Death is a fundamental part of life, the balance of nature. For thousands of years, different cultures have created a distinct entity to represent Death. Among the many, the “Grim Reaper” is the most well known, for its skeletal figure, darkness envelops it, hooded robe, and the machete.
Where did the concept of the Reaper come from?
During the 14th century, Europe was dealing with the worse pandemic, “the Black Death,” believed to be the result of the plague. With the devastation of this pandemic, it is not surprising that they would conjure the idea of Death being the Reaper.
Other cultures and their death deities
Thanatos was the ancient Greek god of Death. He was depicted as a young man with a beard and wings. Thanatos would collect the dead, departing to the underworld where he ruled.
Valkyries had served Odin when a Viking warrior died; Valkyries would take them to Odin’s Hall, where the warrior would be a warrior in the afterlife to fight in the battle of Ragnarok.
Yama is the god of Death in the Hindu manuscripts, Carrying a rope of the dead, Yama would be riding on a black buffalo.
The underworld was the domain that belonged to Yanluo in Chinese mythology.
Ala was the queen of the underworld and held the dead in her womb. Her name translates to ‘Ground’ in the Igbo language. Ogbunabali was said to be the death deity of Igbo. It was said that he would kill his victims during the night for committing crimes.
The Canaanites god of Death and the underworld was Mot.
Aker was the ancient god of the Earth and underworld, Anubis was the guardian of the dead. Aqen is the deity of the underworld. Nephyth and IsIs were the protectors of the dead. Osiris was the lord of the underworld. Seker is the god of the dead and is often tied to Osiris.
The Babylonians believed that Ereshkigal and Nergal ruled the dead of the underworld while the Elamite thought that Jabru was the god of the underworld.
Peckols and Peckollo were the gods of the underworld and the dead and were worshiped by the Prussians. Veles is an important Slavic god Earth, water and the underworld.
Ankou is a servant of Death commonly mistaken for a personification of Death Breton mythology, Cornish (an Ankow), Welsh (yr Angau) and Norman-French folklore. In Welsh mythology, Arawn was the king of the underworld realm of Arrwn. In Irish mythology, Donn is believed to have been a god of the dead. Manannán is a warrior and king of the otherworld in Irish mythology. Scáthach is the Irish mythology goddess of the dead.
Hel was the goddess of death and Queen of Helheim of the Norse mythology. Odin presided over Valhalla getting half of the warrior that died in battle. Rán is a goddess of the sea, those that drowned she collected the dead souls.
The Etruscan mythology, Aita, was the equivalent of Hades, the Greek God of the underworld. Culga was a female underworld spirit. Febuurs was the God of purification. Mani and Tuchulcha were the spirits of the dead. The God of the underworld was Mantus, Orcus and Vanth was a winged spirit of the underworld.
Greek mythology: Acheron was one of the seven God of the river Acheron, the river of the underworld. Alpheus, Cocytus, Eridanos, Lethe, Phlegethon, Styx were the god/dess of the rivers of the underworld. Hades is the king of the underworld ruling with his wife, Persephone. Kere’s was the Goddess of violent deaths. Limos was the goddess of starvation. Malaria was the goddess of blessed death. Thanatos was the personification of death.
Roman mythology: Dea Tacita was a goddess of the dead. Di inferi was the deities associated with death and the Underworld. Dis Pater was the God of the underworld. Lemures the spirit of malevolent deaths. More was the personification of death. Mania was the goddess of death.
Kalma is the Finnish goddess of death. Tuoni was the Finnish God of the underworld. The Nenets people of Siberia believe Nga was the god of death.