Hel, Mistress of the Underworld

First off, my prayers go out to those who continue to struggle to maintain a semblance of normalcy in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, but I know Americans, and if there is one thing America has long excelled at, it is rising above trials and emerging stronger for it.

Secondly, this was meant to go up yesterday, but I had no reliable connection with which to do so. Apologies.

I was caught thinking about death as I read some headlines about Sandy. Of course, each person has their own opinions on death, even those who believe in the same brand of afterlife. To heathens, Hel is a name well associated with death and all that comes after. But there is occasional disagreement. Is Hel a being, a dark and grim goddess, a place, or both? I’m inclined to believe that Hel is first and foremost the goddess of the underworld, and her realm that also bears her name (though for the purposes of keeping names straight, I refer to the realm as “Helheim” and the goddess herself as “Hel”).

Hel is said to be a goddess at once both beautiful and repulsive, and both shining in glory yet tainted by the unpleasantness of her task. She is a figure to be respected, feared, and loved. Helheim is the destination of those who are not killed in battle; hers is the commoner’s afterlife, and my personal belief is that it is divided into two sides: the place where those who had honor but no glory reside, and the place where those who had no honor are imprisoned. Hel is a mother and a warden, caring for those who have perished with honor yet could not die in glory, yet actively punishing those who were without honor and preventing them from escaping back to Midgard where they might do further harm.

Those who die with a clear conscience have nothing to fear from her, but those who died in the stain of wickedness will be made to regret every day what they wrought. Hel is commanding and powerful, and in her realm, her word is absolute. Not even Odin can command her in her home.

So what is Hel to us? Hel is us owning up to our actions at the end of the line, and a constant reminder that what we do in this life echoes in eternity. In Hel’s eyes, Emperors, kings, popes and presidents, and even the 99 Percenters are all equal, and she deals no favoritism, not even for the gods. Hel’s truth is absolute, and we must all one day face it in some manner, whether it be the death of someone close or our own death. Above all, Hel is absolutely fair; you get what you paid for, no more and no less.

Her truth faces us daily, yet it does not do to fear the means by which we will one day face her; it does however behoove us to be nervous about what she will say of us when we inevitably meet her. Not even the gods can avoid seeing her from time to time, and to think that science will give us a means of forever avoiding her when even the gods cannot is the height of baleful ignorance. Accept the truth, and do honor to your fellows. You never know when she will take you, and you should make sure that your last actions will speak well of you.

Hel can be either lovely or horrifying, and it is your choice which face you will see.

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