If there is heaven, you can’t deny the existence of hell! The levels of hell have been described by many, but what is the reality? Read this article to know the details of the same.
“We can never know what exactly is hell, until one goes there or dies, but one thing is for sure that no matter what, there is torture, there is pain, and there are lots and lots of cries.“
For people who do not believe in heaven or hell, this article would be for entertainment purpose only, but those who believe in life after death, would also know that if there is heaven, hell too exists and there is no denying on that. We often try to imagine and wonder what heaven would be like, or what is hell? The fact is that as human beings, we really cannot know what exactly hell is, but due to our exploring and researching nature, all we can do and have done so far, is just interpreted the scriptures and the ancient words said in relevance to hell.
Some say there are 7 levels of hell, some also claim that there are 9 levels instead of 7, however, the most famous description is the one from Dante Alighieri’s ‘Inferno’, which happens to be the most sought after non-religious description of hell. Below, we shall discuss the levels of hell in both ways, from the point of views of the Holy Bible and from the perspective of Dante’s Inferno.
Levels of Hell in The Bible
The Bible is the most descriptive yet the most mysterious scripture that has answers to all the questions that one seeks. The reason why I am calling it mysterious is because everything that is written in the Bible is in parables, and understanding the exact meaning of these writings require a lot of understanding of the scripture, even then, it has full potential to be misinterpreted. Undoubtedly, the Bible speaks about Heaven and Hell, both being eternal and everlasting, the former being everlasting life in joy and peace, and the latter being endless weeping and gnashing of teeth in fire. (Matt. 25:41,46 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,’… Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.“)
The Bible doesn’t mention about the different levels as such in a direct manner, however, there are some verses that potentially indicate the same. (Luke 12: 47-48,”That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants, will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.“)
This verse from Luke describes the variation in the severity of punishment, which can indicate the possibility of different levels of hell based on one’s severity of sin. Another citation from the Holy Bible that potentially indicates the presence of different levels in hell, is when Jesus speaks of the judgment day. (Mathew 10: 14-15, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”) Similar citations are also visible in Luke 10: 14-15, which states, “But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.” This shows that God will punish Tyre and Sidon, but to a less degree than the town that refused to accept the disciples of Jesus Christ.”
So, although the Bible doesn’t clearly state that there actually exist various levels in hell, it surely states that the sinners suffer from eternal punishment in hell. In addition to that, the verses mentioned above depict the difference in the severity of punishments, so there is a possibility that there does exist different stages in hell where the souls are punished based on the severity of sins and deeds that he or she committed during their lifetime.
9 Levels of Hell According to Dante’s Inferno
Dante Alighieri’s ‘Inferno’ is the most recognized and popular non-religious description of hell and its various levels, and frankly he has done a great job! Written during the medieval period from 1307-1321, Dante Alighieri has brilliantly described the 9 stages of hell in simple and believable words, making the entire piece of work very approachable and amazingly convincing. Below is the description of ‘Inferno’ by Dante.
Dante describes that he found himself in the woods through which he found a passing beneath an arch, through which he entered ante hell, and once he entered the arch, it couldn’t be seen. The upper hell is also referred to as ‘Nowhere’ and is known to exist outside the Acheron river consisting of pitch black, heavily flowing water. Dante said that people who have failed to make any choices in life are found running in this place forever, trying to reach to an end which can’t be reached, constantly bitten by invisible worms and insects, and stung by wasps. Dante also saw some bronze jars scattered in the mud with spirits of people trapped inside and faint voices seeking help. Dante also said that anyone who contacted river Acheron would be trapped forever in the freezing cold river, trying hard but unable to move making the experience quite uncomfortable and scary. Dante saw a ferry run by Charon, a tall old man with eyes like burning coal and long white beard, who carries everyone who wants to cross the river Acheron and go to the first circle of hell.
Level 1: The Limbo
The Limbo is the first circle of hell, consisting of pleasing white Mediterranean style villas and plain green fields, the air is clean and fresh, there is peace and beauty, but still there is a certain sadness in the atmosphere. This is so because the limbo is the place for people who are not exactly sinners. These spirits reside here because there was lack of hope and eternal believe in God. People who were born before the time of Christ, the unbaptized, the infants who still bear the burden of the original sin, etc., are the people who reside here. Dante was accompanied by Virgil, a famous Roman poet who also belonged to this circle. Dante saw many famous personalities like Caesar, Brutus, Socrates, Aristotle, and many classy poets and thinkers in this level.
