[i] “Heaven” The modern English word Heaven is derived from the earlier (Middle English) spelling heven (attested 1159); this in turn was developed from the previous Old English form heofon. By c. 1000, heofon was being used in reference to the Christianized “place where God dwells”, but originally, it had signified “sky, firmament” (e.g. in Beowulf, c. 725). The English term has cognates in the other Germanic languages: Old Saxon heƀan “sky, heaven”, Middle Low German heven “sky”, Old Icelandic himinn “sky, heaven”, Gothic himins; and those with a variant final -l: Old Frisian himel, himul “sky, heaven”, Old Saxon/Old High German himil, Dutch hemel, and modern German Himmel. All of these have been derived from a reconstructed Prorto-Germanic form *Hemina-. In many languages, the word for “heaven” is the same as the word for “sky”.
Religions that speak about heaven differ on how (and if) one gets into it, typically in the afterlife. In many religions, entrance to Heaven is conditional on having lived a “good life” (within the terms of the spiritual system). A notable exception to this is the ‘sola fide’ belief of many mainstream Protestant Christians, which teaches that one does not have to live a perfectly “good life,” but that one must accept Jesus Christ as one’s saviour, and then Jesus Christ will assume the guilt of one’s sins; believers are believed to be forgiven regardless of any good or bad “works” one has participated in.
Many religions[who?] state that those who do not go to heaven will go to another place, Hell, which is eternal in religions such as Christianity. Some religions believe that other afterlives exist in addition to Heaven and Hell, such as Purgatory, though many hells, such as Naraka, serve as purgatories themselves. Some belief systems contain universalism, the belief that everyone will go to Heaven eventually, no matter what they have done or believed on earth. Some forms of Christianity, and other religions believe Hell to be the termination of the soul.
In Ancient Egyptian faith, belief in an afterlife is much more stressed than in ancient Judaism. Heaven was a physical place far above the Earth in a “dark area” of space where there were no stars, basically beyond the Universe. According to the Book of the Dead, departed souls would undergo a literal journey to reach Heaven, along the way to which there could exist hazards and other entities attempting to deny the reaching of Heaven. Their heart would finally be weighed with the feather of truth, and if the sins weighed it down their heart was devoured.
Almost nothing is known of Bronze Age (pre-1200 BCE) Canaanite views of heaven, and the archeological findings at Ugarit (destroyed c.1200 BCE) have not provided information. The 1st century Greek author Philo of Byblos may preserve elements of Iron Age Phoenician religion in his Sanchuniathon. In the Middle Hittite myths heaven is abode of the gods. In the Song of Kumarbi, Alalu was king in heaven for nine years before giving battle to his son Anu. Anu was himself overthrown by his son Kumarbi.
The Bahá’í Faith regards the conventional description of heaven (and hell) as a specific place as symbolic. The Bahá’í writings describe heaven as a “spiritual condition” where closeness to God is defined as heaven; conversely hell is seen as a state of remoteness from God. Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, has stated that the nature of the life of the soul in the afterlife is beyond comprehension in the physical plane, but has stated that the soul will retain its consciousness and individuality and remember its physical life; the soul will be able to recognize other souls and communicate with them. For Bahá’ís, entry into the next life has the potential to bring great joy. Bahá’u’lláh likened death to the process of birth. He explains: “The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother.”
The analogy to the womb in many ways summarizes the Bahá’í view of earthly existence: just as the womb constitutes an important place for a person’s initial physical development, the physical world provides for the development of the individual soul. Accordingly, Bahá’ís view life as a preparatory stage, where one can develop and perfect those qualities which will be needed in the next life. The key to spiritual progress is to follow the path outlined by the current Manifestation of God, which Bahá’ís believe is currently Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “Know thou, of a truth, that if the soul of man hath walked in the ways of God, it will, assuredly return and be gathered to the glory of the Beloved.”
The Bahá’í teachings state that there exists a hierarchy of souls in the afterlife, where the merits of each soul determines their place in the hierarchy, and that souls lower in the hierarchy cannot completely understand the station of those above. Each soul can continue to progress in the afterlife, but the soul’s development is not entirely dependent on its own conscious efforts, the nature of which we are not aware, but also augmented by the grace of God, the prayers of others, and good deeds performed by others on Earth in the name of that person.
In Buddhism there are several heavens, all of which are still part of samsara (illusionary reality). Those who accumulate good karma may be reborn in one of them. However, their stay in the heaven is not eternal—eventually they will use up their good karma and will undergo a different rebirth into another realm, as humans, animals or other beings. Because heaven is temporary and part of samsara, Buddhists focus more on escaping the cycle of rebirth and reaching enlightenment (Nirvana).
According to Buddhist cosmology the universe is impermanent and beings transmigrate through a number of existential “planes” in which this human world is only one “realm” or “path”.
These are traditionally envisioned as a vertical continuum with the heavens existing above the human realm, and the realms of the animals, Hungry ghosts and hell beings existing beneath it. According to Jan Chozen Bays in her book, Jizo: Guardian of Children, Travelers, and Other Voyagers, the realm of the asura is a later refinement of the heavenly realm and was inserted between the human realm and the heavens. One important Buddhist heaven is the Trāyastriṃśa, which resembles Olympus of Greek mythology.
In the Mahayana world view, there are also pure lands which lie outside this continuum and are created by the Buddhas upon attaining enlightenment. These should not be confused with the heavens as the pure lands are abodes of Buddhas, which the heavens are not. This confusion can be made worse when writers use such words ‘paradise’ to denote such pure lands.
One notable Buddhist pure land is the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha. Rebirth in the pure land of Amitabha is seen as an assurance of Buddhahood for once reborn there, beings do not fall back into cyclical existence unless they choose to do so to “save” other beings, the goal of Buddhism being the obtainment of enlightenment and freeing oneself and others from the birth-death cycle.
