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Revision as of 16:33, 9 July 2006 by Bloody Angel (talk | contribs) (Grim Reaper: not a stub anymore)

Death personified is a figure or fictional character which has existed in mythology and popular culture since the earliest days of storytelling. 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. In the United States death is usually shown as a skeletal figure wearing a midnight black gown with a hood, while in Europe he is often depicted similarly, but dressed in white, which is the traditional colour worn at funerals in many places.

Examples of death personified are:

  • In modern-day European-based folklore, Death is known as the Grim Reaper or The grim spectre of death.
  • In the Middle Ages, Death was imagined as decaying human corpse, later becoming the familiar skeleton in a robe.
  • In Islam, Death is portrayed as Azrael, the angel of death (note that the name 'Azrael' does not appear in any versions of either the Bible or the Qu'ran).
  • Father Time is sometimes said to be Death.
  • A psychopomp is a spirit, deity, or other being whose task is to conduct the souls of the recently dead into the afterlife.

Death in mythological portrayals

Several mythologies had gods who embodied Death or aspects of Death:

Hindu Mythology

In the Hindu scriptures known collectively as Vedas, the lord of death is called Yama, or Yamaraja. He rides a black buffalo and carries a rope lasso to carry the soul back to his abode called Yama-loka. Here, all the accounts of the person's good and bad deeds are stored which allow Yamaraja and his followers (called Yamadutas) to decide where the soul has to reside in his next life, following the theory of reincarnation. It is described in the Srimad Bhagavatam that souls may experience re-birth in hellish, or heavenly worlds before returning to this Earth again, if their actions have been of a particularly selfless or pious nature in this lifetime. Yama is also mentioned in the Mahabharata as a great philosopher and devotee of Sri Krishna.

In Japan

  • In Kojiki, after giving birth to the fire-god Hinokagutsuchi, the goddess Izanami dies from wounds of its fire and enters the perpetual night realm called Yominokuni that the gods thereto retire. After Izanagi, her husband, failed in the attempt to reclaim her from the land of Yomi, in a brief argument with Izanagi, she claimed to take 1000 lives every day signifying her position as the goddess of death.
  • Another popular death personification is Enma (Yama)), also known as Enma Ou and Enma Daiou. He originated as Yama in Hinduism, later became Yanluo in China, and Enma in Japan. He is from Chinese Buddhism, and before that, from India. Enma rules the Underworld, which makes him similar to Hades, and he decides whether someone dead goes to heaven or to hell. A common saying parents use in Japan to scold children is that Enma will cut off their tongue in the afterlife if they lie.
  • There are also death gods called Shinigami, which are closer to the Western tradition of the Grim Reaper. Shinigami (often plural) are common in modern Japanese arts and fiction, and essentially absent from traditional mythology.

In Slavic paganism

Old Slavic tribes viewed Death as a woman in white clothes, with a never-fading green sprout in her hand. The touch of the sprout would put a human to an everlasting sleep. This image survived Christianization well into the Middle Ages, only being replaced by the more traditional European image of a walking skeleton as late as in the 15th century.

Death (angels) in religion

In the Bible, death is viewed as an under form of an angel sent from God, a being deprived of all voluntary power. On some occasions this described in terms fitting Azrael, and on others as fitting Samael. The angel of the Lord smites 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp (II Kings xix. 35). "The destroyer" kills the first-born of the Egyptians (Ex. xii. 23), and the destroying angel rages among the people in Jerusalem (II Sam. xxiv. 15). In I Chronicle xxi. 15 the "angel of the Lord" is seen by King David standing between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. The biblical Book of Job (xxxiii. 22) uses the general term destroyer (memitim), which tradition has identified with destroying angels (mal'ake Khabbalah) and Prov. xvi. 14 uses the term the angels of death (mal'ake ha-mavet).

