10 Visions Of Hell That Will Scare The Crap Out Of You
If there’s one thing our Sunday school teachers taught us, it’s that Hell is a terrifying place. Pillars of fire, pits of burning sulfur, the interminable torment of the wicked . . . there’s nothing like your standard vision of the underworld to put the fear of God into small children.
But it turns out that the “standard” version is exactly that: a wishy-washy average that contains only a fraction of the possibilities. Glimpse inside the visions of some of history’s wildest mystics and you’ll find versions of Hell that could give your nightmares nightmares.
10 The Apocalypse Of Peter
Around the late second century, a whole swathe of imitation holy books started appearing across the ancient world. Usually focused on the epic magic tricks God could pull or the pyrotechnic delights of the coming Apocalypse, they were 100 percent unofficial and later disowned by the Church. One such book was The Apocalypse of Peter, a tome that contained one of the most terrifying visions of hell ever put to paper.
According to the narrator, the Hell awaiting sinners is like Dante re-imagined by Eli Roth. People are hung by the tongue over bubbling pools of gore. Blasphemers are stabbed in the eyes with red hot irons. Clouds of worms trail over the landscape devouring everything in their path. But the worst is reserved for minorities.
This being the olden days and all, the author isn’t too worried about political correctness. So we get demons throwing lesbians and transgender women off a cliff and ladies having their eyes burnt out by the souls of their aborted children. Sure, it’s offensive, but that’s the second century for you.
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9 St. Faustina’s Visions
St. Mary Faustina was an early 20th-century Polish nun now recognized by the Church as a saint. But perhaps what she’s best known for is a series of visions which culminated in her journeying into Hell itself.
Unlike the gore-happy sadist who wrote the Apocalypse of Peter, St. Mary refrains from describing the tortures the damned face in too much detail. However, what she does include will make your skin crawl. According to her account, Hell is a gigantic, smoky chamber filled with a suffocating indescribable stench in eternal darkness. Demons tiptoe from pit to pit, unleashing special tortures tailor-made for each new soul, while God Himself burns sinners with His own agonizing fire.
The majority of souls in this Hell are specifically named as unbelievers, while those who believed but sinned get to wind up in purgatory instead.
8 St. Don Bosco’s Dream
A 19th-century priest who advocated love over punishment and spent his life helping street kids, St. Don Bosco had some pretty extreme views on Hell. Specifically, his infamous dream of April 10, 1868, revealed a terrifying image of cruelty in his subconscious.
In his telling of it, Bosco finds himself on a road sloping gently downhill towards an everlasting pit. Suddenly, people he knows start sprinting past him and over the edge like an anathematized version of Wile E. Coyote. Looking into the pit, Bosco sees children he’s taught writhing like mad dogs, tearing flesh off their own faces and throwing it high into the air. And that’s just for starters. As our guide descends deeper and deeper into Hell, he encounters other former students lying motionless, worms chewing on their eyeballs, hearts, hands, and legs. When asked, his guardian angel says they will suffer this for all eternity “with absolutely no reprieve whatsoever.”
The dream ends when Bosco puts his hand to one of the walls of Hell. He’s told that this is an outer wall, and there are a thousand more walls, each a thousand miles thick and a thousand miles apart, before you reach the true fires of Hell. Even way out here, Bosco’s hand burns so badly he wakes up—meaning this nightmare vision was meant to be the nice bits of Hell.
7 The Vision Of Drythelm
Drythlem was an Englishman who, in the late seventh century, had one of the scariest near death experiences ever recorded. Put to paper by celebrated early English historian St. Bede the Venerable, it now reads like a sort of “how to” for frightening young children.
The vision starts with Drythelm walking between two valleys. In one an all-consuming fire rages, while in the other violent hail and snow beat down endlessly. In each valley, thousands of sinners suffer the heat or cold until it gets so bad that they leap into the other—whereupon they continue to suffer in a slightly different way. Initially, Drythelm mistakes this for Hell, but is told it’s really purgatory. Hell itself is much worse.
After much walking, Drythelm finds himself at the rim of a great pit. Under choking darkness, globes of black flame hang in the air, rising out of the burning pit then falling back in. Each globe contains a single human soul, trapped forever in burning agony without even the other damned for company. At this point, Drythelm ends his vision by being attacked by demons and running away to Heaven which, for all its niceness, can’t even begin to compete with the lonely horrors of his Hell.
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6 The Vision Of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich
Born in the late 18th century, Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich was a full-time mystic. From early adulthood, she was known to exhibit signs of stigmata and see horrifying visions, the most horrifying of which was her account of Hell.
In Anne’s version, Hell is a dirty, run-down city: a place of collapsing buildings and swamps where the damned engage in all sorts of depraved activities. Meanwhile, vipers and reptiles slither between the buildings, consuming lost souls who wander into their clutches. Demons wander the ruins and a great smoky abyss lies at the very center, where Lucifer is chained in howling agony.