One of the Buddhist Sutras states that a hundred years of our existence is equal to one day and one night in the world of the thirty-three gods. Thirty such days add up to their one month. Twelve such months become their one year, while they live for a thousand such years though existence in the heavens is ultimately finite and the beings who reside there will reappear in other realms based on their karma. The Tibetan word Bardo means literally “intermediate state”. In Sanskrit the concept has the name antarabhāva. Chinese Zhou Dynasty Oracle script for Tian, the character for Heaven or sky. In the native Chinese Confucian traditions Heaven (Tian) is an important concept, where the ancestors reside and from which emperors drew their mandate to rule in their dynastic propaganda, for example. Heaven is a key concept in Chinese mythology, philosophies and religions, and is on one end of the spectrum a synonym of Shangdi (“Supreme Deity”) and on the other naturalistic end, a synonym for nature and the sky. The Chinese term for Heaven, Tian (天), derives from the name of the supreme deity of the Zhou Dynasty. After their conquest of the Shang Dynasty in 1122 BC, the Zhou people considered their supreme deityTian to be identical with the Shang supreme deity Shangdi. The Zhou people attributed Heaven with anthropomorphic attributes, evidenced in the etymology of the Chinese character for Heaven or sky, which originally depicted a person with a large cranium. Heaven is said to see, hear and watch over all men. Heaven is affected by man’s doings, and having personality, is happy and angry with them. Heaven blesses those who please it and sends calamities upon those who offend it. Heaven was also believed to transcend all other spirits and gods, with Confucius asserting, “He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray.”Other philosophers born around the time of Confucius such as Mozi took an even more theistic view of Heaven, believing that Heaven is the divine ruler, just as the Son of Heaven (the King of Zhou) is the earthly ruler. Mozi believed that spirits and minor gods exist, but their function is merely to carry out the will of Heaven, watching for evil-doers and punishing them. Thus they function as angels of Heaven and do not detract from its monotheistic government of the world. With such a high monotheism, it is not surprising that Mohism championed a concept called “universal love” (jian’ai, 兼愛), which taught that Heaven loves all people equally and that each person should similarly love all human beings without distinguishing between his own relatives and those of others.
In Mozi’sWill of Heaven (天志), he writes: “I know Heaven loves men dearly not without reason. Heaven ordered the sun, the moon, and the stars to enlighten and guide them. Heaven ordained the four seasons, Spring, Autumn, Winter, and Summer, to regulate them. Heaven sent down snow, frost, rain, and dew to grow the five grains and flax and silk that so the people could use and enjoy them. Heaven established the hills and rivers, ravines and valleys, and arranged many things to minister to man’s good or bring him evil. He appointed the dukes and lords to reward the virtuous and punish the wicked, and to gather metal and wood, birds and beasts, and to engage in cultivating the five grains and flax and silk to provide for the people’s food and clothing. This has been so from antiquity to the present.”
Original Chinese: 「且吾所以知天之愛民之厚者有矣，曰以磨為日月星辰，以昭道之；制為四時春秋冬夏，以紀綱之；雷降雪霜雨露，以長遂五穀麻絲，使民得而財利之；列為山川谿谷，播賦百事，以臨司民之善否；為王公侯伯，使之賞賢而罰暴；賊金木鳥獸，從事乎五穀麻絲，以為民衣食之財。自古及今，未嘗不有此也。」
Mozi, Will of Heaven, Chapter 27, Paragraph 6, ca. 5th Century BC
Mozi criticized the Confucians of his own time for not following the teachings of Confucius. By the time of the later Han Dynasty, however, under the influence of Xunzi, the Chinese concept of Heaven and Confucianism itself had become mostly naturalistic, though some Confucians argued that Heaven was where ancestors reside. Worship of Heaven in China continued with the erection of shrines, the last and greatest being the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, and the offering of prayers. The ruler of China in every Chinese dynasty would perform annual sacrificial rituals to Heaven, usually by slaughtering two healthy bulls as sacrifice.
Traditionally, Christianity has taught “Heaven” as a place of eternal life, the dwelling place of God, and a kingdom to which all the elect will be admitted. In most forms of Christianity, belief in the afterlife is professed in the major Creeds, such as the Nicene Creed, which states: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” In Biblical forms of Christianity, concepts about the future “Kingdom of Heaven” are also professed in several scriptural prophecies of the new (or renewed) Earth said to follow the resurrection of the dead — particularly the books of Isaiah and Revelation. In the 2nd century AD, Irenaeus (a Greek bishop) wrote that not all who are saved would merit an abode in heaven itself. One popular medieval view of Heaven was that it existed as a physical place above the clouds and that God and the Angels were physically above, watching over man. The ancient concept of “Heaven” as a synonym for “skies” or “space” is also evident in allusions to the stars as “lights shining through from heaven”, and the like.
The term Heaven is applied by the Biblical authors to the realm in which God currently resides. Eternal life, by contrast, occurs in a renewed, unspoilt and perfect creation, which can be termed Heaven since God will choose to dwell there permanently with his people, as seen in Revelation 21:3. That there will no longer be any separation between God and man. The believers themselves will exist in incorruptible, resurrected and new bodies; there will be no sickness, no death and no tears. Some teach that death itself is not a natural part of life, but was allowed to happen after Adam and Eve disobeyed God so that mankind would not live forever in a state of sin and thus a state of separation from God.
Not only will the believers spend eternity with God, they will also spend it with each other. John’s vision recorded in Revelation describes a New Jerusalem which comes from Heaven to the New Earth, which is generally seen to be a symbolic reference to the people of God living in community with one another; in a number of sects this is taken as more literal than symbolic. Heaven will be the place where life will be lived to the full, in the way that the designer planned, each believer ‘loving the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their mind’ and ‘loving their neighbour as themselves’ (adapted from Matthew 22:37-38) — a place of great joy, without the negative aspects of earthly life.
According to Hindu cosmology, above the earthly plane are six heavenly planes:
Swarga Loka, a heavenly paradise of pleasure, where most of the Hindu gods (Deva) reside along with the king of gods, Indra.
Below the earthly plane are seven nether planes:
Below these are 28 hellish planes (according to Bhagavata Purana), below which is the Garbhodaka ocean with waters of devastation. Depending on good and bad activities (karma) on an earthly plane, a soul either ascends up to enjoy heavenly delights or goes down to fiery hellish planes depending on sins performed which are judged by the god of death & justice, Yama, who presides along the 28 hells. After the results of good and bad deeds (karma) are delivered, souls return to the earthly plane again as human or animal depending on desires and karma. Thus the cycle of birth and death.
