Death is one of the most interesting topics that has aroused the imagination of many over the millennia. Her personalization happens later. The ancients of the world perceived death as a transition to another life and were later portrayed as an accurate personification.
One of the eternal stories that excites a person is: death, the afterlife, the other life, and the figure who is on the Reaper is often the judge on whom it depends whether a person’s soul will be cursed or rewarded in a better new world.
The most common character is that of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who are mentioned in Revelation (White Horseman, Red Horseman, Black Horseman, and Pale Horseman):
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
It is interesting to mention that one translation of King James is Hell, and in most refreshed versions it is “Hades” (in others it is “The Kingdom of Death”, “His Kingdom”, “His companion is the Tomb”) .
Thanatos – in ancient Greek legends, this is closest to Death’s personification – with a black cloak, sword in hand and large black wings (the Angel of Death, as can be seen in some films). Its name literally means ‘death, dead’, derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *dhwene – ‘to disappear, death’.
Hell (Hel) – Is derived from the Proto-Germanic root haljō, later in Old English hel, helle. According to Icelandic sources, who are said to be least affected by the Christianization of the northern people, there are Hel and Hella, the deities of death who inhabit Hel – the “place of the dead.” Hell is found in the three roots of the Yggdrasil (Tree of Life) – one of the two roots lead to elves and dwarves, and the third to human kind.
Most likely, this myth from terminological stand point, shapes the Biblical texts with the word Hell (Hel), as described in the cosmogony of the ancient Nordic religion before Christianization, but the root “cover, veil” * kel-, points to the older Proto-Indo-European culture.
Hades – From the well-known ancient Greek legends is the ruler of th Underground Kingdom, which is also called “Aid” (in slavic languages it is the root to Ад/Ада , or “Hell”). After the gods defeated the Titans, Zeus occupies the heights of Mount Olympus, Poseidon the seas, and Hades becomes the Lord of the Underworld. Legends mention that Hades has a mask and helmet with which he becomes invisible, and if a mortal puts them on – he becomes invisible to Death.
From here we see the inspiration of J. K. Rowling in “Harry Potter: And the Deathly Hallows” that Death is portrayed like we see in som myths like the Irish – a skeletal figure, combined with the Greek myth of invisibility – one of the gifts of Death given is the invisible mantle that Harry Potter himself uses several times in the series.
Other Cultures and Gods
Ku-Sit / Kushit (Cù-sìth) – In Scottish folklore, Death appears as a dog. His home is in the Rocks of Highland. For the Scotts, the belief is that Ku-Sit has green furr, while in Irish it is black. Regardless of the color, Death announces the coming out as barking 3 times, and the one who hears, Death has come for him.
Ankou – In Breton beliefs, it is a skeletal figure carrying scythe for harvest, sometimes as a shadow and sometimes as an old man with a long white beard who pushes a car collecting the dead.
As Anatole Le Braz describes it: “Anku is the executor of Death (oberour ar maro), known as the Cemetery Observer; guarding the cemetery for some unknown reason, he gathers souls from his abode-land. “
Shinigami – In Japanese culture, these are the “gods of death,” “the bearer of death,” the “spirits of the dead.” They are described as monsters, helpers and creatures of the night. The Shinigami are a later representation in the Edo period, when the Japanese poet Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725) describes them in a play about Bunkaro – a puppet theater.
Shinigami in literature are often spirits possessing people, but in one legend it is described as the evil spirit of a dead man who returns with bad intentions.
Mictēcacihuātl – In the Aztecs, the goddess of death, literally the name means “Lady of the Dead.” Queen of Mictlan – The Underworld. Her role is to observe and guard the remains of the dead and the feast of the dead. This myth persists to this day with the “Festival of Death” in today’s Mexico.
Anubis – one of the oldest myths about the God of death. Depicted with the head of a jackal, Anubis was ruler of the Underworld, mummification, Beyond, graves and cemeteries. Because in older legends and myths the gods have many roles, so Anubis’s is changing as well. In later interpretations (664-332 BC), Anubis was the “guide of souls” to the Beyond.
A particularly beautiful scene in The Book of the Dead is when Anubis observes and weighs the soul of the deceased with the Ma’at (Truth) in the form of a feather. If the soul is heavier than the feather, the dead is swallowed by Ammit, if it is lighter than the feather – it can be ascended to heaven.
I really loved reading and learning about other cultures view of death! This is all new information to me and I am really glad I stumbled on your website
Thank you! Doing my best to search and deliever interesting combination mythos around the world! 🙂