“Heimdall Desires the Return of Idun from the Underworld” by Emil Doepler (1881)

Helheim (pronounced “HELL-hame;” Old Norse Helheimr, “the world of the goddess Hel“) is one of the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology. Also known simply as “Hel,” Helheim is the most general name for the underworld where the dead dwell.

Hel lent its name to Hell, the Christian afterlife world where sinners are eternally tormented at the instigation of Satan and the god who created him. In the indigenous worldview of the Norse and other Germanic peoples, however, the underworld has no such associations; it isn’t necessarily an unpleasant place, and one’s moral fiber has no bearing whatsoever on what happens to a person after death. The word “Hel” simply means “hidden/concealed,”[1] referring to the invisible character of the realm and the palpable absence left behind in the wake of the departed.

For a fuller discussion of Helheim, see Death and the Afterlife.

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[1] Orel, Vladimir. 2003. A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. p. 156, 168.