I love to explore the Divine Feminine and write about Goddesses. For a list of those, click on the link: Goddesses. In order to become more balanced within ourselves and, through that, to bring greater balance and harmony to the world around us, we must find greater balance between the masculine and feminine energies within ourselves that each one of us possesses, regardless of physical gender or any other ways of self-identification.
The Realm of the Dead
Hel is a Goddess from Norse mythology. The name stems from the Indo-European root word kel of the same meaning and was spelt in Latin language branches of Europe Cel. It means to hide or to cover. Cellar is from the same root and is the place where you cover your food. The word concealed comes from this (con, meaning with + ceal, formerly cel). In old English, the name is Hell(e) and in Gothic it is Halja.
There are more words that are derived from this same root, like helmet, meaning to cover your head, hole, something that might be hidden under the earth, hollow, or holster where you place your gun in. So originally, the words hell denoted a place that you are hidden in, like a grave, because in your grave, you are covered by the earth.
As in many other cultures all over the world, the place of the dead was then thought of to be a realm, existing parallel to that of the living, and was presided over by a deity or deity-like figure, in case of the Norse mythology, this was the Goddess Hel who presides over the realm called by the same name.
Hel is no Hell
As we read the word Hel or Hell, we associate the Norse realm of Hel with the Christian concept of hell, but these two are not so similar at all. From the descriptions of Norse literature, a lot of whom were of Christian faith, it nevertheless comes through that the realm of Hel was more permeable, people could come and go as they pleased and while there, were treated more as honoured guests, not punished or burnt for eternity, as is the Christian concept of hell. It is important to note the differences in order to disassociate yourself from the religious concept and dogma of hell we have grown up with in our modern society.
In some texts, like the Poetic Edda, Hel is described as a place that can also be seen from some points of the surface level, so it is not a wholly underground place at all. Rather than having a fixed location, passages to places are emphasised to be difficult to reach and pass through. The geography is not seen as important and descriptions of locations vary from story to story, however, the difficulty in getting there is a common denominator in all. Also, not all dead would go to Hel. The ones who died in battle would go to meet the God Odin in Valhalla, whereas those dying of old age, sickness and disease, would go to Hel.
The Goddess Hel is described to look half flesh-coloured and half blue. Flesh is the colour of life and blue is associated with the colour of corpses. She is a giantess, the daughter of the God Loki and the giantess Angrboda. She is the sister of the Wolf Fenrir and the world serpent Jormungand and is also associated with Spiders. Odin threw her into the Underworld and she made her home there, becoming the Queen of Helheim, her place of abode in the realm of Hel.
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The Place of Hel
Norse Mythology describes her home thus:
“Hel is surrounded by a tall fence called Nágrindr 'Corpse-Fence', and it is a very creepy place to be. But not everyone will go to Helheim when they die, it is only those who died of illness, old age or was not brave enough in the eyes of the Gods that was sent to Hel. Hel lives inside Helheim in a big hall called 'Icy cold and sleet', her throne is named 'sotte bed' and her bed is called sick-bed, and the curtains around it Misfortune. The dining table is called Hunger and the knife is called starvation.”
Hel does not feature largely in any surviving texts of Norse mythology. Apart from the description of her physical appearance and that she always looked grim, she is only mentioned more prominently in one story, that of the death of the God Baldr.
On a spiritual level, despite the lack of more abundant original resources surviving for research, this Goddess is a very interesting one. She is the personification of fear that grabs hold of a human heart and results in dis-ease and death. The God Odin, the creator and giver of life, is the fearless one, thus he is healthy and all who follow in his footsteps, like the warriors dying on the battlefield, understand that there is no true death, but merely a change of form and perception.
Exploring the Hidden Realm
This also explains why the gates or passageways to Hel are so difficult to find and pass through in the mythological narratives. For a living human being, it is not easy to access their own underlying – hidden, covered – fears and heal them and transmute them into light. Instead, they fester in the subconscious realm causing negative emotions and ultimately physical disease and death.
Thus, Hel is the personification of the disconnection from the divine source, from Spirit, from life force energy. When we block the flow of this energy, we experience lack, suffering, disease and death.
However, it is worthwhile to seek those gates of Hel and enter through them in order to confront that which is hidden within us and when we are able to bring it to light and transmute it into healing, to let go of these and utilise them as powerful allies by turning them into new superpowers, we can then emerge from the realm of Hel and once more enter the lands of the living and the realm of eternal life that is described as Valhalla in Norse mythology.
In my romance novel The Right Kind of Wrong, both the female and male MCs, Kenna and Zane have caused themselves a lifetime of internal suffering because they were too afraid to get hurt and rejected to have been truthful in an emotion-laden situation in their college years.
When they meet again by chance, years later, they get the opportunity to face this situation and the pent-up emotions that have held them captive all this while and bring them up into the light to be transformed into powerful and positive change.
Watch this video on the Goddess Hel: