Part 1 The Grim Reaper, a story of Death from different Cultures.
Hi all and welcome to Spirit's blog. Today, I would like to share with you the origins of The Grim Reaper. I am sure some of you may want to turn away, if you need to go ahead. For the rest of you who have stuck with me, here we go. Merriam Webster's Dictionary has a few words for us. They define "grim" as, "fierce in disposition or action", "stern or forbidding in action or appearance", and "ghastly, repellent, or sinister in character". The same dictionary defines "reaper" as "one that reaps". And finally Merriam Webster's defines "reaps" as "to cut with a sickle, scythe, or reaping machine", "to gather by reaping", and "obtain/win". Now that we have our grammar lesson let's hear some stories.
The Grim Reaper is the personification of death, in most cultures. In the Middle East the God of Death (Mot) was the personification of the Canaanites (an ancient civilization that resided in the Ancient Near East circa 2nd millennium B.C.) . They believed that before becoming the God of Death, he was the son of the king of Gods (El), who in his rage at loosing a contest to the storm God Ba'al, eats him. Mot is then split in half by Ba'al's sister 'Anat (a warrior). After some time both Gods are healed of their injuries and resume fighting. This time they are intercepted by Shapash (the sun Goddess). She offers a truce and a warning to Mot that if he does not take the truce, El will intervene on behalf of Ba'al.
In Ancient Greek mythology, Thanatos (death) is one of Nyx's (night) 6 children. Thanatos has a twin Hypnos (the god of sleep), if they were spotted together, the person would have a gentle death. Thanatos would then take the person to the messenger of the underworld. The messenger would then take the soul to the shore of the river Styx (the river that separated the earth and the under world), the boatman Charon would then collect his obol (a coin on the mouth of the deceased) and bring them to Hades (the underworld).
The Celtics believed in a ghost like creature personified death, named the Ankou. This spirit resembles the last person that died in the community. He has been depicted as a skeleton with a revolving head. He either drives the wagon of death or a cart with a creaky axle. This cart or wagon is usually full of bodies, whichever stop he makes marks the death of all inside.
In Ancient Ireland they believed in dullahan, which was said to be a headless horseman who carried his own head under one arm, rode a black horse and calls out to the souls of his victims. They would immediately die. The dullahan despised being watched, so anyone caught watching them would get one of two punishments. Either a whip from the spine whip they carry, to the eyes, causing blindness. The other punishment was get a bucket of blood thrown at you, marking you as the next to die.
In Gaelic folklore there was the female Banshee, she would call out to the person to get them to come closer to their death. She is depicted as a shrieking, old hag woman sometimes and others she is a young beautiful woman. The belief here is it was up to her discretion the form she took.
In Ancient Ireland they also believed in Banshees, especially if they saw multiple, then a religious figure or a person of great importance would die.
In Mexico the personification of death is La Calavera Catrina (dapper skeleton or elegant skull). She has become the icon of the Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos), they use her image to remember deceased loved ones. Santa Muerte is a belief in most Mexican customs. They use skulls as a reminder of mortality and honor and respect those who have passed.
The cult of Santa Muerte stated above is a continuation of Aztec beliefs. Aztec belief claims that Mictecacihuatl is the Queen of the underworld. She and her husband, must watch over the bones of the dead. She presided ancient death festivals and ceremonies.
San La Muerte (Saint of Death) is the skeletal personification native to Paraguay, Northeast Argentina and Southern Brazil. In the 1960's there was an internal migration from Argentina to Buenos Aires. The Saint of Death was depicted as a male skeleton, holding a scythe.
In Guatemala there is a skeletal, black robed, crowned saint called San Pascualito, he is also known as the "King of the Graveyard". He was associated with death and curing illness.
In Brazil they believed the orixa Omolu (spirits that bring death, disease and healing). They also symbolize death as Exu, lord of the crosswalks, he rules midnight and cemeteries. In Haiti the Guede was the personification. The Guede is a family of spirits that bring about death, and fertility.
In Poland Smierc (death) was depicted similar to others, with a robe of white instead of black, still holding a scythe. She was seen as an old skeletal woman. In Serbia they personified death as Smrt.
In Scandinavia death was Hel (Goddess of Death). She also ruled over the realm of death also containing her name. In Hel she would receive a portion of her dead. During the time of the Black Plaque (roughly 1347 to 1351), there was another personification of death, this was an old hag woman wearing a black robe, carrying either a broom or a rake. If she entered the town with a rake some would die, if she had the broom all would perish.
The Lithuanians named death Giltine, a old scary woman with a long blue nose and tongue. Her story is that of a young beautiful woman who was locked in a coffin for 7 years.
In Hindu belief the lord of death is called, King Yama. He rides a black buffalo and carries a lasso of rope, to bring back the soul with. Buddhism carried this idea over to China. In China he was known as King Yan or Yanluo, he ruled the ten Gods of the underworld. From China the myth spread to Japan under the name the Great King Enma (ruler of underworld). This personification trend continued to Korea with their, Great King Yomna. The final spread here was to Vietnam in which they had Diem La Vuong (god of underworld).
Well to wrap this up I surprisingly have to make a part 2, so keep an eye out for that post.I have told myths from East Asia to China to Southern America, and Mexico. They all seem to be similar in depiction. Especially to how we depict the Grim Reaper today. I will follow up this post with the religious tales of this myth. Until then, Blessed be.
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