An increasingly popular trope in fantasy novels is the idea that whatever you expect to happen when you die is pretty much what you get — effectively, Your Mind Makes It Real.
So if you believe that your soul will remain chained to the karmic wheel and you'll be reincarnated as a cow, then that's what will happen. If you believe you'll sit at the right hand of God and sing hosannahs, that's what will happen. If you believe there is nothing after death, then all you'll find is nothing. If you believe that you'll become nothing after death, then that's just what you'll do — or not do rather. If you believe in Fire and Brimstone Hell, but don't see yourself as worthy of escaping it, then down you go. Of course, it means generally good but unduly guilt-ridden people will go to Hell, while people that spend their lives picketing funerals will go to Heaven, but nobody said it was fair.
In this scenario Hell is not a literal place of eternal fire and brimstone, but a metaphor for a psychological state of mind suffering from angst, remorse, pessimism, and depression. The mind is its own place, can make a Heaven out of Hell or a Hell out of Heaven. If you are a Pessimist, then you would expect the worst out of everything, and if you expect the worst out of everything, then you would think that you are in an inescapable Hell and therefore succumb to Absolute Despair. If you made a depressing suicidal tragic life full of regrets and unwanted memories, then the replay of these memories would Mind Rape you to Absolute Despair Event Horizon, and you would become a Pessimist with low self-esteem.
Your pessimism would then generate an isolated Pocket Dimension within an impenetrable Absolute Terror Field or Witch Barrier that isolates yourself from the hope and light of God, other souls, or the virtues they represent, for all of eternity or until you somehow manage to tear away your self-inflicted torment and break free.
This is somewhat similar to the Christian conception of Hell, where Hell is what a person inflicts upon themselves by rejecting God, which God can't stop without taking away their Free Will. This is demonstrated by the Parable of the Prodigal Son courtesy of Jesus himself. The Prodigal Son (sinners) left the father (God) thinking that it is "Better to Reign in Hell than serve in Heaven," but eventually he realized the futility of his ways, and the father is more than happy to take the son back and forgive him.
Adherents of Universal Reconciliation take this further and say that Eternal Separation isn't eternal. If God is all forgiving, and you asked for forgiveness, then God is more than happy to forgive you and the eternal separation won't last. Only the Fallen's own pride and hatred are the very factors that keep them from doing just that, delaying their salvation. For this reason, Universalism is incompatible with this trope's belief-making damnation, for if the person believes they will cease to exist, they can never be reconciled, for there is no one there to forgive.
Another dubious point in the religious interpretation above is "For what reason would a Person Willingly choose to punish themselves?" As stated above, a total monster may refuse and thus escape that sort of retribution due to lack of empathy and remorse; an overly sensitive but well-meaning decent person may choose to carry that burden, akin to a Disproportionate Retribution or Misplaced Retribution. Why would the benevolent deity in question allow that injustice to happen? Claims that one would be forced to endure their worst nightmares based solely on specific actions they commit, regardless of how they feel about it, could explain this, though what precisely are the choices that condemn a person, and whether that judgement system is reasonable or not, is another topic.
- In Hell Girl, each person's vision of hell is what hell looks like to them when Ai Enma comes to take them away.
- Almost everyone in Revolutionary Girl Utena are essentially in one of these, as they are too involved in their own troubles to do the one thing which can actually save them, but especially Anthy until the end of the series.
- The third option in Skyhigh.
- The ultimate fate of Younger Toguro, Noble Demon villain in YuYu Hakusho, is practically a Tear Jerker due to this: As his crimes were the result of extenuating circumstances, Koenma tells him he's eligible for a less severe punishment. Toguro, however, has far too heavy a conscience to accept, and instead demands to be sent to a specific part of Hell — one that he knows will be ten thousand years of unspeakable pain, followed by Cessation of Existence. The last time he's ever seen in the series, he's walking through the door leading to it.
- An interesting twist in Hell's Angels. The story is set in Hell, but it is later mentioned that souls' ultimate destiny is Reincarnation, and Hell (and possibly Heaven too) only exist because Abel's grudge of being killed by Cain extended to all of humanity. He created the afterlife and forced people to believe in it by means of philosophy and religion. Those who felt guilty in life went straight to Hell. The main character comes to Hell with her mortal body by accident (?) and puts a stop to all this.
- In Shaman King souls merge with the Great Spirit when they die, moving into various "communities" within it. What community you end up in depends on your personality. Chocolove ends up in a realm of suffering due to his unresolved guilt over his previous murders.
- Queen Nehellenia from Sailor Moon SuperS is trapped within a pocket dimension behind her mirror, and spends all of the season trying to get out. When she does, she's defeated by the good guys and reveals her true form: a withered old hag monster. She escapes back into her prison, preferring a lifetime of loneliness over accepting such an ugly appearance. (Incidentally, the same person who made Utena directed this season.)
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion: Homura creates a world at the end of the movie that is bar none the happiest we've seen in the series: all of the characters (and newcomer Nagisa) are alive and well, Kyouko and Sayaka are sharing Pocky together, the aforementioned Nagisa is a companion for Mami, and Madoka has been freed of her godly duties and is back with her family. There are no Witches to be seen (though their familiars seem to be just wandering around not hurting anyone), and the Incubators are living a long-deserved tortured existence under Homura's heel. But in order to accomplish this, Homura essentially stabbed Madoka in the back, erased her memories and stuffed her in a Gilded Cage, and as far as Homura is concerned she has irrevocably ruined their friendship; for her, this happy little world is one of crushing guilt, an existence without Madoka's friendship or affection. The others may be having fun in this new universe, but for Homura, it's misery beyond her worst nightmares, all at her own hand, and all of it deserved in her mind.
