The Three Hells

[1] The Pit

Hades in Greek, or Sheol in Hebrew.

[2] Hell Fires

Gehenna in Greek, and Ge-Hinnom in Hebrew [named for a valley outside Jerusalem].

[3] The Empty Abyss

No Greek or Hebrew terminology, but linked to mistrust of the deeps ‘below’ everything, thus the Nothing, the Fearful Void, into which we fall forever..

[1] THE PIT

The Pit is the ‘falling in’, or collapse, of all vigour and vitality of passion. This speaks not of what we do that is harmful; rather, it refers to what we fail to do that was required for the good and the true to stand a chance of prevailing. Sometimes the devil tempts passion into positive, active, evil deeds; this is the ‘burning’ Hell. At other times, the devil undermines passion through inducing it to give way, to yield, to back down. We funk the difficulty in the task.. We let other people down, and we also let down our own heart. It does not step up to be counted, but sinks down and down.. This is the evil not of commission, but of omission. The Pit is not burning; it is the condition of the heart bogged down, stuck, unable to move ahead decisively with ‘what must be done.’

Therefore, the Jewish Bible describes the Pit as the place of ‘desolation’ where things that should have been done were left undone, and things that should have reached a creative resolution were let go and allowed to rot. The earth is laid ‘waste’, because we have wasted our time, letting everything that mattered slip by.

This weak surrender of passion, or giving in to passivity in the face of challenges to step forth, leaves the earth that it was the job of passion to creatively work with ‘ravaged’, ‘despoiled’, ‘withering on the vine’ [Isaiah, 24, 3].

Thus Isaiah 24, 4-12 describes the Pit in poetic imagery=

“The earth is mourning, withering; the world is pining, withering: the haughty people of the world are languishing..
The wine is mourning, the vine is languishing away, all glad hearts are sighing.
The merry tambourines are silent, the sound of revelling is over, the celebratory lyre is over.
They no longer sing over their wine..
The city.. is in ruins..
There is lamentation in the streets: no wine, joy quite gone, gladness banished from the country.
Nothing but rubble in the city.”

This is the condition of a heart ‘lukewarm’, neither peaceful nor ardent, sitting on the fence, soggy, endlessly sighing, yet always well within its comfort zone.

Most people are leading lives of ‘quiet desperation’, withering away and languishing, not vibrantly here in the now, but sucked down, lowered in energy, subdued like an extinct volcano. In the Pit are multitudes of human beings, their legs virtually planted and growing into the wet mud, hardly able to take a single step; ‘all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone.’ Thus, day in and day out, unremittingly, everything remains dreary, dismal, miserable, and barren.

This is about cowardice of heart, which vitiates passion of its life, its élan, its potency. The ‘ghosts’ or ‘shades’ in Sheol, or in Hades, symbolise a half-life, a living not alive, but permanently ‘pressed down’ in flame. Thus no ‘gladness’ of heart, no enjoyment of the sheer heartbeat of existing in time. The heart cannot move in time; it is in stasis..

[2] HELL

The apocryphal Hell is linked to the heart’s embrace of what the Bible calls ‘wickedness’, a state where the heart actively, ‘positively’, does evil, and in so doing, also has to lie about it. The Anger for Truth, the Fire of Truth, if we resist it by lying about our departure from it, ‘burns’ us, so that evil passion is always ‘hot and bothered.’

Hasidism calls this ‘the heat of destructiveness.’ Yet it also includes ‘the cold indifference’ that is equally hellish. Thus Hell is both sulphurous burning fires but also cold as ice.

Indeed, the two metaphors are easily combined in one= this fire of betraying truth, the fire of evil that lies about its motive within and effect without, is actually a deeply cold fire, even when hot and agitated. This ‘fire of the lie’ is chillingly cold. By contrast, the fire of truth is warm.

Gehenna has a purgatorial implication, in Hebrew, which is that when you admit your evil, and cease to lie about it, and so when you ‘truly’ repent, then you are no longer ‘burned’ by it, or rather, the burning is purgatorial, it is a conscious and penitential suffering of the wrong you did which actually burns away your adhesion to evil. ‘Truth hurts.’ But truth accepted heals.

