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Circles of Hell

It's not bad enough to have just one plane of eternal torment. Many times, Hell has multiple layers, with those layers being tailored toward punishing certain kinds of evil, and the ones further down holding even more horrible punishments than the upper layers. Fire and Brimstone Hell is usually just one of the lesser levels; sometimes they really get creative.

Often, Heaven will have a number of layers as well, corresponding to varying degrees of holiness and/or purity.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Dragon Ball, Hell - also known as the Home For Infinite Losers - seems to have a number of layers.
  • YuYu Hakusho, where Younger Toguro requests to be sent to the last circle of hell, which is 10,000 years of torture for 10,000 cycles until his soul ceases to exist.
  • One Piece: Although the real 'Hell' hasn't been seen, Impel Down, the strongest prison in the One Piece world is based on this, having each layers of prison floors a hell, (ie: Level 2 is 'Beast Hell', level 5 is 'Freezing Hell and etc..)
  • The fourth Bleach movie mostly rakes place in Hell. The first layer of Hell is a "city" of floating gray blocks with blue walkways between them all under a red sky. The guards, called Kushanada, mostly patrol this layer, which contains damned souls that have gone insane. The second layer is a vast sea with stone platforms and giant bowl-like sculptures shaped like lillies floating on it. At least one has a Kushanada skeleton impaled within it. The sky here is a lavender color. The third layer has the bottom of the sea as its "sky" and is made of several plateaus pockmarked with pits of yellow liquid. The liquid can harm souls and is deep enough to hide Kushanada. The spaces between the palteaus are filled with clouds. The fourth layer is covered in dunes of blue grit, which formed from countless damned souls dying again. The most prominent landmark is a Stonehenge-like structure that partly encircles a Lava Pit that has a giant humanoid skeleton halfway out of it. The horizon is concealed by yellow clouds which also fill the sky. The lowest layer is dotted with irregular pillars topped with lava pits. The Kushanada can emerge from the pillars. Rivers of lava flow between the pillars under a perpetual thunderstorm. Bones of various sizes cover most of the solid ground there.

    Comicbooks 
  • Spawn features ten spheres of hell. They're distinguished from one another more by their native fauna than by their prisoners.
  • DC's crossover Underworld Unleashed used this model for Neron's hell.
  • The X-Men went into Hell once to save Nightcrawler's soul. It resembled Dante's Hell.
  • Mephisto's Hell is intentionally modeled after this, to intimidate the damned mortal souls who end up there.
  • Two Disney Comics adaptations of The Divine Comedy, Mickey's Inferno and Donald's Inferno. Both have the circles being of specific, family-friendly sins.
  • Star Trek (the comic book incarnation) once featured Kirk, Spock, and Mc Coy having to get to the bottom of Dante's Inferno...so that Spock could mind-meld with "Lucifer" — actually the powerful but sick alien telepath who'd incapacitated the entire Enterprise with the illusion (he'd read the actual book shortly beforehand) — and snap him out of it, restoring things to normal.

    Fan Works 

    Film 
  • Referenced in Liar Liar: Fletcher, unable to lie, declares that he has "slipped into the seventh circle of hell."