- In his comic book Swamp Thing, Alan Moore explained (decreed?) that the afterlife of the DC universe depends entirely on what the dead expect will happen, be it Heaven, Hell, or reincarnation. It is also possible to trap an innocent in Hell by convincing them that you have the power to do so. This concept has been used in other DC and Vertigo Comics, such as Hellblazer, Lucifer and The Sandman. However, it's also been ignored on occasion due to story requirements or editorial lapses.
- Phil Foglio's '90s Revival of Stanley and His Monster plays with this when Stanley is forced to storm the gates of hell to rescue his friend, the Monster of the title. Stanley is an innocent little kid whose knowledge of Hell comes entirely from Saturday morning cartoons and the Monster's wildly inaccurate stories — so as soon as Stanley enters, Hell becomes cute, brightly-colored, and harmless, with the demons forced to behave as if they were stupid and easily-outwitted. John Constantine clone Ambrose Bierce explains this trope (but not to Stanley, since it only works because Stanley doesn't know any better).
- This idea was thrown out for Constantine, the (very loose) film adaptation of Hellblazer, and replaced with a more conventional system based on Catholicism.
- This is the Hell shown in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman and its spinoff, Lucifer (though not everyone goes to Lucifer's particular Hell, so not everyone chooses their own damnation).
- Lucifer states explicity as much in The Sandman:
Lucifer: "Ten billion years spent providing a place for dead mortals to torture themselves. And like all masochists they called the shots — 'Burn me', 'Freeze me', 'Eat me', 'Hurt me'. And we did."Lucifer: "They live their own tiny lives. I do not live their lives for them. And then they die, and they come here (having transgressed against what they believed to be right), and expect us to fulfill their desire for pain and retributions. I don't make them come here."
- In Death: At Death's Door, several damned souls are people who definitely don't deserve to be in Hell, but are because they sincerely believe they deserve it. For example: one was a little boy who was beaten by his mother. While he was alive, during beatings, his mother said she hated him for being born because the pregnancy ruined her figure, so he naively thinks suffering in Hell will make her love him.
- When Lucifer closes Hell and its inhabitants wander the Earth, a boy who encounters them notices that they seem to have brought their own hells with them. He even manages to convince one of them to give it up and come with him.
- Also, while Lucifer is closing Hell, he finds unique trouble in the last occupant, a guy who staked himself to a wall, refusing to leave because he needed to pay penance for the men, women, and children he slaughtered in life. Lucifer gets him to leave by saying no one remembers what he did centuries ago.
Breschau of Livonia: I am Breschau of Livonia. I ripped out the tongues of those who spoke against me, and cut the unborn babes from the wombs of my enemies women, that they would not become warriors to rise against me. I took my mother by force, and I strangled my sister when she would not consent to my advances. Soon my name was whispered in the night by mothers to terrify their babes into obedience, I am Breschau, who bathed in the blood of children. I am Breschau, who forced the true prophets of the lord to dance upon plates of hot iron, under which fires were burning, and I laughed as they danced. I am Breschau, and when my mistress was unfaithful to me, I cut the nose from her face and wore it about my neck. As for the woman, I had her sewn to her lover, and, skin to skin, I left them in the desert to be eaten by ravens, and I laughed as I heard them scream. I am Breschau, and this is my punishment.Lucifer: You must go.Breschau: Did you not hear me, fiend? I have killed -Lucifer: I heard. You killed a number of people who by now would have been long-since dead anyway. So what? You've been chained to this slab for eleven hundred years. Haven't you tortured yourself enough? [...] But no-one today remembers Breschau. No-one. I doubt one living mortal in a hundred thousand could even point to where Livonia used to be, on a mapnote . The world has forgotten you. Enough. Go.
- The DC Universe Purgatory is shown as a place of crushing ennui; ironically several inhabitants earned their way upwards by kicking the ass of Purgatory's guards in a slightly misguided attempt to do good.
- There is also a minor form of DC Purgatory in Ragman. The evil men Ragman kill get to work off their sins by literally lending their strength to the hero and absorbing his injuries. A broken knee goes away by having some of the souls get injured knees. You work hard enough helping Ragman out/taking his owies, you get to go to Heaven.
- It should be noted that most Vertigo stories are not considered canonical for the DC Universe. The recent miniseries Reign In Hell shows a version of Hell different from the above stories: it turns out Purgatory's actually a subsection of Hell as a whole. But... either you work out your debt and head upstairs to Heaven, or you can take Door Number Two... Hell. You can renounce salvation, leave Purgatory and go to Hell. This is actually part of a much larger question that is answered at the end, answering, exactly, what is the (rather chilling) Unspoken Principle of Purgatory:
Unspoken Principle: You can leave whenever you want.
- Lucifer states explicity as much in The Sandman:
- When the hero of The Savage Dragon meets God, He claims that whatever one believes is what happens:
Dragon: You mean - if I firmly believed that I'd spend the rest of eternity making mad, passionate love to a bevy of leggy super-models - I'd get that?
- The Chronicles of Wormwood has a system that largely revolves around this, but some adjustments are made on a case-by-case basis. For instance, suicide bombers go to Heaven and get 72 virgins, but all 72 are babies that they have to care for for eternity. Also, the road to hell is literally paved with mimes, who go to hell regardless.
- Averts the usual injustices associated with this trope - guilt-stricken innocents going to Hell and shameless monsters going to Heaven - because one of the features of the afterlife in this setting is that you become inescapably aware of what you deserve. This is hinted to be one of the greatest punishments of Hell, since most of the damned suffer from Moral Myopia of one form or another.
