Today we’re going to plunge you into the trials and tribulations of the myths and legends surrounding the Great Grim Reaper: the most famous depiction of death . He is often depicted as a skeleton wrapped in a long veil and holding a long, well-worn scythe. A terrifying « fictional » character who has come to devour poor mortals!
Between theories and realities that may cast the shadow of a doubt, here you will find everything to make your night of horror even scarier than expected! 👻
1) The story of the « Grim Reaper of Death
A. Who is the Grim Reaper?
The Great Grim Reaper is a fearsome creature that embodies the god of death . He is depicted as a skeleton in a long black robe. This being appears when your time is right and mows down your soul before transporting you to the afterlife. Though his personality and work are as mysterious as death itself, one thing is certain: this is not someone you’d want to meet anytime soon! 😱
This allegory of death is found in all cultures and throughout history. Our ancestors had a kinder way of dealing with death. For example
- Thanatos (Greek god of death) was an attractive young man with a noble heart.
- The Valkyries (Norse mythology) were beautiful and heroic
- Women who decided which Norse soldiers should die in battle.
B. Origins of the Middle Ages: The Black Death
The turning point in our attitude towards death came in the 14th century when the Black Death swept through Europe. In some cities, one in five people died from the plague. The decomposing corpses piled up in the streets and everyone had loved ones to mourn…
During the Black Death , artists began to paint death as a horrific figure emerging from a mysterious sanctuary. Skeletons armed with murderous tools danced among the plague victims in the streets or rode white horses with wagons full of corpses. 💀
Eventually, a black-cloaked figure (the first recognizable Great Grim Reaper) began to emerge at the head of these hideous processions. Her black tunic and curved scythe were perhaps inspired by plague doctors. They wore a black shroud and bird-like masks to protect themselves from infection.
The name « The Great Grim Reaper » did not appear until the 19th century, although « The Grim Reaper » had been the nickname for Death since the 13th century .
2) Characteristics of the « God of Death »
A. Black Long Cloak and Scythe
Unlike previous personifications of death, the Great Grim Reaper has a macabre appearance. By the way, many Halloween costumes have been inspired by him! The Grim Reaper’s first steps begin with a long black cloak . The cloak encloses the ghost’s entire body as well as its face under a deep hood. It’s usually loose and tattered, with black rags flapping in the wind when it moves. 💨
In his hand, the Grim Reaper carries a scythe, a long pole with a curved blade attached to the tip (aka « sickle » called). The Death Specter can also carry an hourglass, which it uses to measure the time remaining in a life. Finally, it can travel on the back of a spooky white horse or in a chariot drawn by white horses.
Few people saw the figure beneath the black cloak and survived to tell the story. Most legends describe the Grim Reaper (English nickname) as a skeleton ( white bones and an empty skull ), but a few claim that the dark hooded cloak hides nothing.
B. Personification of Death
The Grim Reaper’s appearance is creepy, but he’s not as demonic as he looks. First and foremost, she is a hard worker. Your task is to collect souls when they have reached the end of their life on earth. She is extremely hardworking and always keeps her appointments! ⏱
Some might think that like an assassin, the Reaper is despicable because he kills people without batting an eyelid. But there is one important difference. Assassins kill people without caring about their fate. The Grim Reaper kills people because they are destined to die . In many ways his work is blessed. It ends the suffering of old or sick people and prevents overpopulation.
C. Why does death have a fake?
The Grim Reaper has an important job and special skills. His trademark and most mysterious ability is his ability to separate the soul from the body . Most stories claim that the specter’s mere presence causes the soul to leave the body. With a simple finger movement (or thanks to her sickle) she collects the souls.
Once the Grim Reaper collects your soul, he serves as your guide, helping you blaze a trail to the next kingdom. Some stories describe heroes who managed to fool the reaper or convince him not to take their soul. In some cases, the reaper has even given people talismans that have made them immortal! 😳
3) Myths and beliefs surrounding death
A. Legend of the Great Grim Reaper
Gone are the days of silly superstition and magic. Nonetheless, many people still hold onto this ancient belief, especially in modern Western folklore . When people don’t understand or are afraid of something, they tend to create explanations that are more manageable and tangible. 🤔
When death takes the form of a « human » being, it humanizes one of humanity’s most abstract concepts. Similarly, primitive peoples created stories personifying the moon, thunderstorms, meteor showers, solar eclipses, and other natural phenomena. Even the most advanced cultures still maintain certain traditions that protect them from the fear of death .
