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By Hannah Jane Cohen, published in Reykjavik Grapevine on Nov 19, 2020.
Superpowers: Owns a hellish underworld.
Weaknesses: Susceptible to sulking. Very few friends. Half-zombie.
Modern Analogue: Weird loner goth kid who becomes a dictator and punishes preps.
Get on your knees, mortals, for now, it is time to talk about Hel, the ruler of Hel, the daughter of Loki, and someone who is described on nearly all websites mentioning her as having a “gloomy, downcast appearance.”
Hel, gloomy and downcast
To be fair, we understand why she’d be gloomy. Apparently, the deity was known for being partially decomposed with the legs of a corpse and the face and torso of a living woman. We don’t want to judge, but that probably limits her dating pool. We’d be gloomy too.
Along with the aforementioned gloomy exterior, she was also said in the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson to have a perpetually grim and fierce expression on her face. We can only assume this was due to her parentage. See, Hel was the daughter of Loki and Angrboda, a giantess, and therefore the sister of wolf Fenrir and serpent Jormungand. Based on our intuition, we highly doubt this was a particularly nurturing and supportive environment to grow up in. In fact, we’d hazard a guess and say that it might have been a pretty chaotic place and the world should probably be grateful that Hel only ended up as “grim” and “fierce” rather than “a fucking serial killer.”
Unfortunately, due to lack of info, we don’t know a ton about Hel’s daily activities. She’s rarely featured in most of the Nordic myths, which is probably due to discrimination against goths, and in fact, the only myth she plays a large part in is that of the Death of Baldr.
THE TALE OF THE DEATH OF BALDR
Baldr was a very cool God who everyone liked, much like Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep. Unfortunately, he died. The story of how he did so is super long and convoluted but the TLDR of it is that Loki got this blind dude to slam dunk on Baldr with some mistletoe. Don’t ask questions. That’s what happened.
So Baldr, now deceased via shrub, is sent to the domain of Hel. He’s followed by Hermod, his brother, who pleads with Hel to let Baldr—who is now also gloomy and downcast—go. Hel says that she will happily let him go if everything in the cosmos weeps for him.
The Gods then go all Avengers, mobilise, and get everything in the cosmos to weep for Baldr. Well… not everything. Loki, being a dick as usual, pretends to be the giantess Tokk and decidedly doesn’t weep for Baldr. Why does he do this? Probably just to be a dick. That said, maybe he just wanted his lovely daughter Hel to finally have a super cool friend like Baldr for all of eternity. Wouldn’t that be sweet? It would, but we still think he was probably just being a dick.
And with a father like that, who can blame Hel for being gloomy? We certainly won’t. Loki was probably a distant and untrustworthy caretaker, so it’s natural this Goddess would be chock full to the brim with Daddy Issues. That said, we’re a magazine, not a tabloid, so we won’t speculate. We’ll just wait until we die and journey down to Hel to ask the woman herself how she feels about Lana Del Rey. Then we’ll know.
Anyway, that’s the story of Hel. All hail the goth queen.