My 7 Favorite Depictions of Hell

My 7 Favorite Depictions of Hell September 24, 2018
Courtesy of Pixabay

The doctrine of eternal hell used to scare the living daylights out of me. Although I have pretty much always been a Christian and have probably “given my heart to the Lord” several times—I can’t recall how many, exactly, but it’s been more than once—I was still tormented by eternal torment. Perhaps I just wasn’t going to stack up, perhaps I committed the “unpardonable sin,” or, perhaps I was going to die on a day when God was in a particularly foul mood, but regardless, I always felt like somehow, someway, I was doomed to burn.

All that crap, however, is now behind me. And because of this, I sort of find the idea of hell rather ridiculous, hilarious even. I mean, it’s just so silly—the stuff we will come up with! To that end, here is a list of my top 7 favorite hells we human beings have invented. They are in no particular order.

  1. The Punishment of Sisyphus

I don’t think any hellacious punishment makes me laugh as much as Sisyphus’. It’s really quite clever. Because King Sisyphus was too crafty and deceitful, what happens is that when he dies, he’s condemned to Tartarus—a deep abyss of torment found in Greek mythology—and is forced to push a boulder to the top of a mountain, only to have it fall down again. Then, he is forced to do it all over again ad infinitum. Talk about an exercise in futility!

  1. The House of Lies

The Zoroastrian religion has a real doozy of a hell. When folks die, they are forced to walk over the Chinavat Bridge, which is super thin and super sharp. If you don’t stack up, if your good deeds are outweighed by the bad ones, then down you go, into the House of Lies. This is a place where souls are fed food that has long-since spoiled, and where hundreds of demons get the pleasure of torturing folks for time-everlasting.

  1. Naraka

Naraka is an interesting place that is affirmed by some branches of Buddhism, Hinduism, and a few others. The silver lining is that it isn’t eternal; once souls pay off their karmic price, they are reincarnated. But while one is there, it can get pretty nasty. There are some “levels” of hell that are quite repulsive in fact. For instance, in Maharaurava, there is a flesh-eating serpent called Ruru that gets down on eating those who took advantage of others in life. In Khumhipaka, those who ate birds and animals in life are boiled in oil for a time equivalent to all the hairs on all the animals they ate. Pretty clever, am I right?

  1. Diyu

Diyu is sort of like Naraka, and is believed by folks in Chinese culture. Like Naraka, there are different levels that correspond to one’s actions in life. What is fascinating about Diyu is the names of the different levels. Some of the best are as follows: The Chamber of Iron Cycads, The Mountain of Knives, The Chamber of Tongue Ripping (my personal favorite), The Cauldron of Boiling Oil, The Chamber of Pounding (no Freudian jokes please), the Town of Suicide, and The Chamber of Dismemberment. Sounds quaint, no?

  1. Jahannam

Jahannam is the Muslim version of hell. While some Muslims don’t believe it is eternal, most do. What I find particularly interesting about it is—in the Sunni tradition at least—that there are different levels that correspond, not only to ones’ deeds, but to which faith tradition you practiced as well. And as you go down in levels (from 1 to 7, 7 being the worst) the punishment gets more severe. They are as follows: 1) Fire for Muslim sinners, 2) Fire for Christian sinners, 3) Provisional destination for Jewish sinners, 4) Burning fire for renegades, 5) Destination for witches and fortunetellers, 6) A furnace for atheists, and 7) the bottomless pit for hypocrites. So, in essence, if you are going to sin, be a Muslim sinner rather than an atheist. Or something like that.

  1. Duat

The Egyptian concept of the afterlife is called Duat. It’s basically a place where one must pass through gates guarded by creatures with titles like “Blood-Drinker Who Comes from the Slaughterhouse,” and “The One Who Eats the Excrement of His Hindquarters.” (If you aren’t laughing yet, please check your pulse.) Once a person passes through these gates, their heart is weighed and if it is heavier than some special feather it is eaten by a demon named Ammut. And then, of course, those sinners are punished and devoured by more demons.

  1. Dante’s Inferno

Dante’s Divine Comedy is, for all intents and purposes, what most Christians seem to believe hell is like. At least, it’s sort of what I was taught. In Dante’s hell, there are a bunch of levels that correspond to different sins. For instance, those who are basically lazy in life are followed around by flying insects and maggots. Gluttons are forced to live in slime. Heretics reside in flaming tombs (I guess that is where I would receive my just desserts). And the worst sinners of all, those who commit violence against themselves, others, or God, have their heads twisted backwards, are whipped by demons, thrown in feces, tortured, boiled, bitten by snakes, and so on. Hey, but at least Satan has it easy: He is down in the middle, gnawing on Cassius, Brutus, and the ultimate betrayer, Judas Iscariot.