The Grim Reaper appears in religious texts from the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, giving the legend credibility (or at least increasing its popularity). Religion thrived for centuries thanks to people’s fears. She pointed fingers at demons, witches… and practiced exorcisms as well as many other dark and occult subjects. 😰 It is therefore not surprising that the image of Death (Great Grim Reaper) as a physical representation of death has become a real symbol of mythology and popular culture.
B. The specter of death is frightening
Today, the image of the great grim reaper no longer inspires the same level of fear as it once did. It has even taken root in the cultural collective ! Nowadays it entertains us and many people use it to express a part of their personality.
At the end of the day, the Grim Reaper truly has deep roots in the Black Plague of the 14th Century, that’s undeniable. Nonetheless, death has always been fascinating and frightening to humans ! 🕯 From Anubis with the jackal head, (the god of death in Egypt) and all that comes after, people will always find a way to dispel their fear and fear of death.
Death is THE great social leveler . That’s why everyone would be scared if they saw a masked figure in the distance, holding a scythe, slowly approaching… and counting the last grains of sand! ⏳
4) The Grim Reaper in modern western folklore
You’ve seen the personification of death everywhere in our society, whether it’s in art , music , movies , or video games . Not surprisingly, we often find the Grim Reaper in horror series, horror games, punk rock bands, or morbid works of art.
By the way, we have put together a small list for you in which you can find indirect (or direct) references to the Grim Reaper! 🤗
A. The Grim Reaper in movies 📽.
Although the American horror movie « Grim Reaper » released in 2007 is entirely dedicated to her, she can be found at several moments in many movies like :ool work
- skinwalkers ; a 2007 thriller directed by James Isaac.
- Death takes a vacation ; an excellent 1934 drama by Mitchell Leisen.
- The Seventh Seal ; the famous 1957 Swedish drama directed by Ingmar Bergman.
- The Book of Life ; a 2014 imaginative animated film directed by Jorge Gutierrez.
- Date VS Death ; a 2011 horror film directed by Patrick Hagarthy.
B. The Grim Reaper in Art 🖼.
There are many paintings (like this Grim Reaper picture ) from different eras that are often associated with war or misfortune. In every generation and around the world there is art that expresses this essence:
- The Triumph of Death ; an oil painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder from 1562. Now on display in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
- Death plays chess ; a painting by Albertus Pictor painted in 1480, now on display in Taby Church, Stockholm.
- The Vision of Death ; France in the spotlight with Gustave Doré with a painting from 1868. However, the painting is now on display at his home by a private owner.
- The Death of the Grim Reaper ; the scythe picture painted by Carlos Schwabe between 1895 and 1900 is exhibited in the Musée d’Orsay.
C. The Grim Reaper in video games 🎮among them?
As a specter associated with death, the grim reaper is inevitably often picked up in video games. Often he is an opponent in the course or a final boss, but sometimes he is also a playable character ! Maybe you played some of them?
- « Great Grim Reaper » in The Sims ; when a character dies, he appears to collect his soul.
- « Black Sprinter » in Justice League Superheroes ; when the famous hero Flash’s life is too low, the ghost starts chasing him!
- « Thanatos » in God of War ; we touched on it briefly above and we’ll learn more about this character later, but you can encounter this grim reaper in battles against the gods throughout the game.
- The Bones in Final Fantasy ; when a death spell is cast, a skull appears, representing a punishment for the opponent.
- « Reaper » in Kingdom Hearts ; a boss who lives up to his name. He collects souls to turn them into ghouls that you will have to fight later. In short: a hard fight awaits you!
D. The Sensenman in music 🎵.
You can find references to the Great Grim Reaper in many styles of music, both modern and ancient. It’s not always a sad reprimand. Rather, any artist can give it whatever meaning they want.
- » Grim Reaper of Love » by The Turtles ; a pop song from the 60s.
- « Lucky to be Alive » by Cheap Sex ; Music between hard rock and punk rock from 2004.
- « Storm » by Pete Tong ; a house DJ who illustrates death in one of his tracks.
- Grim Reaper, Soul Reaper, White Reaper , … ; quite a number of bands (often punk rock) have a name that includes the soul collector. We’ll let you figure it all out for yourself, the list is long!
