Have you ever wondered how death would look like if they were a person? I'm not referring to a gruesome, terrifying vision that passes through your mind, but rather to the type of personality they might have. Would death appreciate what they do?
Death is a difficult subject. Humans have dealt with death by researching it, rationalising it, or simply ignoring it. What is the best way to comprehend a natural force? One approach is to give death a physical shape, creating literal personifications of death.
Dracula, the Boogeyman, mutant creatures, zombies, and man-eating werewolves are only a few of the fabled monsters on which man has projected his fears onto. We tell each other terrifying stories about these horrifying beings in order to express our own dark side. Our fear of death lies at the heart of all our other fears. But we don't know what death is or looks like.
Personification is endowing something that is not a person with human characteristics. Throughout history, we have constructed countless representations to give death an identity in order to give it a face and a voice.
“DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING,” said Death. “JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH."
- Terry Pratchett, Good Omens
Classic. (Probably) The most popular personification of death. The iconic depiction of the Grim Reaper is of a skeletal figure who is often shrouded in a dark, hooded robe and carrying a scythe to “reap” human souls.
The Grim Reaper first appeared in Europe in the 14th century. During this time, Europe was suffering with the world's worst pandemic, the Black Death, which was thought to be caused by the plague. The fear of the plague became a fear of death as well. Artists began to depict death as a skeletal figure, gaining inspiration from the decomposing remains that were widespread during the pandemic. At first, this figure used numerous tools of death, such as darts or a crossbow, but the scythe eventually became the universally accepted weapon of choice. He is frequently pictured wielding that scythe to slice through vast groups of people, similar to how farmers use their scythes to mow through grain fields; this is most likely the origin of his nickname, the 'Grim Reaper'.
Enma Daio shares this name with the Chinese and Vietnamese gods of the underworld, albeit the spellings are different. Despite his intimidating appearance and supposedly violent temperament, he is a caring god who sincerely cares about soul purification- so that they can return to the land of the living rather than being sent into the pits of hell. Yama, the Hindu god of death, is his ancestor.
Enma's main responsibility is to judge the souls of the recently deceased and send them on to their next destination. He keeps a large scroll in which he records all of each person's good and evil activities to use as evidence against them when their moment of judgement comes. He supervises the torment and misery in hell, ensuring that each individual receives adequate punishment.
'Who are you?' 'I am Death." from The Seventh Seal
The sequences in Ingmar Bergman's film The Seventh Seal where the disillusioned knight Antonius Block plays chess with Death,generally portrayed in the film as an eerie pale man often clutching a scythe and wearing the typical black robe and cowl, are possibly the most famous. Set in the Middle Ages, and as the Black Plague sweeps the kingdom, Death comes to see the man and informs him that his time has come. The guy challenges him to a game of chess, hoping to gain time by defeating Death.
What does the Death Playing Chess art metaphor mean? Because the game of chess is all about outwitting your opponent, this chess-death allegory speaks to a society's desperate and futile attempts to prolong life and avoid Death by any means necessary, whether it's donning a plague doctor mask for protection or turning survival into an intellectual game of strategy that could be won if only 'played' correctly. "How can you outwit Death?" Death, dressed as a priest, asks in The Seventh Seal. The knight recognizes that trying to outwit Death is ludicrous, but, like the nobleman in Pictor's painting, he persists in his attempt to checkmate Death.
Yama is portrayed as the Lord of Death in East Asia. He appears in tantric imagery in a variety of forms. He almost invariably has a bull's face, a skull crown, and a third eye, though he is occasionally shown with a human face. He is represented in many stances and with various symbols,each reflecting a particular facet of his function and powers.
When someone dies, they are summoned before Yama, who assigns them their next life. It's critical to have Yama on your side, because your next incarnation could be on Earth, but also in heaven or hell.
Yama, while frightening, is not wicked. His purpose, like that of many other wrathful iconic figures, is to frighten us into paying attention to our lives and the divine messengers - sickness, old age, and death into the world to remind us of the impermanence of life so that we practice diligently.
Skeletons waltz with living humans to their graves in the Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death. Kings, knights, and commoners all join in, communicating that death comes for everyone, regardless of status, money,or accomplishments in life. At a time when the Black Death and apparently never-ending battles between France and England in the Hundred Year War killed millions, grotesque imagery like the Dance of Death was a method to confront the ever-present prospect of mortality.