A Lakota prayer=

“Truth is coming
It will hurt me
I rejoice
You can heal me.”

Jesus Christ refers to this Hell more than once, when he speaks of the ‘worm that never dies’ as a kind of remorse, or deep regret, that goes on rebuking and ‘convicting’ the heart of evil, unendingly. – Until we repent, and accept the truth of our history of heart deeds, however much this stabs us..

[3] EMPTY ABYSS

This is the state of acid bitterness, boredom, alienation, futility, and despair, when we cannot trust the Abyss, and therefore cannot make the leap of passion that is faith. This Hell is vividly described in ‘The Sheltering Sky’ by Paul Bowles. It is very modern= the vacuity, lack of meaning, lack of purpose, at the base of things.. The sense that nothing matters, and even if it did, all passion is burned up, and cannot find the ‘spark’ to act. Accidie comes in here= we abandon our post. We put down the calling of passion.

This is the final Absence of God beneath everything where passion has become burned out, its heart for existence defeated by the ‘clarity of the devil’ which sees nothing good, and nothing true, anywhere or in anyone. Hence existence is entirely futile, pointless, meaningless, a con trick, a bad joke= not even a tale told by an idiot but a sick joke spun by a sadist having sport watching things fall off the cliff..

Because there is no God, the heart stands on nothing, and as a result, there is nothing to uphold the risk of the heart’s giving its sweat, tears, and blood, to the world. This is the Vacuity that drags everything downward, like a Black Hole, the Void, or Groundless Abyss that we fall into, forever.

Pit= the loss of life. Existential Shame.
Hell= the betrayal of truth. Existential Guilt.
Empty Void= the extinguishing of faith. Existential Despair.

FURTHER NOTES

The Pit is mentioned by the Bible more often than any other hell. The Jews, like the Greeks, loved Life, valued Life More Ardent, and so the shadowy life, the half-life, the life with its guts sucked out, no belly, no thymos, no Dionysic life overcoming death– for both Jews and Greeks this was terrible.

But the Jewish Bible, because of its sharper ethical sense than anything in Hellenism, also has Gehenna, the hot and burning hell — full of heat like in a sulphurous volcanic eruption, or a toxic furnace, which is, at core, colder than ice; we create this ‘cold heat’ when our passion allows its Anger For Truth to be ‘snared’ by evil, and it not only does evil but lies about what it is doing. The hellish flame in our passion is ‘relentless’, becoming ever more determined to take what it demands, ‘and to hell with the consequences.’ This hellish passion is robustly damaging in its effect upon everything it seizes hold of; it has tyrannical potency and pitiless toughness, with little conscience to cause it to stop, or even pause to examine what it is doing.

To act in this manner, passion must be ‘converted’ to the lying which is inherent to evil. Thus, though some people are unapologetically forthright about the evil deeds they commit, many more will never face the ‘bad heart’ driving their action. Their nefarious deeds will be hypocritically covered up by a cloak of respectability, legitimacy, probity.

Their only concern is that their action succeed in attaining its goal, so they can proceed with confidence. There is no truth to challenge the fierce hotting up, and boiling over, of this ‘cold hearted’ passion tempted to accede to evil; it proceeds, unopposed, ever further into the labyrinth of undiluted ‘pure’ spiritual hellishness which is the Fiery Gehenna, from which there is no escape– unless we repent.

Then a purgatorial change can occur.. We burn painfully as we purge or expel our adhesion to evil, and experience our evil deeds’ effects like daggers turned back on us. We feel the harm we did, in short, as its victim.. But this does not last forever. It lasts a time. Once through it, we ‘burn’ with the fire of truth in the Fire of Love. This is a different burning, the burning of divine love in human passion. There is no fulfilment more than this for the heart. Purgation in Gehenna is a deep ‘conversion’ for the heart.. The deeper evil doers, who repent and allow hell to be burnt out of their heart, acquire in their heart the deepest fire of truth and love..

Thus there is a strange and hidden route from Gehenna to God’s Holiness. The Jews call this ‘the Turning’, the Way of the Return.