Level 2: The Lustful
Dante explains the next level of hell as a place for those who sinned through their sexual lust excessively. All the souls that resided in this level were of those who gave their sexual passion and lust more importance than the love of God. Dante explains that these souls are punished by whirling eternally in a cloudy and murky air by a strong air current. The harsh winds lashes at these souls and they keep on spinning through the air in darkness endlessly. Dante saw the souls of great lovers like Helen, Cleopatra, Tristan, etc., in this level. He also saw the souls of unsuccessful lovers standing on the ground, trying to get caught in the gale.
Level 3: The Gluttonous
If you know what are the seven deadly sins, you would know that gluttony is one of them. The souls of the Gluttons who failed to utilize the gifts given to them by God in a meaningful and higher way, and wasted their lives in consuming excess and giving back nothing but garbage in their lives, are the ones who reside in the third level of hell. Dante describes this level as a gigantic garbage dump, the atmosphere being freezing with rain and stinking snow with the damned spirits lying in the freezing icy paste, swollen, and lewd.
Level 4: The Spendthrifts and The Hoarders
This level is for the people who were hoarding and wasting wealth and other necessary things all their lives without realizing the importance of sharing and saving. In this level, the souls are divided into two furious mobs, punished by carrying heavy boulder like weights on their back which represents the wealth that they accumulated in their life. The 2 mobs tend to clash with each other, with each side screaming , ‘why hoard’ and ‘why waste’? These souls keep on rolling and pushing weights for eternity as punishments in never ending rage. Dante also saw the souls of some priests, popes, and cardinals who had extreme greed for material wealth rather than spiritual wealth.
Level 5: The River Styx
Dante describes this level to be covered by a thick fog with a stinking swamp which is ankle deep. The wrathful and the gloomy and depressed souls reside in this level of hell. These souls are filled with anger and wrath due to which they constantly keep on attacking other souls and at times bite themselves too. Dante also saw some bubbles forming in the slime which are supposedly the souls of the sullen and gloomy who failed to accept the spiritual awakening when they were alive and chose to stay in the gloomy and depressing darkness. Therefore, as punishment, these souls are buried under the stinking water of river Styx.
Level 6: The City of Dis
Level 6 is where you actually arrive to the city of Dis where reside the ‘Arch-heretics’. These were the people who denied in the afterlife and the immortality of the soul. The city of Dis consists of huge iron walls and burning tombs all around the landscape. There is also a huge white marble mausoleum with slabs imprisoning an unbeliever with their birth and death date listed along with their name. There are groans, curses, whimpers, and rage noises coming from the tombs.
Level 7: The Violent
This level is meant for the spirits who sinned in violence. This level is divided into 3 circles according to the type of violence that one is condemned for. These circles are explained as under.
1. The River Phlegethon: This ring is for the tyrants and the murderers, especially those, who in the form of homicide, malice, and destruction; incorporated violence not only in their own lives, but also made others suffer. This ring consists of river Phlegethon which consists of boiling blood and smells of strong fresh and clotted blood. As these people played with blood when they were alive, this level punishes them to be immersed in the boiling blood forever. The depth of immersion depends upon the degree of sin from ankle length to over the head. This level also consists of people for whom violence was a part of their duty and they happily enjoyed it. Dante also saw an island at this level consisting of officials who let the criminals loose on purpose, and also people who murdered due to a reason which can be considered ‘justified’. These people are supposed to prevent the souls in the river from climbing the island. This is done by injuring the souls to an extent wherein they are too weak to fight, or too weak to be able to get up. So, although, they are not boiling in blood, they still are not in a happy or peaceful place.
2. Violence Against Self: The next ring in level 7 of hell consists of those souls who committed violence against themselves which includes, suicide, gambling, etc. The souls of the people who committed suicides are fastened in thorny trees with black leaves. These trees are constantly torn by Harpies, the overseers of these damned souls. When these creatures feed upon the damned souls by tearing and biting their leaves and limbs, the wounds in the tree bleed. Only when the souls encased in the trees bleed, can they speak and express their pain. The punishment is that these souls who destroyed their own bodies and the chance to express themselves when they were alive should be condemned to stay in human form, and should be given the chance to express themselves only when they bleed and get destroyed by the Harpies. You will also find the souls of people who destroyed their wealth in gambling running through the deep dark forest, chased by a group of wild dogs who tear them apart, when caught. A stream of River Phlegethon flows to this ring as well.
3. Violence Against God: The last ring of the 7th level of hell is for those who sinned in violence against God and nature. These are the souls of the blasphemers, sodomites, and usurers. The violent blasphemers against God are stretched naked with their face upward on the ground, with the burning rain pouring over them. They also shout and curse God. The sodomites wander in the hot sand for eternity, naked, and squatting with their arms. The usurers who were violent against art and nature lie crouching on the hot sand with concealed identity and money bags hanging from their necks. They wear fine dresses, the colors of which express their family shields but this signifies that they were so concerned with material goods that they ended up losing their actual identity.