In Judaism

Form and functions

The angel of death was created by God on the first day (Tan. on Gen. xxxix. 1). His dwelling is in heaven, whence he reaches earth in eight flights, whereas pestilence reaches it in one (Ber. 4b). He has twelve wings Over all people have I surrendered thee the power, said God to the angel of death, only not over this one which has received freedom from death through the Law (Tan. to Ex. xxxi. 18; ed. Stettin, p. 315). It is said of the angel of death that he is full of eyes. In the hour of death he stands at the head of the departing one with a drawn sword, to which clings a drop of gall. As soon as the dying man sees the angel, he is seized with a convulsion and opens his mouth, whereupon the angel throws the drop into it. This drop causes his death; he turns putrid, and his face becomes yellow ('Ab. Zarah 20b; in detail, Jellinck, "B. H." i. 150; on putrefaction see also Pesi. 54b; for the eyes compare Ezek. i. 18 and Rev. iv. 6). The expression to taste of death originated in the idea that death was caused by a drop of gall ("Jew. Quart. Rev." vi. 327). The soul escapes through the mouth, or, as is stated in another place, through the throat; therefore the angel of death stands at the head of the patient (Jellinek, l.c. ii. 94, Midr. Teh. to Ps. xi.). When the soul forsakes the body its voice goes from one end of the world to the other, but is not heard (Gen. R. vi. 7; Ex. R. v. 9. The drawn sword of the angel of death, mentioned by the Chronicler (I. Chron. xxi. 15; comp. Job xv. 22; Enoch lxii. 11), indicates that the angel of death was figured as a warrior who kills off the children of men. Man, on the day of his death, falls down before the angel of death like a beast before the slaughterer (Grünhut, v. 102a). R. Samuel's father (c. 200) said: The angel of death said to me, 'Only for the sake of the honour of mankind do I not tear off their necks as is done to slaughtered beasts' ('Ab. Zarah 20b). In later representations the knife sometimes replaces the sword, and reference is also made to the cord of the angel of death, which indicates death by throttling. Moses says to God: I fear the cord of the angel of death (Grünhut, l.c. v. 103a et seq.). Of the four Jewish methods of execution three are named in connection with the angel of death: burning (by pouring hot lead down the victim's throat-- similar to the drop of gall), slaughtering (by beheading), and throttling. The angel of death administers the particular punishment which God has ordained for the commission of sin.

A peculiar mantle (idra-according to Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb i. 32, a sword) belongs to the equipment of the angel of death (Eccl. R. iv. 7). The angel of death takes on the particular form which will best serve his purpose; e.g., he appears to a scholar in the form of a beggar imploring pity When pestilence rages in the town, walk not in the middle of the street, because the angel of death [i.e., pestilence] strides there; if peace reigns in the town, walk not on the edges of the road. When pestilence rages in the town, go not alone to the synagogue, because there the angel of death stores his tools. If the dogs howl, the angel of death has entered the city; if they make sport, the prophet Elijah has come The destroyer in the daily prayer is the angel of death (Ber. 16b). Midr. Ma'ase Torah says: There are six angels of death: Gabriel over kings; Kapziel over youths; Mashbir over animals; Mashhit over children; Af and Hemah over man and beast.

Death and Satan

The angel of death, who is identified by some with Satan, immediately after his creation had a dispute with God as to the light of the Messiah. When Eve touched the tree of knowledge, she perceived the angel of death, and thought: Now I shall die, and God will create another wife for Adam. Adam also had a conversation with the angel of death (Böklen, Die Verwandtschaft der Jüdisch-Christlichen mit der Parsischen Eschatologie, p. 12). The angel of death sits before the face of the dead (Jellinek, l.c. ii. 94). While Abraham was mourning for Sarah the angel appeared to him, which explains why Abraham stood up from before his dead (Gen. xxiii. 3; Gen. R. lviii. 5, misunderstood by the commentators). Samuel told Sarah that Abraham had sacrificed Isaac in spite of his wailing, and Sarah died of horror and grief. It was Moses who most often had dealings with the angel. At the rebellion of Korah, Moses saw him (Num. R. v. 7; Bacher, l.c. iii. 333; compare Sanh. 82a). It was the angel of death in the form of pestilence which snatched away 15,000 every year during the wandering in the wilderness (ib. 70). When Moses reached heaven, the angel told him something (Jellinek, l.c. i. 61). When the angel of death came to Moses and said, Give me thy soul, Moses called to him: Where I sit thou hast no right to stand. And the angel retired ashamed, and reported the occurrence to God. Again, God commanded him to bring the soul of Moses. The angel went, and, not finding him, inquired of the sea, of the mountains, and of the valleys; but they knew nothing of him (Sifre, Deut. 305). Really, Moses did not die through the angel of death, but through God's kiss); i.e., God drew his soul out of his body (B. B. 17a; compare Abraham in Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature, and parallel references in Böklen, l.c. p. 11). Legend seizes upon the story of Moses' struggle with the angel of death, and expands it at length (Tan., ed. Stettin, pp. 624 et seq.; Deut. R. ix., xi.; Grünhut, l.c. v. 102b, 169a). As Benaiah bound Asmodeus (Jew. Encyc. ii. 218a), so Moses binds the angel of death that he may bless Israel, where lifne moto is explained as meaning before the angel of death). Solomon once noticed that the angel of death was grieved. When questioned as to the cause of his sorrow he answered: "I am requested to take your two beautiful scribes." Solomon at once charged the demons to convey his scribes to Luz, where the angel of death could not enter. When they were near the city, however, they both died. The angel laughed on the next day, whereupon Solomon asked the cause of his mirth. "Because," answered the angel, "thou didst send the youths thither, whence I was ordered to fetch them" (Suk. 53a). In the next world God will let the angel of death fight against Pharaoh, Sisera, and Sennacherib. The teaching of God shields one from the power of the angel of death. The children of Israel have accepted the Torah only in order that the angel may have no power over them ('Ab. Zarah 5a). Since death results only from sin, it can not, of course, come to those who live in accordance with the Torah. Although the sentence of mortality once pronounced could never be recalled ('Ab. Zarah 5a), yet the angel of death may not visit teachers of the Law; he is rather their friend (ib. 35b), and even imparts learning to them (Ber. 51a).

