In Norse mythology, Helheim, the location, means "house of Hel." It was the abode of Hel, a female figure who ruled the Underworld in Norse Mythology. In late Icelandic sources, varying descriptions of Hel are given and various figures are described as being buried with items that will facilitate their journey to Hel after their death. In the Poetic Edda, Brynhildr's trip to Hel after her death is described and Odin, while alive, also visits Hel upon his horse Sleipnir. In the Prose Edda, Baldr goes to Hel upon death and subsequently Hermóðr uses Sleipnir to attempt to retrieve him. "Hel-shoes" are described in Gísla saga.
The old Old Norse word Hel derives from Proto-Germanic *khalija, which means "one who covers up or hides something", which itself derives from Proto-Indo-European *kel-, meaning "conceal". The cognate in English is the word Hell which is from the Old English forms hel and helle. Related terms are Old Frisian, helle, German Hölle and Gothic halja. Other words more distantly related include hole, hollow, hall, helmet and cell, all from the aforementioned Indo-European root *kel-.
The use of Hel in Norse words and phrases such as Helför ("Hel-journey," a funeral), Helsótt ("Hel-sickness," a fatal illness), implies that the word Hel referred to a common place of the dead like the English heathen hell. Since England was christianized, hell is seen as a place of eternal torture for those who do not worship God or those who do not follow christian morals.
In reference to Hel, in the poem Völuspá, a völva states that Hel will play an important role in Ragnarök. The Völva states that a crowing "sooty-red cock from the halls of Hel" is one of three cocks that will signal one of the beginning events of Ragnarök. The other two are Fjalar in Jotunheim and Gullunkambi in Valhalla.
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