THEOSOPHY, Vol. 54, No. 5, March, 1966
(Pages 140-146; Size: 20K)


WE may infer that the only characteristic difference between modern Christianity and the old heathen faiths is the belief of the former in a personal devil and in hell. Says Max Müller: "The Aryan nations had no devil. Pluto, though of a sombre character, was a very respectable personage; and Loki (the Scandinavian), though a mischievous person, was not a fiend. The German goddess, Hell, too, like Proserpine, had once seen better days. Thus, when the Germans were indoctrinated with the idea of a real devil, the Semitic Seth, Satan or Diabolus, they treated him in the most good-humored way."

The same may be said of hell. Hades was quite a different place from our region of eternal damnation, and might be termed rather an intermediate state of purification. Neither does the Scandinavian Hel or Hela, imply either a state or a place of punishment; for when Frigga, the grief-stricken mother of Baldur, the white god, who died and found himself in the dark abode of the shadows (Hades), sent Hermod, a son of Thor, in quest of her beloved child, the messenger found him in the inexorable region -- alas! but still comfortably seated on a rock, and reading a book. The Norse kingdom of the dead is moreover situated in the higher latitudes of the Polar regions; it is a cold and cheerless abode, and neither the gelid halls of Hela, nor the occupation of Baldur present the least similitude to the blazing hell of eternal fire and the miserable "damned" sinners with which the Church so generously peoples it.

No more is it the Egyptian Amenti, the region of judgment and purification; nor the Onderah -- the abyss of darkness of the Hindus; for even the fallen angels hurled into it by Siva, are allowed by Parabrahma to consider it as an intermediate state, in which an opportunity is afforded them to prepare for higher degrees of purification and redemption from their wretched condition.

The Gehenna of the New Testament was a locality outside the walls of Jerusalem; and in mentioning it, Jesus used an ordinary metaphor. Whence then came the dreary dogma of hell, that Archimedean lever of Christian theology, with which they have succeeded in holding in subjection the numberless millions of Christians for nineteen centuries? Assuredly not from the Jewish Scriptures, and we appeal for corroboration to any well-informed Hebrew scholar. The only designation of something approaching hell in the Bible is Gehenna or Hinnom, a valley near Jerusalem, where was situated Tophet, a place where a fire was perpetually kept for sanitary purposes. The prophet Jeremiah informs us that the Israelites used to sacrifice their children to Moloch-Hercules on that spot; and later we find Christians quietly replacing this divinity with their god of mercy, whose wrath will not be appeased, unless the Church sacrifices to him her unbaptized children and sinning sons on the altar of "eternal damnation"!

We have read with great advantage the topographical descriptions of Hell and Purgatory in the celebrated treatise under that name by a Jesuit, the Cardinal Bellarmin. A critic found that the author, who gives the description from a divine vision with which he was favored, "appears to possess all the knowledge of a land-measurer" about the secret tracts and formidable divisions of the "bottomless pit." Justin Martyr having actually committed to paper the heretical thought that after all Socrates might not be altogether fixed in hell, his Benedictine editor criticizes this too benevolent father very severely. Whoever doubts the Christian charity of the Church of Rome in this direction is invited to peruse the Censure of the Sorbonne on Marmontel's Belisarius. The odium theologicum blazes in it on the dark sky of orthodox theology like an aurora borealis -- the precursor of God's wrath, according to the teachings of certain medieval divines.

Whence did the Church learn so well the conditions of hell, as to actually divide its torments into two kinds, the pæna damni and pænae sensus, the former being the privation of beatific vision; the latter the eternal pains in a lake of fire and brimstone? If they answer us that it is in the Apocalypse (xx, 10), we are prepared to demonstrate whence the theologist John himself derived the idea. "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are and shall be tormented for ever and ever," he says. Laying aside the esoteric interpretation that the "devil" or tempting demon meant our own earthly body, which after death will surely dissolve in the fiery or ethereal elements, the word "eternal" by which our theologians interpret the words "for ever and ever" does not exist in the Hebrew language, either as a word or as meaning. There is no Hebrew word which properly expresses eternity; oulam, according to Le Clerc, only imports a time whose beginning or end is not known.

There are two verses in the Revelation of St. John reading thus: "And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun, and power was given him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God" (xvi., 819). This is simply Pythagorean and kabalistic allegory. Pythagoras placed the "sphere of purification in the sun," which sun, with its sphere, he moreover locates in the middle of the universe, the allegory having a double meaning. (1) Symbolically, the central, spiritual sun, the Supreme Deity. Arrived at this region, every soul becomes purified of its sins and unites itself forever with its spirit, having previously suffered throughout all the lower spheres. (2) By placing the sphere of visible fire in the middle of the universe, he simply taught the heliocentric system which appertained to the Mysteries, and was imparted only in the higher degree of initiation.

