Hel is the Norse queen of the underworld, a mother goddess in her underworld guise. She rules over a firey womb of regeneration and is especially responsible for those who die of disease or old age. Her underworld, unlike the Christian hell, which received its name from her, is simply an otherworld, a place of renewal rather than a place of punishment and misery. When northern shamans visit her realm, they put on a helkappe, magic mask (sometimes a helmet) that renders them invisible. It is possible that the masked harlequin, a standard character in commedia dell’arte, was originally one of the kindred of the goddess Hel. Hel is an embodiment of the divine mystery, a challenge to look behind the mask of appearances to see things as they really are.
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