Posted on January 27, 2011


By: Demetrius (Co-Founder of the OCPRS, Toronto Canada)

Spiritual deception is not always easily recognized. The most harmful of all are spiritual deceptions that are seemingly packaged as Christian. One such example is the so-called “Well to Hell,” whereby the supposed sounds of millions of screaming souls in Hell were recorded. Promoted as proof for the existence to an afterlife, the story has been spread by various Christian groups. The story goes something like this:

At an undetermined date, an experimental drilling team, headed by a Dr. Victor Azzacov, managed to drill a 14.5 kilometres (9 miles) deep borehole in Siberia. The drill began to spin wildly, indicating that they had reached a pocket or cavern. Before the drilling could continue, researchers lowered a special microphone and other test equipment. Dr. Azzacov intended on recording plate tectonic movements and the temperature among other things. Temperatures were recorded at an incredible 1,100 degrees Celsius (2012 degrees Fahrenheit). The microphone, however, did not detect plate tectonic movements. Instead, the sounds of millions of screaming people could be heard. Azzacov, who was an atheist scientist of the USSR, could not believe what he was hearing. Along with the other researchers, Azzacov concluded that they had drilled a hole to HELL!

The details of this event were said to have been suppressed by the Soviet government, but somehow the information was leaked to newspapers, one of which was a newspaper in Finland. From there, both the story and the recording of the screaming souls of the damned found their way to North America. Although many people believe this story to be true, it is an urban legend. There are no records of a Dr. Victor Azzacov having conducted any experimental drilling in Siberia. The exact location of the “Well to Hell,” in Siberia, is also never provided. Like all urban legends, some of the details are based on some facts, or at least portions of the truth. Despite the lack of experimental boreholes in Siberia, the Soviet government did conduct such drilling operations in the Kola Peninsula, which began in 1970. Somehow these drilling expeditions were incorporated into the urban legend to give them substance. In 1989 one experimental borehole managed to achieve a depth unlike any other. Unlike the “Well to Hell,” the experimental drilling in the Kola Peninsula achieved a depth of around 12.1 km (7.5 miles) with temperatures measuring 180 degrees Celsius (356 degrees Fahrenheit). The Kola borehole is considered the deepest hole ever drilled so far. There were no recordings made of any tormented souls trapped in Hell. As for the recording of the screaming souls of the damned, there is no proper source provided for the recording in order to substantiate it. The only “official” source is a Protestant group of Evangelists from Finland, but they claimed that the recording comes directly from the team of scientists who made the recording in the first place. Like the rest of the story, the recording is also a fake. Unfortunately, various Christian groups, here in North America, exploited the Kola super borehole and used it to reinforce the “Well to Hell” urban legend – despite the differences in location, depth, and temperatures.

            Many people continue to insist that the “Well to Hell” is real. What is troubling is that Christians accept this urban legend despite the contradictions and lack of evidence. Most people who believe the “Well to Hell” urban legend turn to the Bible to corroborate the story. Understandably, many people need something to reinforce their faith through some kind of evidence. It is this need for proof that often leads people astray. The descriptions of the afterlife taken from the Bible are often over-generalized when comparing them to the events found in the “Well to Hell” story. Indeed, both describe a fire burning in Hell where the souls of sinners are consigned. On the surface, the “Well to Hell” seems to verify what is written in the Bible. An important difference is how the Bible does not describe Hell as physically or materially accessible from which the living can obtain such an experience. This is where the danger in such urban legends should concern all Christians. The subtle spiritual deception that is detected in the “Well to Hell” urban legend is important to examine because it promotes a misguided perception of the afterlife.