Scholars and the Angel of Death

Talmud teachers of the fourth century associate quite familiarly with him. When he appeared to one on the street, the teacher reproached him with rushing upon him as upon a beast; whereupon the angel called upon him at his house. To another he granted a respite of thirty days, that he might put his knowledge in order before entering the next world. To a third he had no access, because he could not interrupt the study of the Talmud. To a fourth he showed a rod of fire, whereby he is recognized as the angel of death (M. K. 28a). He often entered the house of Bibi and conversed with him. Often he resorts to strategy in order to interrupt and seize his victim (B. M. 86a; Mak. 10a). The death of Joshua ben Levi in particular is surrounded with a web of fable. When the time came for him to die and the angel of death appeared to him, he demanded to be shown his place in paradise. When the angel had consented to this, he demanded the angel's knife, that the angel might not frighten him by the way. This request also was granted him, and Joshua sprang with the knife over the wall of paradise; the angel, who is not allowed to enter paradise, catching hold of the end of his garment. Joshua swore that he would not come out, and God declared that he should not leave paradise unless he was absolved from his oath; if not absolved, he was to remain. The angel of death then demanded back his knife, but Joshua refused. At this point a heavenly voice rang out: "Give him back the knife, because the children of men have need of it" (Ket. 77b; Jellinek, l.c. ii. 48-51; Bacher, l.c. i. 192 et seq.).

Rabbinic Views

The Rabbis found the angel of death mentioned in Psalms lxxxix. 45 (A. V. 48), where the Targum translates: "There is no man who lives and, seeing the angel of death, can deliver his soul from his hand. Eccl. viii. 4 is thus explained in Midrash Rabbah to the passage: One may not escape the angel of death, nor say to him, Wait until I put my affairs in order,' or 'There is my son, my slave: take him in my stead.' Where the angel of death appears there is no remedy Talmud, Ned. 49a; Hul. 7b). If one who has sinned has confessed his fault, the angel of death may not touch him (Midrash Tanhuma, ed. Buber, 139). God protects from the angel of death (Midrash Genesis Rabbah lxviii.). By acts of benevolence the anger of the angel of death is overcome; when one fails to perform such acts the angel of death will make his appearance. The angel of death receives his order from God (Ber. 62b). As soon as he has received permission to destroy, however, he makes no distinction between good and bad. In the city of Luz the angel of death has no power, and when the aged inhabitants are ready to die they go outside the city. A legend to the same effect existed in Ireland in the Middle Ages ("Jew. Quart. Rev." vi. 336).

