Not every religion has a version of hell, but if they do, it’s generally not a nice place. It’s where the evil and unjust go to suffer, and the worse they are, the more elaborate their punishments can be. Here are 10 awful (but extremely creative) ways to spend the afterlife.

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1) Flaming Wheel

In Greek mythology, Ixion is known as the first (mortal) kinslayer, having pushed his father-in-law onto a bed of hot coals. For some reason, this earned him dinner with the gods, at which point Ixion immediately fell for Hera, Zeus’ wife. He played footsie with her until Zeus noticed and knocked it off. Normally, that would be more than enough for Zeus to freak out, but instead Zeus later sent a Hera clone (made out of a cloud) to see if Ixion was dumb enough to have sex with her. He was. And then he was cast into Tartarus and strapped to a flaming wheel that spun for eternity. Being on fire is terrible, but being on fire and dizzy is even worse.

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2) Flaming Tombs

In the sixth circle of Hell as chronicled in Dante’s Inferno, people who have committed the sin of heresy — speaking against God — are set on fire and entombed. This of course includes atheists, but also Pope Anastasius II — yes, an actual Pope — who had the temerity to try and bridge the gap with the Eastern church, who had separated after a schism. Anastasius II was willing to accept the baptisms performed by the Eastern church as legitimate, and thus it was a flaming tomb for him.

3) River of Fire But Also Arrows

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The seventh circle of hell is where it starts getting good, which is to say where the punishments start getting really bad. For instance, in the outer ring of the seventh circle, those who were violent in life are forced to hang out in a river of boiling blood and fire (why pick just one?) and if anyone tries to inch up out of the water, a centaur shoots them with arrows until they sink back down to their appropriate level.

4) Getting Tossed Onto Knife Mountains

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Dante hardly has a monopoly on interesting hells, of course. Chinese Taoism details 18 levels of hell (there actually used to be more than 84,000, but that was a bit much even for the Buddha, and it got simplified). In one right out of a Clive Barker movie, people are strung up by hooks digging into their flesh. In another, inhabitants are continually dismembered and crushed by giant rocks, various vehicles, and special dismembering machines. In another, people are repeatedly ground up like hamburger. And in my favorite, sinners are thrown off cliffs onto landscapes made entirely of knives.

5) Upsettingly Specific Demons

Although ancient Egyptian mythology didn’t exactly have a specific hell to speak off, dying still wasn’t much fun. Everyone who came to the afterlife had to get past a barrage of demons to sit in order to for their soul to be judged — demons with names like “Blood-drinker who comes from the Slaughterhouse” or “One who eats the excrement of his hindquarters” — as well as monsters, various animals, and even just dudes with knives. Whether you were good or bad, you had to deal with these guys, and then if you were worthy you got reborn, and if you weren’t your soul was annihilated.

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6) Transforming Into a Tree and Being Eaten

If you committed suicide in the world of Dante’s Inferno, your troubles were actually just beginning. In the middle ring of the Seventh Circle, people who committed the sin of killing themselves aren’t just turned into living thorn bushes that can feel pain and are also constantly eaten by harpies. Fun fact: If you snap a twig on one of these thorn trees, it bleeds!

7) Eternal Manual Labor

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You know if your eternal punishment ends up spawning a word, you’ve done something wrong. In King Sisyphus’’ case, he had a bad habit of killing his guests (a very big no-no) and an even worse habit of talking smack about Zeus. For his stupidity, he was sentenced to push a large boulder up a hill for eternity, only to have it inevitably roll back down before he reached the top. Granted, compared to many of the punishments in the Christian hell, Sisyphus got off light, but doing hard physical labor and being bored out of your mind is no fun way to spend eternity.

8) Demons Who Are Also Jerks

The hell of the Mayans was referred to as Xibalba, a court in the underworld ruled by two gods and 10 demons. The whole place was basically designed to hurt while also making you miserable — you had to travel through rivers of blood, pus and scorpions just to get there; the bench you had to sit on when you were judged was secretly burning hot; they even put mannequins among the judges just so you wouldn’t know who was real and you felt like an idiot. After judgment you went to one of six hours, which could be filled with hail and freezling cold, razor blades, or hungry jaguars. And meanwhile, the 10 demons would pair up to torment you while you were doing all this, whether they were making you continually cough up blood or hiding in shadows while waiting to jump out and stab you.

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9) Poop River

Weirdly, flatterers get a much harsher punishment than blasphemers do in Dante’s inferno. Blasphemers have to hang out in a recreation of Sodom, where the sand is on fire and burning ashes fall from the sky. Not fun, admittedly. But flatterers have to live in a sea of excrement, representative of the shit they spoke in life. This is also one of the hells of Hinduism, except that the river also includes blood and urine. Fun!

10) Whatever This Insanity Is

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Much like the Catholic view of hell, the Islamic hell — Jahannam — was full of interesting punishments for sinners. They almost all involved being set on fire in some way — could be your skin, your lips, or your face — but there is one special punishment that bears mentioning. If you’re bad enough, you could be yoked and dragged through boiling water that was also on fire, but then you also had to wear special sandals that boiled your brain at the same time. Also, there were scorpions that would sting you and whose venom would last for 40 years, but that actually seems like a pretty mild inconvenience when your brain is already boiling in your skull.


Contact the author at rob@io9.com.