Highway to Hell

Posted on 07/17/2010
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The concept of an afterlife has eluded almost all humans and the civilizations and cultures of which they are a part. We are intelligent enough to wonder what happens after life but cannot come up with a way to find out and come back to tell everyone—at least not a way that most people want to try in hopes of coming back to the land of the living. Most religions on Earth have some type of monopoly on the idea of the afterlife and try to tell followers about what happens after death and how to insure that this second life is a good and happy one. What about the “bad” people though? Human beings learned long ago that people can be bad, evil, and malicious without being punished on Earth for their crimes against humanity. To make these victims feel better, most of them like to believe in the idea that those who break cultural rules or deny the basic human rights of others are sent to a place where they will receive their eternal punishment for being such bad people while alive. In the Christianity of Western civilization, this place which collects and jails wrongdoers for eternity is known as “hell.” Yet, Christians were certainly not the first ones to come up with the thought that there was a place which was strictly reserved for those who did wrong in life but did not repent or correct their ways. Countless societies and religions all over the world have their own idea of a place where people are judged upon their deaths to pay for sins or evils during their time on Earth. Let's go down the “Highway to Hell” and see what other mythological places exist to punish malevolent mortals.



In Greek mythology there exists a deep, gloomy abyss that is used like a dungeon of torture, torment, and suffering for its residents. Tartarus actually lies beneath the Underworld itself in these ancient stories—below Uranus, Gaia, and Pontus (the personified deities from the beginning of time who are physical entities as well as gods and goddesses). Like these other primal deities, Tartarus is a place as well as a force unto himself as well. Originally, Tartarus was used a place merely to hold enemies of the gods who were considered to be dangers to the power of the gods and the social hierarchy they held in place. Yet, later stories talk of how it is the place for divine punishment from crimes. Plato in his Gorgias writes that the souls who were judged to deserve punishment in the afterlife were sent to Tartarus, making most people in the modern Western world associate Tartarus with a version of hell. The entrance to Tartarus can move around though. While the main entrance is in the judgment chamber, access to this hell could be reached from Earth by very skilled mortals from special entrances that were hidden to most humans.



The mythology of the ancient Mayans who resided along what is now Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula also had its own version of a horrifying place in the afterlife of humans. Loosely translated, Xibalba actually means “place of fear” and correlates as the Mayan Underworld. It was ruled by a collection of Mayan death deities and their helpers. These gods and demons lived in the structural city of Xibalba but frequent Earth to perform their evil duties against mankind, causing starvation fear, pain, and sickness to unsuspecting mortals. The other residents of Xibalba fall under the direct rule of this collection of deities or one of their main demons. The permanent dwellers of this underground hell were part of the supernatural world rather than humans who were judged as being sinful or wrong in their previous life. Yet, mortals could travel into this underworld if they sought it out. Many caves throughout Belize and Guatemala are thought to be entrances to Xibalba, meaning that most people with Mayan heritage who live in the area will not venture toward them since the association with those places and death are far too strong for a few hundred years to wipe away from the consciousness of the native people.



In Chinese mythology Diyu is considered to be the realm of the dead, literally translated it generally unfolds as “hell.” It is a very large, complex supernatural locale that seems to be based off of traditional Chinese values of the afterlife and the Buddhist idea of Naraka. Most times Diyu is depicted as a massive underground maze with countless levels, rooms, and chambers. The number of these levels and rooms varies when looking at Taoist, Buddhist, or even older Chinese legendary traditions from three or four to ten to upwards of eighteen. However, most of the stories stick to the same procedure after a mortal dies. A court of special deities judges the soul of the human in question that is recently deceased. Then, according to the sins and wrongdoings committed during life, the soul is moved to different levels and chambers to undergo a type of punishment. The sort of penalty carried out on these sinful souls changes with specialized beliefs, but the majority of stories talk of a sinner being tortured until a point when a normal, live human body would die at which point their forms are restored to an original state and they must undergo the gruesome punishment all over again.



One of the oldest known concepts of an underworld or a type of hell is from the Sumerian culture. Records of this place date back to the times of Babylon as far back as 2000 BCE. Their name for a damned underworld was Aralu, translating into “Land of No Return.” At the base of a huge mountain, Aralu is a large desert realm that is composed of an expanse of boiling temperatures and dusty sand. The damned Sumerian souls were heaped upon each other in a mass grave at the center of this mythical land where they were forced to constantly eat dirt. In addition to these horrible conditions, the place is thought to be the home of various beasts and monsters. Since there is no “supreme god” in Babylonian mythology, there is no judge for the mortal souls after death to decide who ends up in Aralu. However, a person's actions in life were thought to carry automatic consequences that put weight onto a human's spirit. These spiritual weights make a person's soul sink a certain amount thereby having the heaviest spirits drop into the underworld while the others rise into the light. These burdened souls have no memory of their former life or any wrongdoings for the torment and punishment they must undergo in Aralu, but once they have been purged of their evils and sins the soul is allowed to be freshly reincarnated into a new form.



Uffern is a Welsh word that is generally translated as “hell.” However, in the writing of Talisin, Uffern could easily be considered to be a variation of the word “inferno” instead, making it truly a place of never ending fire like a deep lake of flames. This idea of a hell is a look into influences of other cultures on each other. Most can safely assume that the Welsh (under the Druids) did not have a concept of a place of damnation after death since they were more into reincarnated forms to indicate previous life actions. The invasion of the Norse people brought along their beliefs in hell as a locale and an evil goddess controlling it to torture sinful souls and probably linked their religion with the Welsh people they just conquered to manifest a lake of fire in the afterlife.

Author: Brooke Windsor Copyrighted © paranormalhaze.com