Death gods have become an integral part of modern culture . Since the beginning of time, civilizations around the world have had gods representing many things. You will find love, war, prosperity, symbols , but also the passage to the afterlife. 💀 Today we bring you a top 10 of our favorites, coming from different cultures that all fascinate us more than the others.
Death Gods: What is this?
The deities associated with death take many different forms depending on the specific culture and religion being referred to. Psychopomps, underworld deities, and resurrection deities are commonly referred to as the god of death in religious texts.
The term colloquially refers to the deities that gather or rule the dead rather than the deities that bring the hour of death ⏳ However, all of these types are included in this article.
Many have incorporated a god of death into their mythology or religion. Since death is one of the most important elements of human life along with birth, these deities are often one of the most important deities in a religion. In some religions where only a single powerful deity is the object of worship, the deity of death is an antagonist against which the main deity fights. 🤔
The related term » death cult » has mostly been used as a pejorative term to accuse certain groups of morally despicable practices that place no value on human life. In the monotheistic religions, death is usually personified by an angel or demon rather than a deity.
10) Ah Puch, leader of Mitnal
The Maya Empire ruled Guatemala, the Yucatan Peninsula and large parts of Mexico. With a civilization this powerful, one of the most feared gods of death had to be on the list.
Ah Puch was once the god of darkness, de la death, en the cataclysm, He is often described as a creature resembling a skeleton or corpse that has reached a certain level of decomposition. In the eyes of the Maya, however, he was one of the least dark gods in their cult.
Ah Puch ruled the lowest and most feared of the nine planes of Xibalba (the Zone of Terror): Mitnal. Incidentally, among the Maya, this name stood for terror and death . Indeed, for Mitnal stood for the icy place of perpetual cold and dark darkness. The unfortunates sent to Mitnal for sentencing were tortured, quartered, burned and dismembered forever in an endless loop. 😱 In short: This is not a place you would like to go.
9) Ahriman and his demons
We don’t know your personal knowledge, but our knowledge of Persian mythology is limited. By limited we mean almost non-existent. The story of the origin of the world and the god of death are so closely linked that you have to go way back in time to read them.
In Persian mythology, the eternal struggle between good and evil is the guiding principle. The myths are inspired by an ancient religion, Zoroastrianism, which incidentally is one of the oldest religions we know of today. The myths have a strong resonance in modern Christianity. Ahura Mazda is the Wise Lord , creator of the universe, and the only god to be part of Zoroastrianism (a monotheistic religion).
With good comes evil, and since that’s the goal of our TOP 10, we had to introduce Ahriman. Ahriman is the ancient equivalent of Satan. He is the holder of death , misfortune, sickness and all other evils in the world. 🤯 Oh, and he’s also Ahura Mazda’s brother. At Ahriman’s disposal are demons, so-called « Daevas », who spread and incite evil on earth.
As the time of the end times approaches, the lord of good, Ahura Mazda, will defeat his demonic brother and everything in the world will be put right.
8) Accompany souls with Thanatos
These are the most well-known and least-known gods of death in the religious hemisphere. Time for you to discover Hades and Thanatos.
The god Hades, one of the greatest belonging to Greek mythology, was the brother of Poseidon as well as Zeus. After the defeat of their Titan father Kronos, the brothers decided to part with what they had inherited. Unfortunately Hades failed. He ended up leading the underworld, preferring to remain there beyond the borders of the continent in favor of the realm of the dead.
However, despite the fact that Hades ruled his underworld, he did not represent death per se. That title belonged to Thanatos, which literally means « death » in Greek. His father was Hypnos, the god of sleep, and his mother was the goddess of the night: Nyx 🌙.
Once the person died, it was said that Thanatos would accompany the dying and dead souls to the underworld, where they would then fall into the care of Hades.
7) Nephthys & Anubis, gods of the dead
Like most ancient religions, the Egyptians believed in multiple gods and goddesses associated with the underworld and death. In the eyes of our civilization, our own conception of the Egyptian cult’s underworld actually stems fromu Book of the Dead , which was composed and written down by the famous scribe Ani after he had a vision of himself and his wife while walking the path of death lived through. For the Egyptians, the Book of the Dead served as a guide that helped them reach the afterlife. 🤨
Regarding Anubis, he was the god of the dead, tombs, as well as mummies. Anubis was the child of Osiris (more on that later) and Nephthys, who was the goddess of death but also of sorrow. It is also important to know that Nephthys was both his mother and his aunt. Incest in sight!
