Far down beneath the root of Yggdrasil, in darkest and coldest
Niflheim, lies the fearful domain of Hel,
daughter of Loki and Angerboda. One half of her body has a livid tinge, and
the other half the hue of human flesh; she is harsh and cruel, greedy for
prey, and tenacious of those who have once fallen under her rule. The
dark, deep vales surrounding her kingdom are called Hell-Ways; to go
thither men must cross the river Gjoll (“roaring,” “resounding”), spanned by
the Bridge of Gjoll, which is paved with gold. Lofty walls enclose her
dwelling place, and the gate that opens upon it is called Hell-Gate. Her hall
is known as Eljudnir; her dish or porringer, as Hunger; her knife, as
Famine; her bondman and bondmaid, as Ganglati and Ganglt (both words
meaning “tardy”); her threshold, as Sinking to Destruction; her couch, as
Sickbed; the curtains of her bed, as Glimmering Mischance. Her huge
bandog, Garm, is bloody of chest and muzzle. Her “sooty-red” cock crows
to herald the fall of the universe. In the midst of Niflheim stands the well
Vergelmir, beside which lies the serpent Niddhogg. The brinks of
Vergelmir are called Nastrand (the Strand of Corpses); here is the most
forbidding spot in Niflheim. All who did not fall in battle were said to go to
Hell; but the general belief seems nevertheless to have been that only the
wicked found their way thither.
In the terminology of the skalds, Hel is not infrequently designated as
the Daughter of Loki, the Wolf’s (the Fenris Wolf’s) Sister, and the like. The
names Hell (and Niflhel) are often used of the realm of the dead; thence the
expression in Norwegian, å slå ihjel (ihel), — “to strike into Hell,” “to kill.”
When ghosts walked abroad, the saying might commonly be heard, “Hell-Gate
is open” (hnigin er helgrind); for then it was possible for spirits to slip out.
Peter Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York. 1926, pp. 37-39.
Rasmus B. Anderson (Ed.): The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson. Norræna Society, London-New York. 1906.
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