Eternal liberation or freedom from the cycle of birth and death is called Moksha, which can be obtained only in human life by turning attention inwards for uniting the soul with the Supreme Being (Parabrahman) through Yoga – Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga etc.
Liberation (Moksha) is of five types as described in Puranas:
Sayujya: Merging into the oneness with the impersonal aspect of the Lord, and hence freedom from all material anxiety.
Salokya: Attaining residence in the eternal abode of the Lord, called Vaikuntha, beyond material universal creation, beyond the six material heavens, a place where only surrendered devotees of the Lord go.
Saristi: Attaining same opulences as the Lord in His abode.
Sarupya: Attaining same beautiful form as the Lord in His abode.
Samipya: Attaining close association of the Lord in His abode.
This abode of Lord is briefly described in the Bhagavad Gita (15.6), “That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world”. Further descriptions of Vaikuntha are in the Puranas where the Lord’s devotees reside eternally in loving relationship with the Lord.
Furthermore, Vaikuntha residency has following categories:
Shanta Rasa: In neutral relationship of great awe, reveration and constant thinking of the Lord.
Dasya Rasa: Serving the Lord personally to please the Lord as master and soul as servant.
Sakhya Rasa: Serving the Lord as an intimate friend (formal, informal, and many other types).
Vatsalya Rasa: Serving the Lord from a superior position as a caretaker (like motherly or fatherly relations).
Madhurya/Sringara Rasa: Serving the Lord as an intimate conjugal lover including all previous rasas, the most sweet of all, with many further categories. In this rasa the Jiva takes the form of a gopi. Within this Rasa a Jiva can chose to be a Sakhi, a Nitya-Sakhi, or a Priya-Sakhi. A Nitya-Sakhi is a Jiva that does not wish to have amorous relations with Krishna. They are also called Manjaris and are younger than the Priya-Sakhis. Priya-Sakhis on the other hand do occasionally have amorous relationships with Krishna at the bequest of Radha.
The Qur’an contains many references to an afterlife in Eden for those who do good deeds. Regarding the concept of heaven (Jannah) in the Qu’ran, verse 35 of Surah Al-Ra’d says, “The parable of the Garden which the righteous are promised! Beneath it flow rivers. Perpetual is the fruits thereof and the shade therein. Such is the End of the Righteous; and the end of the unbelievers is the Fire.”[Qur’an 13:35 Islam rejects the concept of original sin, and Muslims believe that all human beings are born pure. Children automatically go to heaven when they die, regardless of the religion of their parents. The highest level of heaven is Firdaus (فردوس)- Paradise(پردیس), to which the prophets, martyrs and other pious people will go at the time of their death.
The concept of heaven in Islam differs in many respects to the concept in Judaism and Christianity. Heaven is described primarily in physical terms as a place where every wish is immediately fulfilled when asked. Islamic texts describe immortal life in heaven as happy, without negative emotions. Those who dwell in heaven are said to wear costly apparel, partake in exquisite banquets, and recline on couches inlaid with gold or precious stones. Inhabitants will rejoice in the company of their parents, wives, and children. In Islam if one’s good deeds weigh out one’s sins then one may gain entrance to heaven. Conversely, if one’s sins outweigh their good deeds they are sent to hell. The more good deeds one has performed the higher the level of heaven one is directed to. It has been said that the lowest level of heaven is one-hundred times better than the greatest life on earth. The highest level is the seventh heaven, in which God can be seen and where anything is possible. Palaces are built by angels for the occupants using solid gold.
Verses which describe heaven include: Qur’an 13:35, Qur’an 18:31, Qur’an 38:49–54, Qur’an 35:33–35, Qur’an 52:17–27.
Islamic texts refer to several levels of heaven: Firdaus or Paradise, ‘Adn, Na’iim, Na’wa, Darussalaam, Daarul Muaqaamah, Al-Muqqamul, Amin & Khuldi.
Structure of Universe as per the Jain Scriptures. The shape of the Universe as described in Jainism is shown alongside. Please note that unlike the current convention of using North direction as the top of map, this uses South as the top. The shape is similar to a part of human form standing upright.
The Deva Loka (Heavens) are at the symbolic “chest” , where all souls enjoying the positive karmic effects reside. The heavenly beings are referred to asdevas(masculine form) and devis(feminine form). According to Jainism, there is not one heavenly abode, but several layers to reward appropriately the souls of varying degree of karmit merits. Similarly, beneath the “waist” are the Narka Loka (Hell). Human, animal, insect, plant and microscopic life forms reside on the middle.
The pure souls (who reached Siddha status) reside at the very south end (top) of the Universe. They are referred to in Tamil literature as தென்புலத்தார் (Kural 43).
In the Hebrew Bible the heavens, Shamayim, are the abode of YHWH Elohim
While the concept of heaven (malkuth hashamaim מלכות השמים, the Kingdom of Heaven) is well-defined within the Christian and Islamic religions, the Jewish concept of the afterlife, sometimes known as olam haba, the World-to-come, is not so precise. The Torah has little to say on the subject of survival after death, but by the time of the rabbis two ideas had made inroads among the Jews: one, which is probably derived from Greek thought,is that of the immortal soul which returns to its creator after death; the other, which is thought to be of Persian origin,is that of resurrection.
Jewish writings refer to a “new earth” as the abode of mankind following the resurrection of the dead. Originally, the two ideas of immortality and resurrection were different but in rabbinic thought they are combined: the soul departs from the body at death but is returned to it at the resurrection. This idea is linked to another rabbinic teaching, that men’s good and bad actions are rewarded and punished not in this life but after death, whether immediately or at the subsequent resurrection.Around 1 CE, the Pharisees are said to have maintained belief in resurrection but the Sadducees are said to have denied it (Matt. 22:23).
Some scholarsassert that the Sheol mentioned in Isaiah 38:18, Psalm 6:5 and Job 7:7-10 was an earlier concept than Heaven, but this theory is not universally held.
The Mishnah has many sayings about the World to Come, for example, “Rabbi Yaakov said: This world is like a lobby before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall.”
Judaism holds that the righteous of all nations have a share in the World-to-come.