According to Egyptian belief, the god Anubis possessed the body of a man with the head of a wild dog or jackal. When someone died, it was believed that Anubis came to take them to an unknown subterranean world where they were then subsequently entrusted to Osiris and his care. 🏺
Osiris has a pretty dark story…. It starts well for him, but he was the child of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut. After assuming power to rule Egypt and become pharaoh, his brother Set became jealous. Set treacherously murdered him by cutting up the body and imprisoning him in his tomb, a coffin he had sent down the Nile.
Then an eternity passed before the son as well as the sisters of Osiris put him back together (literally). Then Osiris became the ruler of the underworld. Pretty complicated story.
6) Manga, Anime, but especially Japanese Shinigami
While mythology reigns supreme in the western world, the culture and knowledge of Japanese folklore is poorly understood. In this fabulous world of legends and myths associated with the Shinto religion , there are kami (gods) for just about everything. Really, really everything that exists. Death is no exception, and the gods of death are called Shinigami.
First appearing in the 18th century, they are more or less modern, with a relatively closely related resemblance to the Great Grim Reaper. The death beings work in pairs. They first talk to a person who was supposed to die, and then ask them to switch to the tremor, which is the line between life and death, before switching to the other side. Very little is known about what they look like as they are mainly espits . There is a certain narrative in which a man’s story is told. This man was about to take his own life when the Shinigami showed up and told him it wasn’t time for him to die yet and stopped him from taking his own life. 🤫
These death gods are often found in manga, such as one of Team Skull World’s favorites: Death Note. In fact, they work in pairs, on one side Ryuk, who will provide a notebook in which each person whose name is written in it will die. And his henchman Light Yagami will be the person who fills in these names with the goal of becoming a Kami (God).
If you like this type of manga and/or anime, we recommend you Noragami, a masterpiece of anime art in which the gods of death, war and love expel the spirits that disturb the human world.
Basically, many manga have this reference to the shinigami, or even a character dedicated to them, like in Naruto, Gintama or Mirai Nikki.
5) Yama, the first dead man
According to the Vedas, the ancient Hindu texts, there is a « Book of Destiny » in which all of a person’s actions are recorded throughout his life. It is Yama, the god of death, who determines the judgment that each soul of a deceased will receive and their path after death. 👀
It is believed that Yama was the very first human to die, so it is his job to preside over where the dead will rest. It is also called Dharma, meaning « cosmic order » because it is dedicated to maintaining harmony (not to be confused with the Dharma of the Buddhist religion, which represents the precepts to be followed).
The name Yama means twin in Vedic Sanskrit and in some Hindu myths he has a twin sister named Yami who is the mother goddess. They are two of the oldest deities and are considered very wise; however, their position is lower than that of the ultimate gods Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.
4) Hel, on the way to Valhalla
It’s the Vikings turn! Norse mythology has quite a different approach to death. Each concept has its own god or goddess. The most famous of all is certainly Valhalla. It is the hall of the god Odin. All who sit in this hall after their death are great warriors, awaiting their calling to fight alongside Odin in the Battle of Ragnarok. ⚔️
The Valkyries help select from among the dead the heroic warriors known as the » Selectors of the Fallen , » allowing those they deem worthy to be channeled into the sacred halls of Odin. Not only were they considered Odin’s servants, but at a later date were eerily described as determining death in combat by witchcraft.
Another depiction of the other side of death in Norse mythology is the one called Hel, attributed to the goddess Hel herself. «Hel» can be translated as «hidden», which suits their area. According to Snorri Sturluson, a 13th-century Icelandic scholar, the goddess Hel is the daughter ofAngrboda and Loki , making her the sister of the gigantic Fenrirwolf 🐺 as well as Jörmungand, the titanic sea serpent. 🐍
Hel has been described as very similar to normal life in the Viking Age, yet Hel herself was considered in Old Norse literature to be greedy and would care little for the people of her realm. As you can see, every god of death in every civilization has a completely different behavior! Of course, if you are a true follower of the Viking mentality, we offer you to drink yourself with our Viking skull mug.
3) Morrigan, queen like goddess
The Celts had a simple way of dealing with the threshold of balance between life and death. They simply had one goddess in charge of the administration of both. Incidentally, « Morrigan » is the term that would mean « great empress. » So this designation fits the divine being who takes care of both life and death. In addition, Morrigan is one of the Triple Goddesses. The three main aspects of her personality are represented by Anu, the maiden of fertility, Badh, the mother cauldron, and the patroness of death, Macha . 💀
In Celtic belief, Morrigan was the wife of Dagda. Dagda was apparently the most important Celtic god and the most famous of all gods in Celtic mythology. He is also known as « Ollathir », which literally means « All Fathers ». He was the most powerful god on earth.