In Christianity

Death is personified occasionally in the New Testament. The first such reference is perhaps Acts of the Apostles 2:24 - But God raised him [Jesus] from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Later passages, however, are much more explicit. Epistle to the Romans 5 speaks of Death as having reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, and various passages in the Epistles speak of Christ's work on the Cross and His Resurrection as a confrontation with Death. Despite Jesus' victory over it, Death is still viewed as enduring in Scripture. First Epistle to the Corinthians 15:26 asserts, The last enemy to be destroyed is death, which implies that Death has not been destroyed once and for all. This assertion later proves true in the Book of Revelation. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews declares that Satan holds the power of death (Heb. 2:14), perhaps equating the two. It is written that the Son of God became human that by his death he might destroy the devil; this is the head of the Antichrist referred to as, One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. (Rev. 13:3) If the head that was fatally wounded but healed refers to Death, this accords with 2 Tim. 1:10, which states that Jesus has destroyed death, and the implication that death was yet to be destroyed in 1 Cor. 15:26. But it could alternately refer to the Devil separately, who was also said to have been destroyed, and yet has revived. That is, whether Death is the Devil or an agent of Satan is unclear. The final destruction of Death is referenced by Paul in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians; he says that after the general resurrection, the prophecies of Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14 - He will swallow up death forever, and Where, O death, is your sting? (Septuagint), will be fulfilled. According to Paul, the power of Death lies in sin, which is made possible by the Law, but God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. That victory over Death is prophetically revealed in the Revelation of John, discussed below. In the visions of John, Death is personified as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Rev. 6:8 reads, I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth. In Rev. 20:13-14, in the vision of Judgment of the dead, it is written, The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. This describes the destruction of the last enemy. After this, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Rev. 21:4) In Roman Catholicism, the archangel Michael is viewed as the angel of death, carrying the souls of the deceased to Heaven. There, he balances them in his scales (one of his symbols). He is said to give the dying souls the chance to redeem themselves before passing as well. In Mexico, a popular Catholic cult regards the personification of death as a saint, known as Santa Muerte. The figure is uncanonized and the Church refuses to acknowledge its existence.

In Islam

Death, as of one of Allah's angels, is spoken of in the Qur'an:

The angel of death, who has been charged with you, will gather you; then to your Lord you will be returned. (32:11).

He is traditionally known by the name of Izrail (not to be confused with Israel, which is a name in Islam solely for Prophet Ya'qoob/Jacob), the English form of which is Azrael. He is charged with the task of separating and returning from the bodies the souls of people who are to be recalled permanently from the physical world back to the primordial spiritual world. This is a process whose aspect varies depending on the nature and past deeds of the individuals in question, and some suggest that Azrael is also accompanied by helpers or associates. Apart from Azrael's responsibilities and the characteristics he has in common with other angels in Islam, little else concerning his personality can be derived from fundamental Muslim texts. Many references are made in various Muslim legends, however, some of which are included in books authored by Muslim poets and mystics. For instance, the following tale is in the Masnavi, written by the well-known Maulana Rumi:

When the Almighty determined to create mankind... He deputed the angel Gabriel to bring a handful of earth for the purpose of forming Adam's body. But the Earth, being apprehensive that the man so created would rebel against God and draw down God's curse upon her, remonstrated with Gabriel, and besought him to forbear... Then God deputed [the angel] Michael on the same errand, and the Earth made similar excuses to him, and he also... returned to heaven without taking a handful... Then God sent the angel Israfil on the same errand, and he also was diverted from the execution of it by a divine intimation... At last God sent 'Izrail, the angel of death, who, being of sterner disposition than the others, resolutely shut his ears to the Earth's entreaties, and brought back the required handful of earth. The Earth pressed him with the argument that God's command to bear away a handful of her substance against her will did not override the other divine command to take pity on suppliants; but 'Izrail would not listen to her, remarking that, according to the canons of theological interpretation, it was not allowable to have recourse to analogical reasoning to evade a plain and categorical injunction. He added, that in executing this injunction, painful though it might be, he was to be regarded only as a spear in the hand of the Almighty. (Book V, abridged translation by Whinfield)

Death as a fictional character

  • The character of Death is typically depicted in the West as wearing a dark hooded cloak and wielding a scythe. Death is one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. 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. In Eastern Orthodox theology, death is one of humanity's three enemies; the other two are sin and the devil. This figure of Death is also known as the Grim Reaper. Death, in this guise, appears also on one of the Tarot arcana.
  • 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.
  • The allegorical figure of Death appears many times in the works of Albrecht Dürer and Terry Pratchett. Pratchett's Death is substantially different in that he is, as mentioned in the Discworld Compendium, "on our side" against the ruthless Auditors, personifications of cosmic Law.
  • In contrast with the normally dark and antagonistic classical depictions of Death, many comedies portray him as a somewhat sympathetic character, an average Joe who's simply doing a necessary and unpleasant job.

