Who is Hel in Norse mythology?

In Norse mythology, Hel is the queen of the afterlife realm of Hel. She is the daughter of Loki the god and Angrboda the giantess, and the sister of Fenrir the wolf and Jörmungandr the World Serpent. Although she is sometimes referred to as a goddess, Hel is actually a half-goddess and jötunn, a being from Jotunheim, the realm of the giants.

Her name, like that of Greek Hades, is the same as the location she oversees, and it means "to hide", "to cover", or "hidden place" (Hades' name means "the hidden one"). Both she and her domain, like Hades, were co-opted, distorted, and perverted by Christian colonists. Hel is a legendary and actual location, with the latter referring to cemetery graves. The mythical location is claimed to be farthest north of Migarr while also being beneath it, the Underworld. It, like Hades, is divided from the world of the living by rivers that are difficult to cross.

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Snorri claims that Hel dwells in Niflheim, the primeval land of frost, mists, and ice, implying that Hel is a pre-Viking age deity and maybe referring to one of the more recent Little Ice Ages. The bridge to Hel is depicted as magnificent and golden, and it is guarded by Garmr, the fearsome hound who keeps the dead in and the living out. The parallels to Greek Cerberus are clear. Although "Helheim" is a popular moniker, it is a contemporary fabrication that is nevertheless useful in distinguishing Hel's domain from Christian "Hell."

Her brothers in the Eddas are Fenrir and Jörmungandr, the children of Loki and the jötunn Angrboa. In assigns her the task of providing accommodation for everyone who die of disease or old age - what is known as a "straw death." She is part gorgeous and vibrant, and half blue, the color of cold, lifeless flesh. Modern artistic depictions go much further, depicting her as half corpse, a common image in both modern paganism and pop culture.

There are several unresolved hypotheses about life after death in Norse Paganism (like in all faiths). Modern paganism demonstrates that Hel is the same as it was in the pre-Christian Germanic world: not a place of eternal pain or anguish for the immoral dead. It is far richer and more complex, and far less sinister. Nowhere in the lore does it state that Hel is a universal abode of misery; rather, it has been misconstrued in the same way that Hades in Greek myth is frequently misinterpreted.

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This original image of Hel shines through the gaps in Snorri, as honoured guests Baldr and Nanna, together with their retinue, are welcomed with a sumptuous welcoming party, and there is no hint that they are anything other than comfortable and free to walk around. Hel is even friendly to them, acting as a gracious hostess in the Norse manner. Hel is a lover-like presence and spiritual adviser to Balderus in Saxo, which is very similar to Persephone's relationship with Adonis.

Hel, like Hades, has a place for evildoers called Náströnd, where the dragon Nhöggr devours the remains of the honourless dead, effectively destroying them totally. According to legend, this is a destination for murderers and oath-breakers. There must be a place for Monsanto, Nestlé, fossil fuel businesses, and dishonest politicians. Later Christian influence depicts Náströnd as an acid lake of unending agony, akin to Christian Hell.

As Europe became Christianized, Hel became Hell, and her father, Loki, became Lucifer. Dante used her to inform the description of his Inferno. His adoption of Niflhel became a literary reference point that would invigorate Christian Hell's religious notions into the modern day, the mythology of which was stunningly un-detailed prior to Dante's creativity.

In Danish folklore, Hel rides a three-legged stallion named Helhest. She rode above and around the land like in, gathering up dead souls to join her. While In was sweeping across the battlefield, riding the tides of combat, Hel was riding the waves of sickness and famine. Hel, like her brother death-collector, was connected with and heralded by ravens, in the same way that the Celtic Morrigan was.

Hel in other words

Hel belonged to a complex religious, mythological, and cosmological belief system shared by the Scandinavian and Germanic peoples as both a Norse deity and a place in the Norse mythic universe. This mythological tradition, best preserved in Scandinavian (and particularly Icelandic) sub-groups, developed between the first manifestations of religious and material culture around 1000 B.C.E. and the area's Christianization, which took place primarily between 900 and 1200 C.E. The stories contained in this mythical corpus tend to reflect a cohesive societal emphasis on physical prowess and military strength.

Norse cosmology postulates three distinct "clans" of deities within this framework: the Aesir, the Vanir, and the Jotun. After a long struggle, Aesir and Vanir are supposed to have made peace, exchanged hostages, intermarried, and reigned together. The Aesir represent battle and conquest, whereas the Vanir represent exploration, fertility, and abundance. The Jotun, on the other hand, are viewed as a primarily evil (but clever) race of giants that served as the Aesir and Vanir's major rivals.

Because of her largely negative portrayal, Hel, whether regarded as the goddess of the dead or the realm where their spirits reside, is a clear indication of the role of (non-battle-related) death within the Norse worldview.


Hel was the offspring of Loki and the giantess Angrboa, along with Fenrir and Jörmungandr. Her childhood is unclear, but Loki claims she was a loner and extremely shy.

