Different views of Hell

By Paulo Coelho

Since the devil does not do talk very much about himself, men look for all sorts of references about hell.

Most religions have what is called a “place for punishment” where the immortal soul goes after committing certain crimes against society (it all seems to be a matter of society rather than the individual). Each culture also develops its particular view about this land of suffering: it can be the other bank of a river, where a three-headed dog lets no-one leave, or else the foot of a mountain that smashes souls under its weight.

For the Greek hero Prometheus, who stole the fire of the gods and gave it to man, hell was remain hanging from a cliff where a bird came every day to eat his liver. In his play “No Exit,” Jean-Paul Sartre says that hell is other people. In one of his poems, Jorge Luis Borges offers a very interesting description of what awaits us after life: eternal contemplation of a face. For certain people this would be heaven, for this face would be that of someone we love, whereas for others it would be hell to have to remain there always looking at the face of someone they hurt for no reason.

There is an interesting description in an Arab book that says that the soul, once outside the body, should walk across a bridge as narrow as a razor’s blade, with heaven on the right and on the left a series of circles that lead to darkness inside the Earth. Before crossing over the bridge (the book does not explain where it leads to), each one has to carry their virtues in their right hand and their sins in their left – the balance will make us fall to the side determined by the acts we perform on Earth.

Christianity talks of a place where one hears crying and the gnashing of teeth. Judaism refers to an interior cave with enough room for a certain number of souls – one day hell will be filled up, and then the world will come to an end. Islam speaks of the fire where we shall all burn, “unless God wills the opposite.” The “Dictionary of Religions” says that at the time of Christ some currents of Judaic thinking held that evil souls would be punished after death in a place called Geena – a name borrowed from a place near Jerusalem that used to serve as the rubbish dump for neighbouring cities. However, in Geena there exists no idea of an eternal punishment, and the maximum penalty can never be more than 365 days.

For the Hindus, hell is never a place of perpetual torment, since they believe in reincarnation of the soul after a certain time in order that sins be redeemed in the same place where they are committed – this world. Even so, there are only 21 types of places for suffering, places usually known as “the lower lands.”

The Buddhists also distinguish between the various types of punishment that the soul can face: eight hells of fire and eight completely frozen, besides a kingdom where the condemned feel neither cold nor heat, only infinite hunger and thirst.

Nothing, however, compared to the gigantic variety conceived by the Chinese. Unlike the great majority of cultures that situate hell inside the Earth – generally because of the analogy between death, burial and decomposition – for the Chinese the souls of sinners go to a mountain called the Small Iron Fence, which is surrounded by another called the Great Fence. In the space between them there are eight large hells one on top of the other and each one controlling 16 small hells which in turn control ten million hells below them.

The Chinese also consider devils to be souls that have already fulfilled their punishment, experienced pain, and are now after vengeance, trying to inflict the newly-arrived with punishments that grow worse and worse.

Welcome to Share with Friends – Free Texts for a Free Internet


  1. […] Different views of Hell By Paulo Coelho Since the devil does not do talk very much about himself, men… […]

  2. MisterDavid says:

    I have always found it interesting that the Middle-Eastern religions (Judaism, Christianity, & Islam) regard Hell as hot, whereas the northern European pagans (and others from colder climates) thought that it was freezing cold. Also interesting is that, in Revelation, the restored Creation/Heaven is described as having no sea – in that culture, the sea was a place where evil things were thought to originate.

    Myself, I tend to lean towards Hell as the permanent absence of God and not describable in normal terms since it is not a physically locatable place.

  3. Naked Granny says:

    Dear friend, i find your post, very intresting. I run a website related to porn industries, and such a information are very valuable.

  4. […] Recently Paulo Coelho touches on the subject of hell on his blog check it out. DIFFERENT VIEWS OF HELL […]

  5. Cesar says:

    I believe that hell its our guilt, therefore heaven its the lack of guilt. Lack of guilt its perfect love. Perfect love flows, its the only creation in eternity, how is it possible that we dont want to see it?