Interestingly, there are also various prophecies scrawled on the walls, one of which concerns the release of Satan onto Earth sometime just before the year 2000. So maybe take this one with a pinch of salt.
5 Swedenborg’s Hells
In the mid-18th century, the scientist and philosopher Emmanuel Swedenborg published a book which claimed there was more than one Heaven and more than one Hell. And while his three versions of Heaven remained remarkably similar, his multiple Hells differed wildly.
In some versions of the underworld, the damned would be trapped in big, decaying cities rife with violence—sort of like NYC in Escape from New York. Demons and lost souls shared houses and would spend all day beating each other, fighting, getting drunk, and robbing one another in the streets. In more extreme versions of these Hells, every single building would be a brothel where patrons were forced to copulate in excrement, while the city burned around them.
Other types of Hell included dark forests crawling with beasts, dank caves, and endless deserts. But the most revolutionary aspect of Swedenborg’s visions was his insistence that all of us carry our own personal Hell around with us. When we die, all that happens is we start literally inhabiting it, rather than being mentally stuck there. And you know what? That single thought might be more terrifying than any number of pits of burning sulfur.
4 The Apocalypse Of Paul
The Apocalypse of Paul is basically a gritty, third-century reboot of The Apocalypse of Peter. And you’ll be pleased to hear it continues its predecessor’s delight in utter sadism.
In this vision, Hell is divided up into two rivers—one of fire and one of ice, and the damned are split between the two. However, the simple torments of burning or freezing for eternity apparently aren’t enough for the author. Those in the river of fire also have their entrails pierced by iron hooks, stones smashed in their faces, and their lips cut off with red-hot razors. Oh, and some of them are also eaten from the inside out by worms, just in case all this ultra-violence wasn’t bad enough already. Meanwhile, those in the ice river have their hands and feet cut off and are feasted on by vermin.
But once again, the worst punishments are distinctly politically ambiguous. Gay people are dropped in a pit full of pitch to suffer for all eternity, while women who lost their virginity before marriage are chained up in red-hot irons and carted off by abusive angels. Not that anyone else escapes these horrors: People are tortured for swearing, for having money, for not fasting properly, and even for giving to charity. In short, the entire human race since the dawn of time is probably festering in this Hell, which suggests that the author thought the whole concept of Christian forgiveness was highly overrated.
3 The Vision Of Tundale
An Irish gent living in the Middle Ages, Tundale (or Tundal) is now known only for his insane two-day voyage into the underworld.
In this Hell, people are cooked down to soup in gigantic frying pans, demons with red-hot pitchforks push people off mountains, and surgery-minded devils chop people up into little bits, then magically put them back together to be chopped up again. Tundale himself is even tortured by demons who claw off their own faces and make him lead a wild cow across a narrow bridge studded with nails while horse-shaped monsters try to devour him.
But perhaps the most shocking aspect of his Hell is Acheron. A sort of hell-within-a-hell, Acheron is a gigantic beast capable of swallowing 9,000 men at a time. Once inside, people who’ve been eaten are then eaten again, this time by thousands of frightened dogs, snakes, rats, and other toothy things, all while being burned and suffocated with sulfur. It’s probably the biggest case of overkill in Christian literature, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing.
2 The Revelation Of Sister Josefa Menendez
A Spanish nun in the early 20th century, Sister Josefa Menendez lived only four years in a convent before dying at the age of 33. While there, she felt compelled by God to write down a description of Hell, something she was reportedly pretty uncomfortable doing. However, write it she did, and it’s one of the saddest, scariest visions ever recorded.
Filled with long, dark corridors, eternally burning fires, and the by-now standard ironic punishments, her Hell at first appears pretty pedestrian. So why are we including it here? Simple: Because the mental tortures inflicted on its inmates are so utterly heartbreaking.
According to Sister Menendez, any soul condemned to Hell loses the power to feel love, happiness, or anything other than cruelty and misery. In her most haunting passage, she writes about a soul that cries out how it would give anything to be able to love again, to witness even one small act of kindness in the whole of Hell. Unfortunately, such a thing is completely impossible. Not only do the damned have to put up with eternal physical misery, they’re cursed with eternal mental misery too. Somehow, that makes it all the more worse.
1 The Vision Of Wetti
Recorded in the ninth century, the Vision of Wetti follows a German monk on his journey into Hell and recounts the things he sees along the way. It has the usual references to darkness and flames and worms and eternal suffering, but the one thing that stands out most about this Hell is how absolutely obsessed it is with sexuality.
During the 3,500-word account, Wetti’s guardian angel mentions or discusses sodomy five times, even likening it to the plague. Among the punishments he witnesses, Wetti sees people’s genitals being burned with fire, naked women being flogged, and adulterers tied naked together. But the worst is reserved for Charlemagne.
A former Emperor who united most of Europe, Charlemagne is tied to a stake naked, completely unharmed except for an animal eternally ripping at his genitals. This sight of genital destruction is the pinnacle of Wetti’s vision, and just about the most terrifying thing we can possibly imagine. If it gets any worse than this, we don’t want to hear about it.