It is said that once the gods discovered that these three children were being raised in Jötunheimr, and when the gods "traced prophecies that from these siblings great mischief and disaster would arise for them," the gods expected a lot of trouble from the three children, partially due to the nature of the children's mother, but even more so due to the perceived nature of their father.

identified Hel as an example of a "half-goddess": "one who cannot be shown to be either wife or daughter of a god, and who stands in a dependent relation to higher divinities," and maintained that "half-goddesses" rank higher in Germanic mythology than "half-gods." Grimm saw Hel (or Halja, the putative Proto-Germanic version of the name) as primarily a "image of a greedy, unrestoring, female deity" and hypothesized that "the higher we are allowed to penetrate into our antiquities, the less hellish and more godlike Halja may appear." He connected her position, black hue, and name to "the Indian Bhavani, who travels and bathes like Nerthus and Holda, but is also known as Kali or Mahakali, the great black goddess," and concluded that "Halja is one of the oldest and most widely held conceptions of our heathenism." He theorized that the Helhest, a three-legged horse that roams the countryside in Danish folklore "as a harbinger of plague and pestilence," was originally the steed of the goddess Hel, and that Hel walked the area "picking up the dead that were her due." He also claims that Hel previously owned a wagon.

Hel's powers

As the goddess of death and the underworld, and one of Angrboa and Loki's children, Hel is a fierce goddess among the most powerful of the chthonic gods and the Norse gods in general, possessing considerable ability with both physical and magical powers. Indeed, it is implied that Hel is the most powerful of the Nordic deities, as her command over death extends to the gods themselves. Despite her great and deadly power, Hel rarely, if ever, engages in conflict, preferring to preserve the balance between life and death while ignoring the expansion of her realm. However, this does not make her vulnerable, as Freya herself stated that Hel is a goddess who should never be provoked. Hel is a tough hand-to-hand combatant with exceptional swordsmanship skills. She is especially adept at using her abilities in fight.

Hel's might was demonstrated when she threatened Mundus. The Dark Emperor heeded her warnings and promised not to trouble her again, implying that Mundus, while being in his prime, was well aware of Hel's strength and did not take the risk of engaging her, no matter how arrogant he was about his own. Hel, like every deity associated with death and the underworld, had complete dominion over corpses, skeletons, and ghosts. She also possesses complete control over darkness, and her very presence fills any mortal, let alone a deity, with dread and horror. While there are other gods associated with death in the Norse pantheon, Hel is the most prominent for obvious reasons, and her power in that arena exceeds theirs because she has the last word over whether or not this particular soul is taken into her embrace or carried off into Valhalla.

Hel's place

Hel was located to the north and could be reached via a road that headed downward, via a bridge over a river of spears, and through a gate in a tall fence guarded by the wolf Garm. Hel was largely reserved for individuals who died of old age or sickness (though there were exceptions, including, it appears, accidents) rather than gloriously in war or from other causes.

Warriors' souls were carried to Odin's Hall of Valhalla, drowned souls were taken by the goddess Ran, wife of the sea god Aegir, and common folk souls were transported to Fólkvangr ("field of the people") presided over by the goddess Freyja. It's unknown who ended up in Hel, aside from the sick and elderly, but it wasn't a place of retribution or pain.

Souls were properly cared for in Hel, as evidenced by the myth of the deity Baldr's entry, when the floor was coated with gold and the seats with fresh straw to greet him. Simek observes that "Hel is not a place of punishment, it is not a hell, it is simply the residence of the dead" (136), yet it is far from a nice place in general.

The dead cannot leave once they come, and their world is damp, dark, cold, and cloudy. Simek makes the following observations on Hel's palace:

Based on its appearance in numerous stories, it appears that any soul that is not that of a warrior who died in battle could wind up in Hel, although there is no explanation given for a soul to end up in Hel rather than Fólkvangr other than dying of disease or old age. At the same time, it appears that there are many souls in Hel who did not die from either of those causes, the most renowned of which being the god Baldr and his wife Nanna.

Hel's family

Hel was one of the three monstrous children of Loki and his mistress, Angrboda, in Norse mythology. Loki and Angrboda withheld the presence of their offspring from the gods for a time, but when the Aesir discovered their existence, they were deeply disturbed.

Doomsday prophecies had been linked to Loki's progeny. Although Angrboda is not described in full, the Prose Edda implies that her involvement alarmed the gods.

To decrease the risk posed by Loki's children, the gods decided to remove them from Jotenheim and relocate them to a safer location. The serpent, Jormungandr, had not yet achieved his full size. He was simply thrown into the sea, but he would eventually grow enormous enough to round the globe.

For a time, the gods attempted to tame the wolf Fenrir. Tyr sacrificed his hand to have him shackled with unbreakable chains when he grew too huge and nasty to trust. Hel appeared to be the most human of the three. The gods, on the other hand, quickly recognized her as no ordinary giantess.

How did Hel look?

Hel is frequently represented as a beautiful lady with long, flowing hair and a pale, ghostly skin. She is characterized as half-blue and half-flesh, with one side of her face and torso pale and the other dark. This dual nature is considered to symbolize her two roles as the goddess of death and the guardian of the dead.

Despite her beauty, Hel is frequently described as frigid and distant, with an icy heart. She was also called "downcast" and "fierce-looking."

In contrast to the decaying and horrifying lower torso, Hel is sometimes represented as having lovely, dark hair that is often characterized as thick and knotted. The chaotic and disorderly aspect of the underworld, which is a place of strife and sorrow, is supposed to be represented by this.

Overall, Hel's aspect is frequently connected with death and decay, and is intended to elicit sentiments of terror and unease. It is important to note, however, that how Hel is depicted varies widely depending on the narrative or source in which she appears.


A fascinating and thought-provoking part of this old belief system is the land of Hel in Norse mythology. Hel serves as a reminder of the complexity of human existence and our relationship with mortality as a place that explores the secrets of death and the afterlife. Helheim provides a better understanding of Norse cosmology and the interconnectivity of all components of the universe, beyond its ominous surface. Therefore, be sure to give Hel the respect it merits the next time you delve into the world of Norse mythology.

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