- Roberta Gregory's Winging It shows the main character, Lupe, confronting a horrifically wounded Jesus on a crucifix, who later turns into Satan. Meanwhile, a small child is running toward a beatific "Deezus!" and a Latina woman is being embraced by the Virgin Mary.
- In classic Strontium Dog, Hell includes a desert of the dead, overseen by the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Those who walk through it can see the city of Hate in the distance, but never get any closer. As they fall into despair, they gradually turn into skeletons and simply kneel down, facing the city they will never reach, with nothing but their thoughts for all eternity.
- When Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is (temporarily) in Hell, he finds out that Satan isn't actively torturing the damned souls, they're making their own afterlife miserable by sticking to the same petty obsessions they had in life. It's hinted Satan suffers the most from having to put up with an eternity of their whining.
- In Issue #36 of Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, Jon ventures into a hole to a vast Hell Dimension that Crypt Chick was taken too. After finding Crypt Chick and intending on escaping, he calls out to the thousands of souls trapped there and tells them that he will bring them along if they choose. They all call out to him and are suddenly free of their imprisonment, their souls rising into the heavens as the sun rises.
- Green Lantern Alan Scott once was forced to venture into Hell, where he found his old enemy Blackbriar Thorn. They fought at the Suicides' Wood, and Thorn used his sorcery to animate the trees, the embodiment of the souls punished in the Wood, to bind Scott. Even though he was no longer unable to affect wood, Green Lantern refused to break free from the trees, as he realized it would be like shredding their arms apart. The realization that someone cares about them, even in the depths of Hell, exorcises the souls from the trees.
- Played With in the Pony POV Series. Heaven and Hell decidedly do not run on subjective morality: be a good person you get to Heaven, by somewhere in the middle remain in Limbo until you figure out which way you'll go, be a bad person you go to Hell, simple as that. However, it's implied the kind of Heaven one experiences is based on their personal view of paradise, though they are capable of interacting freely with others. On the other hand, Hell has at times been shown to involve both karmic punishment and punishment by other 'inmates'. The biggest point however is that ultimately it's surprisingly easy to escape Hell, but few ever figure it out. The only thing required to escape Hell is genuinely accepting one did evil and truly repenting for them. Most people who end up in Hell end up there because they refuse to accept they wronged others and did evil even when the Gods show them the damage they caused.
- The movie Night on the Galactic Railroad deals with a vision of the afterlife which seems at least partly based on where people believe they should go. One of the protagonists has a ticket to "the one True Heaven" (which isn't reached until the very end of the film). However, earlier in the film, a bunch of Christian Titanic victims arrive on the train, which lets them off at "the Southern Cross", a pious - and apparently ersatz - "Christian" version of heaven filled with robed figures making their way towards a giant, glowing cross.
- What Dreams May Come revolves around this. Interestingly, Heaven is also self-inflicted.
- In the backstory of Dogma, shown in a deleted scene, Hell was originally created as a simple prison for fallen angels, but when human souls started to arrive, their guilt-ridden demands for punishment made it much, much worse.
- A subversion of this trope (involving a Posthumous Character) is the framing device of Heaven Can Wait (1943).
- This is the explanation for his predicament given to the protagonist of Open Your Eyes, and its remake Vanilla Sky.
- Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey has a sequence where the title pair are sent to a corridor full of doors, each of which leads to various "own personal Hells". Such torments include Bill having to deal with his creepy grandmother, Ted being berated by the Easter Bunny for stealing some of his brother's candy as a child, and both being subjected to doing infinity push-ups by the Army colonel who wants to recruit them.
What makes it especially self-inflicted is that each punishment is behind a door, and the doors are unlocked. Apparently you can flee your punishment at any time. However, when they refuse to choose a punishment, all the punishments storm out of the doors at once. The idea seems to be that you either choose your damnation or be subjected to them all.
- Lord of War: Because of the things he's done, Yuri Orlov has lost his brother, had his wife and son walk out on him, and his parents disown him. As Agent Valentine says to him:
"I would tell you go to hell... but I think you're already there."
- This is part of the Twist Ending in Hellraiser: Inferno. As Pinhead explains, Joseph has built his own Hell by hurting and abusing everyone around him. He'll be stuck in an endless loop where he hunts his own dark side and has to watch his friends and family be butchered in front of him.
- Cruel and Unusual: The authorities in the afterlife seem to imply it is this, and that if the condemned accept their sins they can move on. However, only Doris is seen to do this, solely because Edgar took her place.
- The Rapture: Sharon refuses to enter heaven, even if she can see her daughter and husband again, remaining in an empty desert place by herself forever, just because she's angry with God.
- In a Sufi parable a king once meets a dervish (a wandering monk) and asks him about where he's been to. "To Hell," - answers the dervish, - "I needed to light my smoke pipe, so I decided to go and ask them for some fire." "So," - says the king, - "any luck?" "Nope," - answers the dervish, - "they didn't have any. They said everybody brings their own."
- In hell, they say, you only have a tremendous spoon with which to feed yourself. But it's too long to ever reach your own mouth. And, yet, in Heaven, it's the same. solution here
- There's a joke where a man, for some reason or another, dies and goes to Hell. He's given the grand tour by Lucifer, and much to his surprise finds it to be a rather pleasant place. Then as the tour wraps up, they come upon a fire-and-brimstone lake where demons prod naked souls with pitchforks. "What is that?" the man asks. "Don't worry about it," Lucifer replies. "We built that for the [Insert Acceptable Religious Targets Here]. They insisted on it!"
