch hel), Old High German helle (Modern German Hölle) and Gothic halja.[2]

The English term is possibly related to Old Norse Hel. Surviving 13th century Icelandic representations of Germanic paganism in the form of Norse mythology feature a female being named Hel, who is described as ruling over Hel, a location in Niflheim.

Religious literature and views

Hell appears in several mythologies and religions. It is commonly inhabited by demons and the souls of dead people. Hell is often depicted in art and literature, perhaps most famously in Dante's Divine Comedy.

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith regards the conventional description of Hell (and heaven) as a specific place as symbolic.[3] Instead the Bahá'í writings describe Hell as a "spiritual condition" where remoteness from God is defined as Hell; conversely heaven is seen as a state of closeness to God.[3] Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, has stated that the nature of the life of the soul in the afterlife is beyond comprehension in the physical plane,[3] but has stated that the soul will retain its consciousness and individuality and remember its physical life; the soul will be able to recognize other souls and communicate with them.[3]

Bahá'u'lláh likened death to the process of birth. He explains: "The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother."[4] The analogy to the womb in many ways summarizes the Bahá'í view of earthly existence: just as the womb constitutes an important place for a person's initial physical development, the physical world provides for the development of the individual soul. Accordingly, Bahá'ís view life as a preparatory stage, where one can develop and perfect those qualities which will be needed in the next life.[3] The key to spiritual progress is to follow the path outlined by the current Manifestations of God, which Bahá'ís believe is currently Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'u'lláh wrote, "Know thou, of a truth, that if the soul of man hath walked in the ways of God, it will, assuredly return and be gathered to the glory of the Beloved,"[5]

The Bahá'í teachings state that there exists a hierarchy of souls in the afterlife, where the merits of each soul determines their place in the hierarchy, and that souls lower in the hierarchy cannot completely understand the station of those above.[3] Each soul can continue to progress in the afterlife, but the soul's development is not dependent on its own conscious efforts, but instead on the grace of God, the prayers of others, and good deeds performed by others on Earth in the name of the person.[3]


Most Buddhist schools of thought, Theravāda, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna would acknowledge several Hells [1] [2] [3], which are places of great suffering for those who commit evil actions, such as cold Hells and hot Hells. Like all the different realms within cyclic existence, an existence in Hell is temporary for its inhabitants. Those with sufficiently negative karma are reborn there, where they stay until their specific negative karma has been used up, at which point they are reborn in another realm, such as that of humans, of hungry ghosts, of animals, of asuras, of devas, or of Naraka (Hell) all according to the individual's karma.

Chinese religions

In Chinese mythology, the name of Hell does not carry a negative connotation. The Hell they refer to is Di Yu (trad. 地獄, simp. 地狱; lit. "underground hold/court"). Diyu is a maze of underground levels and chambers where souls are taken to atone for their earthly sins.

The popular story is that the word Hell was introduced to China by Christian missionaries, who preached that all non-Christian Chinese people would "go to Hell" when they died. As such, it was believed that the word "Hell" was the proper English term for the Chinese afterlife, and hence the word was adopted. The belief in hell can be traced to Understanding Heaven and Hell.

The Chinese view Hell as similar to a present day passport or immigration control station. In a Chinese funeral, they burn many Hell Bank Notes for the dead. With this Hell money, the dead person can bribe the ruler of Hell, and spend the rest of the money either in Hell or in Heaven. There is a belief that once the dead person runs out of Hell money, and if he does not receive more, he will be eternally poor.


The Christian doctrine of hell derives from the teaching of the New Testament, where hell is typically described using the Greek word Gehenna. Hell is the final destiny of the unsaved, where they will be punished for sin after the general resurrection and last judgment. Traditionally hell has been viewed as a place of eternal, conscious torment under the wrath of God. However, in modern times some Christian theologians have adopted alternative views such as conditional immortality and universalism.[6][7][8]


Deism is the belief that there is a God that created the physical universe but does not interfere with it. It takes no position on what God may do outside the universe. Belief in a punishment in the afterlife is neither necessary for nor excluded by deism.[citation needed]

Greek mythology

See Wikipedia article: Tartarus


In Hinduism, there are contradictions as to whether or not there is a Hell (referred to as 'Narak' in Hindi). For some it is a metaphor for a conscience. But in Mahabharata there is a mention of the Pandavas going to Heaven and the Kauravas going to Hell. Hells are also described in various Puranas and other scriptures. Garuda Purana gives a detailed account on Hell, its features and enlists amount of punishment for most of the crimes like modern day penal code.

