I became interested in the topic when reading that some fundamentalist christian ministers proposed that Christopher Hitchens, now that he has died, has become a believer due to his burning in hell.  It made me wonder, exactly "where" hell is located?

In my Baptist upbringing, I was taught that hell was located under the earth.  That concept is difficult for an adult to support, since the earth is a globe and encircles the sun, so there is no "under" location for hell.  Some claimed that hell was in the center of the earth, with all that hot lava and stuff.  Again, difficult to support, since we have a pretty good knowledge of geology, and the earth is not hollow.

I suppose you COULD say that hell is inside the sun - it's hot there, and at least would be in this solar system.  But the sun, being the source of light and warmth, is usually thought to be a beneficial star.   Maybe Venus or Mars?

I don't know what the fundamentalists teach about hell now.  I read that some suggest hell is in another dimension or parallel universe - convenient, unprovable argument.

wikipedia shows the diversity of hells.  Seems there are as many hells as there are religions.  Hell can range from annihilation (no different from the atheist concept of death) to just being the place where the dead are, to a place of torment.  The wikipedia article is far more detailed than I can quite here, and makes for fascinating reading.

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It is good sci-fi.  Maybe that one of the reasons I loved sci-fi so much. 

I think those Mormon ideas were developed in the mid 1800s, so Battlestar Galactica was probably not one of the inspirations, although Galactica may have been inspired to some extent by Mormonism, because In Mormonism, God's planet is called Kolob, and in Galactica, the home world is called Kobol. :)

I bet if we looked hard enough, we would find other places where Mormonism feeds into science fiction. It's just too good.

I heard somewhere that 'hell' was the (terrible) state of mind when a believer was distanced from the right path. Which makes total sense! Anyone who has done wrong and knows it, or who is not consequent with their own belief system, can understand that straying from your own truth will cause discomfort, internal conflict and suffering. The next step is easy: how do you describe this state of mind? Enter the imagination of the millions who have illustrated these feelings of despair for us, being taken literally while explaining it figuratively... By that, I'd say that 'shame', 'guilt', 'remorse', 'fear of retribution', etc... are the Hell that has been illustrated for us throughout the centuries.

Very well put marcoantonio.  That's very close to what Mormonism teaches, that the Fire & Brimstone of the bible is not literal, but an indication of how intense our mental suffering will be in hell.  That Joseph Smith was a smart cookie (except for believing in a God, and men living on the moon & a dozen other weird things).

Shinto Hell.

The Shinto Hell is similar to the Aztec Hell, Mictlan, in the sense that Yomi (黄泉?) (also here)  is not a punishment for sins, or retribution, and does not have an intent to torture.  Like Jason's concept of the modern office workplace as an afterlife, Yomi is just really unpleasant and you wouldn't want to be there, but there is no choice.  So really Hades, not Hell, but the references usually state Hell anyway.

From the wikipedia link, "This realm of the dead seems to have geographical continuity with this world and certainly cannot be thought of as a paradise to which one would aspire, nor can it appropriately be described as a hell in which one suffers retribution for past deeds; rather, all deceased carry on a gloomy and shadowy existence in perpetuity regardless of their behavior in life. Many scholars believe that the image of Yomi was derived from ancient Japanese tombs in which corpses were left for some time to decompose."  

As for "Where is Yomi", Shinto tradition is better than most, actually stating the province where the entrance is located.  "Yomi is ruled over by Izanami no Mikoto, the Grand Deity of Yomi (Yomotsu-Ōkami 黄泉大神). According to Kojiki, the entrance to Yomi lies in Izumo province and was sealed off by Izanagi upon his flight from Yomi, at which time he permanently blocked the entrance by placing a massive boulder (Chibiki-no-Iwa 千引の岩) at the base of the slope that leads to Yomi"

Izumo province is on the map in red.

I tried to locate Yomi using Google maps, and was unable to do so.  Using google images, mainly I came up with anime.  Apparently, Japanese people are not obsessed with the legends of the afterlife. 

Izaname, the ruler of Yomi, has a story, she is a goddess of creation and death, having died while giving birth.  Her husband Izanagi followed her into Yomi, hoping to retrieve her, but on seeing her maggot-ridden face had second thoughts and fled Yomi, pushing a boulder across the entrance so that she could not follow him out.  Izanagi and Izaname are pictured below.  In addition to being husband and wife, they are also siblings.  

This is the only image of the Japanese hell that I could locate:

Now for the Zoroastrian hell.

Zoroastrianism is a roughly 3,000 year old religion, practiced now by 100,000 to 200,000 adherents.  Most are descended from ancestors who fled Persia (Iran) due to persecution.  Zoroastrianism is thought to be a major inspiration for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Muslims thanked the Zoroastrians by persecuting them, forced conversion, and driving them from their homeland in Iran, to India.  A few remain in Iran, in isolated villages.   The Zoroastrians in India are known as Parsis.   Parsis are a very small minority in India and an even smaller minority in Iran, known as Gabars (infidels).  There are also a few in California.

Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra, for the operatically inclined) (the prophet Zoroaster was born of a 15-year old virgin, by the way) taught ethical monotheism (despite having lesser deities), heaven, hell, angels (known as yazatas), the resurrection of the body, and a messiah figure.  The one true god is "Ahura Mazda".  Zoroaster taught that the universe is pervaded by a Cosmic Battle between the uncreated creator, Ahura Mazda and the principle of darkness and evil, Angra Mainyu

I intend to write more on Zoroastrianism later - I love the stories, words, names, history, mythology, modern remnants.  But for here, the Zoroastrian hell.  Zoroastrian hell seems to have inspired some later middle eastern and western hells as well.

When you die, your soul sits by your head for 3 days.  During this time you pray for your future.  Which apparently is useless, since your future is based on what you did while alive.  Then you cross a river that grows more difficult because your weeping relatives swell it with a tsunami of of tears.  You cross the river via the Chinvat bridge.  On the Chinvat Bridge, you meet the 3 angels of judgment: Mithra, Srosh, and Rashnu.  The Chinvat bridge stretches from Alborz Peak (Hara-Berezaiti, now thought to be Mount Damavand) to heaven or Daitih Peak.  The Chinvat bridge is thought to cross the Aras River in Iran.  Below the bridge is hell.  (Wait, I thought it was a river?)  The Chinvat bridge adjusts its width based on the actions in your life.  Also, if you are met by a lovely young lady, you're in luck; if by an old lady, kiss your ass good-by.  If you were a good Zoroastrian, the bridge is wide and the lovely lady guides you easily into heaven.  If you were bad, the bridge becomes razor-thin, and the mean old lady makes you fall into hell.

The Chinvat bridge

Mount Damavand.

I can't see the Chinvat bridge in this photo, but my eyes are not so good.  It is interesting that Mt. Damavand also houses the chained 3-headed dragon Aži Dahāka.  Mt. Damavand is an active volcano, the tallest in Asia, has some thermal springs, and sometimes emits sulfurous gasses.  Which might explain a few things.  Just for fun, Azi Dahaka "steals cattle and brings harm to humans".  

Hell is very stinky - possibly due to the vulcanic emissions? Well, and also all of the dead people.   Anyway, a variety of special activities await you in hell.  This is taken from "hell-on-line.org" which has lots of info on various hells.  The punishments depend on your crimes, and include:

*You will be forced to eat your own corpse, flesh, excrement, menstrual fluids, and semen.

*You will be forced to eat blood and brains from skulls of the dead and your own children.

*You will be hung upside down, dismembered, decapitated, and sliced.

*You will mutilate yourself by cutting, gnawing, devouring, gnashing, piercing, beating, tearing, trampling, stinging and dragging.

*You will be stabbed, pelted, and stretched on a rack.

*You will be forced to bear enormous burdens, perform painful and fruitless tasks (Jason, that's probably filling out performance appraisals for subordinates).

*You will be burned and cooked in ovens, cauldrons and frying-pans.

*You will be cast down into heat, cold, smoke, snow and stench.

*You will endure hunger and thirst.

*You will be forced to lick hot things or to defecate and masturbate continually. 

*You will be submerged in mud and turned into a serpent.

*You will be bombarded with hedgehogs.

*Your eyes will gouged out and your tongue pulled out.

*Putrid substances will be forced into your nose, eyes and mouth.

*Your penis will be gnawed, and your breasts will gnashed and cut off. 

A hedgehog, via wikimedia commons.  Apparently Zoroastrians kept them as pets.

go to this link, to see the horror that fear of hedgehog pelting might arouse.


Fortunately, it all comes to an end, even the hedgehog pelting and masturbation.  You are only in hell until the end of time.  The maximum seems to be 12,000 years, as I interpret the Zoroastrian prediction.  This is when Vohu Mana (Good Mind) will defeat Aka Mana (Evil Mind).  Also Ahura Mazda will wipe out every trace of the evil work of Angra Mainyu.  (I know, there is much explanation needed here).  A time of perfection will come, and "All the dead will be resurrected to undergo judgment at this time... everyone must walk through a stream of molten metal.  The wicked will feel the pain from this, but to the righteous, it will feel as if they are walking through warm milk".  from pathsofdevotion.com

So that's the Zoroastrian hell.

Hell On Fire In 2011, Thanks To Film And Books - NPR, All Things Considered.

Includes interview with pastor Rob Bell, author a book where he argues that not only Christians get into Heaven. 

Also mentions the 2011 Anthony Hopkins film, The Rite

George, thank your for the link!  It seems that whoever occupies hell, and what happens there, says more about the speaker or writer, than it does about the gods who created hell.

Now, the Mayan hell.

The religions and cultures of the Americas were as diverse as those of Europe and Asia.  Our information about them is limited due to destruction via conquest, genocide, cultural annihilation, and forced conversion.  There remain a few references, and vestiges in various cultures including modern Mayans.  In addition. there is a heritage in stone and pottery, and the Mayan  script has been partially translated.  