- There is an "inspirational story" about the idea of a self inflicted hell. It goes as thus -
A man spoke with the Lord about heaven and hell. The Lord said to the man, "Come, I will show you hell."They entered a room where a group of people sat around a huge pot of stew. Everyone was famished, desperate and starving. Each had a spoon strapped to their arm that reached the pot, but each spoon had a handle so much longer than their own arm that it could not be used to get the stew into their own mouths. The suffering was terrible."Come, now I will show you heaven," the Lord said after a while. They entered another room, identical to the first — the pot of stew, the group of people, the same long-handled spoons. But there everyone was happy and well-nourished. "I don't understand," said the man. "Why are they happy here when they were miserable in the other room and everything was the same?"The Lord smiled, "Ah, it is simple," he said. "Here they have learned to feed each other."
- There's also a version with chopsticks. Both the people in heaven and the people in hell are granted one chopstick. Those in hell are not charitable and do not trust those around them and so spend all their time trying to figure out how to eat with one and failing. Those in heaven are willing to share.
- A whole subgenre of jokes among modern-day Pagans, where a Pagan dies and finds himself before Saint Peter, who promptly sends them along to the Summer Lands (the Neo-Pagan version of Heaven); along the way the Pagan meets Fundamentalists in some combination of this and Ironic Hell.
- There's a joke where a man dies, and finds himself at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter asks him, "What religion are you?" and the man answers. He is directed to a room, but told to be quiet when passing by a particular other room. Several more people go through this. Finally, one person asks why they have to be quiet when passing by that particular room. St. Peter explains that, "Well, you see, that's where (insert Acceptable Religious Targets here) are, and they think they're the only ones here. We wouldn't want to spoil that for them, now would we?"
- A man dies and goes to Heaven and it is great in every possible way. Later he inquires to take a peek at Hell. What he sees confuses him: it is the same thing as Heaven but everybody is absolutely miserable. He asks why. "They can't stop dwelling over how much better Heaven must be."
- Paradise Lost points this out many times. At the end of the War in Heaven, Satan and his followers retreat from the Son and throw themselves into Hell. While Hell is a physical location, Satan escapes it pretty easily and pontificates the nature of his damnation. He acknowledges that he could seek forgiveness and receive it, but concludes that he is too prideful to submit to God again, so he will stay damned. As the page quote suggests, Satan realizes that his damnation is his own fault.
- Older Than Print: Though the rest of the Inferno delights in Ironic Hell, Dante demonstrates how Satan, at the center of Hell in its deepest circle, is in the worst self-inflicted Hell of all: his six wings flap constantly, freezing the lake around him and leaving him stuck fast in the ice. Why does he keep flapping his wings? Because he wants to return to Heaven. Where did the water of the frozen lake come from? They are Satan's tears, as he is weeping, having separated himself from the source of all his now-lost beauty and power.
- The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton.
- The Discworld books exploit and subvert this concept in all kinds of ways, including (in Interesting Times) a part-time barbarian qualifying for a Valhalla equivalent because he sort of half-believed in his colleagues' beliefs, and a man who did not believe in ghosts being pursued through the afterlife by his victims because they believe in him.
- Many who hit the afterlife are confronted with a long desert to cross; their eternal reward is on the other side. This mentally stuns a few; they end up sitting in the sand, tormented. Unless they're golems, in which case they may consider standing around in the desert with no more duties to perform to be Heaven; when a golem is blown to pieces in Going Postal, having an absence of tasks was eternal reward enough.
- In Small Gods Brutha the Prophet is the only one who sees the way out of this. When he dies and Death tells him judgment awaits him on the end of the desert, he says "Which end?" In response, Death grins.
- Discworld is actually almost a subversion of this trope. Since you only go to Hell if you really, deeply believe you deserve you go to Hell, Hell is mostly populated by rather nice people — because nobody who is genuinely, unapologetically evil (such as sociopaths) would believe that he deserves to be punished for all eternity. Although thankfully the torments of Hell are pretty harmless a lot of the time, because people don't actually have to feel pain unless they're really trying to. Also the demons are mostly Affably Evil.
- It's also stated that because you must think you belong in hell to go there, you cannot go if you aren't even aware there is such a place. "This is why it's vitally important to shoot missionaries on sight."
- On the other hand, nihilists (some of which can be genuinely evil) suffer greatly after death in Discworld. If you don't believe anything, then you don't know where you belong, so you have to wait until you figure it out... and if you don't figure it out, then you'll be waiting a very long time...
- And The Discworld Companion clarifies that the soul goes where it thinks it belongs "shorn of all self-deception" note .
- Death himself seems often bound to deliver people to the afterlife they believe in... but either he or the cosmic rules are not above giving their own interpretation in case of an evildoer thinking this gives him a Get out of jail-free card. See for example the fate of Mr Pin.
- Stephen King's short story "That Feeling You Can Only Say What It Is In French" implies that the main character is in Purgatory because she has refused to acknowledge, let alone resolve, the guilt she feels over aborting her only child.
- In the SF novel Waiting For The Galactic Bus, aliens accidentally cause the evolution of humanity and then have to deal with their spirits when they die. One opens up Heaven, AKA "Topside", and the other runs Hell, "Below Stairs." Everyone who turns up Below Stairs seems to expect torture, so he provides it, but the EXIT signs are brightly lit and the rest of the place is a pretty decent place to live.
Ironically, this also pops up in Topside: A Palestinian soldier killed by Israeli snipers turned up demanding his 72 virgins. He gets them* ... ends up bored after about an hour and breaks down in tears of despair. After a discussion with the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who built the place, he mentions his love of baking and is given a much happier afterlife as the guardian spirit of a bakery.
