AskDefine | Define hellish

Dictionary Definition

hellish adj
1 very unpleasant; "hellish weather"; "stop that god-awful racket" [syn: beastly, god-awful]
2 extremely evil or cruel; expressive of cruelty or befitting hell; "something demonic in him--something that could be cruel"; "fires lit up a diabolic scene"; "diabolical sorcerers under the influence of devils"; "a fiendish despot"; "hellish torture"; "infernal instruments of war"; "satanic cruelty"; "unholy grimaces" [syn: demonic, diabolic, diabolical, fiendish, infernal, satanic, unholy]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. as in hell, very awful
    I woke up from a hellish noise coming from the house next door.




Extensive Definition

Hell, according to many religious beliefs, is a place of suffering during afterlife where the wicked or unrighteous souls are punished. Hell is usually depicted as underground. Within Islam and Christianity, Hell is traditionally depicted as fiery and painful, inflicting guilt and suffering. Some other traditions, however, portray Hell as cold and gloomy. Existence after life is not concrete in Judaism and may be portrayed as a state of neutrality, an eternal nothingness ("sheol", often mis-translated as hell), simply non-life.
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 (for example, see Chinese Di Yu). 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 or Dante's The Divine Comedy), 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.
Despite the common depictions of Hell as a fire, Dante's Inferno portrays the innermost (9th) circle of Hell as a frozen lake of blood and guilt. Hell is often portrayed as populated with demons, who torment the damned. Many are ruled by a death god, such as Nergal, the Hindu Yama, or concepts of the Christian 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 (for example, see sheol), rather than prisons of punishment for sinners. A paradise is a happy afterlife for some or all the dead (for example, see heaven). Modern understandings of Hell often depict it abstractly, as a state of loss rather than as fiery torture literally under the ground.


The modern English word Hell is derived from Old English hel, helle (about 725 AD) and ultimately from Proto-Germanic halja, meaning "one who covers up or hides something". Germanic cognates exist in Old Frisian helle, hille, Old Saxon hellja, Middle Dutch helle (modern Dutch hel), Old High German helle (Modern German Hölle) and Gothic halja. The English term is also possibly derived from Old Norse Hel. Surviving 13th century Icelandic representations of Germanic paganism in the form of Norse mythology feature a female being named Hel, who is described as ruling over Hel, a location in Niflheim.
The word "Hell" used away from its religious context was long considered to be profanity, particularly in North America. Although its use was commonplace in everyday speech and on television by the 1970s, many people in the US still consider it somewhat rude or inappropriate language, particularly involving children. Many, particularly among religious circles and in certain sensitive environments, still avoid casual usage of the word. In British English and some parts of North America, the word has fallen into common use and is not considered profane; often considered to be a safer and less offensive alternative to swearing, as in the phrase, "Go to Hell."

Religious literature and beliefs

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.

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith regards the conventional description of Hell (and heaven) as a specific place as symbolic. Instead the Bahá'í 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. The analogy to the womb in many ways summarizes the Bahá'í 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, Bahá'ís view life as a preparatory stage, where one can develop and perfect those qualities which will be needed in the next life.
The Bahá'í 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. , where they will be punished for sin after the general resurrection and last judgment. However, in modern times some Christian theologians have 'adopted' alternative beliefs such as conditional immortality and universalism. It is said that St. Peter is the keeper of hell in some forms of Christianity. He is supposedly the mediator between who gets to go to hell or heaven.

Greek mythology

In classic Greek mythology, below Heaven, Earth, and Pontus is Tartarus, or Tartaros (Greek Τάρταρος, deep place). It is either a deep, gloomy place, a pit or abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering that resides within Hades (the entire underworld) with Tartarus being the hellish component. In the Gorgias, Plato (c. 400 BC) wrote that souls were judged after death and those who received punishment were sent to Tartarus. As a place of punishment, it can be considered a hell. The classic Hades, on the other hand, is more similar to Old Testament Sheol.