  6. Sefer JAN says:

    I would like to correct you about the bridge explained in Arab book. Under the bridge that is called as “Sirat” there is a Hell. Everyone will try to pass over this bridge in fear of falling down into Hell. People who deserve to be punished will fall, people who deserve to be praised will pass. This bridge leads good people to Heaven.

    May God smile upon us in Heaven ;-)

  7. Christian says:

    I’ll quote Mephistopheles from the play Dr. Faust. In the play Faust asks why isn’t the devil ‘in’ hell. Why isn’t he surrounded by flames to which he answers:

    “Dear Faust, don’t you understand Hell follows me. It is anywhere God is not.”

    Hell is not a place…
    it is a state of being.

    Interesting topic.


  8. Tina says:

    About snakedreams, my boyfriend had those for a very long time, and to interpret it, it would mean that he was fighting enemies, people who wasn´t actually his friends, to then connect this dream with the discussion serpent would be that I don´t like snakes, I am not afraid of them, but I simply don´t like snakes nor don´t I like”snakie” persons, this is another snakie discussion

    Love, Tina

  9. elisabeth delage says:

    before Copernic,Galilée..before to know the earth is round,a ball,we believed that the earth was flat and at this end we imagined a strange world,we can see some old pictures about it.maybe this idea of hell it’s also something that we don’t know so we put all our fears inside,all our ignorance.the hell can be here in your reality,there were,there are some hells already.

  10. julymorning says:

    Maybe we all DO experience the hell now and then. According to the bible Jesus said that the Kindom of God is inside of our hearts. I do believe that and I believe that the hell’s world is also inside of our hearts. I believe we constantly are in contact with both, heven and hell. I believe that that saying about each and every person having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other is correct. The war between the two world is a war that is reflected every day in our own life, wether we are aware or not…

    When I was a small kid I had a nightmare that came back to me often untill the day my granny tought me to pray to God. later one describing it to a guy that was very well red in the religious writings said that he thinks that this nightmere was a reminice of hell… I will always remember it: it started with me falling in a deep deep hole. It was as narrow as my body plus the lenghts of my hands. If I wanted I could touch its wall. But I was frightened to do so and try to hold on something to stop me from falling for on the walls were serpents. They were somehow built in the wall but they could move their heads a bit. They were trying to reach and bite me but hey were very short on managing. I had a feeling of relief by keeping my hands tight by my body. I looked up, the light was fading away. My heart was crying but I had no voice to express my fear. I looked down and all of a suddan the bottom of that hole. Full of the same serpants as the ones from the walls. That mean, dark-greenish-shinish-desgusting-to-death touch seemed unavoidable. I looked up like for the last time tring to shout and ask for help while the last hope of light would vanish completely. A node in the throut prevented me from communication with it, all I could do was crying and I cried. Then I wake up and continue to cry and to wet the pillow cover. It was good to see familiar things arround, sometimes my parents sleeping, sometimes just the room, my child bed like a prison cell but safe for a while… till nex time I would dream that thing again…

    Maybe that is the hell like. Darkness. Disgusting touch. Hurting. Nobody can hear you anymore. Nobody can help. No more hope. I will never understand where this idea about music and fun that some people identify hell with came up. I went in my life a few times in a disco… Loud, creasy, forgotten underworld sexuality, alcohol… There was no love over there and people seemed to me pretty lonely. Close to what the hell probably is. Close to what people think that fun is… but really, I don’t think so…

