Fearsome Rulers Of The Mythological Underworld

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Vote up the terrifying rulers of the underworld you pray to never see in the afterlife.

Whether it’s called Hell, Hades, or Duat, almost every culture has myths about the underworld. Known as the realm of the dead, the underworld is a place of shadows where all souls travel once their lives meet their end. In most stories, it's located just under the land of the living, with only the heroic braving the journey into the realm. Although the underworld is usually portrayed as a desolate place where doomed souls freefall into eternal damnation, the underworld can also be a place of paradise and pleasure, far removed from pain. 

While the role of the underworld and the fates of those who enter vary, one universal aspect is the gods of death that preside over their dominion. For many of the deceased, the gods of the dead act as judges, punishing evil while guiding the good through their journey into the afterlife. Others are less passionate, passively watching over their domain with disinterest. Regardless of whether they are cruel, passive, or kind, the gods of death are as varied as the cultures that believe in them.

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    60 VOTES

    Sedna - Inuit Mythology

    Sedna - Inuit Mythology
    Photo: Sailko / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 3.0

    Sedna is the ruler of the underworld and creatures of the sea in Inuit mythology. While the legend of how Sedna became a sea goddess varies, most iterations involve her father throwing her into the ocean from his boat. In particularly gruesome tales, he chopped off her fingers as she clung to his kayak, her digits turning into whales, seals, and sea lions as she sank to the bottom of the sea. 

    Sedna remained at the bottom of the ocean, becoming a powerful spirit that dominated the artic. Those who saw her said she had the tail of a fish, the torso of a woman, and kept sea creatures entangled in her hair. Her control of sea creatures made her an important figure in Inuit culture, especially with hunters who relied on her to provide food. Hunters would throw broken finishing equipment into the ocean as tribute as well as the liver of the first animal caught in spring. Animals would only be released if hunters placated Sedna with enough prayers and offerings. Even with her followers offering tribute, Sedna is a temperamental and vengeful god and unleashes storms as retribution for her often violent death. 

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    84 VOTES

    Cizin - Mayan Mythology

    Cizin - Mayan Mythology
    Photo: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Often depicted as a dancing human skeleton smoking a cigarette, Cizin was known as the god of death to the Mayans. He came upon the doomed without warning, bringing the foul, putrid smell of flatulence and rot. Cizin was a greedy, vengeful god, never allowing souls the opportunity for rebirth. Instead, he kept evil souls in the underworld, where he regularly subjected them to trickery and torment. Some believe Cizin was possibly one part of a malevolent underworld deity who presented itself as several entities, including Ah Puch, Xibalba, and Yum Cimil.

    Closely tied with the god of war, the pair were often drawn together in scenes of sacrifice. Cizin was distinguishable by his “death collar” made of human eyes dangling from nerves and blood splatters covering his body. After the Spanish Conquest, Cizin became closely identified with the Christian devil.

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    76 VOTES

    Elrik - Siberian Mythology

    Elrik - Siberian Mythology
    Photo: Louis Lebreton / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Portrayed as a Satan-like figure, Erlik reigns as the god of death in Siberian folklore. He was crafted by the creator god, Ulgan, to help give shape to the earth and humanity. But Erlik was a prideful creation, discontent with being a subservient helper. He began to undermine Ulgan, stealing the very mud he was created with to build his own world. His plans were thwarted by the creator god, which angered Erlik and made him turn his attention to the clay dolls Ulgan had lovingly created. When Ulgan wasn’t looking, Erlik breathed life into the dolls and enticed them with evil. Devastated over the betrayal, Ulgan flung Erlik into the underworld, but not before Erlik stole clay dolls and turned them into evil spirits. 

    Though Erlik was banished from the world, his evil spirits spread misfortune, sickness, and death to mankind. If someone died from one of his blights, their spirit was taken to his lower world, where he enslaved and tortured them. The only way to save a loved one touched by Erlik's spirit was to perform animal sacrifices to appease the deity.

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    60 VOTES

    Whiro - Maori Mythology

    Māori mythology names Whiro as the lord of darkness and embodiment of all things evil. The sworn enemy of his brother, Tāne, the pair are forever fighting as darkness and light. Their feud drives Whiro's desire to plague humanity with illness and misfortune as he vows to destroy his brother's favorite creation.

    Whiro dwells within Taiwhetuki (the House of Death), an endless, black cave that nothing can escape. It's said that every time a soul enters the underworld, Whiro eats their bodies, growing stronger with each one. Whiro will eventually eat enough bodies to become powerful enough to break free of the underworld and devour everything and everyone on Earth. Since Whiro can't gain strength from ashes, most tribes recommend cremation. 

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    73 VOTES

    Llao - Klamath Native American Mythology

    Formed after a cataclysmic volcanic eruption, Crater Lake is known as one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon. According to the Klamath tribe that calls the region their home, it's also the former home of Llao, a god of the underworld.

    Llao lived on Mount Mazama until he fell in love with the same mortal woman as Skell, a god of the upper world. Angered by the competition, the gods fought over the hand of their love. Llao summoned fearsome creatures to overtake the land and filled the sky with thick bellows of smoke before the volcano erupted with brutal force. Molten rocks rained onto the ground, killing Skell and forcing Llao to retreat to the highest point of his mountain. Unfortunately for Llao, Skell was revived and took the opportunity to corner him before attacking again. This time, Skell threw Llao over the edge of his mountain, where he landed back in the underworld with the same creatures he summoned to defeat Skell. To prevent anyone from escaping, Skell covered the opening to the underworld with the top of Mount Mazama and covered the remains of the dark pit with water to restore peace and tranquility to the savaged area. While Llao may be imprisoned, many blame his long-standing anger for the tumultuous weather that still plagues the mountain. 

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    54 VOTES

    Yama - Hinduism

    Yama - Hinduism
    Photo: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    With a gruesome face and coppery eyes, Yama is the dreaded god of death in Hindu lore. He enters the earthly realm on his buffalo, his mace and noose always at his side. When a life has come to its predestined end, Yama and his assistants are responsible for taking the soul back to his castle at Naraka, where the soul will be judged and sentenced. Yama weighs the good and evil deeds of man, sending sinners to one of his many hells and the virtuous to join their forefathers in Pitris (the equivalent of heaven). In some cases, individuals may be reincarnated as either a superior or inferior being depending on their karma.

    Yama has taken many forms since his conception. Believed to be the first man who died, he opened the path to the underworld, which all celestial beings must follow before moving on to their afterlife. Yama was then represented as a cheerful king, guiding the departed instead of punishing the sins of the recently deceased. Later mythology saw his role turn evil, with Yama and his assistants cutting humanity down during the prime of their life. Despite being seen as evil, Yama is ultimately a fair deity, never losing sight of the importance of appropriate judgment.