Death in popular fiction

The character of Death has recurred many times in popular fiction. He has made appearances in many stories, from serious dramatic fiction to comedy, including playing roles in science fiction and fantasy stories.


  • Woody Allen's Love and Death and Deconstructing Harry as well as his play Death Knocks.
  • Death Takes a Holiday was a 1934 film directed by Mitchell Leisen, and written by Maxwell Anderson. Death (Fredric March as Prince Sirki) decides to take a holiday from his usual business to see how the mortals live. Complications ensue as those who should have died do not. Death Takes a Holiday was remade in the 1998 film Meet Joe Black, directed by Martin Brest and starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins. While Meet Joe Black touches briefly on the consequences of a world where Death is not doing his job, its focus is on Death's experience as a human, and on the personal relationships within the family he chooses to stay with.
  • In 1957, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman made The Seventh Seal, an influential (and heavily symbolic) movie depicting one of the most famous moments in the fictional portrayal of Death. In the movie, a medieval knight plays a game of chess with Death, with the knight's life depending upon the outcome of the game. The concept of playing games with Death has been used (and spoofed) many times since Bergman's movie. A 1968 short film called The Dove deliberately spoofed this famous movie scene, a young couple challenge Death to a game of badminton.
  • In the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Last Action Hero, the character of Death from Bergman's Seventh Seal is brought into the real world temporarily, played by Ian McKellen.
  • In Oliver Stone's 1991 film The Doors Jim Morrison is haunted by Death, appearing in several scenes portrayed by Richard Rutowski. Death can be seen dancing behind him in orgiastic concert scenes or appearing in the background watching Morrison at bars, parties or on the street. In a scene deleted from the theatrical release, Death bumps into Morrison at an airport bar, heavily intoxicated and on his way to the ill-fated Miami show in 1969, inquiring, how's it going? and closing with a cryptic, See you around, Jim.
  • In a number of comedy roles, the character of Death has had a Swedish foreign accent, paying homage (sometimes unintentionally) to his role in The Seventh Seal.
  • In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, in which he is designed by Terry Gilliam and voiced by John Cleese, he breaks up a dinner party - along with its annoying hosts and guests - prematurely.
  • Death makes a few cameos in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, most notably, sitting right behind the Behemoth in the town meeting.
  • In the 2006 film A Prairie Home Companion Virginia Madsen plays Dangerous Woman, also named Asphodel (a flower sacred to Persephone that, and as the character's name, sounds suspiciously like Azrael), who may very well be the Angel of Death.
  • In the 2006 film the Angel of Death is portrayed as an eccentric technology enthusiast who goes by the name of Morty (played by Christopher Walken), a pun on the Latin word mortis, death. It is from him, in a Bed, Bath and Beyond store, that protagonist Michael Newman (Adam Sandler) receives a universal remote control, which has adverse effects on Michael's life. Ultimately, Morty teaches Michael lessons concerning family and work, as well as facing the consequences of his actions.


