Hel’s Dish: some thoughts on hunger, anorexia and the Goddess

by Geraldine Charles

She condemned him
To Hunger —
But infinite, insatiable Hunger,
The agony of Hunger as a frenzy.

From Tales from Ovid, Ted Hughes

I set myself the task of writing about hunger and the Goddess without any clear idea of which Goddesses I would write of, but my Google search ("Goddess +hunger") quickly turned up Hel or Hela, certainly a Scandinavian Goddess but also connected to other northern European countries. And what a Goddess!  It is likely that her name gave us the English “Hell”, for she is Queen of the Dead, and Goddess of the underworld; she dwells beneath the roots of the sacred world tree and, according to some tales, was given dominion over all nine worlds, sending those who die of sickness or old age to one or other of them.  Half her body is blue/black (which reminds me immediately of the Cailleach Bheur, who is often depicted entirely blue). According to mythology, Hel’s dish is called Hungr and her knife Sullt (starvation).

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