Meaning of HELL in English


the abode or state of being of evil spirits or souls that are damned to postmortem punishment. Derived from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "to conceal," or "to cover," the term hell originally designated the torrid regions of the underworld, though in some religions the underworld is cold and dark. The concept of a state of being or place that separates the good from the evil or the living from the dead is found in most religions of the world. In religions of ancient and primitive peoples, the dwelling place of the dead as the destiny of the soul might be a gloomy subterranean realm or a distant island (e.g., the Greek Hades); a deep abyss in the lower world in which the souls of persons are punished (e.g., the Greek Tartarus); a dark region in the lower world in which both good and evil souls continue to exist as shades in constant thirst (e.g., the ancient Israelite Sheol); an underworld of cold and darkness (e.g., the Norse Niflheimr, also called Hel); a celestial dwelling place in which the souls of the departed reside (as with the Pueblo Indians, who upon death become clouds and, thus, bringers of rain); or a nebulous existence in which the soul might eventually fade into nonexistence (as with the North American Indian hunting tribes). The view that hell is the final dwelling place of the damned after a Last Judgment is held by the Western prophetic religions: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In Zoroastrianism, a religion founded by the 6th-century-BC Iranian prophet and reformer Zoroaster, the soul at death waits three nights to be judged and on the fourth day goes to the Bridge of the Requiter, where his deeds in life are weighed. If the good outweighs the evil, the soul crosses the bridge, which becomes broad, and goes to heaven; if the evil deeds are greater, the bridge becomes too narrow to cross and the soul falls into a freezing and ill-smelling hell to suffer torment and chastisement until the Resurrection. For those whose good and evil deeds are equal is reserved hamestagan ("the place of the mixed"), wherein such souls suffer from both heat and cold. Hamestagan corresponds to the Christian concept of purgatory (q.v.). Judaism, as it developed from Hellenistic times, viewed hell in terms of Gehenna (q.v.), an infernal region of punishment for the wicked. The Christian view of hell, based on Jewish concepts, regarded hell as the fiery domain of the devil and his evil angels, a place of eternal damnation for those who have lived a life of sin and who thereby deny God. Some early Christian thinkers, such as Origen of Alexandria and Gregory of Nyssa, questioned the eternity of hell and the literalistic view that hell was a place of a fiery afterlife. The majority of Christian thinkers, however, taught that hell is a state of punishment for those who die unrepentant of their sins. Some modern theologians have again questioned the literalistic view but still hold that hell is, at least, a state of separation of the wicked from the good. Islam, basing its concepts of hell, Jahannam (q.v.), on Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity, describes it as a huge crater of fire beneath a narrow bridge that all souls must pass over to go to paradise. The damned fall from the bridge and suffer torments, unless Allah (God) wills otherwise. In Hinduism, hell is only one stage in a career of the soul. Because all actions have consequences and because of reincarnation, the time spent in one or more of the 21 hells beneath the netherworld is not of ultimate significance. Eventually, the soul will return to the World (or Ultimate) Soul, even though it takes many life periods to do so. The Jaina hell (bhumis) is a place where demons torture sinners until any evil accumulated during their lives has been exhausted. In Buddhism, which denies the existence of both the individual and the World Soul, multiple hells correspond to karmavacara, the cosmic realm in which the five senses may be experienced in a variety of bodies and perceptions. In China, a primarily Buddhist conception of the realm of punishment and expiation after death was accepted and modified by Taoists. Popular notions of hell are based on fictional accounts of journeys to the netherworld, such as Travels in the West and the Life of Yeh Fei, and on Buddhist scriptures describing the journeys of mercy taken there by the bodhisattva (one who is destined to be enlightened) Ti-ts'ang. At the moment of death, the dead are conducted by messengers to the god of walls and moats, Ch'eng Huang, who gives the dead a kind of preliminary hearing. The virtuous may go straight to one of the Buddhist paradises; to K'un-lun Mountain, the dwelling place of the Taoist immortals; or to the tenth court of hell for immediate rebirth. After 49 days the sinners descend to the realm of hell, located at the base of Mt. Meru. The courts of the 10 kings (see Shih Wang) are in the chief town, Feng-tu. The sinners undergo a fixed period of punishment in one hell or in a series of hells, which can be modified by the intercessions of the merciful Ti-ts'ang. In preparation for their rebirth the dead drink the broth of oblivion and climb onto the wheel of transmigration, which carries them to their next existence. (According to other accounts the dead are thrown off the bridge of pain into a river that sweeps them off to their new destiny.) For the Japanese Buddhist view of hell, see Jigoku.

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