ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Mythical Grim Reaper

Updated on August 6, 2015

According to William Bramley’s book, Gods of Eden, a group of fearful looking men, if they were men, suddenly appeared in Brandenburg, Germany, sometime in the 14th century. The locals described them as best as they could, considering the era. They reported these “men” were carrying what looked to be long scythes and were attempting to cut a field of oats. But, the oats remained standing and the combined sound of their scythes could be heard from far off. Shortly thereafter, there was a severe outbreak of the Black Plague.

Similar sightings were also reported in other European communities with the same results. They were described as, "Strange men in black, demons, and other terrifying figures, carrying brooms, scythes or swords.” No satisfactory explanation was ever forthcoming. Some believe these reports were the beginnings of our modern Grim Reaper image.

Different cultures have their own version of where this mythological figure originated. But, the most widely accepted version is the skeletal figure in a black robe wielding a scythe and carrying an hour glass. Many researchers claim the basis for such a character actually originated in ancient times with the Greeks and Romans. Greeks knew him as Cronos, meaning "time," the father of Zeus. The Romans called him Saturn.

The modern day Grim Reaper image can be traced directly to the Middle Ages and Black Plague. This skeletal figure cloaked in black, flowing robes, became the personification of death. The scythe was adopted as the weapon which would mow down his victims as if they were grain in a field. And so, many pieces of art of the times depicted death in this fashion. The figure still appears in many works today.

Cronos-Original Bronze Sculpture

The Black Death spread to Europe between 1347 and 1350 and killed about one third of the population. Most history books teach it was overcrowding in rat infested cities that caused the epidemic. Other sources, point to extraterrestrial activity as the cause, such as that described in Bramley’s book. These sources claim not all outbreaks of the , Black Death, also known as the Bubonic Plague, involved rats or were even situated in urban areas. Sometimes it struck isolated rural areas where no one had any contact with the disease.

There were also tales of foul smelling mists and bright lights in the skies immediately preceding the outbreaks. Not only did these mists appear to issue forth from the strange lights, but they killed people, trees and other living things. Whether or not any of these accounts are true is anyone’s guess. There does seem to be serious lack of convincing evidence.

Actually, the Greeks had two different views on the Grim Reaper. One tells of the mythical god Thanatos whose twin brother was Hypnos, the god of sleep. Thanatos accompanied souls to Hades, the Greek underworld. He would then pass them on to the ferryman at the river Styx which separated the world of the living from the dead.

The other relates the story of Cronos, the son of Greek gods, Uranus and Gaia. According to the legend, Cronos was forced back into his mother's womb by his fathr, Uranus, along with his other siblings. He feared losing his position to his children. But Gaia had given her son a sickle to escape from her womb. Cronos Used the sickle to castrate his father. Many believe this sickle is what later prompted the specter’s scythe.

There are similar accounts in other cultures. Japanese folklore depicts the reaper as ruler of the underworld. Slavic people portray the reaper as a woman dressed in white. She carries a small green immortal sprout. Those who come in contact with it, fall into a never ending sleep.

Conversely, no matter how one envisions the Grim Reaper the mythical being has come to be an inspiration for storytellers, cartoonists and the likes. Therefore, the image doesn’t inspire the same level of fear or superstitions it once did. However, it still symbolizes death as in the case of the Grim Reaper Society, which uses it to highlight the number of tobacco related deaths. Others use the title indiscriminately, for instance giving the name to a popular cocktail, a crossword puzzle and even a small breaching tool utilized mostly by the military.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Paradise7 profile image


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Ah, another interesting article. I think the medieval origins of the Grim Reaper are the most interesting. I can picture those poor villagers, decimated by the Black Plague, seeing those strange men with their eerie scythes.

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      avian, I should know the story best, cuz I'm the one who got him the sickle and made him his first outfit. :-)

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Voted awesome and up. I enjoyed how this story unfolded and how many cultures have similar thoughts. Death is not to be toyed with, yet it should not be feared, either. Great job.

    • Angelo52 profile image


      6 years ago from Central Florida

      A lot of good information about a grim subject, although the cartoon reapers tend to be funny. vote up +

    • ChrisMyth profile image


      6 years ago from Scotland

      I love mythology so a great Hub like this is just so interesting and really flares my imagination. Keep up the good work!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)