Jewish mysticism recognizes Seven Heavens.
In order from lowest to highest, the seven Heavens are listed alongside the angels who govern them:
Shamayim: The first Heaven, governed by Archangel Gabriel, is the closest of heavenly realms to the Earth; it is also considered the abode of Adam and Eve.
Raquie: The second Heaven is dually controlled by Zachariel and Raphael. It was in this Heaven that Moses, during his visit to Paradise, encountered the angel Nuriel who stood “300 parasangs high, with a retinue of 50 myriads of angels all fashioned out of water and fire.” Also, Raquia is considered the realm where the fallen angels are imprisoned and the planets fastened.
Shehaqim: The third Heaven, under the leadership of Anahel, serves as the home of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life; it is also the realm where manna, the holy food of angels, is produced. The Second Book of Enoch, meanwhile, states that both Paradise and Hell are accommodated in Shehaqim with Hell being located simply ” on the northern side.”
Machen: The fourth Heaven is ruled by the Archangel Michael , and according to Talmud Hagiga 12, it contains the heavenly Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Altar.
Machon: The fifth Heaven is under the administration of Samael, an angel referred to as evil by some, but who is to others merely a dark servant of God.
Zebul: The sixth Heaven falls under the jurisdiction of Sachiel.
Araboth: The seventh Heaven, under the leadership of Cassiel, is the holiest of the seven Heavens provided the fact that it houses the Throne of Glory attended by the Seven Archangels and serves as the realm in which God dwells; underneath the throne itself lies the abode of all unborn human souls. It is also considered the home of the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Hayyoth.
The Nahua people such as the Aztecs, Chichimecs and the Toltecs believed that the heavens were constructed and separated into 13 levels. Each level had from one to many Lords living in and ruling these heavens. Most important of these heavens was Omeyocan (Place of Two). The thirteen heavens were ruled by Ometeotl, the dual Lord, creator of the Dual-Genesis who, as male, takes the name Ometecuhtli (Two Lord), and as female is named Omecihuatl (Two Lady).
In the creation myths of Polynesian mythology are found various concepts of the heavens and the underworld. These differ from one island to another. What they share is the view of the universe as an egg or coconut that is divided between the world of humans (earth), the upper world of heavenly gods, and the underworld. Each of these is subdivided in a manner reminiscent of Dante’s Divine Comedy, but the number of divisions and their names differs from one Polynesian culture to another.*
In Māori mythology, the heavens are divided into a number of realms. Different tribes number the heaven differently, with as few as two and as many as fourteen levels. One of the more common versions divides heaven thus:
Kiko-rangi, presided over by the god Toumau
Waka-maru, the heaven of sunshine and rain
Nga-roto, the heaven of lakes where the god Maru rules
Hau-ora, where the spirits of new-born children originate
Nga-Tauira, home of the servant gods
Nga-atua, which is ruled over by the hero Tawhaki
Autoiar, where human souls are created
Aukumea, where spirits live
Wairua, where spirit gods live while waiting on those in
Naherangi or Tuwarea, where the great gods live presided over by Rehua
The Māori believe these heavens are supported by pillars. Other Polynesian peoples see them being supported by gods (as in Hawai’i). In one Tahitian legend, heaven is supported by an octopus.
The Polynesian conception of the universe and its division is nicely illustrated by a famous drawing made by a Tuomotuan chief in 1869. Here, the nine heavens are further divided into left and right, and each stage is associated with a stage in the evolution of the earth that is portrayed below. The lowest division represents a period when the heavens hung low over the earth, which was inhabited by animals that were not known to the islanders. In the third division is shown the first murder, the first burials, and the first canoes, built by Rata. In the fourth division, the first coconut tree and other significant plants are born.
It is believed in Theosophy of Helena Blavatsky that each religion (including Theosophy) has its own individual Heaven in various regions of the upper astral plane that fits the description of that Heaven that is given in each religion, which a soul that has been good in their previous life on Earth will go to. The area of the upper astral plane of Earth in the upper atmosphere where the various Heavens are located is called Summerland (Theosophists believe Hell is located in the lower astral plane of Earth which extends downward from the surface of the earth down to its center). However, Theosophists believe that the soul is recalled back to Earth after an average of about 1400 years by the Lords of Karma to incarnate again. The final Heaven that souls go to billions of years in the future after they finish their cycle of incarnations is called Devachan.
Marxists regard heaven, like religion generally, as a tool employed by authorities to bribe their subjects into a certain way of life by promising a reward after death.
The anarchist Emma Goldman expressed this view when she wrote, “Consciously or unconsciously, most atheists see in gods and devils, heaven and hell; reward and punishment, a whip to lash the people into obedience, meekness and contentment.”
Many people consider George Orwell’s use of Sugarcandy Mountain in his novel Animal Farm to be a literary expression of this view. In the book, the animals were told that after their miserable lives were over they would go to a place in which “it was Sunday seven days a week, clover was in season all the year round, and lump sugar and linseed cake grew on the hedges”.Fantasy author Phillip Pullman echoes this idea in the fantasy series His Dark Materials, in which the characters finally come to the conclusion that people should make life better on Earth rather than wait for heaven (this idea is known as the Republic of Heaven).
Some atheists have argued that a belief in a reward after death is poor motivation for moral behavior while alive.Sam Harris wrote, “It is rather more noble to help people purely out of concern for their suffering than it is to help them because you think the Creator of the Universe wants you to do it, or will reward you for doing it, or will punish you for not doing it. [The] problem with this linkage between religion and morality is that it gives people bad reasons to help other human beings when good reasons are available.”
[ii] “Hell” in many religious traditions is a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife. Religions with a linear divine history often depict Hell as endless. Religions with a cyclic history often depict Hell as an intermediary period between incarnations. Typically these traditions located Hell under the external core of the Earth’s surface and often included entrances to Hell from the land of the living. Other afterlife destinations included Heaven, Purgatory, Paradise, Nirvana, Naraka, and Limbo.
Other traditions, which did not conceive of the afterlife as a place of punishment or reward, merely described it as an abode of the dead—a neutral place located under the surface of Earth (for example, see sheol and Hades).
