Dec 29, 2015

Posted by in Gods and Godesses, Mythological Characters, Occult Studies | 0 Comments

Personification of Death

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Known in Western culture as the “Grim Reaper” or “Angel of Death”, the personification of death has been a common element in history throughout many cultures. The iconic character is famous for the “death touch” and is commonly seen as a skeletal figure cloaked in black with a large scythe. While this image on death has been around since the 15th Century, the term “Grim Reaper” first began being used in 1847. In some mythologies, the Reaper is believed to cause a person’s death as he comes to collect them for the afterlife, while others see him as just a psychopomp who ushers the soul from this life into the next. In this article, I will examine how death is personified in different cultures around the world.

In ancient Greece, where death was thought to be an inevitable part of life, the God of Death, Thanatos, was not thought to be evil. He was often pictured with his brother, Hypnos (God of Sleep), and presented as gentle and just. His job was to escort the dead to Hades, the Greek underworld, and deliver them to Charon, who would then ferry them across the river Styx. Keres, the spirits of violent death were the sisters of Thanatos and were associated with deaths resulting from battle, disease, or murder.

In Breton folklore, the Ankou is a spectral figure that comes as a warning that death is near. The Ankou is usually the spirit of the last person within the community who has died. He is pictured as a skeleton whose head spins so he can see everyone, or as a tall figure with long white hair and a wide hat. The Ankou is also known to drive a deathly wagon that is piled high with corpses and has a creaking axle.

Death was personified in Norse mythology in the form of Hel, the goddess of death. During the time of the Black Plague she was depicted as an old woman called Pesta, which meant “plague hag”. If Pesta came to a village carrying a rake, then that signified that some people would survive the plague, however if she brought a broom then everyone in the village would die.

In Hindu religion, the lord of death is King Yama and he is known as the King of Karmic Justice. In this religion, a person’s karma at the time of their death will determine how they are reborn. Yama is said to ride a black buffalo and carry a lasso which he uses to carry souls back to his home, Naraka. Yama is believed to take many forms, even that of a small child in some cases.

Yama was introduced to Chinese culture through Buddhism and is known as King Yan or Yaniuo. In Chinese mythology, King Yan is believed to rule the 10 gods of the underworld, Diyu, and he is usually depicted wearing traditional Chinese robes and a judge’s cap. He appears on most forms of hell money offered in traditional ancestor worship. King Yama has also spread to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam in various forms.

Whether bringing death or just ushering souls, Death has become a fixture in human culture. Sometimes male and sometimes female, it is never a good omen when Death comes knocking on your door.

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