            Most people will be surprised to learn that many of Western Christendom’s misconceptions about Hell were first popularized by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Throughout his epic poem, Dante describes the geography of Hell descending to the earth’s centre. Dante included pagan concepts about the afterlife, such as entranceways into Hell from which the living could enter. In Greco-Roman mythology, Hades – the underworld – was seen as a literal location, deep within the earth, along with very real entranceways. Dante’s poem identifies one such entranceway near Florence, Italy. Another popular entranceway to Hell, not connected to Dante’s poem, was thought to be Avernus, just west of Naples. Of course, Dante’s entranceway was his own design. The Divine Comedy clearly promoted a literal and accessible Hell. This pagan view of Hell is shared by the “Well to Hell” urban legend whereby it promotes a physical Hell that is materially accessible.

For those who are still not convinced that the “Well to Hell’ is an urban legend, and who fail to see how it misguides Christians, an examination about Hell may help place the concepts of the afterlife into their proper Christian perspectives. In his book The Soul After Death, Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote about the “location” of Heaven and Hell along with the misconceptions associated to these spiritual realities. He writes, “these places are not within the ‘coordinates’ of our space-time system: an airliner does not pass ‘invisibly’ through paradise […] nor can the souls waiting in hell for the Last Judgement be reached by drilling for them in the earth.” What is stressed here in Fr. Seraphim Rose’s words is how Heaven and Hell are not accessible in the material sense. However, Fr. Seraphim Rose also warns people from going to the opposite extreme and who ignore the material expressions of the spiritual world. Hell is not exclusively a material or spiritual condition. For example, in book four of the Dialogues by St. Gregory the Dialogist, there is something worth considering to what Hell may be according to our human capacity of understanding. He writes,

“And as certain it is that, at the day of judgment, our Saviour shall say to the reprobate [unrighteous]: ‘Go into everlasting fire, which is prepared for the devil and his angels.’ If, then, the devil and his angels, though without bodies, shall be tormented with corporal fire, what marvel is it that the souls after their departure, and before they be united again to their bodies, may in like manner suffer corporal torments?”

Here, St. Gregory answers the question concerning the material and spiritual state represented in Hell. The fires of Hell are not metaphors, and neither are they simply limited to the material – or corporeal – reality. The fallen angels are spiritual beings without material bodies, but human beings consist of a soul and the flesh. The everlasting fire is not limited to a material punishment since the fallen angels who are not material are also consumed by the fire. Although the location of Hell is not addressed, the conditions of Hell are touched upon. To clarify this matter, Fr. Seraphim Rose writes something that may help broaden the understanding of what Hell is. He writes, “the existence of volcanoes and of great heat in the centre of the earth is taken by many Saints and Fathers as a direct indication of the existence of Hell in the bowls of the earth. Of course, hell is not ‘material’ in the sense that the lava that flows up from under the crust of the earth is material; but there does seem to be a kind of ‘overlapping’ of the two kinds of reality.” In other words, Hell is thought to be within the bowls of the earth, but not exclusively in the literal and material sense. What should be stressed is that although these considerations are Orthodox, they do not fully explain what Hell is according to the teachings of the Church or the Bible. What these Orthodox considerations do point out, however, is that Hell is not purely a physical/geographical condition. Neither is it a purely spiritual “location.”

            From the Gospel of Matthew 25:41, we read, “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Here, the everlasting fire – previously quoted by St. Gregory the Dialogist – is the Hell spoken of by Christ. The reason that the domain of Hell is thought to be in the bowls of the earth is due to another description given in the same gospel, where we read: “brought down to Hades” (Matthew 11:23). The idea that Hell is down, or beneath the surface of the earth is not merely a metaphor. From the Gospel of Matthew 22:13 another reference is made about Hell whereby it is called “outer darkness.” This is a strange reference if one considers that everlasting fire is to be found in Hell. Fire produces light. The one thing is not separate from the other. St. John of Damascus writes in his An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith: “for there is not first fire and thereafter light, but they exist together.” The everlasting fire of Hell is somehow different since Hell is “outer darkness.” St. John of Damascus explains that “everlasting fire: not material fire like our fire, but such fire as God would know. But those who have done good will shine forth as the sun.” At first glance, it would seem that the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels is now a separate thing from the light recognized in those who have “done good” and “will shine forth as the sun” – as light. Despite what seems to be a contradiction in the writings of St. John of Damascus, something important is being suggested here. If fire and light exist together and are not separate, what does this mean for the everlasting fire? What does this mean when describing Hell? Elsewhere, St. John of Damascus writes, “For God is a fire consuming all evils.” This reference is similar to Hebrews 12:29, which states: “For God is a consuming fire.” Although St. John of Damascus is not describing God literally as a fire, it is such a description that broadens the view on Hell. In order to understand what is being stated here, some additional biblical examples are necessary. From Ephesians 4:9, we read: “Now this, ‘He ascended’ – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.” God’s presence “fills all things” and therefore even Hell is not beyond His presence. Something similar is suggested in Psalms 139:7-8, where we read, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell [Sheol], behold, You are there.” Comparing these biblical examples to the writings of St. John of Damascus, the truth about Hell becomes a little clearer.

