Hell, according to many religious beliefs, is an afterlife of suffering where the wicked or unrighteous dead are punished. Hell is almost always depicted as underground. Hell is traditionally depicted as fiery within Christianity and Islam. Some other traditions, however, portray hell as cold and gloomy.

Some theologies of hell offer graphic and gruesome detail (for example, Hindu Naraka). Religions with a linear divine history often depict hell as endless (for example, see Hell in Christian beliefs). Religions with a cyclic history often depict hell as an intermediary period between incarnations. Punishment in hell typically corresponds to sins committed in life. Sometimes these distinctions are specific, with damned souls suffering for each wrong committed (see for example Plato's myth of Er), and sometimes they are general, with sinners being relegated to one or more chamber of hell or level of suffering (for example, Augustine of Hippo asserting that unbaptized infants, whom he believed to be deprived of Heaven, suffer less in hell than unbaptized adults).

In Islam and Christianity, however, faith and repentance play a larger role than actions in determining a soul's afterlife destiny.

Hell is often portrayed populated with demons, who torment the damned. Many are ruled by a death god, such as Nergal, the Hindu Yama, or some other dreadful supernatural figure (e.g. Satan).

In contrast to hell, other general types of afterlives are abodes of the dead and paradises. Abodes of the dead are neutral places for all the dead, rather than prisons of punishment for sinners. A paradise is a happy afterlife for some or all the dead.

Modern understandings of hell often depict it abstractly, as a state of loss rather than as fiery torture literally under the ground.

The term Hell is derived from Old English Hel and ultimately from Proto-Germanic Xaljo. The English term is related to Old Norse Hel. In relation, surviving representations of Germanic polytheism in the form of Norse mythology feature Hel, the daughter of Loki and Angrboda. Hel rules over Niflheim.

Hell appears in several mythologies and religions. It is commonly inhabited by demons and the souls of dead people.

Hell is often depicted in art and literature, perhaps most famously in Dante's Divine Comedy.

Baha'i Faith

The Baha'i Faith regards the conventional description of hell (and heaven) as a specific place as symbolic. Instead the Baha'i writings describe hell as a "spiritual condition" where remoteness from God is defined as hell; conversely heaven is seen as a state of closeness to God. Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, has stated that the nature of the life of the soul in the afterlife is beyond comprehension in the physical plane, but has stated that the soul will retain its consciousness and individuality and remember its physical life; the soul will be able to recognize other souls and communicate with them.

Baha'u'llah likened death to the process of birth. He explains: "The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother."

The analogy to the womb in many ways summarizes the Baha'i view of earthly existence: just as the womb constitutes an important place for a person's initial physical development, the physical world provides for the development of the individual soul. Accordingly, Baha'i's view life as a preparatory stage, where one can develop and perfect those qualities which will be needed in the next life.

The key to spiritual progress is to follow the path outlined by the current Manifestations of God, which Baha'i's believe is currently Baha'u'llah. The Baha'i teachings state that there exists a hierarchy of souls in the afterlife, where the merits of each soul determines their place in the hierarchy, and that souls lower in the hierarchy cannot completely understand the station of those above. Each soul can continue to progress in the afterlife, but the soul's development is not dependent on its own conscious efforts, but instead on the grace of God, the prayers of others, and good deeds performed by others on Earth in the name of the person.<

As diverse as other religions, there are many beliefs about Hell in Buddhism.

Most of the schools of thought, Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana would acknowledge several hells, which are places of great suffering for those who commit evil actions, such as cold hells and hot hells. Like all the different realms within cyclic existence, an existence in hell is temporary for its inhabitants. Those with sufficiently negative karma are reborn there, where they stay until their specific negative karma has been used up, at which point they are reborn in another realm, such as that of humans, of hungry ghosts, of animals, of asuras, of devas, or of Naraka (Hell) all according to the individual's karma.

There are a number of modern Buddhists, especially among Western schools, who believe that hell is but a state of mind. In a sense, a bad day at work could be hell, and a great day at work could be heaven. This has been supported by some modern scholars who advocate the interpretation of such metaphysical portions of the Scriptures symbolically rather than literally.


In Chinese mythology, the name of hell does not carry a negative connotation. The hell they refer to is Di Yu . Diyu is a maze of underground levels and chambers where souls are taken to atone for their earthly sins.

The popular story is that the word hell was introduced to China by Christian missionaries, who preached that all non-Christian Chinese people would "go to hell" when they died. As such, it was believed that the word "Hell" was the proper English term for the Chinese afterlife, and hence the word was adopted.

