The entrance to Hell – or more accurately, entrances – has been designated at various locations on the surface of the Earth from ancient times right up to the present day. They have acquired a legendary reputation for being entrances to the underworld due to their remote location, often in regions of unusual geological activity, particularly volcanic areas, or sometimes at lakes, caves or mountains.
Legends from both ancient Greece and Rome record stories of mortals who entered or were abducted into the netherworld through the gates of Hell. The god Hades kidnapped the Goddess Persephone from a field in Sicily and led her to the underworld through a cleft in the earth so he could marry her. Orpheus traveled to the Greek underworld in search of Eurydice by entering a cave at Taenarum or Cape Tenaron on the southern tip of the Peloponnese. Hercules entered the Underworld from this same spot. Both Aeneas andOdysseus also visited the underworld. The former entered the region through a cave at the edge of Lake Avernus on the Bay of Naples; the latter through Lake Acheron (with friendly local ferryman, Charon) in northwest Greece.
In Israel, The Twins Cave in the Judean hills outside Jerusalem have revealed evidence of pagan rituals linked to the underworld and may have been thought to be an access point for Persephone’s journey to the underworld.
In the medieval period, Mount Etna on Sicily was considered to be an entryway to Hell, understandably perhaps considering the regular eruptions and in a similar vein during this period, Icelanders believed their own Mount Hekla was also a gateway, beginning in the 12th century, after its 1104 eruption. Benedeit’s 1120 Anglo-Norman poem Voyage of St. Brendan mentions the volcano as the prison of Judas.That reputation continued with further eruptions; after the 1341 eruption, there was a report that people saw birds flying amidst the fire—birds, some thought, that must really be swarming souls. Even in more recent times, Hekla has maintained its diabolic status, as some superstitious folk have claimed that it’s a spot where witches meet with the devil.
The most famous of medieval gateways, however, was St Patrick’s Purgatory in Lough Derg, Co. Donegal, Ireland. Here, it is said, St. Patrick spent time contemplating his doubting flock when a vision of Christ appeared, pointing out the entrance to Hell (Purgatory) and the doom and anguish that awaited such folk. Over the coming decades, Catholic pilgrims sought out Purgatory on Station Island to such an extent that by the 17th Century, local officials sealed off the Satanic cave to prevent it from attracting the wrong sort of visitor. Such was the lure, this did little to dissuade pilgrims and even today, religious types will enter the cave for up to three days at a time, performing their vigil alongside a fast to atone for their sins as close to their potential agony as possible.
Away from Europe there are many examples of people pointing the accusatory finger at various local places of interest. In China, Fengdu has a long history in the Taoist tradition of being a portal to Hell. The 2,000-year-old City of Ghosts, located in Chongqing municipality, has a particularly charming route to everlasting misery; firstly, the soul of the recently departed must cross the Bridges of Helplessness to have their virtue judged, then face the Mirror of Retribution at the Ghost Torturing Pass and either become immediately reincarnated or face a series of torments before reaching the Wheel of Rebirth. Those who are undecided can take a moment to take in the vastness of the largest image carved into rock, the 138 metre-high and 217 metres across, Ghost King. In truth, much of the mythology surrounding this area is very much based in tourism (who’d have thought?)
Staying in Asia, Japan had its own volcano which ushered souls into the fire eternal, Mount Osore, a region filled with volcanic cauldrons located on the remote Shimokita Peninsula of Japan’s Honshu island, is literally named “Mount Fear”. With a small brook running to the neighbouring Lake Usori that is equated to the Sanzu River, a river that deceased souls needed to cross of their way to the afterlife. The Sanzu River, or “River of Three Crossings,” is believed to be the boundary between the realms of the living and the dead. Local fungi known as “skull mushrooms” add to the gloomy tone of the place. On the island of Kyushu, Japan, another area has a similar reputation, the blood-red sulphurous Pools of Beppu. Several of these pools have such hot water within them that they were used for torture purposes in past years.
