"In Wonders We Sail, Questing for the Answers in Veil"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Heaven and Hell


For the ancients, the sky was the natural abode of the gods, who controlled sunlight, rain and the other natural forces upon which life depended. Often the gods were believed to live on a solid dome (or firmament) above the earth, from which they observed and judged the activities of mortals. The heavens, or heaven (the two words are similar in most languages), were thus the obvious place of reward for a good life. And as the opposite of heaven, hell - a dark subterranean world - came to symbolize the place of punishment and retribution.

Descriptions of heaven vary greatly between cultures. In many Western interpretations, heaven is merely a distillation of earthly pleasures. Christian artists often depicted heaven as a beautiful garden or orchard, and the Norse heaven of Valhalla was a place of constant feasting and drinking. In the Inca and ancient Egyptian traditions, heaven had a more spiritual dimension, being a place of inner peace and liberation from carnal desires. Visions of hell are similarly diverse. Christian art saw hell as the abode of the Devil guarded by the three-headed dog Cerberus (borrowed from Greek mythology) and carried grave warnings of the infernal retribution for specific sins: fornicators, for example, were punished by having their genitals eaten by insects and toads. In the Islamic tradition, the bodies of sinners are enlarged in order to aggravate their suffering in hell. The ancient Greeks believed that Hades, the underworld, consisted of three realms: the Plain of Asphodel, a limbo world where souls were destined to wander aimlessly; the Elysian Plain, which was the destination of the fortunate few; and Tartarus, where the wicked were punished.

Eastern religions generally place more emphasis on rebirth, and final release from the cycle of becoming, than on finite concepts such as heaven and hell. For example, in Buddhism heaven and hell are seen as places where one works off the merits or demerits accrued in this life before returning once more to the world of incarnation.


Paradise


Paradise is seen as a place of peace, light, and beauty, echoing the primordial perfection of nature. It sometimes represents heaven itself and sometimes a stage on the road toward it. It may be depicted as a garden or, in the Christian tradition, as the New Jerusalem.


Tsitigarbharaja


The concept of eternal hell is at odds with Buddhist teachings. Buddhism embodies enduring love and compassion in Tsitigarbharaja, the bodhisattva who descends into hell in order to teach and rescue those suffering there.


Jacob's Ladder 


In Genesis, Jacob dreams of angels ascending and descending a ladder between heaven and earth. The ladder indicates that mankind can ascend to heaven and the divine can descend to earth, but also implies that the link between the two is unstable.


The Japanese Hell


In Japanese visions of hell, sinners are judged by Emma-o, lord of the underworld, who is usually depicted holding his staff of office. After judgment, sinners are consigned to one of sixteen regions of fire or ice, and can be saved only by the prayers of the living.


The Flaming Sword



When Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, God placed "a flaming sword that turned every way" to the east of the garden. It symbolizes the sacrifice that must now be made by those wishing to reenter the garden - the surrender of the ego that believes itself separate from God.


Charon and Styx


Death has always been symbolized as a journey - the flight of the soul to the court of Osiris, the sea crossing to the Isles of the Blessed, the ride with the Valkyries to Valhalla. For the Greeks,the journey was across the River Styx, ferried by Charon the ghostly boatman. To pay for this dark passage the dead were buried with coins in their mouths.


Nirvana


The supreme goal of the Buddhists, Nirvana is beyond description: it is ultimate tranquility, the release from all the limitations of existence, and is symbolized in only the most abstract form.

For More On Symbolisms And Meaning (Click)

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