The Chinese view Hell as similar to a present day passport or immigration control station. In a Chinese funeral, they burn many Hell Bank Notes for the dead. With this Hell money, the dead person can bribe the ruler of Hell, and spend the rest of the money either in Hell or in Heaven. There is a belief that once the dead person runs out of Hell money, and if he does not receive more, he will be eternally poor...


Luke 12:5 records Jesus speaking about God's Judgment: "But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath Power to cast into Hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear Him." In Paul's letter to the Thessalonian church he describes a separation taking place: "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels, In flaming fire taking Vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the Presence of the Lord, and from the Glory of his Power" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)

Most modern Christians see Hell as the eternal punishment for unrepentant sinners, as well as for the Devil and his demons. Unbelievers are said to deserve Hell on account of original sin according to many conservative denominations. Sometimes exceptions are understood for those who have had extenuating circumstances (youth, mental illness, invincible error, etc.). As opposed to the concept of Purgatory, damnation to Hell is considered final and irreversible.

However, the foundation of the Christian faith is that it is the death of Jesus Christ, and acceptance of his love for us, that allows repentant sinners to avoid the torments of Hell and enjoy eternity with God. Various interpretations of the torments of Hell exist, ranging from fiery pits of wailing sinners to lonely isolation from God's presence. However, the descriptions of Hell found in the Bible are quite vague.

The books of Matthew, Mark, and Jude tell of a place of fire, while the books of Luke and Revelation report it as an abyss. Also, Revelation 20:10 (NIV) illustrates Hell as a "lake with burning sulfur". Our modern, more graphic, images of Hell have developed from writings that are not found in the Bible. Dante's The Divine Comedy is a classic inspiration for modern images of Hell.

Other early Christian writings also illustrate the anguish of Hell. These texts include the Apocalypse of Peter and the Coptic Apocalypse of Paul. Both these pieces of literature tell of the author being taken on a personal tour of Heaven and Hell. These writings tell of what the authors witnessed during their journeys.

Most Christians believe that damnation occurs immediately upon death (particular judgment), and others that it occurs after Judgment Day, which is written about in the book of Revelation. Attitudes by many Christians toward Hell and damnation have changed over the centuries, and most Restorationist groups reject the traditional concept of Hell altogether. These latter theologies allege the mutual exclusivity of barbaric portrayals of Hell with the benevolent nature of God.

Russian Orthodox Church mystic Daniil Andreev (1906-1959) described hell in his opus magnum Roza Mira (Rose of the World). His vision significantly departed from the Christian tradition, depicting an entire hierarchy of multiple Sheols different in appearances, purposes and relationships to human cultures and to 'diabolic' worlds co-existing with the visible Universe.


In Hinduism, there are contradictions as to whether or not there is a hell (referred to as 'Narak' in Hindi). For some it is a metaphor for a conscience. But in Mahabharata there is a mention of the Pandavas and the Kauravas going to hell. Hells are also described in various Puranas and other scriptures. Garuda Purana gives a detailed account on hell, its features and enlists amount of punishment for most of the crimes like modern day penal code.

It is believed that people who commit 'paap' (sin) go to hell and have to go through the punishments in accordance to the sins they committed. The god Yama, who is also the god of death, is the king of hell. The detailed accounts of all the sins committed by an individual are supposed to be kept by Chitragupta who is the record keeper in Yama's court. Chitragupta reads out the sins committed and Yama orders the appropriate punishments to be given to the individuals. These punishments include dipping in boiling oil, burning in fire, torture using various weapons etc. in various hells. Individuals who finish their quota of the punishments are reborn according to their karma. All of the created are imperfect and thus have at least one sin to their record, but if one has led a generally pious life, one ascends to Heaven, or Swarga after a brief period of expiation in hell.


Muslims believe in jahannam (which comes from the Hebrew word gehennim and resembles the versions of hell in Christianity). In the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, there are literal descriptions of the condemned in a fiery Hell, as contrasted to the garden-like Paradise (jannah) enjoyed by righteous believers.

In addition, Heaven and Hell are split into many different levels depending on the actions perpetrated in life, where punishment is given depending on the level of evil done in life, and good is separated into other levels depending on how well one followed God while alive.

There is an equal number of mentions of both hell and paradise in the Qur'an, which is considered by believers to be among the numeric miracles in the Qur'an.

The Islamic concept of Hell is similar to the medieval Christian view of Dante. However, Satan is not viewed as Hell's ruler, merely one of its sufferers. The gate of hell is guarded by Maalik also known as Zabaaniyah. The Quran states that the fuel of hellfire is rocks/stones (idols) and human beings.

