What Hell Was Like to the Vikings?
We might learn that Loki had three notorious children one of whom were Hel the Queen of the Dead in Norse mythology. She ruled over the land of Helheim which we assume to be the Hell where the demons, fear, and punishment resided. But is it the real belief of the Viking belief in Hell? In other words, what the Viking Hel was like?
Before kicking off, we should realize that Hel and Hell are the two different words with different depictions. Hell is the Christian belief of the place counter to their heaven.
Apart from the similarity that Hel and Hell were the places of the dead, they refer to two different concepts.
Hel Queen of Dead in Norse mythology. She was banished into the underworld land for gods feared the future Hel and her siblings would wage war against the gods. In the underworld, Hel rose to her power and became the queen of the dead
Some scholars believed that the Viking Hel was not a kind of reward for how the deceased had lived in their mortal life or punishment for their wrongdoings. Rather, the Viking Hel was the reflection of how the Vikings had lived in their mortal life. It meant they could still feast, drink, fight one another, sleep, and so forth in the realm of Hel. To the Vikings, Hel was not a punishment or torture. Rather, it was a continuation of living their life but in a different place.
In the dream of Baldur Odinsson who dreamt of his own death, he saw Hel the Queen of the Dead was preparing a feast to welcome Baldur to Hel. It seemed that there was no sign of pain or torture down in Hel.
In the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, he described Hel as a terrible place for the Norsemen to live in their afterlife.
The Edda described the fork of Hel was Hunger (Hungr), her servants were Slow and Lazy (Ganglati and Ganglot), the threshold of her door Stumbling (Fallandaforað), her bed was Illness (Kor), and her curtains were Misfortune (Blíkjandabölr). This place was not an ideal to live as your afterlife, was it?
But the scholars pointed out that the time when Edda was written was during the 13th century. This time was not the Viking Age for the Viking glory ended roughly 2 centuries before the time Edda came into being. So chances were that the way Snorri wrote down the collection of Norse mythology was somewhat Christian-oriented. For this point, the Norsemen's Hel resembled the Christian Hell.
One big conflict in the work of Snorri was the death of Baldur. The Edda mentioned that Valhalla Odin's hall was the hall for the brave warriors who died a warrior death in the battle. And Hel was the place for those who died of old age and sickness. But Baldur the beloved son of Odin was killed violently only to be reborn in Hel?
At the end of the day, the question "What Hell (or Hel) was like to the Vikings?" remains a mystery. For the lack of materials and some conflictions among the surviving ones, we cannot firmly conclude what Hel was actually like.