- In The Master and Margarita, the theory that everyone gets what they believe is listed by Woland (Satan) among possible afterlife theories. It is unclear from the novel if this theory is always true; it is shown, however, that the afterlife does exist, but Woland ensures that one atheistic character gets exactly what he believed in: nothing.
The outcome may be based on deeds. It is explicitly stated that Margarita gets her eternal peaceful being with Master away from everything for her love. Neither Master nor Margarita believed in that outcome, called not deserving the Light, but deserving the peace. One can argue, though, that the lack of belief on their part was an important part of not deserving the Light. Behemoth the Cat also had the afterlife fate that he didn't expect.
- Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality:
- On a Pale Horse (about the incarnation of Death) features this for atheists. The main character (essentially The Grim Reaper) meets a blind atheist who has committed suicide and is slowly dying. Despite Death explaining that his job is to take souls to Heaven or Hell (and suicide is a big sin...), the atheist doesn't believe in an afterlife. When he dies, Death tries to take his soul, but it disintegrates. Similarly, it's implied that the people who believe in one of the non-Abrahamic religions (such as Hinduism) end up in their religion's afterlife (or equivalent); only people who believe that Hell exists can end up there, but what you believe you deserve has little or no effect on your afterlife.
- Later, in For Love of Evil it's revealed that Satan (the Incarnation of Evil)'s primary power is a sham: he can't really obliterate demons or confine souls to a particular part of Hell, unless they believe he can. Only a handful of people, most of them former Incarnations, know the secret (which he has to learn to keep the job), largely because revealing the deception would create chaos.
- Robert A. Heinlein:
- Job: A Comedy of Justice has a variant, in that whatever belief structure you believe in is the one you get to experience the afterlife for. So if you're Christian, you'll get heaven/hell/purgatory, if you're Hindu you'll get reincarnated. The Christian main character finds this out the hard way when he dies and goes to heaven but his wife is not there. So he assumes she's in hell, and only when he's trapped in hell does anyone explain this to him. She's in Valhalla, and since he didn't believe in Valhalla, he can't get there.
- Heinlein did this before, in the short story Elsewhen in which he flatly stated that no human being has the capacity to believe in their own death, so when a person dies, they get whatever afterlife they expect they will find. If they were very religious, they go to a form of heaven where they subsist with God, etc. But nobody ever ceases to exist because it's impossible to believe in annihilation.
- C. S. Lewis:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell choose it.
- In the novel The Great Divorce, there's actually bus service from Hell (which in this story is just a drab and miserable city separated from God) to the outskirts of Heaven, and the damned are under no obligation to actually return. The problem is that until they give up the sins they were damned for (which most are unwilling to do), they are Made of Plasticine compared to Heaven and everything, including blades of grass, goes right through them.
- Also by C. S. Lewis: the fate of the dwarfs in The Last Battle. They are atheists and even when they are in Aslan's country (read: Heaven), they delude themselves into thinking that it's still the dark stable they were thrown into. Aslan demonstrates the depths of their rejection of reality by conjuring up a feast for them- when they eat it, they convince themselves that the sumptuous food is lettuce, straw, and dirty water- the sort of things one would find in a stable.
- In Kelley Armstrong's novel Haunted, Eve meets Lizzie Borden (long story) in a literal self-inflicted hell. Lizzie punishes herself by murdering illusions of her parents over and over for eternity.
Her cheek twitched, eyes filling with genuine guilt and remorse, the kind Amanda Sullivan couldn't imagine, much less feel."So this is your punishment, then," I said, my voice softer."Punishment?" A confused glance my way. "This is what I deserve.""A hell of her own making," Kristof murmured. I looked up at him. "I think this is her own doing," he said. "She's created her own hell, and trapped herself in it. No need for anyone to punish her. She does it herself."
- The short story Other People by Neil Gaiman had a twist on this - his torment was literally self-inflicted: due to the fluid nature of time in Hell, the demon torturing him is himself after enduring millennia of torture. As the worst part of the torture is being forced to understand every negative thought and action of his life and their consequences, it seems both aspects are part of his penance.
- Isaac Asimov's short story "The Last Trump" has everyone resurrected on Earth while everything else — buildings, clothing, machinery, possessions — crumbles and all the landscape flattens out, to leave the damned with nothing but each other and their own thoughts for eternity.
- Harry Potter's Voldemort, as J. K. Rowling indicates that he's stuck as a mutilated, dismembered soul (because of the way he used murder to split his soul) in a sort of limbo. He has, in effect, created his own hell. His only recourse to leave and heal himself is to show genuine remorse, suggesting this is not necessarily a permanent state.
- It is also implied that showing true remorse would actually kill Voldemort. Given his mortal fear (no pun intended) of death, he might PREFER this fate.
Harry: What is that, Professor?Dumbledore: Something that is beyond either of our help.
- It is also implied that showing true remorse would actually kill Voldemort. Given his mortal fear (no pun intended) of death, he might PREFER this fate.
- In Ted Chiang's "Hell is the Absence of God", Hell is Exactly What It Says on the Tin — it doesn't contain any torments; it's just an eternity of being cut off from God's attention. For non-religious people who don't really care about God, it's a bigger deal that they don't get to spend eternity with any of their loved ones who went to Heaven.
- At the start of And Another Thing..., Arthur, Ford, Trillian and Random have, from their own perspectives, spent several decades in a personal Heaven courtesy of the Guide Mk II. Arthur relaxes on a beach with all the tea he wants. Ford spends time at a resort where he has all the parties, gargle blasters and sex he wants while his health and chin steadily improve. Random unites Earth and is elected President of the Galaxy. Trillian gets to become the most respected journalist in the galaxy, but it ends up being Hell for her.
