Imagine seeing a giant fissure open up, fire erupting into the sky as smoke and ash billow along the winds. You might think that this explosion was nothing else but the gates of Hell opening onto the earth. Well, that is exactly what the people in Iceland thought back in 1104: our first written record of a volcanic explosion from Hekla.
Hekla is a volcano in the south of Iceland. However, in 1104 when the volcano erupted there was quite the panic, especially from Christians who saw Hekla as one of the doorways into Hell. Now, the volcano is known for throwing lava bombs — up to twelve tons in size! — from its fire fountains, and as they travel into the cold night air, they begin to hiss due to the cooler temperatures. Well, when people had seen these projectiles, they believed them to be escaped spirits screaming in agony. Birds flying nearby would be accused of being souls circling the gates while others claimed that witches gathered around the crater to meet the devil and practice dark magic.
Today, however, the volcano has become quite the tourist attraction. Hekla is still active, and people travel from all over just to see the fire fountains explode into the night. Though you might be kept at a safe distance from the volcano, it isn’t hard to imagine why early European thought that Hekla was a gate into hell — especially when one witnesses the fire fountains erupting themselves.
For more reading on Hekla (sources):