E. The Grim Reaper in the books 📚.
The spirit as collector of souls can be found in literature as well as in music. However, it appears more often in movies or video games. We’ve put together a series of lesser-known books (also available as e-books) that will give you a different perspective on death.
- « Grave Witch » by Kalayna Price ; a story set between black magic, death and an investigation carried out by a private investigator.
- « Existence » by Abbi Glines ; constantly moving in a macabre world, you eventually meet and fall in love with the Great Grim Reaper!
- « The First Grave on the Right » by Darynda Jones ; the author, an expert on macabre stories, wrote about a clerk who is part detective, part soul collector.
- « Cemetery Job » by Angela Roquet ; the perfect love story between an apprentice scythe, an angel and death itself.
5) Other forms of the Great Grim Reaper
As mentioned at the beginning, the so-called goddess of death can be represented under different aspects depending on folklore and civilization . That being said, the principle of collecting souls to send to the afterlife is always present. 👀 Each Grim Reaper form is accompanied by stories and legends, so all you have to do is choose your favorite story!
A. Mexican » Grand Mower: Santa Muerte
The Mexican Grim Reaper is called « Santa Muerte ». This tradition dates back to before Spanish colonization, when the indigenous tribes of Mexico practiced a death cult similar to the Day of the Dead. Like the Western Grim Reaper, Santa Muerte has a skull instead of a head and wields a scythe.
B. Great « Breton » Grim Reaper: Ankou
In Basse-Brittany, the Breton Grim Reaper is called « Ankou » (Breton for « fear, pain »). Rather than depicting death itself, it is commonly believed that Ankou is a servant of death and destiny. It works like a psycho pompom: it picks up the souls of the dead and leads them to the afterlife. For some, he was the king of the dead: a being who ruled over an otherworldly realm hidden in the mountains.
Ankou is often depicted as a tall, slender old man with long white hair, or as a skeleton or shadowy figure. He is dressed in a black coat and a wide-brimmed hat covers his noseless face. Like the Great Grim Reaper, he holds a scythewith the sharp edge facing out. In his encased skeleton, his head constantly rotates 360 degrees so he can see everything. He drives a creaky cart pulled by black horses known as the « death cart ».
C. Great « Greek » Grim Reaper: Thanatos
The Greek god of death is a version of the Grim Reaper that originated in ancient Greece: Thanatos. According to mythology, he is the god of nonviolent death and was depicted as an old man (or young lad) with a gentle demeanor. Regarded as friendly, he is the twin brother of Hypnos, the god of sleep.
His task: to escort the souls of the dead to the mythical Charon in order to transport them to the underworld. The Greeks did not consider this form of the Grim Reaper to be evil: they simply saw it as inevitable. The sisters of Thanatos (named Kères), on the other hand, are goddesses of violent death! 🔪
D. Great Grim Reaper in religion: Azrael, the angel of death
The god of death in religion is known by the name of Azrael. In the Islamic text, our Grim Reaper is referred to as the « Angel of Death ». He is an archangel commonly described as a servant of Allah who is said to herald the famous Day of the Resurrection of the Dead! This servant of God is also found in the Hebrew and Sikh traditions.
E. Norwegian » Great Mower: Pesta, the Black Plague
The goddess Pesta dates from the Black Death period . She is depicted as an ugly old woman carrying a broom or rake. 🧹 If you see this other form of the Great Grim Reaper and it is wielding a rake, some of your family members will die. And if she uses a broom, everyone in the house will die! It is associated with death and illness.
F. “Japanese” Grim Reaper: Shinigami
The Japanese gods of death (called « shinigami ») are similar to the Western version of the Great Grim Reaper. Notable Difference: These death spirits are numerous and like to work in pairs. They ensure that the individual dies at the right time and do not commit murder themselves. ❌
After the individual’s death, they are responsible for taking them to the underworld . They are commonly described as dark and malevolent and can only be seen by those on the brink of death.
G. Nordic » Grim Reaper: Hel and Valkyries
Hel (meaning « hidden ») is a Norse goddess of death who rules over the underworld. She is the daughter of Loki and the giantess Angrboda: this means that she is the sister of the wolf Fenrir and the serpent Jormungand. So she belongs to a very dangerous and not very respectable family!
This goddess of the underworld is generally portrayed as being quite greedy and cruel . Legend has it that she has an everlasting scowl and fierce expression on her face.