- An unusually literal (though non-religious) variant occurs in Greg Egan's Permutation City, where many people have been uploaded into a sort of "virtual afterlife" which they can design to their own liking. One character is shown to have quite deliberately created a hell that consists of forcing himself to endlessly relive the event for which he's punishing himself.
- The metaphysical Seth books by Jane Roberts purport to have been dictated by a spiritual being. They state that for some people, the Afterlife BEGINS with an indistinguishable-from-reality ILLUSION. A soul may experience what they BELIEVE they will experience, whether some form of Heaven, Hell, or whatever. Eventually, the individual will find their way, or be led by others, to the TRUE Afterlife.
- In the world of the Coldfire Trilogy, belief shapes reality. Hell only exists because the priests told their followers that it did. That is the precise reason why the founder of the religion deliberately did not have any mention of Hell in his original writings: To make it not exist. When the religion he created turned against him, he made a Deal with the Devil (which involved sacrificing his wife, two of his children, and his humanity) to escape the hell his former followers created for him.
- A slightly less literal form of this was also a plot point in the second book. Tarrant made a deal for immortality in no small part because he was curious to see if his centuries-long experiment to create God would work or not. It did, but due to the deal he made for immortality, he can never look upon Him. And he can never repent, because he can never truly be sorry that he got to know the truth rather than dying ignorant. So a metaphorical as well as a literal Self-Inflicted Hell.
- In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Regained, Hell is this.
- Invoked, and magnificently denied, in The Greatest Torment, by The false Swedenborg, written at (1873) - to know how was the Real Swedenborg, go to Other:
Demons told me that there is a hell for the sentimental and pedantic ones. They are abandoned in an endless palace that is emptier than fuller, and windowless. The Condemned run through it as if they were searching for something and you already know the rest: After a while they start to say that the greatest torment is not to participate in the vision of God, that the moral pain is more alive than the physical pain, etc. Then the demons thrown them into the sea of fire, where no one ever will get them out.
- Star Trek: Voyager. When B'Elanna Torres wakes up on the Barge of the Dead she says that Klingon hell is a myth. The ferryman replies that if she truly believed that, she wouldn't be here.
- A version of this is implied in Supernatural. So far, the only people we know of ending up in Hell are people who choose to go there by making a Deal with the Devil. And, while they do face horrendous torments at the hands of demons, all (or at least most) demons were originally damned souls as well, who were psychologically broken by the constant torture until they agreed to become torturers as well. The true torment of Hell doesn't seem to be the place itself, but rather the people you're forced to spend eternity with.
- Having been in Hell himself for 40 years 10 of those as one of the torturers, you'd think Dean would know how people end up there, and he tells two people in different episodes that they're going to Hell (a woman who's killed someone and an armed robber) — neither of them had made deals. (Specifically in "99 problems" and in "Appointment in Samarra", so this seems to be Jossed.)
- This idea gives the title for a Farscape episode, though the implication seems to be that these afterlives are more positive than hellish.
Nurse: If... we die, will I be with my daughter?Stark: Different beliefs, different destinations... I cannot tell before the end.
- In The Collector, a robotocist tries to evade death and eternal damnation by putting her mind in an immortal robot body. But the robot malfunctions and is incapable of movement, but is still fully conscious. The devil pays the electricity bills for the next millennium and congratulates her for being his first client to literally devise their own personal hell.
- Xena: Warrior Princess: Xena and Gabrielle were sent to their own version of Hell, a land called Illusia. It even featured Gabrielle being sacrificed and Xena being crucified (two things that happened in canon). The episode has a lot of Christian iconography as well, and not just the cross. Turns out it's all set up by Xena's dead son, who wanted the two to get past the whole "your daughter, whom I wanted you to kill 'cause I thought she was the God of Evil's Dark Messiah, really was that bad and killed my son" thing. We later find him in an unfavorable part of The Underworld, trapped in a stone forced to watch scenes from the world of the living. Turns out he chose that fate himself even though he was eligible for the Elysian Fields. He considered that to be more of a Lotus-Eater Machine, and would rather watch the real world even if he couldn't interact with it.
- The Twilight Zone (1959) had several of these: The Masks, Nick of Time, A Nice Place to Visit and possibly Time Enough at Last...come to think of it, practically the entire series would fall under this one.
- And in Death Ship the ending reveals that the characters are stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop for eternity and don’t even know it because their leader stubbornly refuses to believe that they are already dead, preventing them from moving on.
- Doctor Who provides a near-uber-example of this trope in the 2015 episode "Heaven Sent". After the tragic death of his companion, Clara Oswald, the grieving Twelfth Doctor is transported into what is essentially a massive torture chamber created by the Time Lords which tries to force him to reveal what he knows about a prophecy. He is pursued by a mysterious creature that kills the Doctor repeatedly, only for the Doctor to be recreated with some memories of the previous event retained, only to be killed again, in a cycle that lasts for 4 1/2 billion years, before the Doctor is finally able to escape by punching through a harder-than-diamond wall with his bare fists. In the next episode, "Hell Bent" we learn he could have left at any time, but chose to stay within this personal hell for so long in the hopes that he might be able to save Clara's life. When Clara - who he does manage to extract from time a moment before her death - learns of this, she is horrified. All There in the Manual: the published script for part 2, "Hell Bent", contains a line of dialogue cut from the episode that directly refers to the Doctor as having been in hell. "Heaven Sent", meanwhile, does have a televised scene in which the Doctor wonder if he is in hell, which he just dismisses as "Heaven for bad people."