Modern understandings of Hell often depict it abstractly, as a state of loss rather than as fiery torture literally underground, but this view of hell can, in fact, be traced back into the ancient and medieval periods as well
Hell is often portrayed as populated with demons, who torment the damned. Many are ruled by a death god, such as Nergal, Hades, Yama or the
“Hel” (1889) by Johannes Gehrts. The modern English word Hell is derived from Old English hel, helle (about 725 AD to refer to a nether world of the dead) reaching into the Anglo-Saxon pagan period, and ultimately from Proto-Germanic *halja, meaning “one who covers up or hides something”. The word has cognates in related Germanic languages such as Old Frisian helle, hille, Old Saxon hellja, Middle Dutch helle (modern Dutch hel), Old High German helle (Modern German Hölle), Danish, Norwegian and Swedish “helvede”/helvete (hel + Old Norse vitti, “punishment” whence the Icelandic víti “hell”), and Gothic halja. Subsequently, the word was used to transfer a pagan concept to Christian theology and its vocabulary.
The English word hell has been theorized as being derived from Old Norse hel but the cognate does appear in all the other languages and has a Proto-Germanic origin. Among other sources, the Poetic Edda, compiled from earlier traditional sources in the 13th century, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, provide information regarding the beliefs of the Norse pagans, including a being named Hel, who is described as ruling over an underworld location of the same name. This is envisioned as a “misty” place (rather than the fire envisioned by Christianity) where go all women and in addition, some men. Punishment for wrong deeds is not mentioned.
Religion, mythology, and folklore
A vision of Hell from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Illustration by Gustave Doré.
Hell appears in several mythologies and religions. It is commonly inhabited by demons and the souls of dead people. Hell is often depicted in art and literature, perhaps most famously in Dante‘s Divine Comedy.
Punishment in Hell typically corresponds to sins committed during life. Sometimes these distinctions are specific, with damned souls suffering for each sin committed (see for example Plato’s myth of Er or Dante’s The Divine Comedy), and sometimes they are general, with sinners being relegated to one or more chamber of Hell or level of suffering.
In many religious cultures, including Christianity and Islam, Hell is traditionally depicted as fiery and painful, inflicting guilt and suffering.Despite these common depictions of Hell as a place of fire, some other traditions also portray Hell as cold. In Buddhist, and particularly in Tibetan Buddhist, descriptions of hell, there are an equal number of hot and cold hells. Among Christian descriptions Dante‘s Inferno portrays the innermost (9th) circle of Hell as a frozen lake of blood and guilt, But cold also played a part in earlier Christian depictions of hell beginning with the Apocalypse of Paul, originally from the early third century; “The Vision of Drythelm” by the Venerable Bede from the seventh century; “St Patrick’s Purgatory”, “The Vision of Tundale” or “Visio Tnugdali”, and the “Vision of the Monk of Enysham”, all from the twelfth century; and the “Vision of Thurkill” from the early thirteenth century.
With the rise of the cult of Osiris during the Middle Kingdom the “democratization of religion” offered to even his humblest followers the prospect of eternal life, with moral fitness becoming the dominant factor in determining a person’s suitability. At death a person faced judgment by a tribunal of forty-two divine judges. If they led a life in conformance with the precepts of the Goddess Maat, who represented truth and right living, the person was welcomed into the Two Fields. If found guilty the person was thrown to a “devourer” and didn’t share in eternal life. The person who is taken by the devourer is subject first to terrifying punishment and then annihilated. These depictions of punishment may have influenced medieval perceptions of the inferno in hell via early Christian and Coptic texts. Purification for those who are considered justified may be found in the descriptions of “Flame Island”, where they experience the triumph over evil and rebirth. For the dammed complete destruction into a state of non being awaits but there is no suggestion of eternal torture; the weighing of the heart in Egyptian Mythology can lead to annihilation. Divine pardon at judgment was always a central concern for the Ancient Egyptians.
Our undertsanding of Egyptian notions of hell are based on six ancient texts: The Book of Two Ways (Book of the Ways of Rosetau), The Book of Amduat (Book of the Hidden Room, Book of That Which Is in the Underworld), The Book of Gates, The Book of the Dead (Book of Going Forth by Day), The Book of the Earth and The Book of Caverns.
Ancient Near East
The cultures of Mesopotamia (including Sumeria, the Akkadian Empire, Babylonia and Assyria), the Hittites and the Canaanites or Ugarits reveal some of the earliest evidence for the notion of a Netherworld or Underworld. From among the few texts that survive from these civilizations, this evidence appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the “Descent of Inanna to the Netherworld,” “Baal and the Underworld,” the “Descent of Ishtar” and the “Vision of Kummâ.”
In classic Greek mythology, below Heaven, Earth, and Pontus is Tartarus, or Tartaros (Greek Τάρταρος, deep place). It is either a deep, gloomy place, a pit or abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering that resides within Hades (the entire underworld) with Tartarus being the hellish component. In the Gorgias, Plato (c. 400 BC) wrote that souls were judged after death and those who received punishment were sent to Tartarus. As a place of punishment, it can be considered a hell. The classic Hades, on the other hand, is more similar to Old Testament Sheol.
The hells of Europe include Breton Mythology’s “Anaon”, Celtic Mythology‘s “Uffern”, Slavic mythology‘s “Peklo”, the hell of Lapps Mythology and Ugarian Mythology’s “Manala” that leads to annihilation.
The hells of Asia include Bagobo Mythology’s “Gimokodan” and Ancient Indian Mythology‘s “Kalichi”.
African hells include Haida Mythology’s “Hetgwauge” and the hell of Swahili Mythology (kuzimu).
The Oceanic hells include Samoan Mythology’s “O le nu’u-o-nonoa” and the hells of Bangka Mythology and Caroline Islands Mythology.
The hells of the Americas include Aztec Mythology‘s “Mictlan”, Inuit mythology‘s “Adlivun” and Yanomamo Mythology’s “Shobari Waka”. In Maya mythology , Xibalbá is the dangerous underworld of nine levels ruled by the demons Vucub Caquix and Hun Came. The road into and out of it is said to be steep, thorny and very forbidding. Metnal is the lowest and most horrible of the nine Hells of the underworld, ruled by Ah Puch. Ritual healers would intone healing prayers banishing diseases to Metnal. Much of the Popol Vuh describes the adventures of the Maya Hero Twins in their cunning struggle with the evil lords of Xibalbá.
