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Deities associated with death take many different forms, depending on the specific culture and religion being referenced. Psychopomps, deities of the underworld, and resurrection deities are commonly called death deities in comparative religions texts.
The term colloquially refers to deities that either collect or rule over the dead, rather than those deities who determine the time of death.Many have incorporated a god of death into their mythology or religion. As death, along with birth, is among the major parts of human life, these deities may often be one of the most important deities of a religion. In some religions with a single powerful deity as the source of worship, the death deity is an antagonistic deity against which the primary deity struggles.
The related term death worship has most often been used as a derogatory term to accuse certain groups of morally abhorrent practices which set no value on human life, or which seem to glorify death as something positive in itself.Psychopomps (from the Greek word ψυχοπομπός - psuchopompos, literally meaning the \"guide of souls\") are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls to the afterlife.
Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply provide safe passage. Frequently depicted on funerary art, psychopomps have been associated at different times and in different cultures with horses, Whip-poor-wills, ravens, dogs, crows, owls, sparrows, cuckoos, and harts.In Jungian psychology, the psychopomp is a mediator between the unconscious and conscious realms. It is symbolically personified in dreams as a wise man or woman, or sometimes as a helpful animal. In many cultures, the shaman also fulfills the role of the psychopomp.
This may include not only accompanying the soul of the dead, but also vice versa: to help at birth, to introduce the newborn child\'s soul to the world. This also accounts for the contemporary title of \"midwife to the dying,\" which is another form of psychopomp work.
Ancient Greece found Death to be inevitable, and, therefore, he is not represented as purely evil. He is often portrayed as a bearded and winged man, but has also been portrayed as a young boy. Death, or Thanatos, is the counterpart of life, death being represented as male, and life as female. He is the twin brother of Hypnos, the god of sleep. He is typically shown with his brother and is represented as being just and gentle. His job is to escort the dead to the underworld, Hades. He then hands the dead over to Charon, who mans the boat that carries them over the river Styx, which separates the land of the living from the land of the dead. It was believed that if the ferryman did not receive some sort of payment, the soul would not be delivered to the underworld and would be left by the riverside for a hundred years. Thanatos' sisters, the Keres, were the spirits of violent death. They were associated with deaths from battle, disease, accident, and murder. The sisters were portrayed as evil, often feeding on the blood of the body after the soul had been escorted to Hades. They had fangs and talons, and would be dressed in bloody garments.
Breton folklore shows us a spectral figure portending death, the Ankou. Usually, the Ankou is the spirit of the last person that died within the community and appears as a tall, haggard figure with a wide hat and long white hair or a skeleton with a revolving head who sees everyone, everywhere. The Ankou drives a deathly wagon or cart with a creaking axle. The cart or wagon is piled high with corpses and a stop at a cabin means instant death for those inside
In Ireland was a creature known as a dullahan, whose head would be tucked under his or her arm (dullahans were not one, but an entire species), and the head was said to have large eyes and a smile that could reach the head's ears. The dullahan would ride a black horse or a carriage pulled by black horses, and stop at the house of someone about to die, and call their name, and immediately the person dies. The dullahan did not like being watched, and it was believed that if a dullahan knows someone's watching them, they'll lash their eyes with their whip, which was made from a spine, or they would toss a basin of blood on the person, which was a sign that the person was next to die.
Scottish folklore believe a black or dark green dog known as a Cù Sith took the soul of a dying person to the afterlife. Cù Shith means Fairy Dog in Scottish Gaidhlig.
In Poland, Death, or Śmierć, has an appearance similar to the traditional Grim Reaper, but instead of a black robe, Death has a white robe. Also, due to grammar, Death is a female (the word śmierć is of feminine gender), mostly seen as an old skeletal woman, as depicted in 15th century dialogue"Rozmowa Mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią" (Latin: "Dialogus inter Mortem et Magistrum Polikarpum").
In Scandinavia, In Norse mythology death was personified in the shape of Helthe goddess of death and ruler over the realm of the same name, where she received a portion of the dead.Later, Scandinavians adopted the classic Grim Reaper with a scythe and black robe.
The Sanskrit word for death is Mrtyu (cognate with Latin mors and Polish Śmierć), which is often personified in Dharmic religions. In Hindu scriptures, the lord of death is called Yama, or Yamaraja (literally "the lord of death"). Yamaraja rides a black buffalo and carries a rope lasso to carry the soul back to his home, called Naraka, pathalloka or Yamaloka. There are many forms of reapers, although some say there is only one who disguises himself as a small child. His agents, the Yamadutas, carry souls back to Yamalok. There, all the accounts of a person's good and bad deeds are stored and maintained by Chitagrupta. The balance of these deeds allows Yama to decide where the soul has to reside in its next life, following the theory of reincarnation.
Budist scriptures also mention Yama or Yamaraj, much in the similar way.
In Chinese mythology Yanlou is the god of death and the ruler of Di Yu , "hell" or the underworld. He is normally depicted wearing a Chinese judge's cap and traditional Chinese robes in both Chinese and Japanese depictions.
In Japannese Mytologhy and in the Kojiki, after giving birth to the fire god Inokagutsuchi, the goddess Izanami dies from wounds from his fire and enters the perpetual night realm called Yomi no-kuni (the underworld) that the gods retire to and to which Izanagi, her husband, traveled in a failed attempt to reclaim her. He discovers his wife as not-so beautiful anymore, and, following a brief argument afterwards, she promises him she will take a thousand lives every day, signifying her position as the goddess of death.
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.
Santa Muerte (Saint Death) is a sacred figure and feminine skeletal folk saint veneraded primarily in Mexico and the USA in. As a figure made holy by popular belief, the saint of death developed SYNCRETISM between Mesoamerican indigenous and Spanish Catholic beliefs and practices. Since the pre- Columbian era, Mexican culture has maintained a certain reverence towards death, which can be seen in the widespread commemoration of the syncretic Day Of The Dead. Elements of that celebration include the use of skeletons to remind people of their mortality. It is more commonly known as La Catrina.
In Islam, Death is represented by Azrael, Malak al-Mawt (Angel of Death), one of God's archangels. When Azrael comes to take the soul of a human he can appear in a good looking form for a good person or a terrifying form for an evil person.
In judaism, the memitim are a type of angel from biblical lore associated with the mediation over the lives of the dying. The name is derived from the Hebrew word mĕmītǐm and refers to angels that brought about the destruction of those whom the guardian angels no longer protected. While there may be some debate among religious scholars regarding the exact nature of the memitim, it is generally accepted that, as described in the Book of Job 33:22, they are killers of some sort.
In some ancient cultures the figure of the Death as death itself are not the end, death is just a beginning.