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|“||Abandon all your hope, ye who enter here…||„|
|~ Canto III of Dante's Inferno.|
Hell, also known as the Underworld, Hades, the Netherworld, the Abyss and countless other names, is the supernatural realm of evil and the domain of The Devil and his legions of demons and the damned.
In non-Christian religions, Satan is replaced with some other archdemon or death-god such as the Norse goddess Hela, but in every depiction, Hell is described as the most terrifying, horrible plane of existence where the wicked and sinful are punished for eternity (or at least for immensely long periods of time) for their sins - often in the most horrific of ways.
Traditionally in Christianity, the suffering of hell is envisioned as hellfire - a type of spiritual flame that is capable of burning the very soul of those who do wrong and those sentenced to hell must endure an eternity of hellfire while also being tormented day and night by the minions of Satan.
Hell can also be seen as a metaphor for a life without God (or other positive force) and some religions do not see Hell as a physical place but rather a state of mind caused by sin : this is the more common view by modern theologians and preachers, who state that Hell is not a realm ruled by Satan and demons but rather a state of extreme detachment from God and His Creation, of course this view of Hell is in direct contrast with that envisioned by the more radical "Hellfire" Preachers, who still focus heavily on Damnation.
Hell is similar to Purgatory but differs in the fact Hell is usually seen as a permanent state of suffering and evil opposed to Purgatory, which is traditionally seen as a place of temporary punishment before being admitted into Paradise (Heaven).
Despite being seen as a place of eternal suffering Hell itself is destined to ultimately be destroyed during the Day of Judgement - where it shall be consumed by the Lake of Fire (a realm it is often confused with).
The Inferno, the first epic poem of The Divine Comedy written by Dante Alighieri, depicts Hell as a conical cave consisting of 9 concentric circles, with each circle forming a terrace. On each terrace is damned a different type of sinner, and each circle represents a different sin, with the worst sins placed in lower Hell. Likewise, the punishments for each circle differ and increase in severity the deeper one descends into the Inferno.
The nine circles of The Inferno are as follows:
The Vestibule of Hell
Just within the gates of Hell are punished the opportunists and the angels who took no sides in the war of Satan's rebellion. As they took no sides, they are forced to forever chase after an elusive banner that moves before them. Their guilt takes the form of a swarm of wasps and hornets, which bite and sting these damned spirits. The blood and puss that flows from their wounds are eaten by maggots and worms that litter the ground. Because of their neutrality, neither Heaven nor Hell will accept them.
I - Limbo
Limbo is the destination of the virtuous pagans, unbaptized children, and other great philosophers and poets who lacked the required faith to enter Paradise, or died before the time of Christ's death. Heaven does not accept them for these reasons, yet deeper Hell does not accept them for their non-sinfulness. Therefore, the only punishment in Limbo is the denial of Paradise.
Limbo consists of a lush, grassy plain with a brook and a great citadel lit with the power of Human Reason. Limbo itself, therefore, is representative of the limitations of Human Reason, as, according to Dante, faith is required to enter Heaven. Divine Reason, according to Dante, was radiant and beautiful, but nowhere near the radiance and beauty of Paradise.
II - Lust
Those guilty of Lust are punished in the second circle of Hell. The carnal and lustful are blown about by a savage wind, unable to find rest. In some interpretations of The Inferno, the wind sexually molests the damned. As the lustful could never control the tempest of their passions in life, in death, they are blown about uncontrollably. The murky air within the circle represents how passion beclouded the ability to reason.
III - Gluttony
The gluttons are sentenced to the third circle of Hell, forever doomed to lay half-buried within putrid black slush, and bombarded with freezing black rain. As they spent their lives producing only garbage, they themselves lie like garbage, while the monstrous dog Cerberus slavers over them as they have slavered over food and drink in life.
IV - Greed
The fourth circle houses 2 types of greed: the avaricious and the prodigal, known more commonly as the hoarders and wasters. As the hoarder constantly accumulates wealth, the waster constantly spends wealth.
In Hell, the hoarders and wasters are separated into two mobs. Each soul pushes a great boulder-like weight. The two mobs meet, clashing their weights together, separating, then repeating the process for eternity. As one mob yells "Why do you hoard?", the other responds "Why do you waste?" Thus, one extreme is used to punish the other. The dead weights that are pushed around symbolize the mundanity of wealth, and each soul is dimmed beyond recognition, for they have destroyed the light of God within themselves by thinking of nothing but money.
V - Wrath
The fifth circle consists of the Styx marshes. The wrathful and the sullen are punished here. The wrathful attack one another upon the muddy surface of Styx, while the sullen are submerged entirely within the mud, and forced to gargle a twisted parody of a hymn. In life, the wrathful responded with anger, so it is fitting that in death they spend an eternity releasing their anger upon other damned souls in fits of violence. As the sullen and depressed were bitter in "the air made sweet by the sun", they are entombed within the dark, black marshes of Styx.