The cave systems of Belize have been described in Popol Vuh, the Mayan text, as Xibalba, the entrance to Hell for newly lost souls. These texts described rivers of blood and scorpions, and a vast subterranean labyrinth ruled over by the Mayan death gods, the demonic “Lords of Xibalba.” Since their rediscovery in 1989, the caves of Actun Tunichil Muknal have become a popular destination for explorers. There are numerous landmarks that make this network particularly interesting, including a vast chamber of stalactites known as the “Cathedral.” Amongst scattered fragments of pottery and bone, one of the more notable discoveries is the skeleton of an 18-year-old girl. Believed to have been ritualistically murdered in the cave as a sacrifice to the Death Gods, she has been nicknamed the “Crystal Maiden”; over the 1,000 years since her death, her bones have calcified to create a shimmering, crystal effect. Although riverboats full of tourists now regularly explore these grottos, they are advised not to touch any of the relics for fear of reawakening the restless dead.
Over in America, local legend tells of Hellam Township, Pennsylvania, sitting upon the Seven Gates of Hell. No fewer than two local legends attempt to explain the “Seven Gates” of Hellam Township. One of the better-known myths ties them to an insane asylum on the town’s outskirts, which supposedly burnt to the ground in the 19th century. According to this particular legend, the inmates – most of them criminally insane, of course – escaped, only to be recaptured using a series of tall fences and secure gates. Many were beaten to death by guards in the process. This story falls down somewhat at the stage where it is discovered there was never an asylum in this area. The other tale sees a local doctor who once lived in the town. This man (by some accounts a Satanist, by others merely eccentric) was said to have designed a series of strange gates on his land, which followed a winding path running deeper and deeper into the forest. Where stories agree, is that those who pass through the gates in order will find themselves transported straight to the underworld.
Even as recently as this year, in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis, now Pamukkale in southwestern Turkey, an area has roused suspicion amongst locals (and the Daily Mail) that the Devil’s lounge is closer than you might think .The evidence for this points the finger at an archaeological dig which uncovered statues of Pluto and Kore, the diabolical Gods, as well as the carcasses of dead birds, allegedly killed instantly by noxious carbon dioxide fumes. This echoes ancient accounts from the Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BC — about 24 A.D.), who said: ‘This space is full of a vapour so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. ‘Any animal that passes inside meets instant death. I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.’
Equally modern is the breathtaking fiery pit known as The Door to Hell at Derweze, Ahal Province, Turkmenistan.The Door to Hell is noted for its natural gas fire which has been burning continuously since it was lit by Soviet petrochemical engineers in 1971. The fire is fed by the rich natural gas deposits in the area. The pungent smell of burning sulphur pervades the area for some distance. The fire, boiling mud, and orange flames in Derweze’s large crater (with a diameter of 70 metres) attracts many onlookers, though the President of the country has demanded the hole be filled in, lest it drain any of his nation’s lucrative natural resource. Regardless, over 40 years on, the flames show no sign of receding.
There is one more place of interest which perhaps came closer than any to being proven to be the entrance to Hell. Around 1990, it was reported on various internet sites that whilst digging a putative borehole in Russia which was purportedly drilled so deep that it broke through into Hell, or at least close to it. The legend holds that a team of Russian engineers purportedly led by an individual named “Mr. Azzacov” in an unnamed place in Siberia had drilled a hole that was 9 miles (14 km) deep before breaking through to a cavity. Intrigued by this unexpected discovery, they lowered an extremely heat tolerant microphone, along with other sensory equipment, into the well. The temperature deep within was 2,000 °F (1,090 °C) — heat from a chamber of fire from which (purportedly) the tormented screams of the damned could be heard. That recording, however, was later revealed to have been a cleverly remixed portion of the soundtrack of the 1972 Mario Bava movie, Baron Blood, with various effects added. Warning – the following Youtube clip contains some attempted Christian brainwashing towards the end.
Alas, the so-called “Well to Hell” has since been debunked but not before various spin-offs appeared – these included a 1992, US tabloid Weekly World News published article which was set in Alaska where 13 miners were killed after Satan came roaring out of Hell. Other alternative stories included an alleged story where Jacques Cousteau quit diving after hearing “screams of people in pain” underwater. Another story told of one of Cousteau’s men fainting in terror after hearing screaming voices in a trench in the Bermuda Triangle.
Daz Lawrence, moviesandmania, round the corner from Hell.
Related: The Hierarchy of Hell (article)