It is believed that people who commit 'paap' (sin) go to Hell and have to go through the punishments in accordance to the sins they committed. The god Yama, who is also the god of death, is the king of Hell. The detailed accounts of all the sins committed by an individual are supposed to be kept by Chitragupta who is the record keeper in Yama's court. Chitragupta reads out the sins committed and Yama orders the appropriate punishments to be given to the individuals. These punishments include dipping in boiling oil, burning in fire, torture using various weapons etc. in various Hells. Individuals who finish their quota of the punishments are reborn according to their karma. All of the created are imperfect and thus have at least one sin to their record, but if one has led a generally pious life, one ascends to Heaven, or Swarga after a brief period of expiation in Hell.


Muslims believe in jahannam (in Arabic: جهنم) (which is related to the Hebrew word gehennim and resembles the versions of Hell in Christianity). In the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, there are literal descriptions of the condemned in a fiery Hell, as contrasted to the garden-like Paradise (jannah) enjoyed by righteous believers.

In addition, Heaven and Hell are split into many different levels depending on the actions perpetrated in life, where punishment is given depending on the level of evil done in life, and good is separated into other levels depending on how well one followed God while alive. There is an equal number of mentions of both Hell and paradise in the Qur'an, which is considered by believers to be among the numeric miracles in the Qur'an.[citation needed]

The Islamic concept of Hell is similar to the medieval Christian view of Dante.[citation needed] However, Satan is not viewed as Hell's ruler, merely one of its sufferers. The gate of Hell is guarded by Maalik also known as Zabaaniyah. The Quran states that the fuel of Hellfire is rocks/stones (idols) and human beings.

Names of Hell according to Islamic Tradition based on the Quranic ayah and Hadith:

  • Jahim
  • Hutamah
  • Jahannam
  • Ladza
  • Hawiah
  • Saqor
  • Sae'er
  • Sijjin
  • Zamhareer

Although generally Hell is often portrayed as a hot steaming and tormenting place for sinners there is one Hell pit which is characterized differently from the other Hell in Islamic tradition. Zamhareer is seen as the coldest and the most freezing Hell of all, yet its coldness is not seen as a pleasure or a relief to the sinners who committed crimes against God. The state of the Hell of Zamhareer is a suffering of extreme coldness of blizzards ice and snow which no one on this earth can bear.

The lowest pit of all existing Hells is the Hawiyah which is meant for the Hypocrites and two-faced people who claimed to believe in Allah and His messenger by the tongue but denounced both in their hearts. Hypocrisy is considered to be the most dangerous sin of all (despite the fact that Shirk is the greatest sin viewed by Allah). According to the Qur'an, all non-believers (non-muslims) who have received and rejected Islamic teachings for reasons unknown will go to Hell.

The Qur'an also says that some of those who are damned to Hell are not damned forever, but instead for an indefinite period of time. In any case, there is good reason to believe that punishment in Hell is not meant to actually last eternally, but instead serves as a basis for spiritual rectification.[9] Even though in Islam, the devil, or shaitan, is created from fire, he suffers in Hell because Hellfire is 70 times hotter than the fire of this world. It was also said that Shaytan is derived from shata, (literally `burned'), because it was created from a smokeless fire.[10]

Japanese religions

Note: The following viewpoint does not specify which Chinese-based religion it is referring to.

The structure of Hell is remarkably complex in many Japanese and Chinese religions. The ruler of Hell has to deal with politics, just as human rulers do. Hell is the subject of many folk stories and manga. In many such stories, people in Hell are able to die again.


