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Helheim & Hel

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Forums -> Norse Paganism -> Helheim & Hel

Helheim & Hel
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 1

Other names : Halja, Hell, Hella

*It is important to note that sometimes Hel is used in reference to just the world of the dead, but throughout this article it will be used solely in reference to the Norse goddesses of Death*

Colors: Black/White

Common Offerings: Black bread, black cloth, wine, dark chocolates, coffee beans, black/white candles, skull symbols, bones, yew, black onyx, etc. (Some people include pictures of their beloved deceased).

She is usually celebrated and honored around Samhain and Yule.

Hel is the daughter of Loki and the giantess known as Angrbodha. The Gods came together when trying to figure out what to do with all of Loki's offspring and decided that she would be given the world/realm farthest away from the World Tree- Helheim ("House of Hel"). Helheim, being one of the nine worlds, is more commonly that not depicted as mysterious and grim. This is quite suiting, since it was thought to be a land for the dead. Generally the dead who end up in Helheim are those who have died of a disease/old age or otherwise have not been killed in battle.

Those who enter Helheim can never return: this includes the Gods. Hel was powerful and respected, and her decisions were often final. Baldr's story tells the tale of how his brother rode to Hel to try and convince the Goddesses to return the God to the living, to which Hel says: " If all things in the world, alive or dead, weep for him, then he will be allowed to return to the Aesir. If anyone speaks against him or refuses to cry, then he will remain with Hel ."

With Hel in her realm, there are a few others who serve her in guarding Helheim. Garm is a giant hound who is said to guard the entrance. He is sometimes equated or thought to be a representation of Fenrir, another wolf from Norse mythology. It depends largely on which texts you read and the translated versions of them. Garm is usually shown as having multiple eyes, soaked in the blood of the dead, with vicious white fangs protruding from his mouth.

Another curious inhabitant of Helheim is Modgud- who serves Hel by guarding the bridge that leads into/out of the underworld. She is usually shown as a giant woman, large in stature and build.

Hel's appearance is one of the more interesting things about her. Some descriptions of her from the Edda propose that Hel is half black and half white. Other stories portray her as having one side that is beautiful and the other is rotting or skeletal with bones growing on the outside of her body (though which side of her is beautiful and which is skeletal has never been made clear). Most depictions of her show her as being divided straight down the middle. Though there have been those who would show her as having the top half of a beautiful woman and the bottom half of a skeleton. Due to her appearance, people associate different spectrums with her. The peaceful and ugly nature of death. The light and dark side to each individual. The end of something and the beginning of something else. Etc.

Some Germanic cultures believed that there were multiple places to go in the afterlife and that Helheim was just one stop. The depictions of it vary, and often it is said to contain subsets within it as to separate the "good" and the "bad"- some showing village like living arrangements and peace while others were thought to be icy and cold like death. Hel offers those who died of natural causes a chance at happiness and rebirth, as it is her job to offer "board and lodging" to them (Paxson). Interestingly enough, through Seidr (which I will go into later), it was not uncommon for Norse practitioners (of varying paths, such as Shamanism) to call upon Hel through astral travel in hopes of communicating with the dead in order to learn from them, or provide some sort of divination.

People tend to debate on Hel's nature (much like her father, Loki, and the discussion of his own morality). Hel is often misunderstood, as people tend to lump her under the label "evil" without consideration. Personally, I think the Gods to be ambiguous, and neither one thing or the other. Hel had a role that she was made to partake in, partially due to her lineage (her father being Loki) and because of where she was placed. I associate Hel with death, which I do not associate with "evil".

Sources:

Essential Asatru by Diana L. Paxson

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/259835/Hel

http://www.goddess-guide.com/hella.html

http://www.paganspace.net/group/norsegoddesshel

http://loveofthegoddess.blogspot.com/2011/12/hel-norse-queen-of-underworld.html

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Re: Helheim & Hel
By:
Post # 2
Thank you very much! incredibly informative.
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Re: Helheim & Hel
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 3
Thanks, Tali. I have more to write on Hel (she's so interesting!) but I'll probably save it for the coven.
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Re: Helheim & Hel
By: / Knowledgeable
Post # 4
One question I always wondered. If Hel was the end for those who did not die in battle, what of the Seidr and other women who did not normally fight? Were the other afterlife worlds mostly consisting of men? In Scandinavian culture women were the healers, childbearers, and shaman. Were they still destined to go to an average afterlife?
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Re: Helheim & Hel
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 5
You know, that's a very good question, White!

You won't find much, if any, information or accounts about many women in the afterlife. Normally they speak of the heros and sons of men. However, it is assumed (at least where I am from) that women reside in both Hel and Helgafjell. Some supported reasoning is just the descriptions of where the dead live, the feasts, etc. Also, in the past when you look at funerals, women could get a funeral just as lavish if not more so than a man. They would not have bothered with the funeral process and make it so extraordinary if they thought women did not have the same afterlife as the men..

We believe that women partake of the journey in the afterlife as much as the men do- but the men tend to get more recognition for "glorious" and "honorable" deaths.

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Re: Helheim & Hel
By:
Post # 6

I really liked this post Personified thanks :)

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Re: Helheim & Hel
By: / Knowledgeable
Post # 7
Thank you Personified for answering my question. =)
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Re: Helheim & Hel
By:
Post # 8

I firmly believe that women have just as prestigious afterlife in the belief systems of the culture at hand. Simply referring to the mythological beings you will find tales to women of honor in both battle and common day life. The terms that come to mind most readily are the Valkyries, and the Shield-Maidens.

Two distinctly honored places among this culture, and highly prestigious titles. It makes sense that with the very history of said belief system proclaiming females as warriors and honorable, that the practice of this system should honor them too.

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Re: Helheim & Hel
By:
Post # 9

Love the post personified.

@maelstrom
While i agree with you that women in mythology have just as honorable roles and partake in glorified journeys it is typically more common to see the regular hero depicted as male and also while women have always been regarded in sometimes the highest honor and often held feared and regarded positions of authority most ancient societies were usually patriarchal stemming back to a divine male persona of utmost authority.

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Re: Helheim & Hel
By: / Novice
Post # 10
Oh my goodness, how did I miss this? Good post pers, dear. :)
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