Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Spirit Guide: 9 Circles of Hell (According to Dante)

HELL (as described by Dante)

CLASS IXII Physical Location

The entrance to the Christian hell was uncovered by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri in the year 1300 A.D. His account of his journey and the exploration of the netherworld was the subject of his epic The Divine Comedy.

In the text, Dante describes the number of levels of hell, along with the punishments each level receives. It appears that the type of punishment each soul receives is in some way connected with their sins in life. If one is able to locate the entrance to Hell, one must use extreme caution and avoid entering at all costs, for fear they may be unable to exit once they have entered the underworld.

Dante never gives an exact location for the entrance to the Netherworld in his work; however it is described as being in a dark wood near a mountain. Over the entrance to hell is an inscription which reads "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" (Abandon all hope ye who enter here.) Due to the description of the beasts he is chased by (a lion, a leopard, and a wolf) it is conjectured that he was somewhere in Africa when he made his discovery.

Once inside the entrance, Dante first encountered a vestibule full of people chasing after a banner, while being constantly stung by hornets. It appears that most of the spirits on this initial level of the Underworld were found guilty of being uncommitted to any cause in their life. Immediately after passing through the vestibule, Dante was granted passage over the river Acheron to encounter the first true level of Hell, Limbo.

Compared to the rest of the levels of Hell, Limbo might be considered the most pleasant, with fields described as a verdant green and a castle with seven gates. Dante encountered several notable shades on his journey in this vicinity including Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Euclid, Cicero, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, and Saladin. It appears that those sentenced to this level were “the unbaptized and virtuous pagans.” As Dante attempted to descend further, he was initially blocked by one of the judges of the dead, Minos, a man with the tail of a snake. It was the duty of Minos to assign each sinner to their punishment, which he did so by wrapping his tail around himself to indicate how far the condemned should go.

After bypassing Minos, Dante encountered a plane where spirits were swept back and forth by a monumental storm, unable to rest. On this plane Dante was stopped by the notable shades of Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Achilles, Paris, and Tristan, who were condemned for their lust in life.
The next circle, those sinners condemned for gluttony, was guarded by Cerberus, a beast which took the form of a giant dog with three heads. In this plane, the prisoners were forced to lie is slush created by an icy rain.

Further on, Dante encountered the ruler of the Fourth Circle, Pluto. He watched over two sets of prisoners, the miserly and the prodigal, who were condemned to this level for sins related to greed. Here the two groups were chained with heavy weights. It may be noted that additional evidence was gained on the prisoners for this level of Hell by Ebenezer Scrooge, as his account of Jacob Marley’s shade is eerily similar.

The fifth circle of Hell is composed of the river Styx, which also serves to punish those guilty of the sins of anger. In the river, the spirits try to seize each other in order to bring themselves to the top of the surface. Immediately on the other edge of the river are the city walls of Dis, which holds the rest of the levels of Hell. The walls of the city are guarded by fallen angels, while the gatekeepers themselves are the Furies (Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone) and Medusa. The only way of opening the gate without their permission is through the use of a religious relic.

The sixth circle of Hell is full of heat and smoke generated by flaming tombs. In each of these coffins spirits guilty of heresy are sealed for eternity.

The next level of Hell is composed of three separate regions, the fiery river of Phlegethon, a region of thorn bushes, populated by the Harpies, and a desert of flaming sand, which is regularly wracked by storms of burning brimstone. Each of the souls who are sentenced to this circle of Hell was guilty of the sin of violence. Those who are residing within the river are condemned for violence against people and property, while the thorn bushes of the second region were the transfigured souls of those guilty of suicide. Finally, those specters who reside in the desert are the violent against God and nature.

As Dante descended further down a steep rock face, he found himself in the Eighth Circle, also known as Malebolge (from the Latin “Evil Pockets”.) This area composed of ten stone ditches, with bridges between them, each ditch containing sinners who were guilty of some form of fraud. They are as follows:

Bolgia 1- Panderers and Seducers are forced to march by whip wielding demons for eternity.   
Bolgia 2- Flatterers are steeped in human excrement.
Bolgia 3- Those guilty of simony are placed head first into holes in the rock, with flames applied to their feet.
      Bolgia 4-Sorcerers, astrologers, and false prophets have their heads twisted around from their bodies and are forced to walk backward
      Bolgia 5-Corrupt politicians are immersed in a lake of boiling pitch.
      Bolgia 6-Hypocrites are forced to wear gilded cloaks made of lead to weigh them down.
 Bolgia 7-Thieves are pursued by snakes, and when the thieves are bitten, they are forced to go painful transfigurations.
Bolgia 8- Fraudulent or corrupt advisors are consumed by individual bonfires.
Bolgia 9- Those guilty of promoting violence and strife are hacked apart by sword wielding demons, only to heal and repeat the process through eternity.
Bolgia 10- Alchemists, counterfeiters, and imposters are inflicted with various diseases, such as fever and madness.

After descending another rock face, Dante entered into the deepest circle of hell, that of the icy lake known as the Cocytus. There were four separate regions, each named for a certain type of betrayal:
Caina-Those treacherous to kin are encased in ice up to their chests
Atenora- Those who betrayed their community are encased in ice up to the neck.
Ptolomaea- Those guilty of betraying guests are laid out in the ice with only their faces uncovered.
Judecca- Those treacherous against the people that they swore loyalty to are completely encased in the ice.

After passing through all nine levels, Dante encountered Satan himself, frozen in the ice up to his waist. He was seen to have three heads, each head devouring a sinner convicted of high treason. Those particular specters are believed to be those of Brutus, Cassius, and Judas Iscariot. 

In order to escape Hell, Dante was forced to descend even further, where he discovered a hidden passageway that led through the earth to end in Purgatory. From there, he was then able to make his eventual escape to the surface.


Due to the excessive number of dangers, it is not recommended that one seek out the Nine Circles for exploration. If one must do so, it is highly recommended to have complete faith, a myriad of relics on hand, as well as the foreknowledge that it may very well be one’s last exploration.

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