  • The UK The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water features a Grim Reaper-like character.
  • In the comedy Red Dwarf, Arnold Rimmer knees Death in the groin, telling him that only the good die young. Death, naturally surprised, notes that that's never happened before. in a pained tone of voice.
  • As the Grim Reaper, Death stars in an animated series on the Cartoon Network cable channel called The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy (formerly Grim and Evil). In this cartoon, the grim reaper has a Jamaican accent and is a comedic character. The Grim Reaper has also made several appearances on The Simpsons, Animaniacs, South Park, Family Guy, and even an early Mickey Mouse cartoon.
  • In the CBS television show Touched by an Angel, Death was sympathetically portrayed as a recurring character, played by John Dye. Andrew, one of many Angels of Death in the series, detests the notion of being looked upon as the Grim Reaper rather than an angel just sent from Heaven to do his duty.
  • Showtime's Dead Like Me portrays soul collection as a widespread organization with many different divisions and, most likely, thousands of "employees", each of whom take souls from the living upon death.
  • The 1959 Twilight Zone episode One for the Angels (the second episode in the series), Death visits a storefront salesman to take his life. They agree that the salesman should die only when he has pulled off a pitch for the angels, and only then will he go. When Death finds out this is a trick, he decides to take the little girl next door instead (who's just been hit by a truck), saying he's been forced to choose an alternative. The salesman manages to save the girl's life by distracting Death with an irresistible sales pitch (the pitch for the angels) and as per their agreement, Death leads the salesman to Heaven.
  • The personification of Death made another appearance on The Twilight Zone in the 1962 episode Nothing in the Dark. The episode focuses on an elderly woman who is convinced that Death is stalking her. She believes if she locks herself indoors and never has any contact with others (thus avoiding the touch of Death), she will stay alive indefinitely. When a police officer, played by Robert Redford, is shot right outside her front door, she feels she has no choice but to take him in and tend to his wounds, despite her fears. While he heals, the woman comes to trust the young man and explains why she is barricaded in her house. As it turns out, Redford is indeed the personification of Death. However, he is not an evil, villainous monster, but merely somebody who guides people into the next world when it is their time. As the woman comes to understand Death's role, she willingly takes his hand so that he may escort her into the afterlife.
  • The 2002 Twilight Zone episode One Night at Mercy stars Jason Alexander as a suicidal Death.
  • In Charmed, The Angel of Death is considered a neutral being and was featured many times.
  • In the 2006 episode of Supernatural they battle a grim reaper brought on from a bonding spell.
  • On Medium TV series, The Angel of Death is portrayed as regular man, he is played by Kelsey Grammer.
  • On Nip/Tuck, Julia McNamara sees Ava Moore as the Angel of Death in an unconscious dream sequence.
  • On The Sopranos, Tony Soprano sees Tony Blundetto as the Angel of Death in an unconscious dream sequence.
  • On Six Feet Under, Nathaniel Fisher Sr. portrays the death in episode 48, and he says that he would rather be the Grim Ripper, but the folks at Marvel had a copyright on it.
  • On the NBC series, Scrubs, John Dorian mentions and sees Death as a co-worker at Sacred Heart Hospital, during a few of his many fantasies.


  • In Book II of Paradise Lost by John Milton, Death, along with Sin, holds the keys to the locked Gates of Hell. After God and his angels defeat Lucifer (now Satan) and banish him and his followers to Hell, God commands Sin and Death to never unlock the gates. Satan, upon hearing that God has created a new world and new beings, Adam and Eve, sets out to cause their downfall. Arriving at the Gates of Hell, Satan converses with Sin and Death and learns of Death's creation. Sin is the daughter of Satan and became pregnant with Satan's child. The birth was extremely painful for Sin; so painful that she cried out Death! as the unnamed entity was born. The caves of Hell echoed back Death and her son became known as Death. Death then raped his mother who subsequently gave birth to monstrous dogs who bite and gnaw at her and travel to and fro her womb at will causing her immense pain. According to Sin, Death despises everything living and has the power to destroy anything except God. Sin warns that Death can destroy Satan and that the only reason she is spared (yet tortured) is that Death cannot exist without Sin. Satan nevertheless demands that the gates be opened. Death, unafraid of Satan, calls him a false fugitive, (Book II, 700) commands him to retreat, and warns with one stroke of this Dart, strange horrors seize thee and pangs unfelt before. (Book II, 703-704) By promising Sin and Death a world where they, shall dwell at ease, (Book II, 840-841) Satan persuades Sin and Death to open the gates to allow him passage through Chaos to Earth. When word reaches Sin and Death that Satan succeeds, they begin to construct a road connecting Hell to Earth. Satan, on his return from Earth, notes of the road being built and instructs Sin and Death to be his ambassadors on Earth.
  • A female characterization of Death appears briefly in Samuel Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
  • Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series of fantasy novels features a modernised Grim Reaper, who is the central character of On a Pale Horse, the first book in the series. In this personification, Death is an office held by a mortal. The mortal holding the office of Death is protected from aging, fire, disease and other dangers by the cloak he wears. When not wearing the cloak, the office holder is subject to any and all dangers and consequences just as any other mortal. The person holds the office of Death until they themselves die, usually because they become careless over time, and are themselves killed by someone they have come to collect. This person then takes over the office, and the cycle begins anew.
  • The character of Death is also a major player in the humorous Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, where he is perhaps paradoxically seen as an ally of humanity, since he is a part of the natural order of things and often finds himself defending humanity against threats to that order. As a tongue-in-cheek allusion to The Seventh Seal, he doesn't like chess, because he cannot remember HOW THE LITTLE HORSE SHAPED ONE MOVE. He speaks in a hollow yet heavy voice, often expressed in small caps and eschewing the use of quotation marks. Due to a rule of Death having to appear personally to wizards who are going to die, particularly the failed wizard Rincewind, Death sometimes appears, having been snatched from some important business arrangement, most notable being appearing with a drink and hors d’ouevres claiming I WAS AT A PARTY. He can also be summoned directly via the Rite of Ash'Kente.
  • Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories' Death is seen as the ruler of a gloomy realm, who is, himself, always sad. In one story, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have to steal Death's mask, and in others, Death tries to take the famous pair, only to be thwarted by their sorcerous mentors and their own uncanny good luck. He has quotas to meet, designated by their roles in life, and when the quota includes "two heroes," Fafhrd and the Mouser are first on his list. Interestingly, Leiber's version of Death is aware that at some point in the future, he himself is fated to die.
  • In Death and Dr Hornbook by Robert Burns, death is portrayed as an emaciated, elderly, gruff, somewhat blue-collar man exactly 6'2" in height.


