Hel (Old Norse Hel, “Hidden”) is a goddess who rules over the identically named Hel, or Helheim, the underworld where many of the dead dwell.
Hel is one of three children born to Loki and Angrboda, the giantess. Her body and face were described as half in light and half in darkness. She was half dead and half alive.
Hel gifted to Odin his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn. Ravens are messengers between this realm and the next, opening pathways to death’s realm.
Her kingdom was said to lie downward and northward, and appears to have been divided into several sections. It was said that those who fell in battle did not go to Hel but to the god Odin, in Valhalla, the hall of the slain.
It was her job to determine the fate of the souls who entered her realm. Hel stands at the crossroads in judgment of souls who pass into her realm. In that, she is linked to Osiris and Isis as well as Hecate.
The evil ones are banished to a realm of icy cold death and torture. This particular aspect of Hel’s realm was the basis for the Judeo-Christian “hell” to which sinners are banished and tortured for eternity. Unlike the Judeo-Christian concept, Helheim also served as the shelter and gathering place of souls to be reincarnated. Hel watches over those who died peacefully of old age or illness.
She cares for children and women who die in childbirth. She guides those souls who do not choose the path of war and violence through the circle of death to rebirth.
Because of Hel’s special role in the deaths of mothers in childbirth and children of all ages who die, she has become, according to some sources, the special guardian of children.
The Vikings viewed her with considerable trepidation. The Dutch, Gallic, and German barbarians viewed her with some beneficence, more of a gentler form of death and transformation. She is seen by them as Mother Holle; a being of pure Nature, being helpful in times of need, but vengeful upon those who cross her or transgress natural law.
Hel has fallen from her privileged position as guardian and ruler through years of being represented as an evil, ugly entity waiting to devour and torture lost souls. Ignorance has used her as a means of scaring children and adults into a supposedly righteous path (instead of allowing free will to guide their actions to do what is right). May we learn and dispel the slander of years by seeing her for the protector, judge, and guide that she originally represented.