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 going to Heaven 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 Yamaraj, 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 (in Arabic: جهنم) (which is related to 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:
  • Jahim
  • Hutamah
  • Jahannam
  • Ladza
  • Hawiah
  • Saqor
  • Sae'er
  • Sijjin
  • Zamhareer
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 is the greatest sin viewed by Allah). According to the Qur'an, all non-believers who have received and rejected Islamic teachings for reasons unknown will go to Hell.
The Qur'an asserts that Hell is a place of everlasting of torture just as Heaven is asserted as a place of everlasting enjoyment. However, while some Muslims are said to be tortured finitely for their unforgiven sins, there are verses in the Qur'an explicitly mentioning an everlasting and infinite torture in Hell. Morever, even though in Islam, the devil, or shaitan, 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 smokeless fire.


Daniel 12:2 proclaims "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt." Judaism does not have a specific doctrine about the afterlife, but it does have a mystical/Orthodox 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, or rather, where one becomes fully aware of one's own shortcomings and negative actions during one's life. 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. עולם הבא; lit. "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.
According to Jewish teachings, hell is entirely physical; rather, it can be compared to a very intense feeling of shame. People are ashamed of their misdeeds and this constitutes suffering which makes up for the bad deeds. 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. In addition, Subbotniks and Messianic Judaism believe in Gehenna, but Samaritans probably believe in a separation of the wicked in a shadowy existence, Sheol, and the righteous in heaven.

Maya faith

In Maya mythology ,Xibalbá is the dangerous underworld of 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 Xibalbá.

Norse mythology


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.

Other Hells

The hells of Europe include Briton Mythology's “Anaon”, Celtic Mythology's “Uffern”, the hell of Lapps Mythology and Ugarian Mythology's “Manala” leads to annihilation. The hells in the Middle East include Sumerian Mythology's “Aralu”; the hells of Canaanite Mythology, Hittite Mythology and Mithraism; the weighing of the heart in Egyptian Mythology can lead to annihilation. The hells of Asia include Bagobo Mythology's “Gimokodan” and Ancient Indian Mythology's “Kalichi". African hells include Haida Mythology's “Hetgwauge” and the hell of Swahili Mythology. The hells of the Americas include Aztec Mythology's “Mictlan”, Inuit Mythology's “Adlivun” and Yanomamo Mythology's “Shobari Waka”. The Oceanic hells include Samoan Mythology's “O le nu'u-o-nonoa” and the hells of Bangka Mythology and Caroline Islands Mythology.
The Gathas mention a "House of the Lie" where those who had more bad thoughts, words, and deeds go. Over the history of Zoroastrianism they have believed in annihilation of the wicked, purgation of the wicked in molten metal and in eternal punishment. It is difficult to find which one is correct because they all have standing in Zoroastor's writings.

Hell in literature

In his Divina commedia ('Divine comedy'; set in the year 1300), Dante Alighieri employed the conceit of taking Virgil as his guide through Inferno (and then, in the second cantiche, up the mountain of Purgatorio). Virgil himself is not condemned to Hell in Dante's poem but is rather, as a virtuous pagan, confined to Limbo just at the edge of Hell. The geography of Hell is very elaborately laid out in this work, with nine concentric rings leading deeper into the Earth and deeper into the various punishments of Hell, until, at the center of the world, Dante finds Satan himself trapped in the frozen lake of Cocytus. A small tunnel leads past Satan and out to the other side of the world, at the base of the Mount of Purgatory.
John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) opens with the fallen angels, including their leader Satan, waking up in Hell after having been defeated in the war in heaven and the action returns there at several points throughout the poem. Milton portrayes Hell as the abode of the demons, and the passive prison from which they plot their revenge upon Heaven through the corruption of the human race. 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud alluded to the concept as well in the title and themes of one of his major works, "A Season In Hell". Rimbaud's poetry portrays his own suffering in a poetic form as well as other themes.
Many of the great epics of European literature include episodes that occur in Hell. In the Roman poet Virgil's Latin epic, the Aeneid, Aeneas descends into Dis (the underworld) to visit his father's spirit. The underworld is only vaguely described, with one unexplored path leading to the punishments of Tartarus, while the other leads through Erebus and the Elysian Fields.
The idea of Hell was highly influential to writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre who authored the 1944 play "No Exit" about the idea that "Hell is other people". Although not a religious man, Sartre was fascinated by his interpretation of a Hellish state of suffering. C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce (1945) borrows its title from William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793) and its inspiration from the Divine Comedy as the narrator is likewise guided through Hell and Heaven. Hell is portrayed here as an endless, desolate twilight city upon which night is imperceptibly sinking. The night is actually the Apocalypse, and it heralds the arrival of the demons after their judgment. Before the night comes, anyone can escape Hell if they leave behind their former selves and accept Heaven's offer, and a journey to Heaven reveals that Hell is infinitely small; it is nothing more or less than what happens to a soul that turns away from God and into itself.

