Purgatory – the Unravelling of the Truth.
To fully understand or comprehend the whimsical, you must first look beyond what you already know, and explore the origins of the fantasy.
Hell, for centuries, has been ingrained into society's psyche. Everyone, religious or otherwise, has at least some brief knowledge of the fiery pit – the place of eternal damnation – but what do we really know about its history? One thing is certain: its existence is a relatively new concept in terms of Biblical acknowledgement. In fact, a simple study of the Old Testament denies its very existence entirely. The only references to an afterlife in the original Hebrew scriptures are of Sheol, a place of darkness where all the dead, both righteous and unrighteous, dwell, but certainly not the vilified underworld and demonic purgatory of the post Judaic texts.
So, where did the Hell Myth Begin?
Hell, as we know it today, has evolved from alternate and outdated belief systems – an extension of otherwise dead religions (yes, you read that right; I really did say evolved). Let's not forget that the New Testament was, by and large, a Greek construct, so it was only natural that Hades, or more accurately, Tartarus, would find its way into the more modern scriptures. During early Christianity, Hellenistic influence had a big part to play in the evolution of the Abrahamic faiths, so it really was only inevitable that, at some stage, there would be emerging similarities between the different myths.
Survival of the Fittest?
If the early formation of the church was to survive, it knew it needed an attention grabber – a fear factor – and what better place than tunic wetting, terror inducing Tartarus was there available? Tartarus soon became firmly established as the go to place for those deemed to be sinners, and the threat the church needed in order to keep its followers in check. In the hotbed of Greco-Roman influence and religious ambiguity, it must have been difficult to keep their flock from wandering from the beaten track, and straight into the arms of paganism. The answer was to plunder the enemy of its greatest weapon, and claim it for their own.
This new found leverage paid dividends. As the Roman armies expanded, spreading their influence throughout their ever growing empire, they took with them, too, their new found religion, and with it, the threat of Tartarus, in Hades.
The Germanic and Nordic people of the north, without prior knowledge of such fables, proved more difficult to convert, however. They had their own gods, their own belief systems but, as with all battles fought over religion, bloodshed, death and insurmountable fear will soften even the hardest of hearts.
The Empire Grows, Gods Fall.
The Northern tribes had their own definition of the underworld. Helheim was, to them, a nether world of the dead, presided over by Hel (female deity) but, once again, not the flaming pit of eternal damnation that we hear about today. Given its convenient similarities to Sheol, however – being a domain beneath the Earth – through murder and tyranny, the Romans found it relatively straightforward to transform the ninth world of the Tree of Yggdrasil into the home of Satan and his hell-spawn and, in the process, succeed in the continuing spread of Christianity. After all, the church had achieved such a feat once already, back in the Roman republic; a second time would surely be a breeze. They were, as you can tell, already becoming the kings of misdirection, corruption and erroneous teachings. Relentless, because, as with all warlords, power is the hunger that drives.
With a powerful army behind them, the church would spread the fear of Hell throughout their ever increasing empire, and with it put an end to the pagan religions which stood in their way, turning them into nothing more than myths, legends, and fairy tales.
Hell – The Lie Brought to Light.
So, given what we know about Hell and its origins, why do Christians and Muslims fear such an imaginary location, and spend their whole lives worrying about their eventual demise and possible damnation? Urban legends will always have their believers but, once you get to the heart of the myth, even those with the most hardened of opinions will admit their mistakes. So why not the religious? The answer is simple. Since their indoctrination into faith, they have never questioned Hell's existence; they have simply accepted it, never bothered with the nature of its inception or the whats and the whys. They refuse to question their faith, based on fear, and it is this lack of education which blinds them to the true, undeniable fact that Hell was, and still is, designed to control and undermine the brainwashed masses. As soon as these people begin to gain knowledge of the history behind their religion, the sooner they can put their gods to rest.