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.
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!
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?