Ashroket

  • Type: Limbo
  • Origin: Ross Leckie’s novels Hannibal and Carthage
  • Admission: Carthaginians.

When a Carthaginian dies, they must cross two rivers to enter the afterlife.

The first is the River of Ordeal. I don’t know much about it, but you’ve gotta admit, it doesn’t sound inviting, does it?

The second is the River of Forgetfulness – Ashroket, in the Punic tongue – which is much like the Lethe of the Greeks. When you drink from it, you remember all your past lives, something which you cannot pass to your next life until you do.

On the banks of Ashroket stands a great and giant elm tree, under which throng those cowardly members of the undead wait endlessly to have the courage to do drink.

If at all possible, I recommend that you not be a Carthaginian. I mean, for a start, they ceased to exist as a recognizable people over 2000 years ago, so it’s likely that by now, even the most cowardly shades of the dead have drunk from and crossed Ashroket.
Let’s hope so, anyway.


Davy Jones’ Locker

Located somewhere beyond the ends of the world, this is a dimension of slow torture, a personal Hell tailored to best make those who go there suffer. Among the worst of its tortures is that one goes there entirely alone – except for what other versions of oneself one might happen to hallucinate.

All souls lost at sea pass through this realm on their way to their deserved reward – they experience it more briefly, as a watery Limbo rather than a Hell.

On the plus side, it is inhabited by helpful crabs, which is not something you can say about every dimension.

Visitors with a taste for shellfish are advised to restrain themselves while in Davy Jones’ Locker. The crabs are helpful enough, but provoking them is probably unwise.


Happy Harry Hardon’s Heaven

Happy Harry’s conception of Heaven is endlessly amusing. It’s exactly the stupid and pointless and strangely detail-less Heaven that any kid might learn about in Sunday School, but Harry sees only its flaws.

Sure, it doesn’t include the authority figures who circumscribe the lives of teenagers, but by the same token, it doesn’t include any of the activities that they organise – nor, by implication, does it include any particular resources for starting one’s own.

Harry’s Heaven is also unusually egalitarian for a Heaven: how many other Heavens let suicides in? This makes it a fine option for a successful suicide; it’s certainly better than any other choice they might have. But for the rest of us – and if you’re reading this, you presumably have not committed suicide (not yet, at any rate) – there are more interesting afterlives on offer.


Limbo

  • Type: Limbo
  • Origin: Catholic Dogma
  • Admission: Righteous non-Catholics and unbaptised babies

Limbo is a somewhat conflicted afterlife, even within Catholic theological circles. Despite its common conception as a singular domain, it in fact consists of two separate realms, the Limbus Patrum and the Limbus Infantium, each of which serves a different purpose.

The Limbus Patrum, or ‘Limbo of the Fathers,’ is where the souls of those who died free from sin but without accepting Christ go upon death.

The Limbus Infantium, or ‘Limbo of Infants,’ is where the souls of unbaptised infants go. They are sent here rather than to Hell or Heaven, on the grounds that although they have committed no sins, they still bear the stain of Original Sin.

In both cases, Limbo is considered to be a nice enough place, sharing many of the characteristics traditionally associated with Heaven – just not as nice as Heaven, on the ground that God isn’t there.

Which is to say, Limbo is basically Heaven-lite. It’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to afterlive there.

Ownership of Limbo was thrown into controversy in 2007, when the Catholic Church issued a document that seemed to say that they no longer believed in the existence of Limbo. Later clarifications to the orginal stated that they did too believe in Limbo, just that they had decided it was slightly different from what they used to believe it was.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, several other religious groups, notably various Discordian Cabals, claimed Limbo as their own. The matter is still the subject of considerable dispute, but it is the hope of this writer that it will be resolved at the earliest possible time, so as to avoid further disruption of the Limbonian people’s traditional way of afterlife.


Sheol

  • Type: Limbo
  • Origin: The Bible
  • Admission: everyone

Featureless, dark and silent, located somewhere in the bowels of the Earth, Sheol is where you go when you die. It is a realm of stasis and storage. Nothing changes there. No one can feel, no one can act. The dead are forever frozen, mentally and emotionally, as they were when they died.

There is nothing to recomend Sheol to anyone.

Sheol does hold the distinction of being possibly the least imaginitive and least interesting afterlife ever conceived by the human mind – compared to Sheol, even oblivion looks good.


The Halls of Waiting

  • Type: Limbo
  • Origin: The Silmarillion
  • Admission: Elves, Men and Maiar (with some exceptions), possibly Dwarves

The Halls of Waiting are ruled over by the Vala Mandos, also known as Namo. They are located in Valinor, the abode of the gods, and their walls grow ever wider as the ages pass.

Elves and Maiar stay there only until they are rested, and then return to life, as Gandalf did – although fallen Maiar never return here but instead pass into the void. Men stay there a little while, and then pass on to some other fate – and aside from Illuvatar the creator, no one knows for sure what that fate is. It’s not clear what fate awaits Dwarves, but they believe that it is not dissimilar to that which awaits Elves.

Of course, to wind up here, you have to first have the good fortune to be born in Middle Earth. If you can work that, let me know and we’ll open a guided tours business.