Hel, the Norse goddess, is a central figure in Norse mythology, renowned for her enigmatic and dual nature. As the daughter of Loki and the giantess Angrboða, she holds a unique position as both a deity and a ruler of the realm of the dead, known as Helheim.
Hel is characterized by her striking appearance, with one half of her body beautiful and the other half decayed, symbolizing her connection to both life and death.
Her role as a judge of souls and guardian of the gates of Helheim, alongside her association with the color white, underscores her complex and essential role in Norse beliefs about the afterlife.
Hel’s intriguing character and her presence in mythological narratives continue to captivate both scholars and modern audiences, making her a significant figure in Norse mythology and popular culture.
Hel Goddess Facts
1. Daughter of Loki and Angrboða
Hel is one of the three children born to the trickster god Loki and the giantess Angrboða.
Her siblings are Jormungandr, the massive serpent that encircles the world, and Fenrir, the giant wolf.
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These three siblings are often referred to as the “Loki’s offspring” or “Loki’s brood.”
Hel’s parentage as a half-giantess and half-god contributes to her unique nature and her connection to both the Aesir (the gods) and the giants.
2. Rules over the realm of the dead, Helheim
Hel’s most prominent role in Norse mythology is her rulership over Helheim, also known as Niflheim.
This realm is associated with the souls of the deceased, particularly those who did not die in battle and were not taken to Valhalla.
Also Read: Facts About Loki the Norse God
Helheim is a cold and gloomy place, reflecting the somber nature of the afterlife for those who dwell there. Hel’s role as the ruler of this realm makes her a central figure in Norse beliefs about death and the afterlife.
3. Has a dual appearance, one side beautiful and one side decayed
Hel is often described as having a unique and unsettling appearance. One half of her body is said to be that of a beautiful woman, while the other half is the decaying, rotting body of a corpse.
This dual appearance is symbolic of her connection to both life and death. It underscores the duality and complexity of her character, as she is simultaneously alluring and repulsive.
This appearance also aligns with the idea that she is a fair but harsh judge of the souls that enter her realm, as she herself embodies the concept of both life and death.
4. Acts as a judge of souls in her realm
Hel is often depicted as a judge who determines the fate of souls that enter her realm, Helheim. In Norse mythology, the destiny of a person’s soul after death depended on their actions in life.
Hel would evaluate these actions and make a decision about whether the soul should find peace or face suffering in her realm. This role as a judge adds a layer of complexity to Hel’s character, as she holds significant power over the fate of the deceased.
5. Guards the gates of Helheim with the monstrous wolf Garm
At the entrance to Helheim, there are gates guarded by a monstrous wolf named Garm. Garm is said to be ferocious and dangerous. Hel keeps Garm as a guardian, ensuring that the souls of the dead remain undisturbed in her realm.
Garm also plays a role in Norse eschatology, as he is prophesied to break free during Ragnarök, the apocalyptic event in Norse mythology, contributing to the chaos and destruction of the world.
6. Associated with the color white
Hel is often associated with the color white, which symbolizes her connection to the cold and the realm of the dead. White is often used to represent the icy and lifeless nature of her domain, Helheim.
This color association serves as a visual representation of her role as the ruler of a cold and desolate afterlife. In contrast to the vibrant and lively realms of other Norse deities, Hel’s realm is a place of stillness and frost, and the color white reflects this starkness.
7. Features in the myth of Baldr’s death
One of the most well-known stories involving Hel is the myth of Baldr’s death. Baldr, the beloved god of light and purity, was killed by a mistletoe arrow, and his soul descended to Helheim. In this myth, Hel plays a significant role as the ruler of the realm to which Baldr’s soul is sent.
Her demand that all things in the world weep for Baldr to secure his release demonstrates her capricious nature. This myth highlights the theme of death and the unpredictability of fate in Norse mythology.
8. Symbolized by a split-colored design
Hel is sometimes symbolized by a split-colored design, which reflects her dual nature and appearance—one side beautiful and the other side decayed.
This split-colored symbol can be seen as a visual representation of her role as a goddess who presides over both the living and the dead. It is a striking and evocative representation of her complex character.
9. Influential in later literature and art
Hel’s character and her realm have inspired many later works of literature and art, particularly in the fantasy genre. Authors and artists have drawn upon Norse mythology to create their own interpretations of Hel, her realm, and the stories associated with her.
The concept of a goddess of the underworld or an afterlife ruler has permeated various cultures and mythologies, often with parallels to Hel’s character.
10. Appears in modern popular culture
Hel continues to make appearances in modern popular culture, including movies, video games, comics, and novels. In these contemporary depictions, she is often re-imagined and adapted to fit different storytelling contexts.
Whether portrayed as a formidable antagonist or a more nuanced character, Hel’s presence in modern media reflects the enduring fascination with Norse mythology and its rich cast of deities.
Hel’s influence extends far beyond the boundaries of Norse mythology, making her a compelling and enduring figure in the realms of literature, art, and popular culture.