            According to the Orthodox Church, all souls come into the presence of God. From Hebrews 9:27, we read, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” The teachings of the Church state that after people die, they will experience a foretaste of either Heaven or Hell. This foretaste is not exclusively the everlasting lake of fire spoken of in John’s Revelation 20:14-15, whereby death and Hell are also thrown into. Those who are righteous will experience God’s light and are not consumed by His fire. The opposite is true of the souls of the damned. In his Mystic Treatises, St. Isaac the Syrian writes, “those who find themselves in hell will be chastised by the scourge of love.” While it may seem strange for many people to comprehend, God’s love is not mentioned here as a form of punishment. God does not intend to punish us with His love. Instead, Hell is the outcome of refusing God’s love. Those who reject God – and who condemn themselves to Hell – suffer in His presence.

            Hell, as a spiritual condition or “location,” remains beyond a full explanation or understanding. No one knows exactly what the afterlife will be like. What is certain is that the Orthodox Church does not teach that Hell is materially accessible. Nor does the Church teach that Hell is purely a spiritual condition. Hell is many things, among which the souls of the damned have managed to separate themselves from God’s love. Despite this, God’s presence – His fire – consumes evil, but His light illuminates the righteous.

            Having examined some of what the Orthodox Church teaches in regards to Hell, those beliefs can be compared to the “Well to Hell” deception. The “Well to Hell” story manages to reduce Hell to a physical domain, absent of God’s presence or love. Hell is made to appear accessible by man. Promoted as evidence to the existence of an afterlife, it fails to demonstrate the details provided in either the Bible or the writings of the Holy Church Fathers. The “Well to Hell” urban legend misguides people in a subtle way, leading them away from the real torments of Hell.

            Many Christian groups from amongst Protestant denominations, who promote the “Well to Hell,” typically present it in order to open up a discussion on the afterlife. Unfortunately, people who do use the “Well to Hell” urban legend are fully aware that it has been exposed as a hoax. Some unscrupulous reverends, pastors, etc. try to legitimize the story by including themselves as recipients from someone who has sent them a letter with further evidence. The deception that accompanies the propagation of the “Well to Hell” attests to how lies beget more lies. Even if reverends, pastors, etc. have good intentions in mind, the fact remains that the entire story is nothing more than a fear tactic, used to manipulate the faith of others. It is such fear tactics that are also used to deceive people into accepting Christ. Such methods do greater harm to Christianity. The so-called good intentions fail to recognize the misguided teachings that are inherent in the “Well to Hell” story.

            The point of this article is not necessarily intended to define Hell for others, or to criticize those who believe in the “Well to Hell.” What people need to understand is that there is a real spiritual danger in such misconceptions about the afterlife. People who ignore what is written in the Bible or the teachings of the Church do spiritual harm to themselves. No matter how subtle the spiritual deception is, if urban legends are accepted as truth they will serve as a poor foundation on which other false teachings may be built.

NOTE: Future articles will explore the Roman Catholic perspectives on the afterlife and include details which will also include Purgatory.