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Incarnations of Death

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Because the reality of death has had a substantial influence on the human psyche and the development of civilization as a whole, the personification of Death as a living, sentient entity is a concept that has existed in all known societies since the beginnings of recorded history.  

Unknowable as death may be, it is hardly unimaginable and despite its invisibility man needed to visualize and to contextualize death, in order to impede its sheer terror. The living needed to construct masks for death since one could not face the faceless. Death was represented by a fountainhead of metaphors, a large part of which can be traced back to biblical sources. A means of choice has been personification, giving death a human form.

While in Germanic folklore, including English, Death is male (der Tod), in Latin folklore it is female (la muerte, la mort). In Mexico, death is sometimes referred upon as La Calaca, a skull like character that comes and takes people away when they die.

Strangely and despite the modern concepts of infection and hygiene, a surprising number of modern ideas of death do come straight from the Middle Ages. Most macabres representations such as the skeletton or the grim reaper have not been superseded  and are still present today across literature and imagery, art and films

A Joker

To contrast with the normally dark and antagonistic classical depiction of Death, many comedies portray him as a somewhat sympathetic character, an average Joe who's simply doing a necessary and unpleasant job.


The weapons of death

Considering that a human being was engaged in an agonistic struggle against death, military terminology prevailed in most descriptions. The struggle with death was characterized in physical terms, it was called "athletic competition".

In paintings and other representations, Death the tyrant slaughtered thousands of people with various weapons such as spears, arrows, spades, scythes, maces and rakes.


The ghost

The ghost is the representation of someone who is dead. It may keep the recognizable form of the body that once lived or appears as something else. Yet, the ghost appears and disappears, is not bound by the laws of time or space, and is largely present in its absence.


The Four Knights of the Apocalypse

The revelations of St-Jean prophetized that four riders named Pestilence, Famine, War and Death will storm the world as an episode of the Apocalypse. More details on the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.


Father Time

Another name, “Father Time” allude to the passage of time and the fragility of life. Clocks, hourglasses, sundials, and other timepieces both call to mind that time is passing, and frequently contain memento mori mottoes themselves. Similarly, a candle both marks the passage of time, and bears witness that it will eventually burn itself out. These sorts of symbols were often incorporated into vanitas paintings, a variety of early still life.


An animal

Certain animals such as crows, cats, owls, vultures, and bats are associated with death; some because they feed on carrion, others because they are nocturnal.

An eagle because it has large wings and it will reach everyone even in the highest tower.

An aries.  “He has two horns, [and] with the large one he brings down the Caesars, kings, princes, popes, cardinals, patriarchs, bishops and great lords …… and with the lower horn death crushes people of the lowest estates, both clergy and laymen in the provinces, cities, towns and villages; flinging his horns into the four parts of the world, he does not bear in mind the age of any man”

A poisonous bee: it comes invisible and kill softly in a second


Death in tarot

The meaning of Death in the tarot is transformation, only acquiring its positive or negative connotations in conjunction with the suites. In the seventeenth century the tarot deck was used in a popular and highly unesoteric card game known as tarocca, in one version of which the winner would invariably be whoever played the Death card; for it was considered nothing could stand against the image of Death.


Other incarnations of Death

King Death belongs to a wide family embracing the fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, God's "myghty messengere" (Everyman) calling humanity to moral account, and the courtly personae of hunters, falconers, and knights. Later, the Vampire and other monsters emerged as representations of incarnate death.

In many icons of the resurrection of Jesus, death is portrayed as an almost naked man who is bound hand and foot lying amid the bones under the earth


copyright @ 2007 by AF