Now, I’m sure there are many other depictions of hell floating around out there. I’d be curious to hear what some of your favorites are. Comment below and hey, maybe we’ll see one another there someday. Who knows, right?

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  • Cassandra Whitsett

    I just want to add my favorite: Inferno. It’s not the one by Dante but the science fiction novel (by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle). It parallels Dante’s version but updated for modern (1970’s) sins, and in the end we learn the nature of hell. It is “the violent ward of a hospital for the theologically insane”.

  • DebraBrunsberg

    I love the descriptions of hell given by the visionaries that the Blessed Mother presented to them. Not really anything funny about it. You know the enemy is in control when he convinces people that hell does not exist. Good luck with that.

  • The Mouse Avenger

    “The violent ward of a hospital for the theologically insane”…I like that idea. 🙂

  • The Mouse Avenger

    I know about many of those versions of Hell, but I have a personal question:

    Is Hell, in & of itself, a bad thing? (I mean, you wouldn’t wanna see people like Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot or Donald Trump in Heaven, surely? And, besides, atheists, liberals (myself included), & non-Christians are NOT the people who Hell was intended for in the first place–IMO, at least.)

  • Hell is a relatively recent 2100yo idea.

  • Nimblewill

    It’s always others that deserve hell. I find that interesting.

  • I think the only people who won’t be in heaven, are people who a place of perfect love *would* be hell for. Hopefully that’s nobody and even the evil Hitlers of this world can ultimately be redeemed in the end.

  • Mr. James Parson

    I am thinking that there are as least as many hells as there are religions.

    I don’t think intent can be found in all this fiction.

  • Hell exists. It’s just not eternal. God is eternal, not God’s loving chastisement.

  • Everyone gets chastised I believe. As Paul says, everyone passes through the fire so as to have their wood hay and stubble burned off.

  • DebraBrunsberg

    According to Jesus Christ, hell is eternal………….Per the catechism of the Catholic Church. (Non-Catholics are free to believe whatever they make up, but that does not alter the truth.) Chapter III, Article 12, IV.

    1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. ” Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.
    To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
    1034 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!”

  • DebraBrunsberg

    Dream on.

  • I’ve heard it all before. Meh.

  • DebraBrunsberg

    Free will. Enjoy the here and now.

  • MEB

    That is exactly the Eastern Orthodox point of view, as I understand it. They say the people are all in the same place and it’s Heaven for some and Hell for others, because the good people respond positively to God’s love and the bad (?) people respond the opposite way.

  • MEB

    Thank you, Matthew. It’s good to hear a minister say that.

  • MEB

    Don’t like to comment more than necessary, but has anyone checked out Mary K. Baxter’s “visions” of Hell, which she wrote a book about. It’s not pretty, but it is pretty whacked. Now, me, I was taught all about Hell in Catholic catechism in the mid-sixties by Irish nuns (Los Angeles Diocese). They told us all the gory details when I was all of seven and a half years old, as they prepared us for the Sacrament of Penance (confession). It still affects me sometimes even yet, seriously. But logically, that would make God a bastard. I really don’t think God is that way. And yet sometimes…

  • I really don’t know much about Orthodox theology, but from the bits I’ve come across I’m becoming a fan, at least compared to my fundamentalist upbringing 🙂

  • Essentially, that’s it. Although I don’t think they’d say ‘the good people.’

  • I do enjoy the here and now, thank you. And you can’t just say “free will” and call it done. There are multiple free will understandings within philosophy. Im sure you know that, though.

  • Mike Dunster

    “I mean, you wouldn’t wanna see people like Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot or Donald Trump in Heaven, surely?”
    Actually, yes I do. I don’t want people, even the most self-centred and destructive people, to just suffer punishment – I want them to realise what they’ve done and turn from it. That’s what I believe, what I hope happens at death – all our illusions are stripped away, and we see what we have done in the clearest of possible lights, which sounds very painful. I could (obviously) be wrong – but it seems consistent with the mercy of God and the love of a Good Shepherd who never stops searching for the last lost sheep.