Non-Heaven, Non-Hell Outcomes in Folklore


Perhaps you are too clever for your own good; perhaps you are perfectly balanced on the knife's edge between goodness and wickedness; perhaps you have outsmarted the Devil yet failed to please God. If you are a folklore character who qualifies for neither Heaven nor Hell, where else can you go?


Wander the earth: Stingy Jack.

Why you can't go to Heaven: Abused your three magical wishes from a wandering angel to punish people who sit in your chair

Why you can't go to Hell: Convinced the Devil to turn himself into a silver coin, then trapped him in your pocket next to a crucifix

"When Jack died, he found himself barred from heaven—and from hell. But the devil took some pity on Jack, giving him an ember of coal to light his turnip lantern as he wandered between both places for eternity."

Live on the moon with a spider who occasionally brings you the news: Pan Twardowski

Why you can't go to Heaven: Sold your soul to the devil in exchange for magical powers

Why you can't go to Hell: Started praying to the Virgin Mary at the halfway point of the devil's flight to Hell, forcing him to drop you

Wander the earth talking to people: Ancient Mariner

Why you can't go to Heaven: Killed an albatross for no reason

Why you can't go to Hell: Night-mare Life-in-Death won your life in a dice game against Death aboard a ghost ship

Party forever: Ivan Turbincă.

Why you can't go to Heaven: Heaven has no tobacco, vodka, or musicians

Why you can't go to Hell: You partied so hard in Hell you bankrupted the Devil

"When Death returns to him, Ivan claims not to be aware of how people are supposed to be laid to rest. He exasperates his adversary by dropping himself into the coffin every which way but the proper one, until she decides to teach him by personal example. Once Death is on her back, eyes closed and hands crossed on her chest, Ivan seals the coffin lid and traps her inside. God again intervenes, and is shown to be upset about the soldier's tricks: while he resigns in front of Ivan's determination to live, he punishes him to spend eternity as an old man. The story ends with the indication that Ivan went on to party for ever."

Hide underneath a wall that is neither inside nor outside a church: Piers Shonks.

Why you can't go to Heaven: Killed the Devil's favorite dragon

Why you can't go to Hell: Technicality/verbal loophole

"Satan declared that he would be revenged on Shonks, and would have him at his death, whether he was buried within or without the church. Shonks, to avoid his fate, directed that he should be buried neither within nor without hte sacred building, but in the wall, and feeling perfectly secure in that psoition, ordered that a representation of his achievement should be carved on his tomb."

Series of impossible tasks: Jan Tregeagle

Why you can't go to Heaven: Totally evil

Why you can't go to Hell: Called up to give witness in a Cornish court case and refused to go back

"Lord Robartes returned to his estate to make a reckoning. In the rent book he found that Tregeagle had not marked a cross against a certain farm, to show that the rent had been paid; though the poor farmer insisted that he had duly paid it to the steward. “I swear I paid it to Tregeagle,” he said to the lord. “May Tregeagle himself come before us to tell you so!”

There was a thunderclap overhead and the room grew midnight black. Slowly it grew lighter again, and there stood Tregeagle himself; and he bore witness, bound by an oath on the holy bible, that the farmer had actually paid his rent, though he had failed to mark the book. So the man was allowed to go home.

But once brought back from the dead Tregeagle could not be banished. He refused to go down to Hell, where Satan was waiting to torment him; and he could not go to Heaven because of all his past sins. Each night the Devil and his hounds hunted him around the parish. He troubled the lord and the people so much with his cries of woe and pleas for mercy, that the parson decided he must help both Tregeagle and the villagers. He and his brother churchmen ordered that the ghost of the steward should be bound to bottomless Dozmary Pool, away up on the high moors, where he must work ceaselessly every night to bale out the water with a limpet shell which had a hole in it. As long as he worked thus he would be safe from the Devil and the hell-hounds. But if during the night he once stopped, they would be able to seize him."

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]