Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation

Three Faiths, Biblio File

Where the Hell is Hell? A Look at the Underworld


Hell., Digital ID 833593, New York Public LibraryHell by Katsushika, Hokusai (1760-1849)The Ancient Greeks believed it. Christians believe it. So do Muslims, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Shintos, Sikhs, Mayans, Mormons, Witches, and few other spiritual groups.

Regardless of their spiritual differences and outlooks, they all believe that after life, there is a special place reserved for people that harm others or indulge in their own "sins" without remorse or repentance; thus their souls deserve this special invitation to hell or somewhere dark, agonizing and unpleasant in a state of foreverness or eternal damnation.

The Lawyers., Digital ID 833580, New York Public LibraryThe Lawyers in Hell

What's intriguing about hell is that it is beyond a theological or metaphysical debate: the history of the study of hell (known as eschatology) makes the topic even more fascinating. We know for sure that hell is a place that no one wants to go to after life but can we avoid going there anyway?

Many spiritual groups as mentioned above believe so. They all recommend common deeds, creeds or steps that one should take when they are still alive to avoid the abyss like be kind to your neighbors, do not murder, steal and lie, etc. These values are important to the groups and to those want to avoid hell at all cost. Some believe that hell is below "earth" or where we are positioned while others believe that "earth" is actually our "hell."

What's also interesting is the number of classics and writings alluding to the underworld when the writers have never visited there before:

It is obvious that we can't really "test" out the theory of hell since nobody has returned from there to testify its existence or ambience but based on several narratives and surveys from people who have "experienced" hell through a mystical encounter or vision, we can at least visualize what hell could look or feel like. Many have claimed that evil spirits, demons, and ghosts lurk in hell and from time to time, they enter our world and haunt us when we are awake or asleep—known as incubus (male demon seducing women) or succubus (female demon seducing men).

In hell, Lucifer also known as Satan or the Devil rules over this fiery kingdom with his infamous trident and notorious tail and hooves.

The Torments Of Hell., Digital ID 833588, New York Public LibraryThe torments of hell. (1906-1907)

Now don't get me wrong, I am not referring to that experience where you had to deal with your terrible boss, ex or in-law that caused great mental anguish as if you are actually experiencing or living in "hell."

What I'm referring to is the existential experience that some have testified about their metaphysical state in the underworld: "I was horrified as I heard the screams of an untold multitude of people crying out in torment. It was absolutely deafening. The terror-filled screams seemed to go right through me, penetrating my very being. I once heard about a television special where a news reporter spent the night in prison just to experience prison life firsthand. The prisoners were crying, moaning and yelling all night long. He stated that he couldn't sleep because of all the noise. This place where I now stood was far, far worse..." p. 8 From 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese.

 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on May 29The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on May 29We also have a book discussion program on themes of world religion and literature for the summer. You are welcome to sign up for them and join us to discuss the eschatological symbols in these literatures and what they mean to you.

As Mark Twain puts it eloquently, "Go to Heaven for the Climate; Hell for the Company."


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Thanks Ray! And since it is

Thanks Ray! And since it is Poetry Month after all... make sure to log into Columbia Granger's World of Poetry onsite or with your library card... and browse the 408 poems about Hell. >:-)

an additional resource

The Picture Collection subject heading is: "Heaven & hell", under the folder abbreviation "HEAV".

Thanks Lauren and Billy!

Thanks Lauren and Billy!

Post new comment