Hell is, in many religious traditions, a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife. Religions that do not believe in reincarnation often depict hells as endless, while those who have a cyclic view of existence often depict a hell as lasting a limited period of time between incarnations.
H. P. Blavatsky defined it as follows:
Hell. A term with the Anglo-Saxons, evidently derived from the name of the goddess Hela (q.v.), and by the Sclavonians from the Greek Hades: hell being in Russian and other Sclavonian tongues-âd, the only difference between the Scandinavian cold hell and the hot hell of the Christians, being found in their respective temperatures. But even the idea of those overheated regions is not original with the Europeans, many peoples having entertained the conception of an underworld climate; as well may we if we localize our Hell in the centre of the earth. All exoteric religions--the creeds of the Brahmans, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Mahommedans, Jews, and the rest, make their hells hot and dark, though many are more attractive than frightful. The idea of a hot hell is an afterthought, the distortion of an astronomical allegory. With the Egyptians, Hell became a place of punishment by fire not earlier than the seventeenth or eighteenth dynasty, when Typhon was transformed from a god into a devil. But at whatever time this dread superstition was implanted in the minds of the poor ignorant masses, the scheme of a burning hell and souls tormented therein is purely Egyptian. Ra (the Sun) became the Lord of the Furnace in Karr, the hell of the Pharaohs, and the sinner was threatened with misery “in the heat of infernal fires”. “A lion was there” says Dr. Birch “and was called the roaring monster”. Another describes the place as “the bottomless pit and lake of fire, into which the victims are thrown” (compare Revelation). The Hebrew word gaï-hinnom (Gehenna) never really had the significance given to it in Christian orthodoxy.
Mme. Blavatsky frequently stated that the only hell is on earth:
Theosophy, on the contrary, teaches that perfect, absolute justice reigns in nature, though short-sighted man fails to see it in its details on the material and even psychic plane, and that every man determines his own future. The true Hell is life on Earth, as an effect of Karmic punishment following the preceding life during which the evil causes were produced. The Theosophist fears no hell but confidently expects rest and bliss during the interim between two incarnations, as a reward for all the unmerited suffering he has endured in an existence into which he was ushered by Karma, and during which he is, in most cases, as helpless as a torn-off leaf whirled about by the conflicting winds of social and private life.
- Hell at Theosopedia
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 139-140.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VIII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1990), 299.