Also in Scandinavian mythology, the work of the Valkyries is to distribute death on the battlefields (a bit like the Grim Reaper). What is the reason for that? For the souls of fallen warriorsto bring to Odin! These souls will serve to aid the gods in the battle at the end of the world: Ragnarök. They are very picky and always choose their souls carefully.
H. Great « Egyptian » Grim Reaper: Anubis
Anubis is considered the Egyptian god of death , responsible for leading the deceased to their judgment. Usually depicted as a man with a jackal’s head, he is also responsible for funerals and embalmings. He doesn’t carry a sickle like the Grim Reaper, but rather a flail.
His mother (Nephtys) is the tutelary goddess of death .
I. Chinese » Grand Mowers: Yama and Heibai Wuchang
The Chinese god of death is considered the lord of the underworld. Sometimes called King Yama or Emma, he decides whether you go to heaven or hell (he makes his decision by looking at a scroll he keeps nearby). Yama is a popular myth: found in Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist and Indian cultures! 🌏 He is known as an angry god and is usually depicted with the face of an ogre or something similar.
In Chinese religion, there are two gods Hei Bai Wu Chang (working for Yama) whose job it is to guide the dead to the underworld . They are black and white (yin and yang) and their statues usually show them with wild collars on their faces and long red tongues (to ward off evil spirits)! 👻 Black represented evil while white represented good.
J. Scottish » Great Mower: Cu Sith
The Scottish god of death is a giant green dog. Just looking at it is a bad omen: a harbinger of approaching death. They say he can capture souls and transport them to the afterlife!
He is usually a silent creature when hunting. Still, legend has it that when he charges, he always warns with three fearsome, heartbreaking barks! The moment the barking sounds, unless you are in a safe place, you will be so frightened that it will cost you your life. That’s literally the definition of being scared to death ! 😵
6) Soul Carver Routine (story)
To end this long article about the Great Grim Reaper, we found an amazing story written by an English blogger named Terri Kue, which we have adapted for you! Welcome to the routine of death, the ideal story to tell on Halloween :
« I walk the streets.
It’s day and the sun seems to want to blind me.
I wouldn’t have gone out if I had a choice, but people just have to die in the morning.
The clack of my heels on the sidewalk echoes, although no one but me hears it.
Small animals avoid me as I walk, although I’m sure they won’t be able to see me.
I can’t explain it, but animals seem to have the ability to sense me while humans are unaware of my presence.
This has always been the case, including with dinosaurs and those who came before them.
Admittedly, that must be frightening for these animals.
All their lives they are able to feel me, even when they are about to die and I am right next to them.
Living in fear of me your whole life must be hard.
Not that I care.
Anyway, today I’m going to collect a human.
I quickly move my body and long dress as a human walks down the sidewalk.
You won’t be able to see or smell me, but I certainly don’t enjoy being walked through.
I sigh in boredom as I turn and glare at them.
As before, I smile as I watch a car go off the road and collide with a youth.
I’m supposed to collect someone else’s soul, but I can always collect new souls along the way.
I laugh at the tears as I walk toward the wreck, blood soaking my shoes once again.
I watch people’s faces change in horror.
I give them a mocking smile, raise my scythe, and scoop up the souls of the still-breathing bodies with all my might.
I enjoy the fearful screams as her soul enters my body.
I look at the soulless body and the debris surrounding it.
I sigh and turn around as I continue on my way.
After all, it was a normal day.
Nothing exciting at all ».
7) The Grim Reaper is also on Skull World!
If you’ve made it to the end of this article, you must be truly amazed by all the myths and legends surrounding this unique spectrum. And you know what? The world of skulls offers numerous merchandising products related to the Grim Reaper: tattoos, T-shirts, jewellery… a real selection! 🤩
- The Great Grim Reaper skull t-shirt : a classic that speaks volumes with its provocative look!
- The Grim Reaper’s Skull Ring (Steel): An artistically crafted piece of jewelery featuring the famous scythe that you now know better than anyone, in a unique 3D look that makes the difference!
- The Ring Skull Grim Reaper (Silver): An exceptional style with engravings even more detailed than the one shown above! And as a bonus, it’s made of sterling silver so you can impress everyone around you.
did you like this article? Let us know your feedback in the comments and tell us your best Soul Collector stories !