Level 8: Malebolge
This level is for those who were fraudulent in their lives, who betrayed the people who put their trust on them. This level is divided into 10 bolge depending upon the kind of fraud and betrayal one has done.
1. Panderers and Seducers: This is where the souls of the seducers and the panderers reside, even pimps, movie producers, emotional rapists are found here. These souls are condemned to walk endlessly driven by the lashes of tall horned ugly looking demons.
2. Flatterers: This bolge consists of the souls of advertisers and people who falsely flattered when they were alive. The structure of these souls are altered physically in such a way that whenever they speak, excrement comes out as their punishment.
3. Simoniacs: These are the people who corrupt the holy things. These souls are punished by laying upside down in a hole filled with oil. Only their feet is visible and the rest of the body is immersed in oil. The flames of fire pour on their feet. Simoniacs include the new age gurus claiming and ‘selling’ enlightenment, Pope Nicholas II, etc.
4. Fortune Tellers: This section consists of the fortune tellers, the soothsayers, and the sorcerers. They are punished by twisting their necks backwards so that they always move forward by moving backward. Even teachers who referred a slow reader as ‘dyslexic’ and predicting a child’s educational future are found here.
5. Grafters and Barrators: Here lies the souls of the people who stole from the ones who trusted them, and those who took money adopting unethical ways. These souls are immersed in boiling pitch. They fear to take their heads out as the demons will tear them into pieces with their powerful claws and pitchforks.
6. Hypocrites: The sixth bolge of the eighth level is to punish the hypocrites. These souls wear heavy leaden robes and have hoods covering their eyes. They look defeated, weary and are in great pain. The punishment is to walk round and round in a narrow track for eternity. If the sinner stops to walk, the cloak becomes more hot.
7. Thieves: This is the widest bolge than all other in this level. These souls wander naked and are constantly attacked by snakes which when bite the souls, turn the souls into flames and ashes, after a few seconds, these ashes are again turned into shades and again attacked by the snakes. Many a time, the shade bitten by the snake turns into a human soul and the soul bitten turns into a snake. This keeps on happening resulting in unending chasing and attacks all the time.
8. False Counselors: All you can find in this bolge, are the bright flames burning all over the place. These flames are supposed to be the souls of the false counselors and therefore will keep burning like this for eternity.
9. Sowers of Discord, Scandal, and Schism: In the words of Dante, “And just as their sin was to rend asunder what God had meant to be united, so are they hacked and torn through all eternity by a great demon with a bloody sword. After each mutilation the souls are compelled to drag their broken bodies around the pit and to return to the demon, for in the course of the circuit their wounds knit in time to be inflicted anew.”
10. Falsifiers: All the souls that have sinned falsifying in life, are plagued with all types of illnesses including STD’s, rabies, leprosy, and are forced to drag themselves on the ground in order to move forward because their illnesses make them so weak.
Level 9: Cocytus
The last level of hell is meant for the traitors which also happens to be the place where Satan resides himself. Dante defines that the frozen pool of Coytus seems to be like a sheet of glass and the freezing breeze takes away all the warmth present in the atmosphere. These winds are from the wings of Satan flapping eternally to freeze the souls to chilling ice with their heads facing up and their eyes frozen with tears. Lucifer, the other name for Satan, has 3 faces colored, red, yellow, and black. Each of the face is chewing a famous traitor. The red face is said to chew the soul of Judas Iscariot, the black face is chewing Marcus Brutus, and the yellow is chewing Caius Cassius Longinus who took part in the conspiracy against Caesar.
So these were the different degrees of punishment in hell explained in the non religious description in Dante’s Inferno. Before that, we also had a look in what the Bible had to say about hell. What is the truth about hell or heaven? The reality is that no one can know this for sure, unless one experiences it on their own. Though reading and researching helps us make a picture or an assumption, the levels of hell, is yet again another mystery that will be solved in its own time.
To conclude I would like to quote a saying by Saint Augustine,”It is my opinion that the nature of hell-fire and the location of hell are known to no man unless the Holy Ghost made it known to him by a special revelation”, (City of God XX.16). Hope you enjoyed reading this write-up. By far, it was one of the most interesting articles I ever wrote as it made my mind ponder over things which can’t be known, at least till the time our souls are in this body. The least we can do is read, research, and make efforts to be a good human being till the day of judgment.