- Lucifer (2016):
- In the season 2 finale, "A Good Day to Die", we're shown a bit of the punishments that occur in Hell. A professor who left an Uber driver to die in a car explosion to save his manuscript, and then started poisoning his former students after he was fired, relives that decisive moment over and over again. And then Lucifer finds himself endlessly killing Uriel. Lucifer claims the only way to escape is to believe you no longer deserve to be tortured - and he's never seen anyone manage it.
- In the season 3 episode "Off the Record" Lucifer tries to explain to Linda's estranged husband that he does not send people to Hell, they drag themselves down, but the guy refuses to accept any responsibility. And after he's poisoned by the killer of the week, we get a repeat of the opening scene of him waking up from a coma, followed by a zoom-out to show he's in Hell.
- Old World of Darkness:
- In Demon: The Fallen, Hell only serves as a prison for the angels who rebelled against God (human souls have their own misfortunes, chronicled in Wraith: The Oblivion). Hell has no obvious tortures; it is, in fact, sensationless. The fallen angels, however, were so driven by rage and pain that they turned and lashed out, both at each other and any human souls that drifted too near; thus they provided their own punishments.
- As for WtO, there are several "hells," based on the beliefs of their inhabitants, but the only people there are those who think they deserve to be there or made deals with dark spirits. They mostly serve as macabre tourist attractions for more savvy wraiths and other supernaturals. Note that the heavens aren't much better and are run like cults. Most people who die — and wraiths who finish their business without being Obliviated — will Transcend instead. What that entails is entirely unknown.
- In New World of Darkness, Mage: The Awakening features the Supernal Realm of Pandaemonium, associated with the Arcana of Mind and Space and appearing very much like a Fire and Brimstone Hell. Why? Well, Space bends at the limits of the Realm, meaning that the inhabitants are stuck within and without much besides their own thoughts. Which inevitably turn towards the more negative impulses... and take solid form.
- Ravenloft tends to feature a mix between this and Ironic Hell. Usually the personality flaws of the Darklords are what makes their domains hell, and any of them can escape at any time- they just have to accept that their Act of Ultimate Darkness was bad and wrong and that all of their suffering is entirely their own fault. Of course, as the game notes, if you were the sort of person to do that, you probably wouldn't be a Darklord in the first place.
- In the world of In Nomine, by Steve Jackson Games, a mortal only goes to Hell if they achieve their Fate, the darkest, most selfish possibility for their existence. And it truly has to be self-inflicted — if a demon (or an angel!) pushes them too hard in that direction, it doesn't count and the soul escapes.
- The Eldar of Warhammer 40,000 literally squicked their own Hell into existence. Centuries of murderous hedonism spawned the Chaos God Slaanesh. Slaanesh massacred the Eldar and their gods, then made it so that Slaanesh will claim all Eldar souls upon death. It's not clear what Slaanesh does with the souls, but it's probably not anything pleasant.
- In No Exit, Hell is only hellish for our three protagonists because they're attention whores who simply cannot leave the others they're locked in with alone. And they weren't as locked in as they thought, and could have escaped at any time they wanted. But even when the door straight up pops open at the end, they are held back by their flaws and insecurities, and no one even attempts to leave.
- In the 'Epilogue' of Saint Joan, the ghost of Joan meets the ghost of a soldier who was kind to her at her execution. He tells her that he went to hell after he died, but is given one day off a year because of that act of kindness. It's implied that his fate is an example of this trope; he says that he found Hell "a treat" after fifteen years of active service, and that when he had his first day off he was at a loss how to deal with it. He's getting the hang of it now, he says, and "They tell me I can have as many as I like as soon as I want them".
- Afterlife was basically a Simulation Game where you built the afterlife (both Heaven and Hell) and had to maintain it; whether or not people came there was dependent on what they believed, which you could tweak by, for example, inspiring prophets in the mortal world. A tip: Your income rate depends on the death rate depends on the population. Go rack up some lust. There's also elements of the more traditional interpretation of these in many of the Envy punishments, in that they all have a way to succeed above others and sometimes even escape Hell, and the souls involved could finally reach relief if they just stopped screwing each other over for one second. But if they were able to let that envy go, they wouldn't be in Hell.
- Oracle of Tao has one of these, both of Heaven and Hell. Hell is an empty desolate waste, resembling Yomi, the Japanese equivalent. Heaven appears as a Fluffy Cloud Heaven, at first, but it turns out that both are based on the hero's conception of the fate she deserves. Her final destination is a sort of Mundane Afterlife resembling her living existence.
- Silent Hill:
- Although not technically Hell, the town of works on this principle; if its victims can free themselves of their guilt, they can leave unharmed. Otherwise, they are stranded in the nightmarish town.
- In Silent Hill 2, it's made clear that the baddies are only visible to certain people visiting there, and take on forms that represent their hidden guilts. This is seemingly inconsistent with the other games, however; in the original, for example, it's clearly Alessa's vision of Silent Hill that's imposed on everyone else there, while in 3, the effect spreads beyond the original town, the source of the effect being Claudia. Except for Silent Hill 2, though, the other games all take place during occult summoning rituals, so the town's state in the second game could be interpreted as the way the town usually works during a "down time" of no demonic summonings.
- According to the "Book of Lost Memories", an information book for the series, the appearance of the otherworld in the first game caused the power of the town to increase, which is when it started calling to those who had darkness in their hearts.
- People get pulled into each other's dark worlds. In the first Harry is pulled into Alessa's dark world and while the majority of Silent Hill 2 takes place in James' we also get to see a glimpse of what Angela's is like and one of the monsters in the game (Abstract Daddy/Doormen) is Angela's creation while the rest of them are James'.
