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A Portrait Of Hell: Vignettes From Various Mythologies Regarding The Darker Side Of Death

1204 words - 5 pages

In all religions key elements exist, cornerstones of their belief system, upon which everything else builds (Wilkins 22). These elements explain the world around us, from the fabrication of the universe to the meaning of life, imparting knowledge of the social mores and customs of the times (Wilkins 3). These myths testify to the moral and ethical code of the society that first conceived them (Wilkins 5). As with all systems of rule, an attempt to force the peoples governed by them into obedience creates possibilities for positive and negative reinforcement via religious beliefs (Wilkins 12). Good and bad, or in more common terms, heaven and hell. Punishment on earth is often short lived and quickly forgotten, but a threat of eternal punishment is well, eternal. From ancient Egyptians to current Judeo-Christian religion, there is always an eternal punishment for infractions of the religious law though the punishments and crimes may vary.
Take for instance the Egyptians, whose well known elaborate burial chambers, coffins and practices form the basis of the first story I want to relate to you. These coffins, or sarcophagi, were often very elaborately inscribed with paintings and carvings, spells against the perils the deceased would face in Duat, the underworld (Hart 18). These spells would help protect them and guide them to the throne room of the underworld, where their soul would be judged (Hart 18). The decedents’ epic travels involved placating gods, overcoming demons, traversing lakes of fire, escaping executioners and surviving poisonous snakes on their journey to reach Duat (Hart 18). Only with the proper spells and maps, placed on and in the sarcophagi, could one hope to arrive in the throne room unharmed (Hart 18). Once there they faced their greatest challenge, trial before forty-two gods and goddesses in the Hall of Two Truths (Willis 55). There the decedents were tried for the crimes committed during their lifetime and then their heart was weighed against that of a feather from Maat, the goddess of justice (Willis 55). If the heart was found to be heavy with sin the Devourer of the Dead would consume the soul (Willis 55).
Greek myth was less clear however on what punishments awaited sinners, saying only that one would pay for each sin ten times, over the span of a thousand years before being reincarnated (Morford, Lenardon and Sham 362). One must rely on myths of especially evil or cruel acts to gauge the suffering in Tartarus, or hell. This subterranean prison, ringed in rivers with special properties and guarded by a three headed hound housed the souls of the damned (Hamilton 330). Cerberus, the hound, guarded even the worst of criminals in Hades including Tantalus, who massacred his children and proffered them to the gods with a cannibalistic feast (Hamilton 347). Tantalus’ punishment stipulated that he never have a drop of liquid to satiate his thirst, nor a morsel of food to calm the gnawing hunger in his...

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