According to legend, war broke out against the Fomorians whom Dagda was sent to spy on. As he made his way to their camp, he noticed Morrigan taking a bath in the middle of a river. For a brief moment, Dagda set aside his quest to lie to Morrigan and revealed the Fomorian’s plans to her. In this way, their relationship and connection made the difference in defeating the Fomorians . They formed the most powerful duo representing ultimate power. 💪
2) Honoring France: Ankou
The ankou is not death itself, but a kind of servant of death, of fate and works like a psychopompos. He comes to gather the souls at the moment of their death and then show them the way to the afterlife.
Ankou is usually depicted as a tall, slender old man with long white hair, or as a skeleton or ghost in the form of a shadow. Sometimes he wears a dark cloak, with a large hat covering part of his grinning face, and holds a spear or scythe with the edge facing outward.
In his skeletal form, he can turn his head completely, so he can see absolutely everything. He may have lighted candles in his eye sockets. Legend has it that he drives an ancient cart that makes hellish noises, or a huge black carriage drawn by dark, fearsome horses, nicknamed the « Chariot of Death » (derived from our Breton friends Garrig an Ankou).
The screeching of the wheels acts as an omen of terror to the common mortal. In order to collect the souls of people living on the coast or on rivers, the Ankou sails in his own boat, itself called Bag noz, the « night boat «. This boat brings the souls of the deceased to the quay of the afterlife. ⚰️
1) The famous Great Grim Reaper
The Grim Reaper is Death with a capital M. She is perhaps the most recognized being of all time, neither spirit nor god. Grim Reaper is a psychopomp whose job it is to guide the souls of the dead to the afterlife.
He is often depicted as a large, skeletal figure, cloaked in a long, dark, hooded black cloak, wielding a scythe. He uses them to gather souls, although some tales say he touches people so they don’t feel pain when they die. 😬
When he moves, he is said to glide or levitate rather than walk. Grim Reaper is known for not saying much, but due to her quite morbid appearance, she remains the center of attention in the room she is in. Like Ankou, he can turn his head completely to see his surroundings. The Grim Reaper must be constantly on the alert as he is afraid that someone will try to deceive him.
He rides in an old, rickety carriage drawn by white horses who make a shabby god because of the stones they carry. Because every time he takes someone’s soul, he drops a stone. The Grim Reaper is not a ubiquitous personification of death to burden the entire world, rather each region has its own personification of death who acts as the region’s grim reaper until it finds a successor. 🔪
Decorations of this character haunt gravesand tombs, often engraved with « Rich man, poor man, beggar and thief… One day you will be where I will be ». In some artworks, the Great Grim Reaper is depicted as a young woman enclosed in the embrace of life). The fact is that life and death are linked and that life is as ephemeral as the sweet bloom of youth.
Bonus: Mexican God of Death: Santa Muerte
The list of saints from all over the world is long. One of them is Santa Muerte, who, while never canonized by the Catholic Church, seems to please many followers, especially in Mexico. 🇲🇽 Conceived
on the territory of present-day Mexico, Santa Muerte is merely a « folk saint » that was largely forgotten for centuries. In the last two decades, however, its silhouette has been associated with the world’s fastest-growing religion . It is estimated that at least 10 million people are currently worshiping Santa Muerte, and the Vatican has never been happier. ✝️
The name Santa Muerte translates as Holy Death and for the Church she is just an example of death. A number of those who worship Santa Muerte are also heavily involved in crime and the drug trade. If you want to know more about Santa Muerte, the saint of narcos, write it in the comments!
Our god of ultimate death?
You’re probably wondering how we judged the » god of death » who should dominate this top 10 ranking? Simple, after writing an entire article about the Great Grim Reaper (which you can check out here), we thought, who can compete with such a badass god? 💀
So we took a look at how they go about collecting souls, how they deal with the culture of the country/region, the physical appearance of course, but also their presence in modern culture.
It is no great surprise that the « Great Grim Reaper » won this list even though he was closely followed by Ankou. The Breton god has made life difficult for us, especially as some of our readers (perhaps yourself!) are from this region so beloved.
You can find your favorite god of death on skull world, we have a whole range of products with the image of the ghost of death ready for you! Whether it’s a grim reaper ring or a grim reaper t-shirt, you’re sure to find something you like here!
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