The Encyclopedia of Hell: A Comprehensive Survey of the Underworld

The Encyclopedia of Hell: A Comprehensive Survey of the Underworld

by Miriam Van Scott

Paperback(First Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


The Encyclopedia of Hell is a comprehensive survey of the underworld, drawing information from cultures around the globe and eras throughout history. Organized in a simple-to-use alphabetic format, entries cover representations of the dark realm of the dead in mythology, religion, works of art, opera, literature, theater, music, film, and television. Sources include African legends, Native American stories, Asian folktales, and other more obscure references, in addition to familiar infernal chronicles from Western lore. The result is a catalog of underworld data, with entries running the gamut from descriptions of grisly pits of torture to humorous cartoons lampooning the everlasting abyss. Its extensive cross-referencing also supplies links between various concepts and characters from the netherworld and provides further information on particular theories.

Peruse these pages and find out for yourself what history's greatest imaginations have envisioned awaiting the wicked on the other side of the grave.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312244422
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/30/1999
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 824,226
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Miriam Van Scott lives with her family in Manassas, Virginia. She is the author of Encyclopedia of Heaven (St. Martin's Press, 1999).

Read an Excerpt

Encyclopedia of Hell

By Miriam Van Scott

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1998 Miriam Van Scott
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-9119-7



ABBADON Abbadon, the Hebrew word for "destruction," is the biblical dwelling place of the dead found in both the Old and New Testaments. It is used interchangeably with SHEOL. Abbadon is the "bottomless pit" in which the damned suffer for all eternity. Over time, Abbadon also became synonymous with death and the grave.

REVELATION refers to Abbadon as the place for those who "neither repented of their murders, nor their DEVIL worship, nor their fornication, nor their thefts." Abbadon is described as a foul, smoky abyss out of which locusts, demons, and monsters emerge to destroy the earth. The ruler of Abbadon is APOLLYON, the dark angel of the underworld.

Abbadon has also been described as a DEMON in THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS and Paradise Found, the sequel to Milton's PARADISE LOST. In these, and numerous other classic stories, the name refers to the personification of evil.

ACHERON The Acheron is one of the mystical rivers of ancient Greek myth. According to the legends, the waters flow directly to the underworld of King HADES. Odysseus, hero of Homer's ODYSSEY, offers a blood sacrifice on the banks of the Acheron in order to converse with the souls of the dead.

Acheron is also the name of the DEMON from the Vision of TUNDAL who guards the gates of hell.

ADAMNAN A mystic named Adamnan, an abbot of the Iona Abbey, claims to have had a horrific vision of hell that was later transcribed and distributed throughout Christendom in the tenth century. His infernal nightmare features a host of fiery tortures. The cleric reports having seen sinners lashed to burning columns with chains of molten serpents. Others are immersed to their necks in an ocean of flame. Some of the damned are beaten repeatedly with clubs or forced to cross red-hot rocks while DEMONS shoot flaming arrows at them. The vilest offenders are pierced through the tongue with scalding spikes. And those who manage to avoid these blazing tortures are devoured by packs of wild dogs.

Adamnan offers his gruesome vision as a warning to Christians of what awaits the evil in the afterlife. His story became a popular example of VISION LITERATURE and was widely circulated and discussed during the Middle Ages.

ADAMUS EXULAdamus Exul, a seventeenth-century Latin drama written by Dutch playwright Hugo Grotius, proposes that nonexistence is preferable to damnation in hell. It shows a vengeful LUCIFER determined to hurt God by dragging his new, precious creation—humanity—into eternal suffering. This is as close as he could ever come to forcing God himself into the abyss.

The play opens as Lucifer, after being expelled from heaven for his pride and rebelliousness, devises a plan for taking vengeance on God. Knowing he cannot force God into hell, he schemes to draw humans into the underworld by tempting people away from the Creator. This is the next best thing, he decides, since people have been fashioned in God's own image. Lucifer succeeds in causing Adam to sin in the Garden of Eden, but his triumph is short-lived. Unwilling to abandon humankind, God gives Adam hope of salvation by promising a future Messiah who will one day redeem humanity.

According to the drama, the worst suffering of hell is not merely lack of union with God, who encompasses beauty and joy, but also imprisonment in self-importance. Lucifer discovers that entangling man in his own evil manipulations does not reduce his agony. In fact, his wicked machinations only intensify the pain of being exiled to the underworld. He is eternally mired in his own empty, hollow self-pity and the damnation of humanity does not lessen that suffering. This is the true agony of hell.

ADLIVUN Adlivun is Eskimo for "those beneath us" and refers to the region for spirits unworthy of departing to the Land of the Moon (paradise) upon death. It is a dark, dank, shadowy realm located at the bottom of the ocean. Souls in Adlivun are not tortured; their punishment is simply the loss of paradise and the separation from the living.

Adlivun is ruled by the Sedna, Eskimo goddess of the underworld. She is a one-eyed giant so hideous that only a shaman (medicine man) can bear to look directly at her. Sedna came to rule Adlivun after being cast to the bottom of the sea by her parents. On the ocean floor, Sedna guards the ungrateful dead who have displeased her, her dead parents among them.