Daniel 12:2 proclaims "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt." Judaism does not have a specific doctrine about the afterlife, but it does have a tradition of describing Gehenna. Gehenna is not Hell, but rather a sort of Purgatory where one is judged based on his or her life's deeds. The Kabbalah describes it as a "waiting room" (commonly translated as an "entry way") for all souls (not just the wicked). The overwhelming majority of rabbinic thought maintains that people are not in Gehenna forever; the longest that one can be there is said to be 11 months, however there has been the occasional noted exception. Some consider it a spiritual forge where the soul is purified for its eventual ascent to Olam Habah (heb. עולם הבא; lit. "The world to come", often viewed as analogous to Heaven). This is also mentioned in the Kabbalah, where the soul is described as breaking, like the flame of a candle lighting another: the part of the soul that ascends being pure and the "unfinished" piece being reborn.

When one has so deviated from the will of God, one is said to be in gehinom. This is not meant to refer to some point in the future, but to the very present moment. The gates of teshuva (return) are said to be always open, and so one can align his will with that of God at any moment. Being out of alignment with God's will is itself a punishment according to the Torah.

Also, Subbotniks and Messianic Judaism believe in Gehenna, but Samaritans probably believe in a separation of the wicked in a shadowy existence, Sheol, and the righteous in heaven.

Maya faith

In Maya mythology ,Xibalbá is the dangerous underworld of nine levels ruled by the demons Vucub Caquix and Hun Came. The road into and out of it is said to be steep, thorny and very forbidding. Metnal is the lowest and most horrible of the nine Hells of the underworld,it is ruled by Ah Puch. Ritual healers would intone healing prayers banishing diseases to Metnal. Much of the Popol Vuh describes the adventures of the Maya Hero Twins in their cunning struggle with the evil lords of Xibalbá.

Norse mythology

See Wikipedia article: Hel (realm)


Ancient Taoism had no concept of Hell, as morality was seen to be a man-made distinction and there was no concept of an immaterial soul. In its home country China, where Taoism adopted tenets of other religions, popular belief endows Taoist Hell with many deities and spirits who punish sin in a variety of horrible ways. This is also considered Karma for Taoism.

Unification Church

The Unification Church teaches that Hell is the condition of being separated from God's love. Hell can be said to exist in this world as well as in the afterlife. Those in the state of Hell can repent by paying a condition of indemnity and change their condition, both before and after death (Although, the process is done differently). The Divine Principle, the main textbook of church teachings, says:

It is not God who decides whether a person's spirit enters heaven or Hell upon his death; it is decided by the spirit himself. Humans are created so that once they reach perfection they will fully breathe the love of God. Those who committed sinful deeds while on earth become crippled spirits who are incapable of fully breathing in the love of God. They find it agonizing to stand before God, the center of true love. Of their own will, they choose to dwell in Hell, far removed from the love of God.[4]


The Gathas mention a "House of the Lie" where those who had more bad thoughts, words, and deeds go. Over the history of this faith they have believed in annihilation of the wicked, purgation of the wicked in molten metal and in eternal punishment. It is difficult to find which one is correct because they all have standing in Zoroastor's writings.

Other Hells

The hells of Europe include Briton Mythology's “Anaon”, Celtic Mythology's “Uffern”, the hell of Lapps Mythology and Ugarian Mythology's “Manala” leads to annihilation. The hells in the Middle East include Sumerian Mythology's “Aralu”; the hells of Canaanite Mythology, Hittite Mythology and Mithraism; the weighing of the heart in Egyptian Mythology can lead to annihilation. The hells of Asia include Bagobo Mythology's “Gimokodan” and Ancient Indian Mythology's “Kalichi". African hells include Haida Mythology's “Hetgwauge” and the hell of Swahili Mythology. The hells of the Americas include Aztec Mythology's “Mictlan”, Inuit Mythology's “Adlivun” and Yanomamo Mythology's “Shobari Waka”. The Oceanic hells include Samoan Mythology's “O le nu'u-o-nonoa” and the hells of Bangka Mythology and Caroline Islands Mythology.

Hell in literature

In his Divina commedia ('Divine comedy'; set in the year 1300), Dante Alighieri employed the conceit of taking Virgil as his guide through Inferno (and then, in the second cantiche, up the mountain of Purgatorio). Virgil himself is not condemned to Hell in Dante's poem but is rather, as a virtuous pagan, confined to Limbo just at the edge of Hell. The geography of Hell is very elaborately laid out in this work, with nine concentric rings leading deeper into the Earth and deeper into the various punishments of Hell, until, at the center of the world, Dante finds Satan himself trapped in the frozen lake of Cocytus. A small tunnel leads past Satan and out to the other side of the world, at the base of the Mount of Purgatory.

