What Does Hell Look Like? 12 Ways Hell Has Been Described By Major Religions and Mythologies

What does hell look like
What does hell look like
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Most of us are curious about if not believe in the concept of heaven and hell. For ages, we mortals have wondered what happens when we die — the belief of heaven and hell is found in almost all primitive and modern cultures and religions. 

However, nothing can shake our imagination other than the question of how hell looks like in the real world. 

There are some fascinating concepts of hell in almost all culture, religions and their philosophies. One thing is common to all, that’s not a place where you would ever want to be. 

Here’s a list of some popular religions and their concepts of Hell.

1. Christianity

Eternal pain and suffering in hell or the underworld

Christianity concept of hell
Christianity concept of hell

In Christianity, the people who commit sins will face eternal pain and suffering in hell or the underworld.

The Christian concept of Hell is thought to be a mix of the Greek concept of Hades, a place where there is eternal suffering, and the Jewish concept of Gehenna, a place where there is eternal burning.

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The Bible frequently warns of a place called hell. There are over 162 references in the New Testament alone which warns of hell. And over 70 of these references were told by the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. Ancient Egypt

Judgment by a tribunal of forty-two divine judges.

Egyptian concept of hell
Ancient Egyptian concept of hell

At death, a person faced judgment by a tribunal of forty-two divine judges. If they had led a life in conformance with the laws of the goddess Maat, who represented truth and right living, the person was welcomed into the heavenly reed fields. 

If found guilty or rather not in compliance with goddess Maat, the person was thrown to Ammit, the “devourer of the dead” and would be condemned to the lake of fire.

3. Greek 

The liver is eaten by a vulture and you are unable to eat

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Hades
Hades

Punishments include liver being eaten by a Vulture or unable to eat the fruit just above one’s head or forced to push a rock up a hill only to have it roll back again for eternity.

Greeks were one of the first people who believed in the so-called concept of Hell. The Greek hell is called Hades after the ruler who rules over the place.

4. Islam

Garments of fire and is lashes with rods of iron

Islamic concept of hell
Islamic concept of hell

One is made to wear garments of fire and is lashed with rods of iron, and if they try to escape, they are dragged back and told to taste the torment of the conflagration.

Muslims believe in the concept of Jannat (heaven) and Jahanum (hell). The sinners are subjected to severe torture and punishment. 

After the Day of Judgement, it is to be filled by those who do not believe in God, those who have disobeyed his laws or rejected his messengers.

5. Hinduism

Punishment followed by rebirth in a higher or lower form based on your deeds

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Naraka in Hinduism
Naraka in Hinduism

In Hinduism, the stay in the hell is generally not permanent. Once the quantum of punishment is over, the souls are reborn as lower or higher beings as per their merits.

Naraka is the Hindu equivalent of Hell, where sinners are tormented after death. It is described as located in the south of the universe and beneath the earth.

The number and names of hells, as well as the type of sinners sent to a particular hell, varies from text to text — however, many scriptures describe 28 hells. 

Hinduism like most religions believes in both Hell and Heaven. Hindus describe Heaven as Swarga and hell as Naraka. Yamraj is the Hindu lord of the underworld and afterlife. 

He is the one who guides the souls of people after they die. He is said to be accompanied by another person called Chitragupt.

Chitragupt keeps an accounting of all your deeds and accordingly selects you to either hell or heaven. 

You May Also Like: Interesting Facts About Hinduism

6. Ancient Mesopotamia

 Eat nothing but dry dust and no water for every one dead

Sumerian concept of hell
Sumerian concept of hell

The death itself was not considered to be a good incident in Ancient Mesopotamia. 

The Sumerian (earliest known civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia) afterlife was a dark, dreary cavern located deep below the ground, where residents were believed to continue “a shadowy version of life on earth”.

This isolated region was known as Kur and was believed to be ruled by the goddess Ereshkigal.

All souls went to the same afterlife, and a person’s actions during life had no effect on how the person would be treated in the world to come.

The souls in Kur were believed to eat nothing but dry dust and family members of the deceased would ritually pour drinks into the dead person’s grave through a clay pipe, thereby allowing the dead to drink.

