Mon 17 Jan 2011
Back in 2007 with mine, Seth and Anthony‘s Brat-halla webcomic, I made a reveal on our interpretation of the Norse goddess Hel by depicting her as half corpse (the lower half). It sparked some comments back then and I explained the reasoning behind the decision, so I thought I’d share those thoughts here (since those comments have long been lost).
The subject of Hel’s nature tends to drive a wedge in-between some people. To some, she could be part corpse. To others, she’s just half blue or blue/black in color (as some artists have depicted her). I always thought it was more fitting for her to be ruler of the underworld AND half-dead herself. It feels right considering how often parities like that show up in the legends of the Vikings.
Technically (well, depending on your translation), the section of the Poetic Edda that mentions Hel describes her as half blue or half blue/black. So where does this notion of corpse-titude come from? Well, considering the culture of the time (those wily Vikings) with all their sailing and cold weather antics, they dealt with two conditions on a regular basis… drowning and frostbite.
Drowning (especially with cold water) will leave a bluish tint to the skin and leave one kinda dead. Frostbite will turn the skin a bluish black color (noticing a pattern here?). With frostbite, the part of the body stricken with it can pretty much be considered dead if the affliction is bad enough (and in modern times, requires amputation).
In those days, I could see a blue or bluish black skin discoloration easily conjuring up images of a dead body to the Vikings, so I took it to that level in characterizing Hel as being half-corpse.