June 6, 2013

Hel: Queen of the Underworld

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , at 12:15 am by Babs

Hel (“the Hidden” from the word hel, “to conceal”) is the Norse goddess of the dead, ruler of the nine worlds of the Land of Mist, Niflheim or Niflhel, located in the far north – a cold, damp place that is home to frost giants  and dwarves.  Her hall is called Elvidnir or Eliud/ Eljudnir (misery) and her table is called Hungur (hunger).  The name Hel was applied both to the Queen of the Underworld and the land itself and it is thought that the land gave the Queen Her name.  In the late Christianized form of the myth, when Hel became Hell, she was said to be the daughter of Loki, who was equated with Lucifer.

She is the sister of Fenrir (Fenris-wolf) and Jormungand (Midgard serpent).  The asen knew about the anger which those three represent to them, so they threw the Jormungand in the sea, where she grew to the Midgard serpent that surrounds the whole world.  The chained the Fenrir with an unbreakable ribbon.  Finally they put the third child of Loki into the Underworld.  There Hel was the mistress of nine worlds, which were part of Helheim.  There she ruled as Queen over those who did die of age or illness.

Helhaim is the realm which has 32 rivers that all come from the spring Hwergelmer.  One of these rivers (Gjoll) surrounds the whole realm.  There is a bridge over Gjol called Gjalarbridge, on which the giantess-virgin Modgudur (Modgud) keeps watch and asks those who come there: What is your name? What is your family? Afterwards, she shows the arrivers the way to the palace of Hel.  Her palace is guided by two virgins (Bigvor and Listvor), who have iron blood.  If this blood falls on the earth it causes quarrel and war.

Her realm was not a place of punishment, but the home of those, who did not die of wounds or in battle.  Normally their afterlife there was peaceful.  Over the times and through the Christian belief her realm turned into the horror-afterworld, the hell.

In appearance She is said to be a fearsome sight.  She is described as being piebald, with a face half human and half blank, or more usually, half alive and half dead.  It is told that when She was born, disease first came into the world.  She was said to sweep through towns and cities bringing plague.  If she used a rake, some would survive; if a broom, none would.

She has two aspects: first she is honored Queen of the Underworld, but she is also one of the demons that want to overthrow the Gods.

She has a knife which is called Sultur (gluttony/ voracity).  Her bed named Kor (exhaustion).  The blanket of her bed is Blickandibol (slander).  Her servants were called Ganglate (go slow) and Ganglot (go lazy).

When the beloved Baldar was killed through Loki’s treachery, the entire world bgged Her to release him from death.  Hel agreed, but only if every creature on earth truly mourned for him.  So beloved was Baldar that everything – gods, humans, animals, trees, stones – wept for him.  All except an old giantess, called Thokk, who was Loki in disguise.

Hel in a reading can represent a time of simultaneous endings and beginnings, the point at which the circle is completed.  She can also indicate integrity, as opposites unite to form a stronger whole.  Alternate spellings: Hella.

Due to her remote and lonely home, she was not part of many Norse myths and therefore has little detail surrounding her.  Hel’s possessions are described thus:

She has great possessions there; her walls are exceeding high and her gates great.  Her hall is called Sleet-Cold; her dish, Hunger; Famine is her knife; Idler, her thrall; Sloven, her maidservant; Pit of Stumbling, her threshold, by which one enters; Disease, her bed; Gleaming Bale, her bed-hangings.  She is half blue-black and half flesh-color (by which she is easily recognized), and very lowering and fierce.

– Brodeur translation

Later in the same source it is described how Hermoor tries to retrieve the dead Baldar’s soul from Hel.

Now this is to be told concerning Hermodr,  that he rode nine nights through dark dales and deep, so that he saw not before he was come to the river Gjoll (or Gjallar-river) and rode onto the Gjoll-Bridge (or Gjallar-Bridge); which bridge is thatched with glittering gold.  Modgudr is the maiden called who guards the bridge.

It has been suggested that this description of Hel is of later date, and that She originally was a much more neutral goddess over the realm of shadows, where all, both good and evil, courageous ad cowardly, gather after death.  This can be seen as being supported by the etymology of Hel (Lat. Celare, Ger. hehlen), meaning the “hider”.  It is important to note that also the noble Baldar and the brave Sigurd are sent to Hel after their deaths.  Bishop Wulfila uses the Gothic word Halja to translate the Greek “Hades”.

Viktor Rydberg, in particular, advocated this view.  In the book “Our Fathers’ Godsaga” he theorizes that the correct name for Loki’s daughter is in fact “Leikn” and that, in Christian times, She was confused with Uror, one of the three Norns and the dis of fate and death.  Rydberg’s theories are not generally accepted.


Tree: Elder

Plant: Holly

Sacred Objects: Wells

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