HELA From the ‘Gods of England’ series by Thorskegga Thorn
Thorskegga has started a series of paintings depicting the gods worshipped by the Anglo-Saxon and Norse settlers in England.
Hela is the goddess of Hel, the dismal land where the dead who are not awarded a place in the halls of Asgard will live until the world’s end. Hel is described as a place of misery and decay, at least one academic (Simek) has suggested that this image has been borrowed from Christian belief, and that Hela may not be a genuine heathen goddess.
The Norse literature describes Hela as half decayed, and living in a hall filled with rotten furnishings.
She is shown here with Garn the dog that guards the land of the dead (possible borrowed from Classical mythology?), the shears associated with fate and death, and snakes are a common motif in the Norse Hel.
Monkshood has been chosen for Hela’s plant, because it is both one of the most beautiful of flowers and also one of the most deadly poisons. In folklore it is also associated with Cerberus the classical hell hound. Behind her the sun is in full eclispe, a traditional symbol of calamity represented in the Norse myths by the wolf Fenris who constantly attempts to swallow the sun.
The drinking horn shows Hela in the traditional role of the ‘horn bearer’ welcoming guests to her hall. The sagas describe a pleasant after life underground in the Hall of the Dead, as ‘hel’ and ‘hall’ have the same root, maybe Hela once had a more benevolent role, as queen of the afterlife.