  11. THELMA says:

    We have spoken about Paradize and Adam and Eve and the Tree of life and the Serpent. We have enterent into the circles of life and incarnation and into the Worlds of Separateness.
    Hell is the opposite of Paradize!! It is the life we are living now away from our Father’s House. We are in our way back to our Home, Heaven and as you and Kavafis, dear Paulo Coelho, have said back to Ithaca. The meaning of Separateness, the feeling of being away, the loneliness we experience in ‘incarnation’ is our Hell. The transcendence of the material world gives us the glimpse of the Light.
    Many years ago,I remember myself being very anxious, miserable, full of insecurities, worries and being afraid of death, of losing my beloved ones, of sickness and loneliness. Then I read a .. message in a magazine that made me think.{nothing happens by accident!!] I will try to translate it to you:
    Why To Worry??
    There are only two things
    about which you have to worry:
    If you are well or if you are sick.
    If you are well
    there is no reason for worrying.
    If you are sick
    there are two things you have to worry.
    If you are going to be o.k. or if you are going to die.
    If you are going to be o.k.
    there is no reason for worrying.
    If you die
    there are two things you have to worry:
    If you will go to Paradize
    or if you will go to Hell.
    If you will go to Paradize
    there is no reason for worrying.
    If you will go to Hell,
    you will be too busy
    shaking hands with your friends,
    that you will not have time to worry!


  12. Heart says:

    Some expressions don’t make sense to me, like; ‘funny as hell’, ‘hell yes’, ‘hell no’. I don’t believe hell is funny, and wouldn’t trust much in a yes or a no guaranteed by hell. Other expressions, i.e. ‘boring as hell’, ’till hell freezes over’ or ‘going to hell in a hand basket’ are more believable descriptions of how ‘hell’ really can be understood.

  13. Luke says:

    I think that hell is being taken away from gods sight and love.

  14. El Dormido says:

    I carry a torch in one hand..
    And a bucket of water in the other:..
    With these things I am going to set fire to Heaven..
    And put out the flames of Hell..
    so that no one worships God..
    For fear of hell or greed of heaven.

    Is it the Hopi, or Navajo, who do not believe in punishment but, rather, restoration of an offender to harmony with the community, and the world.

    Hell, I believe, as others have noted, is exactly our own creation of mental and emotional presumptions of who we are, who others are, and the contention that results.

    One morning I noticed that my thinking was entirely negative. I woke up listing the things that were wrong in my life, who was to blame and how I was going to get back at them. I realized that I was busy creating a world of contention and animosity. I have since taken steps to stop that kind of activity, ‘stopping the world’ as Casteneda put it.

    Living in the immediacy of the here and now without judgment has freed me from hell and brought me a chance to experience the wonder that is in the moment of awareness so the tension between heaven and hell becomes resolved within me, and I don’t have to wait for reward or punishment in the hereafter.

    It is touch and go quite often but, at least, knowing the lay of the land helps me navigate.

  15. Joël says:

    We have to love and accept ourself, and hell will disappear.
    The hell is created by ourself we are responsible for that

  16. aditya says:

    Hia ! paulo and fellow wols

    what the hell is this – an article about hells !! to hell with all the hells ! who cares, will see when time comes.

    Interesting though, how diffrent civilisations conceptualise their hells. it tells something about that releigion / civilisation and nothing about any hell.

    Sunitha, u have said something about belief in something, reincarnation etc… such a standpoint, i beleive in this / don’t beleive in that is common amongst us humans ! but have we bothered to check if this great universe, the tao, the dhamma, the dharma, the Law even cares about what we beleive or don’t beleive in our ignorance. about time we dropped all beleiefs and stand stark naked in “i don’t know”. all beleif is a poor sustitute for knowledge, an easy way out, which actualy is no way. let’s be aware, let’s beware of beliefs ! beleifs are like opium of consciousness, it keeps us under a false illusion as if we know.

    w h i s t l e – softly


  17. Mirela Baron says:

    Hell for me meens ,the place where souls don`t have any contact with their ancient family,they feel just lost!And that can be here on the erth or in that dimension after deth!The place is unimportant ,just the feeling to be cut from our duty and our path, our social contact.

    Mirela(the woman in lift)

  18. in that Arab book, the narrow bridge called BARZAKH. The all souls after dead go to heaven at the end, but some of them should stay in hell for while to release and some directly can go to heaven. Few people are between them so they should cross the bridge (BARZAKH), which is complicated. If they fall, they go to hell until time comes for heaven and if do not fall based on their life situation they can pass the bridge in a short moment or in a million years and only things special about the bridge is they always has feel of fall in the hell and mostly belong to those people who couldn’t figure out right way to live in real life.
    I’m actually Persian, but based on strong effect of Arabic culture in Persian culture between 637 to 651 you can see the trace of this story in most Persian Literature.