Lords of Xibalba

(from thinkquest)

The Mayan hell was Xibalba, the "place of fear".  Like many other hells, Xibalba was an underworld consisting of multiple levels.  In this case, there were 9 levels.  Xibalba was ruled by 3 demons, Vucub, Caquix, and Hun Came.  There is a road that leads to hell, but rather than being paved with the best of intentions, the road is steep, thorny, and generally forbidding.  On the road to Xibalba, you would encounter a river filled with scorpions, then a river of blood, and finally a river of pus.  Then a crossroads, and each road tries to convince you that it is the way.  No straw man to tell you follow the yellow brick road.  Then, once in Xibalba, you will be invited to sit on a bench, which is actually a hot frying griddle.  Apparently, the gods had a mean sense of humor.

The 6 houses if Xibalba from river-styx.net

There are 6 houses of hell in Xibalba.

The Dark House, with no light.

The Rattling House or Cold House, full of bone-chilling cold and rattling hail.

The Jaguar House, containing hungry jaguars

The Bat House, containing noisy bats

The Razor House, filled with self-propelled razors.

The Hot House, filled with fires and heat

Each of these houses was a test, designed to kill or humiliate people placed into them.  I don't quite understand this, since you are already dead if you are there.  Seems like an interesting video game, if you are into that sort of thing.

I could not find any reference to Xibalba being a place of retribution.  It looks like it's just an awful place where you go when you are dead.

There are death gods in charge.  One is Hun-Came (One Death) and Vucub-Came (Seven Death).  In Mayan Culture, there is often a number with a name.  The numbering applies to royalty as well as to deity.

Other gods or demons specialize in various unpleasant activities, such as sickness, starvation, fear, destitution, pain, and ultimately death.  They work together as buddies, such as 

Xiquiripat (Flying Scab) and Cuchumaquic (Gathered Blood), who sicken people's blood.

Ahalpuh (Pus Demon) and Ahalgana (Jaundice Demon), who cause people's bodies to swell up.

Chamiabac (Bone Staff) and Chamiaholom (Skull Staff), who turn dead bodies into skeletons.

Ahalmez (Sweepings Demon) and Ahaltocob (Stabbing Demon), who hide in the unswept areas of   houses and stabbed occupants to death.

Xic (Wing) and Patan (Packstrap), who caused people to die coughing up blood while out walking on a road.

The locaton of Xibalba is under the earth. Archeologists have identified a place that they speculate is the entrance to hell - an underground place containing 11 temples and bones they think are left from human sacrifice.

It's interesting.  There are common themes with hells created thousands of miles away - across oceans and thousands of miles of land.  The idea of multiple levels of hell, each with its own tortures.  The tortures that happen after death.  Tests to pass after death.  There is no indication of cross cultural connection.  Some of the Mayan hell looks like a visible process of death - scabs, jaundice, pus, swelling, ultimately rotting into skeletons.   I'm not sure about the coughing up blood while walking on a road....it seems strangly detailed, but without important details.

Now, for the Christian hell.  Just as there is a diversity in the location, atmosphere, and activities in other hells, the same is true for the christian hells.  This is where the loving, all caring and forgiving god sends people out of his great affection for his children.



The early, original old testament, Jewish hell was Sheol.  Good and bad alike wound up there, it was under the ground, and "a place of darkness, silence and forgetfulness".  To me, that looks like it's just a place to be dead.


Sheol evolved into separate sections for the good and wicked, and by the time of Jesus was a place that the good enjoyed, while the bad were tormented, until the resurrection of the dead. 


Later, hell became reserved for the dead, and was called Gehenna - a valley near Jerusalem that had been used for human sacrifices to the god "Moloch".  Moloch was a semitic god, who apparently enjoyed having children burned alive in his honor.  Scholars have debated the exact location.


Even in Christianity, hell is not uniformly the  amazing place that seems to come up in folklore.  Even though the Western followers of sweet Jesus often seem to promote this hell, a place of torture, retribution for failures of belief, or lack of strength of will, there is no uniform teaching.   In addition for the Eastern Orthodox christian, hell means being in the presence of god, but not deserving it.  However, there is not a single teaching for orthodox Christians either.


For the western (is that unorthodox?) christians, hell still confusing.  Hell here can be the place pioneered by catholics, then further embellished by the protestant children of catholicism.  The current Catholic line, via Pope Benedict XVII, is "Jesus came to tell us that he wants us all in heaven and that hell, of which so little is said in our time, exists and is eternal for those who close their hearts to his love.  (Ah, love, sweet love)  According to the catholic catechism, "Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire", and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire". The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God..."  Athough, that fire seems like it's pretty bad.


For the hellfire protestants, ""but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power."


Last summer, Southern Baptists got together and voted to continue the eternal torment of Hell, after some debate.  


What is interesting to me is that these descriptions do not include the kind of folklore hell that I was taught, which was as specific place (deep under the earth, maybe in hollow the center of the earth), with a red, horned, tailed Satan and similar demons engaged in sadistic tortures.  I was raised "American Baptist".  

Bosch's Hell

thanks.  glad that question's answered.



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