Names of hell according to Islamic Tradition based on the Quranic ayah and Hadith:

Although generally hell is often portrayed as a hot steaming and tormenting place for sinners there is one hell pit which is characterized differently from the other hell in Islamic tradition. Zamhareer is seen as the coldest and the most freezing hell of all, yet its coldness is not seen as a pleasure or a relief to the sinners who committed crimes against God. The state of the Hell of Zamhareer is a suffering of extreme coldness of blizzards ice and snow which no one on this earth can bear.

The lowest pit of all existing hells is the Hawiyah which is meant for the Hypocrites and two-faced people who claimed to believe in Allah and His messenger by the tongue but denounced both in their hearts. Hypocrisy is considered to be the most dangerous sin of all despite the fact that Shirk (association of God with His creation) is the greatest sin viewed by Allah.

The lightest torture given by God in the hereafter to the unbeliever has been said to be given to Abu Talib. He was the father of Ali bin Abi Talib the fourth Caliph and the uncle of Muhammad. He helped Muhammad in his mission but failed to denounce his ancestral worship of pagan idols. He was said according the prophet to have suffered from the burning under his feet which makes his brain boiled.

The Qur'an also says that some of those who are damned to hell are not damned forever, but instead for an indefinite period of time. In any case, there is good reason to believe that punishment in Hell is not meant to actually last eternally, but instead serves as a basis for spiritual rectification.

Even though in Islam, the devil, or shaytan, is created from fire, he suffers in hell because hellfire is 70 times hotter than the fire of this world. It was also said that Shaytan is derived from shata, (literally `burned'), because it was created from a smokless fire.

Japanese Religions Note: The following viewpoint does not specify which Chinese-based religion it is referring to. The structure of Hell is remarkably complex in many Chinese and Japanese religions. The ruler of Hell has to deal with politics, just as human rulers do. Hell is the subject of many folk stories and manga. In many such stories, people in hell are able to die again.


Judaism does not have a specific doctrine about the afterlife, but it does have a tradition of describing Gehenna. Gehenna is not hell, but rather a sort of Purgatory where one is judged based on his or her life's deeds. The Kabbalah describes it as a "waiting room" (commonly translated as an "entry way") for all souls (not just the wicked). The overwhelming majority of rabbinic thought maintains that people are not in Gehenna forever; the longest that one can be there is said to be 11 months, however there has been the occasional noted exception. Some consider it a spiritual forge where the soul is purified for its eventual ascent to Olam Habah (heb. "The world to come", often viewed as analogous to Heaven). This is also mentioned in the Kabbalah, where the soul is described as breaking, like the flame of a candle lighting another: the part of the soul that ascends being pure and the "unfinished" piece being reborn.

When one has so deviated from the will of god, one is said to be in gehinom. This is not meant to refer to some point in the future, but to the very present moment. The gates of teshuva (return) are said to be always open, and so one can align his will with that of god at any moment. Being out of alignment with god's will is itself a punishment according to the Torah.

Maya Faith

In Maya mythology Xibalba is the dangerous underworld in nine levels ruled by the demons Vucub Caquix and Hun Came. The road into and out of it is said to be steep, thorny and very forbidding. Metnal is the lowest and most horrible of the nine hells of the underworld. It is ruled by Ah Puch. Ritual healers would intone healing prayers banishing diseases to Metnal. Much of the Popol Vuh describes the adventures of the Maya Hero Twins in their cunning struggle with the evil lords of Xibalba.


Ancient Taoism had no concept of hell, as morality was seen to be a man-made distinction and there was no concept of an immaterial soul. In its home country China, where Taoism adopted tenets of other religions, popular belief endows Taoist Hell with many deities and spirits who punish sin in a variety of horrible ways. This is also considered Karma for Taoism.

Unification Church

The Unification Church teaches that hell is the condition of being separated from God's love. Hell can be said to exist in this world as well as in the afterlife. Those in the state of hell can repent by paying a condition of indemity and change their condition, both before and after death (Although, the process is done differently). The Divine Principle, the main textbook of church teachings, says: It is not God who decides whether a person's spirit enters heaven or hell upon his death; it is decided by the spirit himself. Humans are created so that once they reach perfection they will fully breathe the love of God. Those who committed sinful deeds while on earth become crippled spirits who are incapable of fully breathing in the love of God. They find it agonizing to stand before God, the center of true love. Of their own will, they choose to dwell in hell, far removed from the love of God.