- City of Villains features this in one story arc: you're tasked with rescuing the soul of a singer who made a Deal with the Devil for his success. His soul turns out to have been within him all along, tortured by his knowledge of his undeserving nature - in the form of demonic hecklers. As he croons light jazz of his plight for all eternity.
- Also applies to players of video games as well. For instance, someone who uses only the most powerful weapons and tactics throughout the game might complain about how the game is too repetitive. Or a Stop Having Fun Guy who uses every glitch and exploit ever discovered in the game to beat the 20-hour campaign in under 5 minutes might complain about how the game was too easy and/or short.
- Fallen London has the Seeking Mr. Eaten's name quest which is this in every sense. To even begin, you have to put your character through each of the 4 major failure conditions in the game and escape from them, then recover; 7 times each. And it gets worse; in fact, Word of God stated that the author was required to work on this quest outside company time, as it is now so damaging and with such low payoff it is no longer considered a reasonable or balanceable part of the game, and the only official company advice is not to play it.
- To give some idea of how low it goes: there's an option, which requires paying $25 in real money, to erase your character entirely. No takebacks. Yes, people have picked this option.
- Hell Temple in La-Mulana, especially the original (non-remake) version, designed to be the worst experience possible for the player. Memorably reduced DeceasedCrab to anguished wailing several times.
- In The Order of the Stick, it is eventually revealed that Roy's father is stuck on the lowest plane of the Lawful Good afterlife, on account of his vow to not rest until Xykon was wiped out once and for all. He's trapped there because he did virtually nothing to further that goal, and instead shuffled it on to his son—who, because he did everything he could to fulfill that vow, is admitted to the higher planes of heaven in spite of his failure—and will be forced to remain there until Xykon is destroyed.
Roy's Father: "That's not fair!"
Solar: "Yes it is. And that's why you're upset."
- In other words, "It's The Thought That Counts" - but the fact that Roy fully intends to walk right out the revolving door and get back to fighting Xykon probably scores him some points.
- In David Hopkins' Jack, Hell punishes sinnners with this and Ironic Hell. The titular Jack in particular cannot truly repent for his sins (and earn forgiveness) as he cannot remember them; he asked for it before he died.
- It's a point of contention in pictures for sad children. Jeremy thinks Hell tries to serve up ironic punishments, but is really bad at it. On the other hand, Paul thinks that the folks in Hell are already punishing themselves.
Jeremy: I gotta download every album that came out this year. What if I need to make like a top ten list.
Paul: That's a waste of time.
Jeremy: But I should enjoy this while I can, right? Soon Hell will figure out how to punish me and take the internet away.
Paul: How is that enjoying, that is gonna be a month of terrible music. [Beat Panel] And they don't have to figure out how to punish us. They just let us keep doing what we were doing.
- In Sinfest, Fuchsia thinks that knowing what you are might be punishment enough. (Blue disagrees, of course.)
- The Grim Reaper in The Grim Reaper Show loves to give these sort of fates to the souls he sends to the afterlife. When he reaps the occupants of a crashed plane, he sends all the Christians to burn in Hell for eternity, the Jews to rot in their graves until the Messianic Age (at which point they'll party it up with God for all time), the Hindus are reincarnated (one comes back as a gnat, another as David Hasselhoff's son, and a third one as a left testicle), the one Satanist is sent to Heaven, and another guy invented his own religion with its own afterlife (the Floating Island of Mandango, where there is no jealousy or boredom, and everyone lives a life of steaming hot sex and wine drinking for the rest of eternity). The single agnostic on the flight gets to choose, and wisely opts for the floating island the last guy had.
- Captain Estar Goes to Heaven by Winston Rowntree contains probably the most heartbreaking example ever conceived in how it concludes.
- One piece of internet fiction had a variation: a mobster is killed and wakes up in a replica of his city, complete with people, and finds himself in a "Groundhog Day" Loop situation. His guide, a beautiful woman, informs him he has the freedom to do anything because the next day it resets. After hundreds of days of killing his rivals in assorted bloody ways, casual murder, rape, assault, and other assorted mayhem (including raping and torturing his guide), he realizes he's in a personal hell and wishes to escape. And then finds out the only way he can do it is to repeat the day as someone else in the city, including each of his victims each time he affected them. And then he has the realization that the only person left is his guide, who thanks him for allowing him/her to redeem him/herself, and disappears as s/he prepares to receive himself arriving.
- In the Gargoyles episode "Shadows of the Past," Goliath, Angela, Elisa, and Bronx return to the site of Castle Wyvern, where the massacre of Goliath's clan took place. Throughout the episode, Goliath is hearing the voices of the Captain and Hakon, and thinks he may be going crazy. Eventually, we realize that the ghosts of Hakon and the Captain were trapped there because of their hatred for Goliath (combined with some magic phlebotinum). In the end, though, the Captain realizes that he was really hating himself for betraying Goliath, saves his life, and is freed from his prison. Hakon, meanwhile, is trapped with "no one left to hate."
- Though it's not the afterlife, Princess Luna from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic felt she was let off far too easily for the pain and suffering she caused as Nightmare Moon, so she created a magical being called the Tantabus that would force her to relive the past in her dreams, ensuring she would never forget what she'd done. This backfires when the Tantabus begins infesting other ponies' dreams and feeding on Luna's guilt as she tries in vain to contain it, trapping her in an endless cycle of self-loathing until the other ponies convince her to finally forgive herself.
- The 18th century philosopher, theologian, and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg claimed to have made several spirit journeys to heaven. While everyone eventually goes to heaven, he said he had also seen caves where people who were truly unwilling to accept their beliefs in life were wrong spend all eternity in frustration.