|“||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.||„|
|~ Hela in the Prose Edda.|
Hel (also known as Hela), also referred to as the "Two-Faced Terror", is an ancient goddess of the dead within the Norse mythology who presides over the realm Niflheim within the place of the same name which serves a basis for the Christian concept of Hell, where she receives a portion of the dead. She is quite usually described as a horrible hag, half dead and half alive, with a gloomy and grim expression. Her face and body are those of a living woman, but her thighs and legs are of a corpse, mottled and moldering.
It is said that once the gods found that these three children are being brought up in the land of Jötunheimr, and when the gods "traced prophecies that from these siblings great mischief and disaster would arise for them" then the gods expected a lot of trouble from the three children, partially due to the nature of the mother of the children, yet worse so due to the nature of their father.
After this discovery, the viking god Odin of Asgard sent the gods to gather the children and bring them to him. Upon their arrival, Odin threw Jörmungandr into "that deep sea that lies round all lands," Odin threw Hel into Niflheim, and bestowed upon her authority over nine worlds, in that she must "administer board and lodging to those sent to her, and that is those who die of sickness or old age."
After the death of Baldr at the hands of Loki, the goddess Frigg asks who among the Aesir will earn "all her love and favor" by riding to Hel, the location, to try to find Baldr, and offer Hel herself a ransom. The god Hermodr volunteers and sets off upon the eight-legged horse Sleipnir to Hel. Hermodr arrives in Hel's hall, finds his brother Baldr there, and stays the night. The next morning, Hermodr begs Hel to allow Baldr to ride home with him, and tells her about the great weeping the Aesir have done upon Baldr's death. Hel says the love people have for Baldr that Hermodr has claimed must be tested. This test being that if all the things in this world, living or dead, mourn for Baldrr then he will return to the land of the living. If one refuses, then he will remain in her domain. All beings except one named Þökk weeped over his death, not only resulting Baldr to stay in Helheim, but also alarmed the Gods about Loki's betrayal.
Attestations and Theory
Hel is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. In addition, she is mentioned in poems recorded in Heimskringla and Egils saga that date from the 9th and 10th century respectively. An episode in the Latin work Gesta Danorum, written in the 12th century by Saxo Grammaticus, is generally considered to refer to Hel, and Hel may appear on various Migration Period bracteates.
In the Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, and Heimskringla, Hel is referred to as a daughter of both the divine trickster Loki and the immortal giantess Angrboda (his first wife), and to "go to Hel" is to die. In the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, Hel is described as having been appointed by Odin as ruler of a realm of the same name, located in Niflheim. In the same source, her appearance is described as half-black and half-flesh coloured and as further having a gloomy, down-cast appearance. The Prose Edda details that Hel rules over vast mansions, her servants in her underworld realm, and as playing a key role in the attempted resurrection of the god Baldr. She cares for the ones that have died of age or sickness and sends "wolfish murderers," "men who seduce another's faithful wife," and oath-breakers to Nástrand where the lindworm Nidhögg dwells.
Scholarly theories have been proposed about Hel's potential connections to figures appearing in the 11th century Old English Gospel of Nicodemus and Old Norse Bartholomeus saga postola, potential Indo-European parallels to other deities that reigns over the dead such as Bhavani, Kali, and Mahakali, and her origins.
Hel is said to appear as a fearsome woman whose appearance could scare the lookers off. Hel appears as a thin woman, beautiful on one side but like a rotting zombie on the other. For this horrid visage she is outcast among the gods, but admired by the dead.
Her appearance is described as half-black and half-flesh colored, and also has a gloomy, down-cast appearance. Hel's visage is frightening for mortals to view. When she reveals the undead half of her face, it inflicts fear in even the bravest of mortals. While wearing her cloak, she is a tall, beautiful woman with long hair which is a mix of blue plus red. Hel is sometimes depicted with half of her face a featureless white, and the other half black.
Sometimes, Hel was depicted alongside with a black hound Garm who actually guarded the gate of Helheim and the mortal enemy of Tyr in Ragnarök.
Hel is arguably the least malevolent of three siblings, simply cold and detached rather than evil like her portrayals in popular culture. Despite having animosity towards the Aesir of Asgard for casting her into Helheim at which she allowed to have dominion over, she wholeheartedly accepted her role as the Goddess of Death. Hel is grim and fierce. She is merciless in destroying those who offend her. Hel rarely conveys emotion, except for the occasional mocking smile.
While sometimes it is depicted that Hel also holds similar resentments towards her father for being born as half-undead Jötunn, it is more likely that she shows more loyalty and respect to her father due to aiding him in his fateful war against the Gods during the Ragnarök by giving him command over the legion of dishonorable dead who join his cause, proving that she poses a threat against the Gods as much as both Jörmungandr and Fenrir would.
Powers and Abilities
As one of the children of Angrboða and Loki, Hel is a formidable goddess, having great proficiency with both physical prowess and magical powers. She is particularly skillful at using her powers in combat situations.
- Transcendent Undead Physiology: Hela is the half-dead Jötunn and daughter of Angrboða and Loki who born with immense death-related powers which complimented her role as the Goddess of Death appointed by Odin the Allfather himself.
- Death-Force Manipulation: Hela can control the essence of death, a force in every mortals which causes things to wither, rot, weaken, and eventually die for various feats such as;
- Age Manipulation: Hela can use death force to induce death on her victims through accelerated aging.
- Disease Manipulation: Hela can use death force to cause and spread harmful disease that can kill those it touches. She automatically senses all deaths by disease, accident, or poison, and anything which occurs in graveyards.
- Necromancy: Hela can use death force to perform necromantic feats such as reviving the deceased.
- Death Empowerment: Not surprisingly, Hela can gain strength from death itself, perhaps through souls of deceased mortals who entered her namesake realm.
- Undead Pulse: As half of her body is alive and healthy while the rest looked death and decomposing yet not bothered by such condition in any way, Hela is virtually in a state between alive and undead.
- Ice Manipulation: Some sources stated that Hela can manipulate ice and cold to some degree, though compared to that of other Norse Deities, her cryokinetic powers leaned more to its destructive and harmful aspects.
With her major role in Norse mythology, Hela has been used in countless works of fiction. Notable examples are:
- Hel: A playable character in the MOBA videogame Smite.
- Hela: A major antagonist in Marvel Comics.
- Hela: A main antagonist of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- Hel: The minor antagonist and supporting anti-heroine in Rune and Rune II.
- The name shares the origin of the English word for "Hell", and means "hidden", "concealed".
- The phrase "Go to Hell" actually originated from "Go to Hel" meaning the same thing, which is "go die", since Hel was the name for both the ruler of the underworld as well as the name of the underworld.