Words translated as "Hell"

Sheol In the King James Bible, the Old Testament term Sheol is translated as "Hell" 31 times. However, sheol was translated as "grave" 31 other times. Sheol is also translated as "pit" three times.
Gehenna In the New Testament of the KJV, Gehenna is always translated as "Hell."
Hades The KJV translates Hades as "Hell" 10 times, and as "grave" once. Hades is traditionally the Greek word for Sheol.
Tartarus The KJV translates tartarus, which appears only in II Pet. 2:4, as "Hell".
Abaddon The Hebrew word Abaddon, meaning "destruction", is sometimes used as a synonym of Hell.
Infernus The Latin word infernus means "being underneath" and is often translated as "Hell".


Further reading

  • Jonathan Edwards, The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners. Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1846856723
  • Thomas Boston, Hell. Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1846857485
  • John Bunyan, A Few Sighs from Hell (Or The Groans of the Damned Soul). Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1846857270
  • Wiese, Bill. "23 Minutes in Hell". Lake Mary: Charisma House, 2006. p. 107.

External links

hellish in Arabic: جحيم
hellish in Bosnian: Pakao
hellish in Breton: Ifern
hellish in Bulgarian: Ад
hellish in Catalan: Infern
hellish in Czech: Peklo
hellish in Danish: Helvede
hellish in German: Hölle
hellish in Estonian: Põrgu
hellish in Modern Greek (1453-): Κόλαση
hellish in Spanish: Infierno
hellish in Esperanto: Infero
hellish in Basque: Infernu
hellish in Persian: جهنم
hellish in French: Enfer
hellish in Friulian: Infier
hellish in Korean: 지옥
hellish in Croatian: Pakao
hellish in Indonesian: Neraka
hellish in Icelandic: Helvíti
hellish in Italian: Inferno
hellish in Hebrew: גיהנום
hellish in Latin: Infernus
hellish in Lithuanian: Pragaras
hellish in Hungarian: Pokol
hellish in Malayalam: നരകം
hellish in Dutch: Hel (geloofsconcept)
hellish in Newari: नर्क
hellish in Japanese: 地獄 (キリスト教)
hellish in Norwegian: Helvete (religion)
hellish in Norwegian Nynorsk: Helvete
hellish in Narom: Enfé
hellish in Polish: Piekło
hellish in Portuguese: Inferno
hellish in Romanian: Iad (religie)
hellish in Quechua: Ukhu pacha
hellish in Russian: Ад
hellish in Scots: Hell
hellish in Albanian: Ferri
hellish in Simple English: Hell
hellish in Sindhi: دوزخ
hellish in Slovak: Peklo
hellish in Slovenian: Pekel
hellish in Serbian: Пакао
hellish in Finnish: Helvetti
hellish in Swedish: Helvete
hellish in Telugu: నరకం
hellish in Thai: นรก
hellish in Turkish: Cehennem
hellish in Ukrainian: Пекло
hellish in Vietnamese: địa ngục
hellish in Chinese: 地獄

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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