    Literature 
  • Older Than Print: Dante's Inferno isn't the Trope Maker, as it's based on some apocryphal scriptures, merely the Trope Codifier for the West. (It's often not mentioned that Dante's Heaven and Purgatory are built in a similar way.)
  • Midkemia in The Riftwar Cycle is sandwiched between seven hells and seven heavens, though it is pointed out that whether a plane is heaven or hell is subjective to the individual (i.e. Midkemia would be considered the First Heaven to someone from what they consider the First Hell, and vice versa). Also, it may go further up and down; it's merely that once you reach the seventh layer either direction, human minds are no longer capable of comprehending what's going on.
  • Invoked, naturally enough, in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Inferno, which is a 20th century take on Dante.
  • In Jodi Picoult's The Tenth Circle, Daniel, one of the main characters, creates a comic book about traveling through the circles of hell to rescue his daughter. It reflects off the struggles he's having at home.
  • In the Incarnations of Immortality series, both Heaven and Hell possess different circles/regions. Where you end up depends on what kind of person you were in life. In Heaven you go to different circles if you were a philosopher or a military leader. In Hell people who litter (yes) are forced to pick up litter in the freezing cold without any clothes until they've picked up as much litter as they contributed to, directly or indirectly, in life... though since this was shown and explained by Satan while giving a third party a supervised "tour" of Hell, its truthfulness is highly questionable, at best.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero in Hell, there are regions to Hell. Worse, there are Hellwinds which will blow you back to the appropriate place, even if you're a visiting still alive mortal.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Referenced by Shepherd Book in the Firefly episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds."
    Book: If you take sexual advantage of her, you're going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.
  • An episode of Angel had a characer trapped in a suburban style part of hell and Angel had to bust him out. Spike tagged along and told him that there's more than one Hell such as a "Freezing Hell".
  • In the final episode of Hex, Mehpistopheles drily comments to Leon: "Well, if you'd been on a permanent loop through the nine circles of hell, you wouldn't look too hot either".

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Both the Aztec and Maya Underworlds are divided into 9 levels. In the Aztecs' case, Paradise and the Sky are also divided into 3 and 13 levels, respectively.
  • The Hells of Buddhism are where people with particularly bad karma are reborn. They must live, die and be reborn again and again in whatever hell they're in until they have worked off all of their bad karma, which can last for many kalpas (eons) on end depending on which hell they're reborn in, with Avici, the lowest hell reserved for those who commit one or more of the five unforgivable offenses in Buddhism, being the longest in duration.
  • The mix of Buddhism and local beliefs in East Asia has made Hell the Worst Bureaucracy Ever.
  • Somewhat inverted in Origen's notion of Hell. Hell itself was a level... of Heaven.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Outer Planes in Dungeons & Dragons, both good and bad (and neutral and lawful and chaotic) are almost always divided into different layers. However, a soul's actions in life determine which plane they end up on, usually not which layer of that plane. For example, those who lived a Lawful Evil existence wind up in Baator where their immortal soul is tortured to empower the devils who rule the plane, while evil warlords may face an eternity of war on the Infernal Battlefield of Acheron.
    • The Nine Hells of Baator are obviously inspired by Dante, but the individual layers are tailored more to the Archdevils who rule them rather than a particular type of damned soul. Dis for example is an infernal metropolis organized as an Orwellian police state under the paranoid schemer Dispater, while Maladomini is a reeking ruin fit for Baalzebul, the disgusting Lord of Flies. Malbolge is particularly disturbing for being made from its former ruler.
    • The Abyss is probably infinite in horrifying variety, but tradition holds it consists of 666 layers, each somehow worse than the last.
    • The prison plane of Carceri is one that sends damned souls to a layer based on their mortal crimes. The Stygian bogs of Orthrys are home to political turncoats, while those who chose base lust over reason are consigned to the acidic jungles and razor-sharp grasslands of Cathrys. The unrelenting sandstorms of Minethys flay misers who refused to part with their wealth to help others, liars whose falsehoods brought others harm must cling to the cruel mountains of Colothys, while those too shallow and selfish to take the opportunity to help someone huddle on the freezing sandbars of Porphatys' stinging seas.
    • As said before, even the good afterlives have layers. Lawful Good petitioners undertake a spiritual journey to progress up the Seven Mounting Heavens of Celestia. By the time they reach the summit they either become such paragons of their philosophy that they merge with the plane itself, or perhaps Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence — nobody knows since they don't come back.
  • Infernum is set in a Hell styled in this fashion, which is justified because demonic civilization literally arose from the 2400-miles-deep crater which Lucifer and the other First Fallen smashed into the land when they were flung from Heaven. The exterior of the crater, the First Circle, is called Emptiness — a huge barren wasteland where even demons can get lost and wander forever. The bottom of the Pit is the Ninth Circle, the ancient city of Pandemonium. Descending from Emptiness to Pandemonium requires passing through Tempestnote , Tearsnote , Toilnote , Slaughternote , Industrynote , Delightnote , and the Malebolgenote  in that order.
  • In both Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, the Chaos God Slaanesh's palace is described in these terms, ringed by the six Circles of Desire: Avidity, Gluttony, Carnality, Paramountcy, Vainglory and finally Indolence. Each layer serves as a defensive mechanism, so that an intruder may be turned into a lifeless golden statue after lingering too long in Avidity, fall prey to the Daemonettes inhabiting Carnality, or become trapped in Indolence until their body crumbles to dust.
  • The Seven Heavens of the world of the Children of Fire RPG contain a number of realms that would be Hellish in the eyes of many a mortal. The Second Heaven is where the Fallen were cast down after Sammael's rebellion, and is a place of sightless torment. The northern realm of the Third Heaven, Tartarus, is where human sinners are punished, and is a desolate, lifeless place. Finally, the northern realm of the Fifth Heaven is where corrupted angels are punished.