The Aztecs believed that the dead traveled to Mictlan, a neutral place found far to the north. There was also a legend of a place of white flowers, which was always dark, and was home to the gods of death, particularly Mictlantecutli and his spouse Mictlantecihuatl, which means literally “lords of Mictlan”. The journey to Mictlan took four years, and the travelers had to overcome difficult tests, such as passing a mountain range where the mountains crashed into each other, a field where the wind carried flesh-scraping knives, and a river of blood with fearsome jaguars.
Daniel 12:2 proclaims “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Judaism does not have a specific doctrine about the afterlife, but it does have a mystical/Orthodox tradition of describing Gehenna. Gehenna is not Hell, but rather a sort of Purgatory where one is judged based on his or her life’s deeds, or rather, where one becomes fully aware of one’s own shortcomings and negative actions during one’s life. The Kabbalah explains it as a “waiting room” (commonly translated as an “entry way”) for all souls (not just the wicked). The overwhelming majority of rabbinic thought maintains that people are not in Gehenna forever; the longest that one can be there is said to be 12 months, however there has been the occasional noted exception. Some consider it a spiritual forge where the soul is purified for its eventual ascent to Olam Habah (heb. עולם הבא; lit. “The world to come”, often viewed as analogous to Heaven). This is also mentioned in the Kabbalah, where the soul is described as breaking, like the flame of a candle lighting another: the part of the soul that ascends being pure and the “unfinished” piece being reborn.
According to Jewish teachings, hell is not entirely physical; rather, it can be compared to a very intense feeling of shame. People are ashamed of their misdeeds and this constitutes suffering which makes up for the bad deeds. When one has so deviated from the will of God, one is said to be in gehinom. This is not meant to refer to some point in the future, but to the very present moment. The gates of teshuva (return) are said to be always open, and so one can align his will with that of God at any moment. Being out of alignment with God’s will is itself a punishment according to the Torah.
“Gehenna“, Valley of Hinnom, 2007
The Christian doctrine of hell derives from the teaching of the New Testament, where hell is typically described using the Greek words Tartarus or Hades or the Arabic word Gehenna.
These three terms have different meanings and must be recognized.
Hades has similarities to the Old Testament term, Sheol as “the place of the dead”. Thus, it is used in reference to both the righteous and the wicked, since both wind up there eventually.
Gehenna refers to the “Valley of Hinnon”, which was a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. It was a place where people burned their garbage and thus there was always a fire burning there. Bodies of those deemed to have died in sin without hope of salvation (such as people who committed suicide) were thrown there to be destroyed.Gehenna is used in the New Testament as a metaphor for the final place of punishment for the wicked after the resurrection.
Tartaro (the verb “throw to Tartarus“) occurs only once in the New Testament in II Peter 2:4, where it is parallel to the use of the noun form in Enoch as the place of incarceration of 200 fallen angels. It mentions nothing about human souls being sent there in the afterlife.
In many Christian churches, such as the Catholic Church, most Protestant churches (such as the Baptists, Episcopalians, etc.), and some Greek Orthodox churches,Hell is taught as the final destiny of those who have not been found worthy after they have passed through the great white throne of judgment,where they will be punished for sin and permanently separated from God after the general resurrection and last judgment. The nature of this judgment is inconsistent, with many Protestant churches teaching the saving comes from accepting Jesus Christ as their savior, while the Greek Orthodox and Catholic Churches teach that the judgment hinges on both faith and works. However, many Liberal Christians throughout Liberal Protestant, Anglican, Catholic and some Orthodox churches believe in Universal Reconciliation (see below) even though it might contradict the “official” teachings of their denomination.
Some Christian theologians of the early Church and some of the modern Church subscribe to the doctrines of Conditional Immortality. Conditional Immortality is the belief that the soul dies with the body and does not live again until the resurrection. This is the view held by Orthodox Jews and a few Christian sects, such as the Living Church of God, The Church of God International, and Seventh Day Adventist Church. Annihilationism is the belief that the soul is mortal unless granted eternal life, making it possible to be destroyed in Hell.
Jehovah’s Witnesses hold that the soul ceases to exist when the person diesand therefore that Hell (Sheol or Hades) is a state of non-existence.In their theology, Gehenna differs from Sheol or Hades in that it holds no hope of a resurrection.Tatarus is held to be the metaphorical state of debasement of the fallen angels between the time of their moral fall (Genesis chapter 6) until their post-millennial destruction along with Satan (Revelation chapter 20).
Universal Reconciliation is the belief that all human souls (and even Demons) will be eventually reconciled with God and admitted to Heaven. This view is held by some Unitarian-Universalists.
Muslims believe in jahannam (in Arabic: جهنم) (which is related to the Hebrew word gehinnom and resembles the versions of Hell in Christianity). In the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, there are literal descriptions of the condemned in a fiery Hell, as contrasted to the garden-like Paradise (jannah) enjoyed by righteous believers.
In addition, Heaven and Hell are split into many different levels depending on the actions perpetrated in life, where punishment is given depending on the level of evil done in life, and good is separated into other levels depending on how well one followed God while alive. The gate of Hell is guarded by Maalik who is the leader of the angels assigned as the guards of hell also known as Zabaaniyah. The Quran states that the fuel of Hellfire is rocks/stones (idols) and human beings.
Although generally Hell is often portrayed as a hot steaming and tormenting place for sinners, there is one Hell pit which is characterized differently from the other Hell in Islamic tradition. Zamhareer is seen as the coldest and the most freezing Hell of all; yet its coldness is not seen as a pleasure or a relief to the sinners who committed crimes against God. The state of the Hell of Zamhareer is a suffering of extreme coldness, of blizzards, ice, and snow which no one on this earth can bear. The lowest pit of all existing Hells is the Hawiyah which is meant for the hypocrites and two-faced people who claimed to believe in Allah and His messenger by the tongue but denounced both in their hearts. Hypocrisy is considered to be one of the most dangerous sins, and so is Shirk.
