In this article we will talk about who is the Grim Reaper and the origins of the most famous representation of death. Some people admire it, others fear it, but one thing is certain, it has inspired many people through time. Once you read this article, the great reaper will no longer hold any secrets for you.
Grim Reaper Appearance
The Grim Reaper has several representations depending on the culture. We are used to seeing him represented by a skeletal body wearing a long black hooded dress and holding a scythe in his hand. Some representations also show the watch with an hourglass to symbolize the moment when the hour has struck. It can also be seen on a white or black horse named Pale Horse.
Why does the Grim Reaper have a scythe?
The scythe that the spectre of death possesses serves both as a signature but also to separate the soul from the body. Death touches with a finger or cuts with his scythe in order to harvest the souls. It is also used to guide the spirits of the deceased into the realm of the dead.
The Representation of Death
This allegory of death exists in all cultures. Death is personified in many ways in history, death has always been frightening. It was easier to put a face to it in order to represent it in a tangible way. The principle is to give the end of life a face to make it less frightening.
Thanatos Greek God of Death
In Greek mythology Thanatos and his twin brother Hypnos live at the entrance to the underworld. They are the sons of Nyx (the night). Thanatos represents the personification of death while his twin brother is the god of sleep.
Thanatos is rarely named by the Greeks because he instills fear among men through his deadly power. He makes a brief appearance in Greek art as a young winged man. However, he was not evil incarnate, he was responsible for natural deaths. It was rather his sister Kères who was the goddess of violent deaths.
Thanatos gave his name to Thanatopraxis. It defines the art, the science of preserving a human body in order to protect it from natural decomposition. Not to be confused with the Thanatopsis which is a poem written by an American writer William Cullen Bryant.
Anubis is the god of death and mummification in Egyptian mythology. He is one of the most powerful gods of Egypt. He serves as a guide and protector for the souls of the deceased to the Last Judgment Hall as explained in the Book of the Dead. He is one of the most ancient egyptian gods and his role changed over time. His role as god of the dead became that of Osiris, while Anubis concentrated on embalming. He is represented by a man with the head of a jackal. This comes from the fact that jackals dug up the dead in the desert. The Egyptian women thought that a jackal god would protect them.
In Buddhist mythology the god Yama (also called King Yan, Enma, Yanluo) represents the king of hell. He is the ruler of the underworld but he also has the role of judging the dead. Ox-Head and Horse-Face are the two guardians of the underworld who bring the souls of the deceased to Yama. Many myths surround this character. The god of death is a fat man, who looks terrible. He is dressed in traditional dress and has a red face and a long beard. After his judgment, souls are either punished or wait near heaven before returning to earth in another body.
Hel is the Goddess of Death and the Underworld Kingdom in Norse mythology. Daughter of Loki and the giant Angrboda, sister of the wolf Fenrir and the serpent Jormungand, she belongs to a dangerous family who is described as a rather harsh and cruel goddess. Hel is depicted in a monstrous way, half black and half white, part of her face was constantly decomposing like that of a corpse. Odin commanded her to reign in the underworld where the souls of those who died of old age or illness were surrendering. As for the souls of warriors who died in battle, they were brought to Odin by the Valkyries.
Cu Sith (a fairy Hound)
Cu Sith is part of the Scottish folklore. It is a green dog with the size of a calf. The green represents its magical side. The Cu Sith catches souls to take them to the other world. Associated with the grim reaper seeing it means that our time has come. Legend has it that its arrival is preceded by three frightening barks that can be heard over a long distance. If you don't find a place to hide at the 3rd bark, you will die of terror. This is called dying of fear.
In the Celtic legend of the Bretons, the ankou is the worker of death who works for God. He has a long dark cloak and a large hat that hides his terrifying face. The face of Ankou is a simple skull with a thin layer of skin. The ankou is found on a cart pulled by two horses, one lean, the other fat. This cart is used to pile up the souls of the dead he has come to mow. It is said to be a good mower because it has a scythe that is bent outward to harvest the souls. This blade is sharpened with human bones. They say that whoever hears the creaking of this scythe will soon die. The ankou changes each year, the last to die in the parish becomes the ankou the following year. He is a just man, rich or poor, everyone is equal in the face of death.
In Aztec mythology, Mictecacihuatl is the wife of Mictlantecuhtli, the god and goddess of the dead. She reigns with her husband on the Mictlan, which is the underworld. Her role is to watch over the bones of the dead. The representations show her as a woman with her breast hanging down with a skull face. The animals attributed to her were owls, bats and spiders. Nowadays she is often associated with the Santa Muerte for the Dia de los Muertos. Discover the origin of the Mexican Day of the Dead.
La Santa Muerte
The Santa Muerte represents the angel of death for Mexicans. It was born from a pre-Colombian and Catholic mixture. It is known thanks to the Day of the Dead. Like the Grim Reaper, her face is a skull and most often dressed in a black hooded dress and a scythe. The Santa Muerte represents death for Day of the Dead celebrations, but is also revered by some as a religion in its own right. She is considered a saint by some and a heretic by others. There is much mystery about who Santa Muerte is?
In the beliefs the archangel Azrael is often associated with the angel of death. He represents death both physical and mental. Perceived as evil incarnated by some or simple servant of god who performs his mission for others, it is the most recent inspiration of the modern reaper. Associated with him we can see the angel Michael who judges and guides souls to heaven, and it is he who succeeds in stopping the Lucifer rebellion before he is banished. Azrael is present in several religions.
The Grim Reaper
In modern folklore the Grim Reaper is the person who brings death. When he appears to us it is often too late. His skeleton face and long black cape inspire fear. He has a scythe in his hand to harvest the souls he has come to seek. Very present in modern culture, the Grim Reaper appears in various films, comic strips and cartoons.
The Origin of Grim Reaper: The Black Plague
The modern representation of the famous Grim Reaper comes to us from a mix between the different cultural beliefs seen previously and a landmark event in European history.
In the 14th century, Europe was hit by the most devastating epidemic. The infamous Black Death. In hundreds of cities, rotting corpses piled up. Almost 60% of the European population died due to this tragedy. During this epidemic of Black Plague artists were beginning to give a face to death. There were so many dead that they would draw every second person in a skeleton in order to point out the victims of this tragedy. They represented them dancing which skeletons in the famous "Danse Macabre" (Dance of Death).
Death was depicted with a black tunic and a scythe, as can be seen in the modern representation of the grim reaper.
Is Grim Reaper Good or Evil?
The grim reaper is just doing his job. He is the servant of God. Neither good nor bad for there to be life, there must be death. It's all about the cycle of life and death is part of it.