The underworld is associated with all bodies of water, which are believed to be quite dangerous due to Sedna's grim influence. Dormant lakes and standing pools are considered especially hazardous, as they contain evil spirits waiting to devour human souls.

Myths differ on why Sedna's mother and father drowned their daughter. Some stories say she was once a great beauty who angered her parents by refusing many offers of marriage from wealthy and powerful tribesmen. Unwilling to accept any man as her mate, Sedna elected instead to wed a dog. This decision, her parents felt, deprived them of great riches and social status and brought shame and ridicule instead. They avenged this offense by hurling their child into the ocean.

Another legend claims that Sedna had an insatiable appetite and ate constantly. One night, her parents awoke to find the girl gnawing on their arms and legs as they slept. Still another tale says she was thrown out of her father's boat as a sacrifice during a raging storm to keep his boat from capsizing. Trying to appease angry gods, he flung her over the side, cutting off her fingers as she clung to the vessel. She immediately sank to the murky depths and took up rule in Adlivun.

The entrance to the underworld is guarded by Sedna's husband, a ferocious dog who sits at the gate of a razor-thin bridge. His job is to keep the living from raiding Adlivun and to prevent the dead from escaping. Under certain circumstances, such as during a plague or famine, the canine will allow a shaman to enter the land of the dead to offer sacrifice to Sedna and plead for her assistance.

Occasionally, an evil spirit eludes the guard, successfully negotiates the dangerous passage, and returns home to terrorize the living. Eventually, however, Sedna retrieves the ghoul and returns it to her dark underworld kingdom.

ADVERTISING Hell has been used as an advertising tool for centuries. The underworld has long fired people's imaginations and piqued their curiosity, making it an attractive venue for peddling wares. Carefully used in commercial ads, depictions of the place of the damned provide alluring, sometimes even glamorous, glimpses into a forbidden world. Savvy ad executives have turned this naughty fascination into a powerful medium for selling their products, ranging from perfumes to military service to athletic shoes.

One of the first instances of a printed ad featuring a carnal, seductive hell occurred in an 1880 poster advertising a posh French café. The text invites Paris's elite to "A Party in Hell." The illustration shows bejeweled ladies in evening gowns and their tuxedo-clad escorts dining and dancing as a smiling DEVIL nods approvingly from his blazing throne. Several decades later, a World War I Allied Forces recruiting poster offers the darker side of damnation. This call to arms transforms Kaiser Wilhelm II into SATAN, complete with horns and tail, towering over a burning empire. The implication to eager young patriots was clear: Join the army and help send the DEMON back to hell. Similar diabolical images have been used in print advertisements over the past decades to peddle home safes, FOOD NOVELTIES, and even children's toys.

The invention of television opened a whole new outlet for using infernal appeal. One of the first commercials to mix underworld allusions with a sales pitch was a 1950s cosmetics ad. The thirty-second spot depicts a mousy housewife who turns into a sultry, seductive devil after donning a few drops of perfume. The gorgeous blond, now a horned vixen, cuddles up to her enthusiastic husband. The tag line informs viewers that even the most demure woman needs to get in touch with her dark side once in a while.

Today, most hellish television advertisements use a touch of wit to soften the realm of the damned. A 1993 ad for a Roy Rogers fast-food restaurant shows a man who has just been killed in a traffic accident appearing before a celestial review board. In the background are two escalators, one going up to heaven, the other going down to the smoky abyss. When the recently deceased asks if they "cook anything" in heaven, his winged escort quickly interrupts, telling him he must be "thinking of the other place." At this, a blast of smoke and fire erupts from a black chimney emanating from the depths, and a distant voice howls, "Yow! I hate this place!"

Digital, a renowned technology corporation, goes a step further in embracing the underworld. In one ad campaign, the high-tech company proudly lists the great inferno as one of its customers. The commercial shows a burning landscape interspersed with a collage of scenes of mass destruction. The line that follows this barrage of devastation reads simply, "Hell has our phone number."

Other commercials offer damnation tailored to their particular target audience. A British Knights advertisement for athletic shoes, for example, features basketball star Derrick Coleman having a nightmare about Fullcourt Hell. In the dream, the athlete finds himself in a steamy world where chubby, middle-aged opponents can play the game as well as he can with the aid of BK shoes. A sneering, horned devil laughs at Coleman from a smoldering cloud of murky smoke. Coleman bolts upright in bed as the last sulfurous fumes fade away, while the sound of the demon's laughter echoes through his room.

California Milk Producers has created one of the most amusing hellish promotions ever presented. The advertisement shows a ruthless power broker, currently in the process of firing his mother via cellular phone, being run down by a bus. The disoriented man suddenly finds himself in a brilliant realm where a soft, feminine voice coos, "Welcome to eternity." Declaring that this must be heaven, the newly deceased finds a plate of gigantic chocolate chip cookies, shoves one in his mouth, then heads for a huge refrigerator. Upon opening the door, the man finds that it is packed with milk cartons. He gleefully grabs one, only to find it empty. He snatches a second, but it too contains nothing. The man frantically pulls down carton after carton only to discover that all are empty. At this point, the terrified snacker looks into the camera and screams, "Where amI?" realizing that he is damned to spend eternity eating dry cookies without being able to wash them down with a swig of ice-cold milk. The screen goes black before sizzling red letters burn across the screen asking viewers, "Got milk?"—and reminding them to stock up on dairy products while they still have the chance.