The Bahá’í Faith regards the conventional description of Hell (and heaven) as a specific place as symbolic.Instead the Bahá’í writings describe Hell as a “spiritual condition” where remoteness from God is defined as Hell; conversely heaven is seen as a state of closeness to God.
In “Devaduta Sutta” the 130 th discource of Majjhima Nikaya Buddha teaches about the hell in vivid detail. Buddhism teaches that there are five (sometimes six) realms of rebirth, which can then be further subdivided into degrees of agony or pleasure. Of these realms, the hell realms, or Naraka, is the lowest realm of rebirth. Of the hell realms, the worst is Avīci or “endless suffering”. The Buddha’s disciple, Devadatta, who tried to kill the Buddha on three occasions, as well as create a schism in the monastic order, is said to have been reborn in the Avici Hell.
However, like all realms of rebirth, rebirth in the Hell realms is not permanent, though suffering can persist for eons before being reborn again. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha teaches that eventually even Devadatta will become a Pratyekabuddha himself, emphasizing the temporary nature of the Hell realms. Thus, Buddhism teaches to escape the endless migration of rebirths (both positive and negative) through the attainment of Nirvana.
The Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, according to the Ksitigarbha Sutra, made a great vow as a young girl to not reach Enlightenment until all beings were liberated from the Hell Realms or other unwholesome rebirths. In popular literature, Ksitigarbha travels to the Hell realms to teach and relieve beings of their suffering.
Yama’s Court and Hell. The Blue figure is Yamaraja (The Hindu god of death) with his consort Yami and Chitragupta
17th century Painting from Government Museum, Chennai.
Early Vedic religion doesn’t have a concept of Hell. Ṛg-veda mentions three realms, bhūr (the earth), svar (the sky) and bhuvas or antarikṣa (the middle area, i.e. air or atmosphere)). In later Hindu literature, especially the law books and Puranas, more realms are mentioned, including a realm similar to Hell, called naraka (in Devanāgarī: नरक).Yama as first born human (together with his twin sister Yamī) in virtue of precedence becomes ruler of men and a judge on their departure. Originally he resides in Heaven, but later, especially medieval traditions, mention his court in naraka.
In the law-books (smṛtis and dharma-sūtras, like the Manu-smṛti) naraka is a place of punishment for sins. It is a lower spiritual plane (called naraka-loka) where the spirit is judged, or partial fruits of karma affected in a next life. In Mahabharata there is a mention of the Pandavas going to Heaven and the Kauravas going to Hell. However for the small number of sins which they did commit in their lives, the Pandavas had to undergo hell for a short time. Hells are also described in various Puranas and other scriptures. Garuda Purana gives a detailed account of Hell, its features and enlists amount of punishment for most of the crimes like a modern day penal code.
It is believed that people who commit sins go to Hell and have to go through punishments in accordance with the sins they committed. The god Yamarāja, who is also the god of death, presides over Hell. Detailed accounts of all the sins committed by an individual are kept by Chitragupta, who is the record keeper in Yama’s court. Chitragupta reads out the sins committed and Yama orders appropriate punishments to be given to individuals. These punishments include dipping in boiling oil, burning in fire, torture using various weapons, etc. in various Hells. Individuals who finish their quota of the punishments are reborn in accordance with their balance of karma. All created beings are imperfect and thus have at least one sin to their record; but if one has generally led a pious life, one ascends to svarga, a temporary realm of enjoinment similar to Paradise, after a brief period of expiation in Hell and before the next reincarnation according to the law of karma.
17th century cloth painting depicting seven levels of Jain hell and various tortures suffered in them. Left panel depicts the demi-god and his animal vehicle presiding over the each hell.
In Jain cosmology, Naraka (translated as hell) is the name given to realm of existence having great suffering. However, a Naraka differs from the hells of Abrahamic religions as souls are not sent to Naraka as the result of a divine judgment and punishment. Furthermore, length of a being’s stay in a Naraka is not eternal, though it is usually very long—measured in billions of years. A soul is born into a Naraka as a direct result of his or her previous karma (actions of body, speech and mind), and resides there for a finite length of time until his karma has achieved its full result. After his karma is used up, he may be reborn in one of the higher worlds as the result of an earlier karma that had not yet ripened.
The hells are situated in the seven grounds at the lower part of the universe. The seven grounds are:
The hellish beings are a type of souls which are residing in these various hells. They are born in hells by sudden manifestation.The hellish beings possess vaikriya body (protean body which can transform itself and take various forms). They have a fixed life span (ranging from ten thousand to billions of years) in the respective hells where they reside. According to Jain scripture, Tattvarthasutra, following are the causes for birth in hell:
Killing or causing pain with intense passion.
Excessive attachment to things and worldly pleasure with constantly indulging in cruel and violent acts.
Vowless and unrestrained life.
Ancient Taoism had no concept of Hell, as morality was seen to be a man-made distinction and there was no concept of an immaterial soul. In its home country China, where Taoism adopted tenets of other religions, popular belief endows Taoist Hell with many deities and spirits who punish sin in a variety of horrible ways. This is also considered Karma for Taoism.
A Chinese glazed earthenware sculpture of “Hell’s torturer,” 16th century, Ming Dynasty
Diyu (simplified Chinese: 地狱; traditional Chinese: 地獄; pinyin: Dìyù; Wade–Giles: Ti-yü; literally “earth prison”) is the realm of the dead in Chinese mythology. It is very loosely based upon the Buddhist concept of Naraka combined with traditional Chinese afterlife beliefs and a variety of popular expansions and re-interpretations of these two traditions. Ruled by Yanluo Wang, the King of Hell, Diyu is a maze of underground levels and chambers where souls are taken to atone for their earthly sins.
Incorporating ideas from Taoism and Buddhism as well as traditional Chinese folk religion, Diyu is a kind of purgatory place which serves not only to punish but also to renew spirits ready for their next incarnation. There are many deities associated with the place, whose names and purposes are the subject of much conflicting information.