    Videogames 
  • Nippon Ichi, particularly Makai Kingdom and Disgaea not only has The Multiverse, but multiple Netherworlds; occasionally warring on each other; much like the Dungeons & Dragons version; but most are not nearly as Grim Dark.
  • Dante's Inferno, natch. Since it's based on the Trope Codifier, they sure couldn't miss this one.
  • The Civilization IV mod Fall from Heaven has six circles of hell, one for each evil God/Goddess (except one, who was originally good). Interestingly, hell in that universe isn't so much a prison for the wicked as it is a factory for the creation of demons to eventually wage war back on the outside world of Erebus. Each circle represents some aspect of evil to be cultivated in the inhabitants to turn them more and more demonic. There's even a circle of hell that mimics Erebus, designed to trick would-be-escapees of hell into giving up and returning to the other levels.
  • Act III of Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark takes place in the frozen wastes of Cania, the eighth circle of Hell in the D&D cosmology.

    Webcomics 
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del, like Dante, gives nine circles, but they're for the different types of bastard you encounter in MMOs. Griefers are forever spawn-camped, Ninja Looters roll a 1 on every drop, and so on.
  • Circles exist in And Shine Heaven Now's version of Hell. There's one specifically for people that get in the way of Integra's mission. Committing that sin takes precedent over any other sins the human or vampire may have committed (explained as because she's on a mission from God, fighting her is akin to fighting God).
  • In Hell Lost Dante is revealed as being mistaken: they are not circles, in fact, but ledges that step down to the Frozen Plain described by Milton, where both a frozen lake and one of fire can be found.
  • In Dresden Codak, plans for Hell involve figuring out which circle you end up in.

    Web Originals 
  • The Onion has an article with the headline "Tenth Circle Added To Rapidly Growing Hell". Corpadverticus, the realm of Total Bastards, is built to contain publicists and lobbyists, media whores, and awards-show hosts.
    • Niven and Pournelle just stuck those types in Malebolgia with the rest of the flatterers (wallowing in shit).
      • They also added a second anus to them, which eternally flows with shit. It's right below their tongue (Spouting shit).
  • The Seven Levels of Pun Hell.
  • Barely anyone gets into Heaven in Bartleby Tales due to the God of the universe being a dick (only six souls out of virtually countless dead even made it to Heaven in the past year), so the first level of Hell was converted into the closest thing Satan could make to Heaven. The second (where the story is set) is A Hell of a Time, helping people deprogram from a life spent following God's mindless taboos. The third through sixth are like purgatory, and only the seventh is a proper Ironic Hell (for people who're really, really evil.)

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama and all the levels of Robot Hell.
  • Parodied in God, the Devil and Bob. The Devil gets so wrapped up in his competition with God over Bob's soul (and, by extension, the fate of Earth) that his underlings turn the fourth circle into a luxurious golf course. When he finds out, he decides to show them what a tough course really looks like.


Bloody Bowels of HellMetaphysical PlaceFire and Brimstone Hell
Bloody Bowels of HellInfernal TropesFire and Brimstone Hell
Bloody Bowels of HellAfterlife TropesFire and Brimstone Hell
Celestial BureaucracyReligion TropesHeaven
Chained by FashionImageSource/Tabletop GamesCorpse Land

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