Appropriately enough, some of the most elaborate and frightening depictions of hell appear in advertisements for COMPUTER GAMES about the underworld. The commercial for Doom II features a preacher offering a HELLFIRE SERMON filled with grisly images of a treacherous afterlife. The sweaty reverend thrusts his fist onto the pulpit, shouting that "hell is a dark prison of lost souls" as graphics of the infernal adventure flash on screen.

Representations of the underworld are not confined to print and television advertising. Radio commercials can create fascinating visions of hell through sound effects, dialogue, and implication. In a 1997 ad for Cool Iced Tea, comic Penn Jillette opens by announcing, "I'm in Hell," perched on a molten iron bench "next to some former IRS auditors." The cries of the damned, shrieks of demons, and crackling flames are audible in the background. But despite "walls of fire" and sizzling temperatures, Penn stays comfortable in the inferno by sipping his refreshing beverage.

These ad campaigns, and others like them, underscore the pervasive and timeless infatuation human beings have with the place of the damned. Even those who do not want to view hell in person are fascinated and captivated by infernal images. Advertisers have turned this morbid curiosity into successful promotions.

AENEID Virgil's epic Aeneid chronicles the adventures of Aeneas, a great soldier of the Trojan War who founds the city of Rome after his homeland of Troy is destroyed. (It is in many ways the Latin counterpart to the Greek ODYSSEY; each describes the aftermath of the war from opposing perspectives.) Virgil's poem was unfinished at the time of his death in 19 B.C., and he had left instructions that the manuscript be destroyed. But Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus demanded that copies be kept intact. As a result, the Aeneid has become a classic of Western literature and has provided inspiration for numerous works, including Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas and Dante's DIVINE COMEDY: THE INFERNO.

The Aeneid opens as its hero searches for purpose in his life after his beloved city of Troy has been conquered. Confused and near despair, Aeneas decides to travel to the underworld and ask his deceased father, Anchises, what to do now that he cannot return home. A sibyl (priestess of Apollo) serves as Aeneas's guide to DIS, the land of the dead. The two set out on their perilous, gloomy journey to the realm of deceased spirits.

Aeneas adventure begins at LAKE AVERNUS (located outside Naples, Italy), a flaming black pool in the heart of a dense forest. A pitch-dark cavern leads down to the gates of the nether-world, where the two must face monsters of Disease, Fear, Old Age, Hunger, Poverty, Death, Trials, Sleep (called "Death's brother"), War, and Strife. Aeneas and his guide must then pass the monstrous hydra, a beast with fifty heads, and other fiends before coming to the banks of the river STYX.

While making his descent, Aeneas sees many of the familiar fixtures of the mythological Greek underworld: the rivers Chaos and Phlegethan, the ERINYES (Furies), CHARON the ferryman, and CERBERUS, the fierce guardian of the gates of the HADES. He also witnesses a number of agonies suffered by the dead and is moved to sorrow by their plight.

Aeneas is particularly disturbed by a "swarming" of wilted spirits (SHADES) wandering aimlessly along the marshes of the Styx. He asks the sibyl why Charon will not ferry them to the underworld. She explains that these men have not had a proper burial and are thus "helpless and unburied.... They wander for a hundred years and hover about these banks before they gain their entry." Aeneas is heartbroken to see several of his friends, Trojan sailors lost at sea during a storm, among these marooned souls.

One fallen comrade begs Aeneas to "cast earth upon my body" when he returns to the upperworld, or use his influence with the gods to release him from this fate. The dead soldier longs for relief, so that "in death I might find a place of rest." The sibyl promises to ease his sorrow, assuring him that his death will be avenged and that his enemies' land will be conquered and one day bear the deceased warrior's name.

As the journey continues, the two come upon further obstacles. Charon is skeptical of their intentions, remembering how living men had once tried to storm the underworld to kidnap Prosperpine (PERSEPHONE), queen of the dead. He refuses to ferry the pair to the abyss. But Aeneas offers a magic golden bough as tribute to Prosperpine, assuring Charon that he only wishes to speak with his father who is among her subjects. Hearing this, Charon agrees to transport them to their destination.

When they reach the underworld, Aeneas discovers a new variety of horrors. The priestess agrees, claiming, "If I had a hundred tongues and a hundred mouths and a voice of iron, I still could not describe all the crimes and all the varieties of punishment" awaiting the dead. These tortures include being hanged in the wind and purged by fire. The sound of wailing and shrieking of the damned is unbearable, adding to the torment.


Excerpted from Encyclopedia of Hell by Miriam Van Scott. Copyright © 1998 Miriam Van Scott. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews