So, anyone want to take a guess as to which movie me and the missus curled up in bed with last night? That’s right, I was on a bit of a nostalgia kick, and Big Trouble in Little China was one of the first movies I ever owned. Roughly working it out, I think in fact I was about 9 years old. One could argue that I was a bit young to be watching this flick, but it I think I turned out OK. Having seen it more times than I could easily recall, there’s always been one line that has stayed with me, and this is the title of the article. Although I’ve spent most of my research time at the moment looking into Japanese things – both for a future post here, and an article over at Stuffer Shack – I decided after watching the film one more time to see just how many hells there are in Chinese mythology.
As with all things involving mythology, there is no correct answer to this question, and a lot of answers that are out there openly contradict each other. If you have enough interest in this subject yourself, there’s plenty of writing out there, and I invite to start with our old friend Wikipedia. Since this is not an academic paper on the subject though, instead being a place that I hope some of you come to for inspiration, I will be dealing in broad brush strokes with a few ideas that come across like they could be useful in a role playing game. If you’ve ever played Feng Shui, you’ll know just what I mean.
The Hell of the Upside down Sinner. In the movie this was an underwater scene with rotting corpses chained upside down beneath the surface. A truly terrifying place to come to after any adventure that required swimming through a tunnel to escape from.
The Hell of being cut to pieces. Since the body cannot die in Hell, this one is all kinds of unpleasant. For the still living an abattoir comes to mind, the floor slick with blood that has yet to make its way to the channels cut into the floor. Discarded digits getting crushed underfoot, and rusty blades hanging from blackened chains.
The Hell of the Razor Cliff. A sheer rock face, seemingly without end. The sinners have no choice but to climb though, and every place they could put there fingers or toes conceals a razor edged blade. It could be the cliff, it could be a mountain; it could simple be every wall of a an open topped cell that contains your enemies.
The Hell of boiling in Oil. Chambers full of metal cauldrons, filled to the brim with boiling oil. Sinners in cages that rise and fall in random patterns, submerging them in the oil as they scream in pain. The smell of cracked and burning flesh in here wold be beyond description, only the wailing of the victims outdoing it for shear awfulness. Would you try and help anyone, or just get the hell away before you were dragged into a cage of your own.
The Hell of being fed into relentless machines. The grinder has a beginning, and each soul is fed into it kicking and screaming, but no one has yet found the end. An eternity being spent moving slowly through grinding gears and hammering pistons, the body wrecked beyond mortal endurance but still feeling everything. What mind could conceive of such a contraption, and what is their final goal?
The Hell of the Frozen Sinners. An entire world of ice, where the hatred the sinners feel for themselves has extinguished all the fires of hell, leaving a desolate frozen wasteland. Each Sinner suffers frostbite, with blackened limbs giving way to oozing puss. The closest thing to respite is to throw themselves into the icy lake where there bodies will flash freeze and shatter at the merest touch. Could there be any escape from this place, or have the sinners made it themselves?
The Hell of being torn about by animals. For every sinner in this hell, there lives 50 animals, hungry and angry, red in tooth and claw. The larger beasts run uncontrollably, hooves crushing those unfortunate to have fallen, while horns and antlers rip and rend anyone still on their feet. Snakes and scorpions bite and sting at any exposed flesh, with carrion birds hovering above, looking to peck at anyone to feeble to fight back.
As I said above, this is just a few examples, of the tens of thousands of hells that exist in Chinese in Buddhist mythology, so please feel free to add your own. There is one very particular place I haven’t mentioned though. All those listed above, act more as a Purgatory for sinners, with the length of time spent in a particular hell the result of the nature and severity of the sin. For the most unforgivable sins there is Avīci. This is a place of continual suffering, and much closer to what westerners might think of as hell eternal. And after all that misery, the least I can do is implore to you to go and check out the inspiration for today’s post, Big trouble in Little China.