This cold, dark and misty abode of the dead is located on the lowest level of the Norse universe. It is surrounded by the Gjoll, which flows from the spring Hvergelmir. The entrance to Helheim is guarded by Garm, a monstrous hound.
Those who die of old age or disease, and those not killed in battle, go to Helheim while those who die bravely on the battlefield go to Valhalla.
In late Icelandic sources, varying descriptions of Helheim are given and various figures are described as being buried with items that will facilitate their journey to Helheim after death. In the Poetic Edda, Brynhildr's trip to Helheim after her death is described and Odin, living, also visits Helheim. In the Prose Edda, Baldr goes to Helheim after death and Hermód uses Sleipnir to attempt to retrieve him. Of the Sagas, hel-shoes are described in Gísla saga.
Helheim is a number of times in the Poetic Edda. Snorri's descriptions in his Prose Edda of Helheim are not corroborated here outside of Baldrs draumar, which does not appear in the original Codex Regius but is a later addition often included with modern additions of the Poetic Edda.
In reference to Helheim, Völuspá states that Helheim will play an important role in Ragnarök by emphasizing a crowing "sooty-red cock from the halls of Hel" in Hel as one of three that will signal one of the beginning events of Ragnarök. The other two are Fjalar in Jotunheim and Gullunkambi in Valhalla.
Helheim is referenced as a location in Guðrúnarkviða I as Herborg tells of her grief in having prepared funeral arrangements for various members of her family, her children and her husbands, described it as "arranging their journey to Hel".
In the short poem Helreið Brynhildar, Helheim is directly referenced as a location in the title, translating to "Brynhild's Hel-Ride". While riding along a road on the border of Hel in a lavish cart (the cart her corpse was burnt within), Brynhildr encounters a dead giantess at a burial mound burial mound belonging to her. This results in a heated exchange, during which Brynhildr tells of her life.
Though not originally a part of the Codex Regius, the short poem Baldrs draumar, Odin rides to the edge of Helheim to investigate nightmares Baldr has had. He brings to life the corpse of a Völva with a spell. Odin, introducing himself under a false name and pretense introduces, asks for information from the Völva relating to Baldr's dreams. The Völva proceeds to give reluctantly produce prophecies regarding Ragnarök.
The poem gives some information regarding the geographic location of Helheim in parallel to the Prose Edda, which may be related to the fact that it was not included in the Codex Regius. Niflhel is mentioned as being just outside of Hel. The bloody Garmr makes an appearance, encountering Odin while leaving Helheim. Odin continues down the road and approaches Helheim, which is described as the "high hall of Hel". There he proceeds to the grave of the Völva near the eastern doors where the descriptions of Helheim end.
In the book Gylfaginning, Helheim is introduced in chapter 3 as a location where "evil men" go upon death and from there into Niflhel. The chapter further details that Helheim is in the ninth of the Nine Worlds.
In chapter 34, the Hel, the being is introduced. Snorri writes that Hela was cast down into Helheim by Odin who "made her ruler over Nine Worlds". Snorri further writes that there Helheim is located in Niflheim. Here it is related that she could give out lodgings and items to those sent to her that have died of disease or old age. A very large dwelling is described as existing in Niflheim owned by Hel with huge walls and gates. The hall is called - or inside of this huge hall there is a hall belonging to Hel called - Éljúðnir. Within this hall Hel is described as having a servant, a slave and various possessions.
At the end of chapter 49, the death of Baldr and Nanna (according to Snorri) is described. Hermód, described as Baldr's brother in this source, sets out to Hel on horseback to retrieve the deceased Baldr. To enter Helheim, Hermód rides for nine nights through "valleys so deep and dark that he saw nothing" until he arrives at the river Gjöll ("Noisy") and the Gjöll bridge. The bridge is described as having a roof made of shining gold. Hermód then proceeds to cross it. The bridge is guarded by the maiden Móðguð ("Furious Battler"), whom he there encounters.
Móðguð speaks to Hermód and comments that the bridge echoed beneath him more than the entire party of five people who had just passed, being a reference to Baldr, Nanna and those that were burnt in their funeral pyre. She also reveals that the dead in Helheim appear as a different color than the living and tells him that to get to Helheim he must go "down and to the North" where he would find the Road to Helheim.
Continuing along the Road to Helheim, Hermód encounters the Gates of Helheim. He then remounts and spurs his horse to jump far over it. He proceeds further beyond the gates for some distance before arriving at the hall, dismounting and entering. There he sees Baldr sitting in a "seat of honor" and subsequently spends a night in Hel. The following day, Hermód presses Hel, the being, to allow Baldr to leave. Hel gives him an offer and the Baldr leads him out of the hall. Baldr then gives Hermód various gifts from Nanna and he to give to bring to the send gifts from Hel to the living Æsir. Hermód then rode back along the path he followed to enter. He's offer fails and in chapter 50, Loki is blamed for Baldr remaining in Hel.
Því næst koma þar Baldr ok Höðr frá Heljar, setjask þá allir samt ok talask við ok minnask á rúnar sínar ok rœða of tíðindi þau er fyrrum höfðu verit, of Miðgarðsorm ok um Fenrisúlf. - Eysteinn Björnsson's edition
"After that Baldr shall come thither, and Hödr, from Hel; then all shall sit down together and hold speech with one another, and call to mind their secret wisdom, and speak of those happenings which have been before: of the Midgard Serpent and of Fenris-Wolf." - Brodeur's translation
H.R. Ellis Davidson writes that "it seems likely that Snorri's account of the underworld is chiefly his own work" and that the idea that the dead who enter her realm who have died of sickness and old age may have been an attempt on Snorri's part in his Prose Edda to reconcile the tradition with his description of Valhalla, citing that "the one detailed account of Hel" that Snorri gives is that of Baldr entering Hel without dying of old age or sickness. Davidson writes that Snorri was potentially using a "rich source" unknown to us for his description of Hel and that it may not have told him very much about the location outside of that it was a hall. She further posits that Snorri's descriptions are also influenced by Christian teachings about the after-life.
Helheim as the Realm of the AncestorsEdit
It is a common beleif in Heathenry that the realm of Helheim is the pleasant afterlife of the common folk.
Icelandic Sagas decribe underground feasting halls for the dead which suggest endless fun and feasting.
Helheim or Hel is the principal afterlife for many followers of the agricultural and nature deities, especially Thor, one of the most popular of the Asatru/Heathen gods today.
It is only oathbreakers and murderers who experience the darker side of Helheim.
See Also Edit
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