John gives to his Word a purely kabalistic significance, which no "Fathers," except those who had belonged to the Neo-platonic school, were able to comprehend. Origen understood it well, having been a pupil of Ammonius Saccas; therefore we see him bravely denying the perpetuity of hell-torments. He maintains that not only men, but even devils (by which term he meant disembodied human sinners), after a certain duration of punishment shall be pardoned and finally restored to heaven. In consequence of this and other such heresies Origen was, as a matter of course, exiled.

The Christians were the first to make the existence of Satan a dogma of the Church. And once that she had established it, she had to struggle for over 1,700 years for the repression of a mysterious force which it was her policy to make appear of diabolical origin. Unfortunately, in manifesting itself this force invariably tends to upset such a belief by the ridiculous discrepancy it presents between the alleged cause and the effects. If the clergy have not overestimated the real power of the "Arch-Enemy of God," it must be confessed that he takes mighty precautions against being recognized as the "Prince of Darkness" who aims at our souls. If modern "spirits" are devils at all, as preached by the clergy, then they can only be those "poor" or "stupid devils" whom Max Müller describes as appearing so often in the German and Norwegian tales.

Notwithstanding this, the clergy fear above all to be forced to relinquish this hold on humanity. They are not willing to let us judge of the tree by its fruits, for that might sometimes force them into dangerous dilemmas. More than ever arrogant, stubborn, and despotic, now that she has been nearly upset by modern research, not daring to interfere with the powerful champions of science, the Latin Church revenges herself upon the unpopular phenomena. A despot without a victim, is a word void of sense; a power which neglects to assert itself through outward, well-calculated effects, risks being doubted in the end. The Church has no intention to fall into the oblivion of the ancient myths, or to suffer her authority to be too closely questioned. Hence she pursues, as well as the times permit, her traditional policy. Lamenting the enforced extinction of her ally, the Holy Inquisition, she makes a virtue of necessity.

That of all the various nations of antiquity, there never was one which believed in a personal devil more than the liberal Christians in the nineteenth century, seems hardly credible, and yet such is the sorrowful fact. Neither the Egyptians, whom Porphyry terms "the most learned nation in the world," nor Greece, its faithful copyist, were ever guilty of such a crowning absurdity. We may add at once that none of them, not even the ancient Jews, believed in hell or an eternal damnation any more than in the Devil, although our Christian churches are so liberal in dealing it out to the heathen. Wherever the word "hell" occurs in the translations of the Hebrew sacred texts, it is unfortunate. The Hebrews were ignorant of any such idea; but yet the gospels contain frequent examples of the same misunderstanding. So, when Jesus is made to say (Matt. 16:18) "... and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it," in the original text it stands "the gates of death." Never is the word "hell" -- as applied to the state of damnation, either temporary or eternal -- used in any passage of the Old Testament, all hellists to the contrary, notwithstanding. "Tophet," or "the Valley of Hinnom" (Isaiah 66:24) bears no such interpretation. The Greek term "Gehenna" has also a quite different meaning, as it has been proved conclusively by more than one competent writer, that "Gehenna" is identical with the Homeric Tartarus.

In the Old Testament the expressions "gates of death" and the "chambers of death," simply allude to the "gates of the grave," which are specifically mentioned in the Psalms and Proverbs. Hell and its sovereign are both inventions of Christianity, coëval with its accession to power and resort to tyranny. They were hallucinations born of the nightmares of SS. Anthonys in the desert. Before our era the ancient sages knew the "Father of Evil," and treated him no better than an ass, the chosen symbol of Typhon, "the Devil." Sad degeneration of human brains!

Hades with the Greeks meant the "invisible," i.e., a land of shadows, one of whose regions was Tartarus, a place of complete darkness, like the region of profound dreamless sleep of the Egyptian Amenti. Judging by the allegorical description of the various punishments inflicted therein, the place was purely Karmic. Neither Hades nor Amenti were the hell still preached by some retrograde priests and clergymen; but whether represented by the Elysian Fields or by Tartarus, Hades was a place of retributive justice and no more. This could only be reached by crossing the river to the "other shore," i.e., by crossing the river Death, and being once more reborn, for weal or for woe. As well expressed in Egyptian Belief: "The story of Charon, the ferryman (of the Styx) is to be found not only in Homer, but in the poetry of many lands. The River must be crossed before gaining the Isles of the Blest. The Ritual of Egypt described a Charon and his boat long ages before Homer. He is Khu-en-ua, the hawk-headed steersman."

The Amenti of the Egyptians was, esoterically and literally, the dwelling of the God Amen, or Amoun, or the "hidden," secret god. Exoterically the kingdom of Osiris divided into fourteen parts, each of which was set aside for some purpose connected with the after state of the defunct. Among other things, in one of these was the Hall of Judgment. It was the "Land of the West," the "Secret Dwelling," the dark land, and the "doorless house." But it was also Ker-neter, the "abode of the gods," and the "land of ghosts," like the Hades of the Greeks. It was also the "Good Father's House" (in which there are "many mansions"). The fourteen divisions comprised, among many others, Aanroo, the hall of the Two Truths, the Land of Bliss, Neter-xer "the funeral (or burial) place" Otamer-xer, the "Silence-loving Fields," and also many other mystical halls and dwellings, one like the Sheol of the Hebrews, another like the Devachan of the Occultists, etc., etc.