VI - Heresy - The City of Dis
Heretics, according to Dante, were those who preached that the soul died with the body. Therefore, their symbolic punishment is to be placed within a flaming stone tomb in the sixth circle of Hell. These tombs are located within Hell's capital, Dis, which is guarded by Medusa and the Furies.
VII - Violence
Violence is divided into 3 rounds: against neighbors, against self, and against God, nature, and art.
The violent against neighbors, consisting of murderers, psychopaths, war-mongers, etc. are punished by being immersed within a boiling river of blood, recompense for the blood they spilled in their lifetimes. Further down is the Wood of the Suicides - those who destroyed their bodily form in life are denied a human form in Hell. Instead, they take the form of a tree, whose leaves and branches are broken and eaten by the harpies. The soul in question can only speak as long as blood flows from their wounds. As the ultimate expression of their lives was self-destruction, they are only permitted to speak when they are wounded.
After the wood are punished those who commit violence against God, nature, and art, damned with differing punishments in an abominable desert bombarded with a flaming rain. The blasphemers, those who commit violence against God, are stretched out among the sands. The Sodomites, those who are violent against nature, are forced to run in endless circles, while the Usurers, the violent against art huddle on the sands, each wearing a purse with a coat of arms about his neck, and being forced to forever stare at it.
VIII - Fraud - The Malebolge
Geryon is the monstrous guardian of the Malebolge, or the circle of Fraud. Within the Malebolge (literally translated as 'evil ditches'), are 10 pits, called bolgia, and in each pit is punished a different degree of fraud.
I - Panderers and Seducers are punished by walking in lines for eternity, driven along by horned demons with lashes.
II - Flatterers are sunk in excrement, which is symbolic of the value of their flattery.
III - Simoniacs are sellers of ecclesiastic favors and offices, are turned upside down in a pit and the soles of their feet are burned in a mock baptism. As new sinners arrive, the old ones drop into the crevices of the rock and disappear eternally.
IV - Sorcerers, Alchemists, Seers, Diviners, and Fortune-Tellers are all punished by having their heads twisted backwards and being forced to walk about backwards for eternity. As they tried to see forward into the future, they are not permitted to look forward in Hell.
V - Grafters and Blackmailers are sunk in boiling tar and flogged by demons. The tar is symbolic of the sticky nature of the Grafters.
VI - Hypocrites are punished by wearing robes that appear beautiful on the outside, but within, are filled with heavy lead, and are forced to walk about in an endless circle.
VII - Thieves are punished by monstrous reptiles that curl themselves around sinners like living coils of rope. Other reptiles dart about the pit, biting sinners and causing them to burn into ashes, from which they will painfully reform. Other thieves are punished by being transformed into reptiles themselves, and can only gain a human form by stealing it from another, which involves a painful transformation for both involved. According to Dante, thievery is reptilian in its secrecy, and is therefore punished by reptiles.
VIII - Evil Counselors move about endlessly unseen in great tongues of flames.
IX - Sowers of Discord are punished by a great demon with a bloody sword - they are hacked and mutilated, and then forced to drag themselves about until they can be sewn back together, only to await the process once more. As they destroyed, split, and divided in life what God had meant to be united, they themselves are destroyed, split, and divided.
X - Falsifiers of Things, People, Money, and Words are inflicted with a variety of maladies, from darkness, stench, thirst, filth, disease, etc.
IX - Treachery - Lake Cocytus
For treachery and complex fraud, sinners freeze in the depths of Lake Cocytus in the ninth and final circle of Hell. As Dante considered Treachery to be the worst, most unnatural and inhuman sin, it is the furthest from God's light and warmth. Therefore, the ninth circle is a frozen lake in the bottom of Hell. The traitors themselves freeze within the lake, which is divided into four rings, with each ring representing a different type of treachery, with the worst traitors closer to the center of the lake. The four rings are Caina (Traitors against kin and neighbor), Antenora (Traitors to country), Ptolomea (Traitors against guests and hosts), and Judecca (Traitors against masters).
In the center of Cocytus is Satan. Satan's 3 heads, a perversion of the Holy Trinity, gnaw upon the three greatest traitors in history - Brutus and Cassius, murderers of Caesar, and Judas Iscariot, betrayer of Christ. Judas is punished most severely, being headfirst in Satan's mouth and having his back raked by Satan's claws. The lake itself is formed from Satan's tears, and the beating of his wings as he tries to escape provides the icy winds that keep Cocytus frozen.