Loki, the mischievous, imp-like god of Norse myth, was anything but faithful when it came to his marriage vow. Once married to, but not content with, Sigyn, Loki often left so he could travel to Jotunheim to be with the giantess Angrboda. An unfortunate result of their clandestine adventures was a daughter they named Hel. Even in a crowd of women, Hel’s looks would likely single her out. Her face, neck, shoulders, arms, and back, they were all pink. However, from her hips down, every inch of Hel’s skin looked decayed and greenish-black. Aside from that, Hel’s demeanor was nothing short of bleak. Her expression was always the same: glum and miserable. When the gods discovered that Loki had fathered three children, among them this hideous daughter, Hel, they sought advice from the Norns at the Well of Urd, and advice they got.
“She is the daughter of evil…Expect nothing from her but the most terrible…she will harm you and imperil you.”
Odin, taking one look at Hel, hurled her out of Asgard. He threw her into the mist and darkness of Niflheim, the world beneath the worlds. As she fell, Odin decreed that she should look after the dead, all of those who died in the nine worlds from illness or old age. Hel, upon finding herself in this bleak and depressing world, set out to make a home for herself. She began by constructing a huge wall around a massive estate. Within she built her hall, Eljudnir, positioned behind a set of colossal, ominous looking gates. To assist in her function as custodian of the dead, Hel employed Ganglati and Ganglot, both of whom moved so slowly it was difficult to tell whether they were moving or not.
The realm of the dead became a place of gloom and swirling mists. Its halls are packed with the dead who feed at the table of Hel whose plate is Hunger and whose knife is Famine. They sleep in Hel’s bed, which is Sick, and the bed hangings are Glimmering Misfortune.
Such is the dwelling of Hel. An abode fit for a repugnant creature? Or the prison of an unfortunate soul sired by evil?