Out of the fifteen gates of the abode of Osiris, there were two chief ones, the "gate of entrance" or Rustu, and the "gate of exit" (reincarnation) Amh. But there was no room in Amenti to represent the orthodox Christian Hell. The worst of all was the Hell of eternal Sleep and Darkness. As Lepsius has it, the defunct "sleep (therein) in incorruptible forms, they wake not to see their brethren, they recognize no longer father and mother, their hearts feel nought toward their wife and children. This is the dwelling of the god All-Dead. ... Each trembles to pray to him, for he hears not. Nobody can praise him, for he regards not those who adore him. Neither does he notice any offering brought to him." This god is Karmic Decree.

In connection with several of the Pagan deities which are made after death and before their resurrection to descend into Hell, it will be found useful to compare the pre-Christian with the post-Christian narratives. Orpheus made the journey, and Christ was the last of these subterranean travellers. [The initiatory rite typified a descent into the underworld. Bacchus, Herakles, Orpheus, and Asklepius all descended into hell and ascended thence the third day.]

In the Credo of the Apostles, which is divided into twelve sentences or articles, each particular article having been inserted by each particular apostle, according to St. Austin the sentence "He descended into hell, the third day he rose again from the dead," is assigned to Thomas; perhaps as an atonement for his unbelief. Be it as it may, the sentence is declared a forgery, and there is no evidence "that this creed was either framed by the apostles, or indeed, that it existed as a creed in their time." It is the most important addition in the Apostle's Creed, and dates from A.D. 600. It was not known in the days of Eusebius. Bishop Parsons says that it was not in the ancient creeds or rules of faith. Irenaeus, Origen, and Tertullian exhibit no knowledge of this sentence. It is not mentioned in any of the Councils before the seventh century. Theodoret, Epiphanius, and Socrates are silent about it. It differs from the creed in St. Augustine. Ruffinus affirms that in his time it was neither in the Roman nor in the Oriental creeds. But the problem is solved when we learn that ages ago Hermes spoke thus to Prometheus, chained on the arid rocks of the Caucasian mount: "To such labors look thou for no termination, until some god shall appear as a substitute in thy pangs, and shall be willing to go both to gloomy hades and to the murky depths around Tartarus"! (Æschylus: Prometheus, 1027, ff.)

This god was Herakles, the "Only-Begotten One," and the Saviour. And he was chosen as a model by the ingenious Fathers. Hercules -- called Alexicacos -- for he brought round the wicked and converted them to virtue; Soter, or Saviour, also called Neulos Eumelos -- the Good Shepherd; Astrochiton, the star-clothed, and the Lord of Fire. "He sought not to subject nations by force but by divine wisdom and persuasion," says Lucian. "Herakles spread cultivation and a mild religion, and destroyed the doctrine of eternal punishment by dragging Kerberus (the Pagan Devil) from the nether world." And, as we see, it was Herakles again who liberated Prometheus (the Adam of the pagans), by putting an end to the torture inflicted on him for his transgressions, by descending to the Hades, and going round the Tartarus. Like Christ he appeared as a substitute for the pangs of humanity, by offering himself in a self-sacrifice on a funereal burning pile. "His voluntary immolation," says Bart, "betokened the ethereal new birth of men. ... Through the release of Prometheus, and the erection of altars, we behold in him the mediator between the old and new faiths. ... He abolished human sacrifice wherever he found it practiced. He descended into the sombre realm of Pluto, as a shade ... he ascended as a spirit to his father Zeus in Olympus."

So much was antiquity impressed by the Heraklean legend, that even the monotheistic (?) Jews of those days, not to be outdone by their contemporaries, put him to use in their manufacture of original fables. Herakles is accused in his mythobiography of an attempted theft of the Delphian oracle. In Sepher Toldos Jeschu, the Rabbins accuse Jesus of stealing from their Sanctuary the Incommunicable Name! Therefore it is but natural to find his numerous adventures, worldly and religious, mirrored so faithfully in the Descent into Hell.

It is one of the most undeniable facts of psychology, that the average man can as little exist out of a religious element of some kind, as a fish out of water. The voice of truth, "a voice stronger than the voice of the mightiest thunder," speaks to the inner man in the nineteenth century of the Christian era, as it spoke in the corresponding century B.C. It is a useless and unprofitable risk to offer to humanity the choice between a future life and annihilation. The only chance that remains for those friends of human progress who seek to establish for the good of mankind a faith, henceforth stripped entirely of superstition and dogmatic fetters is to address them in the words of Joshua: "Choose ye this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell."

Next article:

Back to the complete list of the

Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".


(1) NOTE.--A student's collation from Theosophical works.
Back to text.

Main Page | Introductory Brochure | Volume 1--> Setting the Stage
Karma and Reincarnation | Science | Education | Economics | Race Relations
The WISDOM WORLD | World Problems & Solutions | The People*s Voice | Misc.