Updated: May 8
I do not believe the Heathen Saxons (in Saxony) were aware of Hellea or "Hel" (Old Norse) as a personified deity or being. And I would say this one is pretty for sure. And that is a lot to say. (I am not saying anyone today should hold or not hold to this belief.)
There are only 21 poems in the Old Saxon language that survived. The Old Saxon Heliand is by far the largest Old Saxon Poem. It is two and a half times the size of Beowulf, and is longer than any three of the four Gospels combined in the New Testament. The Old Saxon Heliand was written circa 830 AD. Its goal was not to bash the Old Saxons and their Heathenry, but to praise them and to "Saxonize" the Gospel in order to "change their mind" from Thunaer (Thor), Uuoden (Odin), and Sahsnoth to Christ. Its spread throughout Saxony was obviously declined, as just over ten years after the Heliand was written to be sung in Wine Halls throughout Saxony, the Saxons rebelled en masse in the years 841-842, trying to overthrow Frankish forced Christianization and to restore Heathenry as the tribal faith of the Saxons. This rebellion is known as "The Stellinga Rebellion." Here is why we know that the Saxons did not know Hel as a Being: 1. The Old Saxon Heliand is not shy of showing Saxon Heathenry: Uuoden (with a bird on his shoulder), Frigg's flying feather coat is in the Heliand (also attested in the Prose Edda Skáldskaparmál 18-19), Helmets of Invisibility are in the Heliand, Uurd and her Shapers are in the Heliand around 3 dozen times, the Uueg (Saxon Bifrost), the Uuanga (Saxon Valhalla), etc etc etc are all in the Heliand.. To be blunt, the Heliand is not shy at showing Saxon Heathen belief. 2. Every passage on Hellea (Old Norse Hel) in the Old Saxon Heliand shows Hellea only as a destination. However, one Heliand passage makes clear Hellea (Hel) as a personified being was unknown to the Saxons. It is the Heliand verses 3356-3359, pictured here (translation mine):
THINK ABOUT THIS: Uurd and the Shapers (Old Norse: Nornir) are in this passage. Evil wights sunk a persons "siola" (soul) in the darkness of Hel (actually shortened in this passage to the same form most often in Old Norse, "Hel"). "Fiend's Desire" means "Satan's desire." "Fiend" is MASCULINE, therefore, it cannot refer to a female personification of Hel. Fiend is a word used for Satan in other places of the Heliand, so this can't be argued.
If "evil wights" are bringing a person's soul to Hel, why would the personification of Hellea (a being) if known to the Saxons not be mentioned in this passage? I mean, changing the Christian Gospel to have Wights in it shows Saxon Heathen thought here, and Uurd and the Shapers are mentioned as well! The absence of "Hellea" or "Hel" the being therefore is too striking to be ignored. If the Saxons knew both Evil Wights and a Being associated with "Hel" why would she be left out in this extreme Heathenization of a biblical passage (the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.)?
Recently, some guy went off on me on a Facebook group I shared a blog link to. Literally like 200 comments as a reply to my "differences between Saxon and Norse Heathenry blog." He really did not like anyone thinking all the Germanic tribes were not exactly the same and that the Poetic Edda (in his mind) was the ONLY AUTHENTIC Heathen source, not blemished by Christian scribes or writers, etc.
Nonetheless, my goal is not to make Saxon Heathenry different from Norse Heathenry just for the sake of "division" or "being different." It is authentic reconstruction of the historical Saxon Heathen faith that I am going for here.
Remember, the Saxon Heathens had their Heathenry crushed in the 9th century (twice actually), and Norse Heathenry lived on almost three centuries longer, and Heathenry did change (slowly) over time, and it seems that this personification is either Norse only or Snorri and the Poetic Edda skald only, as even the Poetic Edda has Hel personified as a being. The other Norse sources with Hel personified as a being are: Snorri's Heimskringla, and Egil's Saga. Please note, Heimskringla and Egil's Saga refer to Hel the Being/Deity, but not by name.
There are many scholars who believe Hel personified is a very late Norse development. Wikipedia in its article on "Hel (being)" gives a solid list and many quotes. At least I spend a few years contemplating this one, and did not make some half cocked decision with no research or thought. The Heliand just implies rather strongly Hel was only a place in Saxon Heathen thought. Please join us in the Facebook group "Saxon Heathenry" and check out the author page of Robert Sass on Amazon.com.