Going to the Realm of the Norse Goddess Hel of the Underworld

Loki’s children with the giantess Angurboda were by far the most well known—credit to Loki—including the Midgard Serpent Jormugandr, the wolf Fenrir, and the goddess Hel. As the legends say, the children were born in a dark cave in Jotunheim. They were the symbols of sin, pain, and death, as the gods say them. Out of fear for the potential of Loki’s three children, the Aesir cast Jormugandr into the great sea, bound Fenrir, and banished Hel to the underworld. In there, Hel ruled the realm, and Odin himself granted her power over all the nine worlds.

Path to Hel

Except for the chosen slain who were taken to Valhalla, the goddess Hel was thought to have power over all that had perished. Her realm had underground dwellings, and it can be reached after traveling a rough and cold road into the dark regions of the far North.

According to legends, Hemrod had to ride Sleipnir to a great degree— nine long nights—to reach the entrance of the realm found beyond the River Gjoll. The river flowed through Ginnunga Gap and into the other worlds, which originated from the wellspring Hvergelmir in Niflheim.

The river flows near the gate of the underworld, which acts as a border. Gjoll represents the name of the rock to which Fenrir is bound. The river is said to be cold and flowing with knives, and the only way to cross the river is over the bridge Gjallarbu. It is a crystal bridge arched with gold which is hanging on a single hair. Modgud, a female skeleton, permanently guards the bridge. For the spirits to pass, they must pay Modgud a toll of blood—medical insurance is never used here.

After crossing the bridge, the spirits reach a forest with iron-leafed tree called Ironwood. From there, spirits continue to until they reach the gates of Hel, guarded by the fierce dog Garm.

Inside Hel

Cold and darkness with various sounds fill the space after entering the main gate of Hel. The goddess Hel’s great hall carried the name Elvidner—misery. Legends say that her knife was Greed, her dish was Hunger, her man was idleness, her bed was Sorrow, her maid was Sloth, her curtains were conflagration, and her threshold was Ruin.

Realm of Hel and Nastrond in Afterlife

Those who had lived a degree of compassionate, innocent, and good lives were treated kindly in Helheim. It can even be said that they enjoyed a type of negative bliss, but the Norse men and women chose to live and die in battle to join Odin’s chosen slain in Valhalla. The impure, including adulterers, oath-breakers, and murderers, were banished to Nastrond. The place had a cold stream of venom in a cave of snakes. From there, the spring of Hvergelmir washed them down into Niflheim, where dragon Nidhoggr chewed the bodies.

Reaping and Return of the Deceased

The deceased were mostly believed to travel to Hel, but it was said that the goddess Hel liked to reap them while riding on her three-legged white steed. In the periods of pestilence or famine, inhabitants that passed in large numbers, Hel used a rake to reap the deceased. In cases when villages were depopulated to a great degree, Hel used a broom to reap the deceased.

For various reasons, Norsemen also believed in the return of the dead as ghosts. It was believed that the deceased used to return to convey messages. There was a common belief that the Sorrow and joy of the living could influence the deceased. The realm of Hel and its inhabitants continued to influence the world of the living. Hel and her home lived long in the legends of the Norse.