This Dance of Death symbolised death as skeletons who rose from their graves and literally joined one another and the living in a macabre dance, reminding us that death is the ultimate equalizer; it finally comes for us all, regardless of our standing in life.
The female entity known as the Banshee foretells death in Irish mythology. The name is derived from the Old Irish bensíde or baintsíde, which means "lady of the fairy mound." The first mentions of Banshees date back to the 14th century in Ireland. Some attribute the tale to an old tradition in which a woman would sing, or more precisely keen (wail in grief), during funerals. As a result, the Banshee was a fairy vocalist who was mourning the death of a human. Today's version of the Banshee is an ancient, terrible woman with silver hair and torn clothes who screeches as a portent of death,but this is just the most Halloween-y version of the mythology.
The one common truth about the Banshee is that hearing one is a portent of death, although folklore differs quite a bit beyond that. They appear as gorgeous women in some stories and tattered and eerie in others. In some locations, their singing is loud, while in others, it is low and sweet. Because of war and starvation, death has been a fairly prevalent part of Irish lives for generations, which could explain why the Banshee grew into a scarier character throughout time. It's also possible that Banshees were mistaken for owl shrieking, which is a terrifying sound to hear late at night.
"But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st"
- William Shakespeare
Given this, why is death always a human? Whether it is a human with skin or a human skeleton. I understand that we create a great deal of ruin and murder in the world, yet even when the skeleton is not death, humans are still afraid of it. Now, why would you want to see something you're afraid of as you die? Is the skeleton meant to represent death's terror rather than death itself? Also, if you were afraid of your skeleton, why haven't we made it cuter? Like a hamster or a rabbit?
But why would you be afraid of something that is within all of us? I know we can't see our bones unless we get an X-ray, but just because we can only see it for others once they're dead and thoroughly decomposed doesn't mean we should be afraid of it.
These personifications are meant to be big and awe-inspiring, as well as peacemakers for others. The goal here is to teach people to honour their dead while also providing them with something to ponder about and connect with in order for them to accept their place in the cosmos. Death personifications are ubiquitous in all forms of art, religions, and myths around the world because all humans have struggled to understand the notion of death and are terrified of what occurs after death.
These personifications are a means to add laughter to the situation in order to make it easier to understand, or to instill correct awe in order to assure respect for the deceased and life in progress, or simply to remove part of the unknown with a supernatural explanation.
And Death is our sister, we praise Thee for Death,
Who releases the soul to the light of Thy gaze;
And dying we cry with the last of our breath
Our thanks and our praise.
- The Song of St. Francis of Assisi
It seems that people are obsessed with death. Why is that?
Obsession with death is a relatively new phenomenon,emerging mostly since the Age of Enlightenment and the introduction of modern medicines, the technological revolution, and, concurrently, humanity's developing narcissistic drive for the 'perfect self,' the 'perfect existence'.
As species, we have always been captivated by death.Few things are as unavoidable and definitive as death. This coherent group of cells, which has been working together for years to breathe, walk, read books, and play ultimate frisbee, will eventually run out of energy. Death is frightening, so it's understandable that people would try to explain it in whatever way they could.
There are too many factors that contribute to this obsession. One of them is age - young people and teenagers are often interested in death and other philosophical issues. It's part of choosing their own route, points of view, and answers on their own rather than accepting stereotypical or socially accepted beliefs.
Death simply fascinates certain people. So why not? Death, sex, and birth are three very natural phenomena that our society insists on burying, pushing under the floor, and pretending do not exist. Death, in particular. It's an issue because you can't face something you deny exists. This causes three problems: some individuals are fascinated by it in one form or another, while others simply run in circles and tear their hair in terror when they come into contact with it. The third group is just uninterested or pretends such things do not exist, are unnatural, unhealthy,and so on.
Death fascinates some people who live in a death-phobic culture like ours.
Death, like every other part of mythology and culture, appears to closely follow societal desires. There is a consoling aspect for the anxious, and a heralding side for the mournful. There's also the spite for those who are angry.
Regardless of gender, ethnicity or political philosophy, one thing for certain is we are going to die. Death is the inescapable destiny within the plight of man and the great equaliser to all. Why is it that we need to put a face to our inevitable end? Could death be as simple as not seeing the light of day any longer? Perhaps the personifications humans have made for death are far scarier than a cold,barbarous void. It might not be as appalling as its depictions. Whether it is invited or not, all life will eventually come to an end.