The exact number of levels in Chinese Hell – and their associated deities – differs according to the Buddhist or Taoist perception. Some speak of three to four ‘Courts’, other as many as ten. The ten judges are also known as the 10 Kings of Yama. Each Court deals with a different aspect of atonement. For example, murder is punished in one Court, adultery in another. According to some Chinese legends, there are eighteen levels in Hell. Punishment also varies according to belief, but most legends speak of highly imaginative chambers where wrong-doers are sawn in half, beheaded, thrown into pits of filth or forced to climb trees adorned with sharp blades.
However, most legends agree that once a soul (usually referred to as a ‘ghost’) has atoned for their deeds and repented, he or she is given the Drink of Forgetfulness by Meng Po and sent back into the world to be reborn, possibly as an animal or a poor or sick person, for further punishment.
Zoroastrianism has historically suggested several possible fates for the wicked, including annihilation, purgation in molten metal, and eternal punishment, all of which have standing in Zoroaster’s writings.Zoroastrian eschatology includes the belief that wicked souls will remain in hell until, following the arrival of three saviors at thousand-year intervals, Ahura Mazda reconciles the world, destroying evil and resurrecting tormented souls to perfection.
The sacred Gathas mention a “House of the Lie″ for those “that are of an evil dominion, of evil deeds, evil words, evil Self, and evil thought, Liars.”However, the best-known Zoroastrian text to describe hell in detail is the Book of Arda Viraf.It depicts particular punishments for particular sins—for instance, being trampled by cattle as punishment for neglecting the needs of work animals.Other descriptions can be found in the Book of Scriptures (Hadhokht Nask), Religious Judgments (Dadestan-i Denig) and the Book of the Judgments of the Spirit of Wisdom (Mainyo-I-Khard).
“Dante And Virgil In Hell” (1850) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.
In his Divina commedia (“Divine comedy”; set in the year 1300), Dante Alighieri employed the concept of taking Virgil as his guide through Inferno (and then, in the second canticle, up the mountain of Purgatorio). Virgil himself is not condemned to Hell in Dante’s poem but is rather, as a virtuous pagan, confined to Limbo just at the edge of Hell. The geography of Hell is very elaborately laid out in this work, with nine concentric rings leading deeper into the Earth and deeper into the various punishments of Hell, until, at the center of the world, Dante finds Satan himself trapped in the frozen lake of Cocytus. A small tunnel leads past Satan and out to the other side of the world, at the base of the Mount of Purgatory.
John Milton‘s Paradise Lost (1667) opens with the fallen angels, including their leader Satan, waking up in Hell after having been defeated in the war in heaven and the action returns there at several points throughout the poem. Milton portrays Hell as the abode of the demons, and the passive prison from which they plot their revenge upon Heaven through the corruption of the human race. 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud alluded to the concept as well in the title and themes of one of his major works, A Season In Hell. Rimbaud’s poetry portrays his own suffering in a poetic form as well as other themes.
Many of the great epics of European literature include episodes that occur in Hell. In the Roman poet Virgil‘s Latin epic, the Aeneid, Aeneas descends into Dis (the underworld) to visit his father’s spirit. The underworld is only vaguely described, with one unexplored path leading to the punishments of Tartarus, while the other leads through Erebus and the Elysian Fields.
The idea of Hell was highly influential to writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre who authored the 1944 play “No Exit” about the idea that “Hell is other people”. Although not a religious man, Sartre was fascinated by his interpretation of a Hellish state of suffering. C.S. Lewis‘s The Great Divorce 1945) borrows its title from William Blake‘s Marriage of Heaven and Hell(1793) and its inspiration from the Divine Comedy as the narrator is likewise guided through Hell and Heaven. Hell is portrayed here as an endless, desolate twilight city upon which night is imperceptibly sinking. The night is actually the Apocalypse, and it heralds the arrival of the demons after their judgment. Before the night comes, anyone can escape Hell if they leave behind their former selves and accept Heaven’s offer, and a journey to Heaven reveals that Hell is infinitely small; it is nothing more or less than what happens to a soul that turns away from God and into itself.
Piers Anthony in his series Incarnations of Immortality portrays examples of Heaven and Hell via Death, Fate, Nature, War, Time, Good-God, and Evil-Devil. Robert A. Heinlein offers a yin-yang version of Hell where there is still some good within; most evident in his book Job: A Comedy of Justice. Lois McMaster Bujold uses her five Gods ‘Father, Mother, Son, Daughter and Bastard’ in The Curse of Chalion with an example of Hell as formless chaos. Michael Moorcock is one of many who offer Chaos-Evil-(Hell) and Uniformity-Good-(Heaven) as equally unacceptable extremes which must be held in balance; in particular in the Elric and Eternal Champion series.Fredric Brown wrote a number of fantasy short stories about Satan’s activities in Hell. Cartoonist Jimmy Hatlo created a series of cartoons about life in Hell called The Hatlo Inferno, which ran from 1953 to 1958.
Biblical words translated as “Hell”:
The Hebrew word Abaddon, meaning “destruction”, is sometimes used as a synonym of Hell.
In the New Testament, both early (i.e. the KJV) and modern translations often translate Gehenna as “Hell.”Young’s Literal Translation is one notable exception, simply using “Gehenna”, which was in fact a geographic location just outside Jerusalem (the Valley of Hinnom).
Hades is the Greek word traditionally used for the Hebrew word Sheol in such works as the Septuagint, the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible. Like other first-century Jews literate in Greek, Christian writers of the New Testament followed this use. While earlier translations most often translated Hades as “hell”, as does the King James Version, modern translations use the transliteration “Hades”, or render the word as allusions “to the grave”, “among the dead”, “place of the dead” and many other like statements in other verses. In Latin, Hades could be translated as Purgatorium (Purgatory in English use) after about 1200 A.D., but no modern English translations Hades to Purgatory
The Latin word infernus means “being underneath” and is often translated as “Hell”.
In the King James Bible, the Old Testament term Sheol is translated as “Hell” 31 times. However, Sheol was translated as “the grave” 31 other times. Sheol is also translated as “the pit” three times.
Modern translations, however, do not translate Sheol as “Hell” at all, instead rendering it “the grave,” “the pit,” or “death.” See Intermediate state.
Appearing only in II Peter 2:4 in the New Testament, both early and modern translations often translate Tartarus as “Hell.” Again, Young’s Literal Translation is an exception, using “Tartarus”.”