7. Sikhism

The cycle of 8.4 million reincarnations

Hell in Sikhism
Hell in Sikhism

As they do not have a physical place assigned as hell, so instead you have to go through the cycle of 8.4 million reincarnations, and you are ruined through death and rebirth.

The Sikh’s concept of hell and heaven seems quite similar to both Hinduism and Buddhism. 

Just like Buddhism, Sikhism looks at heaven and hell as a state of consciousness. When the body is filled with ego and selfishness, the cycle of birth and death does not end.

8. Judaism

Cleansing if soul, rather than a punishment 

Hell in Judaism
Hell in Judaism

According to Jewish teachings, hell is not entirely physical; rather, it can be compared to a very intense feeling of shame.

It is notable that some Jews also believe in the existence of a mythical place called Sheol, but you can treat this place as more of a pit stop than anything else.

According to the Jews, this is more of a place where the cleansing of the soul takes place than punishments.

It is believed that all Jews after their death are supposed to go to this dark and gloomy place before making way to Heaven.

9. Buddhism

Hundreds of millions to sextillions of years of Naraka

Naraka in Buddhist Tradition
Naraka in Buddhist Tradition

For Buddhists, the pain and suffering lie in the fact that one cannot escape the eternal circle of life and death.

The Naraka of Buddhism is closely related to Diyu, the hell in Chinese mythology. 

A Naraka differs from the hell of Christianity in two main aspects — the dead are not sent to Naraka as the result of a divine judgment or punishment — and the length of stay in a Naraka is not eternal.

Still, it is incomprehensibly long, from hundreds of millions to sextillions of years.

Buddhism’s concept of Hell and Heaven and rather unique and they do believe in the after-life.

They also believe in the concept of Nirvana, where one becomes free from the cycle of death and rebirth. 

Notwithstanding the fact that some Buddhists do believe in the physical existence of hell perhaps influenced by Hinduism.

10. Zoroastrianism

Chinvat Bridge
Chinvat Bridge

The walk on a bridge from which you fall off if you have sinned

After they die, they are supposed to walk on a bridge and if one is not righteous, it turns on its side and they fall off the bridge into hell.

These people believe in something called the Chinvat Bridge or the bridge of separation. For the righteous, it broadens and leads to a beautiful maiden. 

And that’s not all the ancient God Mithra is also there with a scale which balances your good deeds and evil deeds.

But luckily, the suffering is not eternal and one can leave the place after his/her soul is purified.

11. Taoism

Sinners are subjected to gruesome tortures and reverted to their original state for further torture

Taoism
Taoism Image source

They believe in a place called Diyu. Sinners are subjected to gruesome tortures. After the first round of torture is over the souls are restored to their original state for the torture to be repeated.

According to Chinese mythology, it is the realm of the dead. There is little ambiguity about the exact number of levels of Diyu. 

Diyu is typically described as a subterranean maze with various levels and chambers, to which souls are taken after death to atone for the sins they committed while they were alive. 

Some speak of three to four courts, others mention the Ten Courts of Hell, each of which is ruled by a judge.

12. Shinto

Hearth of Yomi, if you eat it you can’t return to the land of the living 

Yomi
Yomi

Yomi or Yo-no-Kuni is the place where the dead go. It is believed that once one has eaten at the hearth of Yomi, it’s simply impossible to return to the land of the living.

This realm of the dead seems to have geographical continuity with this world and can’t be considered either a heaven or a hell — rather, all deceased carry on a gloomy and shadowy existence forever, regardless of their behavior in life. 

Many scholars believe that the image of Yomi was derived from ancient Japanese tombs in which corpses were left for some time to decompose. 

This religion has co-existed with Confucianism and Buddhism. One can find the influence of both these religions in Japan. 

One can find some striking similarities between Shinto’s concept of Yomi and the Greek concept of Hades.

Yomi is ruled over by Izanami no Mikoto, the Grand Deity of Yomi.

While in some traditions the hell is a place where you go after you sinned, there are also few where everyone goes to what may be considered a hell or afterlife despite how you behaved in your mortal life or the sins you have committed.

Nevertheless, the concept of hell and the underworld in different cultures, mythology, and religion is extremely interesting. 

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