  19. elisabeth delage says:

    it seems that this idea of the hell don’t disturb too much people to create the hell already on earth.

  20. paula says:

    i believe that hell is within us and around us hell is the moment that our souls feel the burning of pain and suffering the moment when we feel like like we can longer go on but knowing the back of our heads that we must. Hell is to me this world we live in because whenever you listen to the news all you hear about is suffering and pain, injustice and raceism. Hell is the very thing we have created through out the years hell is our punishment to our on mistreatments.

  21. liz says:

    I agree with Uku and Sunitha…we(our minds) create our own hell…we let external events in our life take over our minds. That will eventually affect our lives and we would feel like we are in hell…
    Is so ironic how recently i had let something bother me so much that i feel as if it has taken over my mind…it is driving me crazy… I hope this soon passes so i can feel at peace…

  22. Savita Vega says:

    Generally, I think of Hell as a place we pass through – like a dream, but seeming very real – between this life and the next, between death and reincarnation. But I also believe that we create what we will experience after death, according to our beliefs. In other words, if you are one who believes in a burning Hell, and feel that you have committed sufficient wrongs to send you there, then you may well have this sort of experience when you die. I don’t think anything is forever though – nothing is eternal, neither Heaven nor Hell, this life nor the next. The world is change, life is flux. A static state of existence – wheather heavenly or hellish – seems somehow contrary to the very nature of the universe.

    Aside from all that, however, I do believe that we can indeed create our own Hell right here on earth, in this life. Most of this is due to mental anguish, psychological strife that we seek out, cling to or otherwise create for ourselves. Heaven is right here. We’ve only to drop the curtain or our own ego-consciousness to perceive it. Hell is just a state of being too caught up in the ego’s desires, unwilling to let Divine work it’s will in our lives.

    But then, beliefs are just beliefs. Take them as a grain of salt. They are certainly nothing to dispute about.


  23. Sunitha says:

    I strongly believe that heaven and hell are right here on this earth. We create heaven and hell in our day to day life. Even though I am a Hindu, I don’t belive in re-incarnation but I do believe that if we are happy internally, we are in heaven. It is our Ego, Jealous etc etc which causes hell around us. But finding internal peace is not an easy task and I am still struggling to find happiness.

    If people can take life as it comes and be optimistic about what happens aorund us, then I think we found our heaven. This is easier said than done!

  24. Molly says:

    I agree with Uku, that hell is “in our heads”. Hell is the experience of the ego and the struggle to live with it. Once we decide, consciously, not to let the ego rule the life, the path out of hell, of the suffering of mankind, has been accessed, never mind that it is a painstakingly slow journey. Once on that path, in my opinion, heaven can be experienced.

  25. Suzanne says:

    Wow. There are a lot of hells. I don’t know if I beleive in hell other than the one I create for myself from time to time. I don’t profess to know a darn thing about what happens to us when we die. I do believe in “ghosts” for lack of a better word and that in itself might suggest a heaven, hell or “purgatory”. I do find it funny that humans sure are creative about what they believe hell to be. Often times it seems they are more creative with their ideas of hell than their ideas of heaven.

  26. Balbina says:

    “Christianity talks of a place where one hears crying and the gnashing of teeth.”

    I agree with Uku. “Crying and gnashing of teeth” happens when one remains in the outer dark which IMO means not beeing connected to oneself, to the “inner” source. So hell is always present and heaven too. They are states of consciousness.

    And of course hell is “not the others” as Sartre said. It is me myself; “the others” are merely mirroring.

    But anyway… religions with their hype of punishment do not serve any longer. Too much distortions.

  27. Uku says:

    Good post, Paulo.

    I tend to think to that Hell is in our own heads, in our own minds. And that can be The Hell. :)