  • A different personification of Death appears in The Sandman, a series of comic books written by Neil Gaiman, in which Death, one of the Endless, appears in the guise of a Goth girl wearing an Ankh around her neck, to symbolize the idea that life and death are two sides of the same reality. Gaiman's Death is cheerful and supportive, perhaps not only as a way of playing with audience expectations, but also to demystify death itself, which is seen as a moment of passage rather than a real ending. This Death takes a 24 hour day each century to walk amongst the living and likewise die just like the living.
  • Jack comic has the main character, Jack, becoming Grim Reaper in the form of the sin Wrath as punishment for his own sins.
  • Smax also features multiple Deaths handling different circumstances. Lionel handles chess games with peasants (and looks like the death in The Seventh Seal) and Dennis, a large imposing character, handles awesome, terrible death.
  • Liberty Meadows includes a Death that looks like the one from The Seventh Seal. Frank (the main character) has drowned but is resuscitated by a frog. While in the Underworld, Frank escapes by making Death look. Death hounds him later, expecting a razor cut to kill him.
  • In the DC Universe comic Death is silver skinned, nearly naked man in a green cloak known as The Spectre.
  • In the Marvel Universe, Death is a robed skeleton, and usually referred to as female, though she can take either form. She is often courted by Thanos who hopes to win her love by destroying the universe. She is sister to Eternity, Oblivion and Infinity and was formed with him at the start of this Universe when Galactus, sole survivor of an older previous Universe, survived.
  • Saint Seiya: this series includes Thanathos as one of the twin guardians of the body of Hades.
  • Deathnote, a series about Light Yagami, who finds a death note which fell from the Shinigami (God of Death) world. This Deathnote allows him to control who dies, how, and when. When the note is bound to him, the note's original Shinigami owner appears to him.


  • Winer, B. R. ii. 383-386;
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. i. 990-992:
  • A. Kohut, Ueber die Jüdische Angelologie und Dämonologie in Ihrer Abhängigkeit vom Parsismus, Leipzig, 1866;
  • E. Stave, Ueber den Einfluss des Parsismus auf das Judenthum, Haarlem. 1898;
  • E. Böklen, Die Verwandtschaft der Jüdisch-Christlichen mit der Parsischen Eschatologie, Göttingen, 1902;
  • F. Weber, Jüdische Theologie, Leipsic, 1897;
  • A. Dillmann, Alttestamentliche Theologie, § 37, ib. 1895;
  • Moïse Schwab, Vocabulaire de l'Angélologie d'Après les Manuscrits Hebreux de la Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1897;
  • D. Joël, Der Aberglaube und die Stellung des Judenthums zu Demselben, especially pp. 67-74, Breslau, 1881;
  • A. P. Bender, Beliefs, Rites, and Customs of the Jews Connected with Death, Burial, and Mourning, in Jew. Quart. Rev. vi. 317, 664 et seq. K. L. B.


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