Gjallar Bridge

Hel (being)

In Norse mythology, Hel (sometimes Anglicized or Latinized as Hela) is the ruler of Hel, the Norse underworld. Hel's hall is named Éljúðnir.

Etymology

The old Old Norse word Hel derives from Proto-Germanic * khalija, which means "one who covers up or hides something", which itself derives from Proto-Indo-European kel-, meaning "conceal". The term may have later spawned the English word Hell. Related terms are Old Frisian helle, German Hölle and Gothic halja. Norwegian and Swedish helvete "hell" come from Old Norse helviti#Old_Norse, hel (the location) + viti "punishment".

Prose Edda

In the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, Hel is described as the daughter of Loki and Angrboða – a giantess (gýgr, see jötunn) – and thus sister of the Fenrisulfr and the sea serpent Jörmungandr. Since her father is often described as a god, although both his parents were giants, the same might be said of Hel.

When Odin became aware of the existence of Loki's children, he banished them to remote places. He then cast Hel down to her realm in the underworld and gave her authority over all those in the nine worlds who do not die gloriously in battle but of sickness or of old age.

Appearance

Hel's appearance and possessions are also described in Gylfaginning:

Hon á þar mikla bólstaði ok eru garðar hennar forkunnar hávir ok grindr stórar. Éljúðnir heitir salr hennar, Hungr diskr hennar, Sultr knífr hennar, Ganglati þrællinn, Ganglöt ambátt, Fallandaforað þresköldr hennar er inn gengr, Kör sæing, Blíkjandaböl ársali hennar. Hon er blá hálf en hálf með hörundarlit, því er hon auðkend ok heldr gnúpleit ok grimmlig.
- Gylfaginning
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 slave; 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

Dealings with Baldr

Later in the same source is described how Hermóðr tries to retrieve the dead Baldr's soul from Hel.

En þat er at segja frá Hermóði at hann reið níu nætr døkkva dala ok djúpa svá at hann sá ekki fyrr en hann kom til árinnar Gjallar ok reið á Gjallarbrúna. Hon er þökt lýsigulli. Móðguðr er nefnd mær sú er gætir brúarinnar.
Now this is to be told concerning Hermóðr, that he rode nine nights through dark dales and deep, so that he saw not before he was come to the river Gjöll (or Gjallar-river) and rode onto the Gjöll-Bridge (or Gjallar-bridge); which bridge is thatched with glittering gold. Móðguðr is the maiden called who guards the bridge.

Hel agrees to release Baldr, but only if every being in the world cries over his death. All do, except for one giantess—sometimes said to be Loki in disguise—and thus Baldr remains in Hel, though he will supposedly be resurrected after Ragnarok.

Heimskringla

Heimskringla relates that she procured herself a spouse by having the Swedish king Dyggvi die a natural death.

Hel, the realm

The path to Hel is known as the Helvegr and the gates Helgrindr or Nágrind ("Corpse Gate"). Here Garmr is fastened, Hel's watchdog, who is bloody both on chest and neck.

Theories

Late description

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, despite their deeds, gather after death. This can be seen as being supported by the etymology of Hel (Lat. Celāre, Ger. hehlen), meaning the "hider". It is important to note also that Baldr and 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 Urðr, one of the three Norns and the dís of fate and death. Rydberg's theories are not generally accepted.

In the Icelandic Book of Revelations the word Hades is translated as Hel.

References

See also

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