John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) opens with the fallen angels, including their leader Satan, waking up in Hell after having been defeated in the war in heaven and the action returns there at several points throughout the poem. Milton portrayes Hell as the abode of the demons, and the passive prison from which they plot their revenge upon Heaven through the corruption of the human race.

19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud alluded to the concept as well in the title and themes of one of his major works, "A Season In Hell". Rimbaud's poetry portrays his own suffering in a poetic form as well as other themes.

Dante And Virgil In Hell - William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Many of the great epics of European literature include episodes that occur in Hell. In the Roman poet Virgil's Latin epic, the Aeneid, Aeneas descends into Dis (the underworld) to visit his father's spirit. The underworld is only vaguely described, with one unexplored path leading to the punishments of Tartarus, while the other leads through Erebus and the Elysian Fields.

In the 1903 play "Man and Superman", George Bernard Shaw pictures Hell as a place of idle worship of youth and beauty.

The idea of Hell was highly influential to writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre who authored the 1944 play "No Exit" about the idea that "Hell is other people". Although not a religious man, Sartre was fascinated by his interpretation of a Hellish state of suffering.

C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce (1945) borrows its title from William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793) and its inspiration from the Divine Comedy as the narrator is likewise guided through Hell and Heaven. Hell is portrayed here as an endless, desolate twilight city upon which night is imperceptibly sinking. The night is actually the Apocalypse, and it heralds the arrival of the demons after their judgment. Before the night comes, anyone can escape Hell if they leave behind their former selves and accept Heaven's offer, and a journey to Heaven reveals that Hell is infinitely small; it is nothing more or less than what happens to a soul that turns away from God and into itself.

The 1976 novel Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is set in Dante's Hell with 20th century protagonists.

In 1981, The War Hound and the World's Pain by Michael Moorcock the central character, Ulrich von Bek is taken on a visit to Hell by Lucifer who charges von Bek with recovering the Holy Grail (the world's pain of the title) in order to attempt a reconciliation between God and Lucifer.

Hell in popular culture

See the Wikipedia article: Hell in popular culture

Non-religious views

The word "Hell" used away from its religious context was long considered to be profanity, particularly in North America. Although its use was commonplace in everyday speech and on television by the 1970s, many people in the US still consider it somewhat rude or inappropriate language, particularly involving children.[11] Many, particularly among religious circles and in certain sensitive environments, still avoid casual usage of the word. In British English and some parts of North America, the word has fallen into common use and is not considered profane; often considered to be a safer and less offensive alternative to swearing, as in the phrase, "Go to Hell."

Euphemistic ways of saying Hell

"Hell" is sometimes used as a minced oath, "heck" or "Sam Hill" ("What in the Sam Hill is going on here?"). Another common euphemism for Hell is "The Other Place".[12] Example: "Gosh darn you to heck and tarnation" in place of "May god damn you to Hell and eternal damnation."

Cold day in Hell

Another example of common use of “Hell” in daily language, a “cold day in Hell” is a paradox and an idiom for a most unlikely event, since most imagery of Hell depicts it as hot and fiery. Therefore, an event that will transpire “on a cold day in Hell” will never occur. Similar or related phrases include: “a snowball's chance in Hell”, "a cat in hell's chance", “when the devil goes ice-skating” and “when Hell freezes over", which was used as the title for the rock band The Eagles first album in 14 years, referring to statements by the band that The Eagles would reunite when Hell Freezes Over. Another idiom relating to Hell, that would be used with a request is "And People In Hell Want Ice Water".

In Dante's Inferno, the innermost circle of Hell is represented as a frozen lake of blood and guilt.

Words translated as "Hell"

  • Sheol
  • In the King James Bible, the Old Testament term Sheol is translated as Hell 31 times.[13] However, sheol was translated as "grave" 31 times.[14] Sheol is also translated as pit three times.[15]
  • Gehenna
  • In the New Testament of the KJV, Gehenna is always translated as Hell.[16]
  • Hades
  • The KJV translates Hades as "Hell" 10 times,[17] and as "grave" once.[18] Hades is traditionally the Greek word for Sheol.
  • Tartarus
  • The KJV translates tartarus, which appears only in II Pet. 2:4, as "Hell".
  • Abaddon
  • The Hebrew word Abaddon, meaning "destruction", is sometimes used as a synonym of Hell.[19]
  • Infernus
  • The Latin word infernus means "being underneath" and is often translated as "Hell".

See also


1 Numerous verses in the Qu'ran and New Testament.

2 Barnhart, Robert K. The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology (1995) ISBN 0062700847

3 a b c d e f g Masumian, Farnaz (1995). Life After Death: A study of the afterlife in world religions. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. ISBN 1-85168-074-8.

4 Bahá'u'lláh (1976). Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, pp. 157. ISBN 0-87743-187-6.

5 Bahá'u'lláh (1976). Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, pp. 162. ISBN 0-87743-187-6.

6 New Bible Dictionary, "Hell", InterVarsity Press, 1996.

7 New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, "Hell", InterVarsity Press, 2000.

8 Evangelical Alliance Commission on Truth and Unity Among Evangelicals, The Nature of Hell, Paternoster, 2000.

9 1, William C. Chittick, Imaginal Worlds: Ibn al-‘Arabī and the Problem of Religious Diversity. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1994. 2. See Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah. Hādī al-Arwāh, ed. M. ibn Ibrāhīm al-zaghlī. Al-Dammām, Saudi Arabia: Ramādī lil-Nashr, 1997.

10 Islam News Room. Retrieved on 2007-05-03.

11 "Girl suspended for saying h-e-double-hockey-sticks", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2004-02-05.

12 In the Parliament of the United Kingdom, this is also used by members of the House of Commons to refer to the House of Lords, and vice-versa. In addition, it was used by Hamlet as a silent threat addressed to Claudius and as a hint to Polonius's location.

13 Deut. 32:22, Deut. 32:36a & 39, II Sam. 22:6, Job 11:8, Job 26:6, Psalm 9:17, Psalm 16:10, Psalm 18:5, Psalm 55:15, Psalm 86:13, Ps. 116:3, Psalm 139:8, Prov. 5:5, Prov. 7:27, Prov. 9:18, Prov. 15:11, Prov. 15:24, Prov. 23:14, Prov. 27:20, Isa. 5:14, Isa. 14:9, Isa. 14:15, Isa. 28:15, Isa. 28:18, Isa. 57:9, Ezek. 31:16, Ezek. 31:17, Ezek. 32:21, Ezk. 32:27, Amos 9:2, Jonah 2:2, Hab. 2:5

14 Gen. 37:35, Gen. 42:38, Gen. 44:29, Gen. 44:31, I Sam. 2:6, I Kings 2:6, I Kings 2:9, Job 7:9, Job 14:13, Job 17:13, Job 21:13, Job 24:19, Psalm 6:5, Psalm 30:3, Psalm 31:17, Psalm 49:14, Psalm 49:14, Psalm 49:15, Psalm 88:3, Psalm 89:48, Prov. 1:12, Prov. 30:16, Ecc. 9:10, Song 8:6, Isa. 14:11, Isa. 38:10, Isa. 38:18, Ezek. 31:15, Hosea 13:14, Hosea 13:14, Psalm 141:7

15 Num. 16:30, Num. 16:33, Job 17:16

16 Mat. 5:29, Mat. 5:30, Matt. 10:28, Matt. 23:15, Matt. 23:33, Mark 9:43, Mark 9:45, Mark 9:47, Luke 12:5, Matt. 5:22, Matt. 18:9, Jas. 3:6

17 Matt. 11:23, Matt. 16:18, Luke 10:15/Mat. 11:23, Luke 16:23, Acts 2:27, Acts 2:31, Rev. 1:18, Rev. 6:8, Rev. 20:13, Rev. 20:14

18 I Cor. 15:55

19 Roget's Thesaurus, VI.V.2, "Hell"

13. Bill Wiese, 23 Minutes in Hell (Lake Mary: Charisma House, 2006), 107

Further reading

The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners Jonathan Edwards, Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1846856723

Hell Thomas Boston, Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1846857485

A Few Sighs from Hell (Or The Groans of the Damned Soul) John Bunyan, Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1846857270

Metzeger, Bruce M. (ed); , Michael D. Coogan (ed) (1993). The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504645-5.

External links