No, not like the Christian hell.
She is definitely one of the Goddesses that gets little attention, and when she does people tend to think of her as evil. Why? Because people think anything associated with death is evil, except Death is the absolute Neutral. Personally in pagan religions, I don’t really see “evil” as a thing (in reference to Gods, people can definitely be evil). There is light and dark. Both need to be worked with or there is no balance. But that’s getting off topic.
Hel (means Hidden in Old Norse), the Goddess of the dead, daughter of Loki and Angrboda, born in the Ironwood.
She is known as Hel, Hela, Halja, or (some say) Leikin (the name the Alfar call her, not sure on that one though). The Goddess to whom “all is seen”.
There isn’t much in the way of information about her in the lore. The most prominent story is that of her involvement in the story of Baldur’s death.
Following the death of Baldur, the goddess Frigga sends Hermóðr to offer Hel ransom. Hermóðr begs Hel to allow his brother to return home, because Baldur is so loved by the gods of the Æsir. Hel tells him only if all things in the world, alive or dead, weep for him, then he will be allowed to return to the Æsir. A female jotun refused so He stayed.
The prominence to this (though most only pay attention to the Loki part) is that even the Gods are not above Death.
She has the wolf Garm who resides in Gnipahellir, sometimes used interchangeably with Her brother Fenrir (which my belief is He doesn’t guard Helheim like Garm but does work with His sister), as one of the gaurds. The other being Modgud.
Garm is a new one to me. Most of what I see really equates him with Fenrir so I am pretty iffy about Him. They say to appease him you give him a piece of cake, but only after you have already given bread to the poor.
Modgud, called the Guardian Goddess, gaurds the bridge (Giallarbru) over the river Gjoll which leads to Helheim. Not finding much on Her so far.
I also see Hel as having a nature aspect. In modern times (especially for pagans) we have a romanticized view of nature. We see it as this sort of beautiful thing. Nature is beautiful, yes, but it is also dangerous, unfeeling and always renewing itself. I think of Hel having a nature aspect in the death of things to make room for the new. Animals die, rot in the earth to provide nutrients for new life. The forest fires that clear out the dead from the forest floor and enriches the soil for new growth. Death is a very important part of the cycle in Life. It is a necessity.
I do not by any means think I am any kind of expert on the Lady of Death. I don’t really even have a working relationship with Her at the moment. I’m doing what I always do. Research.
Why am I including Her in the Ancestor series? Because She is the one that cares for Them.
There is this romanticized notion in the Heathen community that we all want to go to Valhalla. That really isn’t realistic, especially in modern times. Our ancestors, before Christianization (which the Christian ancestors are a different story and will be touched on a later post) didn’t all die in battle and most likely didn’t get claimed by a certain God to take to Their hall. That leaves only Helheim, where Hel cares for them.
Here is a little information. This will probably be updated as I find out more, still in early stages of research. Keep in mind I didn’t create this list.
- Colors: Black, white
- Symbols: Skull, red roses, dried roses, bones, “Day of the Dead”-type skeleton images
- Altar suggestions: Skulls, skeleton images, grave rubbings, skeletal hands, bones, dried roses, black shrouds, black mirror, black and white candles, plantain leaves, rue, wormwood, yarrow, yew, the runes Ear (sometimes combined with Raido for the Helroad) and Hagalaz, sometimes Othala. It is not uncommon for a Hel altar to be an ancestor harrow as well, with pictures of and offerings to one’s own beloved Dead.
- Food and drink: Tea, good wine, apples (Hel has an orchard of Her own); meat, bread, soup, meals that your ancestors would have liked, blood; good quality chocolate, coffee beans. Hel likes dried, well-preserved flowers, especially dried roses. She also likes blood, as do all the Death deities. Some people offer her tea, or food that can sit on an altar and rot. (Don’t take it away until it is entirely desiccated, no matter what happens.) Don’t approach her altar with an unhealthy attitude toward death and decay.
When I am finally able to set up my Ancestor Altar (money is the issue on buying stuff for it), Hel will definitely have a special place.
She will be touched on more as I go through this series, and I maybe even start up a relationship with Her.
I’ve met Her once. I see her as being half pale and half blue-black (think frostbite), the pale half having darker dirty blonde hair and the blue-black half with almost white hair. She is quite beautiful, but forces you to look at the not so beautiful aspects of Death right in the face.
If any of you have more information (or if anything you see here is inaccurate) please share.
Hail the Goddess of the Dead.
Until next time loves!