Where Did The Idea Of The Grim Reaper Come From?

Time to get to the backstory of death's mascot.

The idea of death on it's own can be quite unsettling to think about — so does it really need a mascot? Nevertheless, the personification of death, a.k.a. the Grim Reaper stalks the Earth and eventually calls for us all. The shrouded specter who often is depicted as a skeletal figure in black cloak with scythe in hand has been around for quite a long time.

So where exactly does this creepshow that nobody is eager about meeting originate from?

The short answer — EVERYWHERE

Considering that death is a part of life for every living creature, it should come as no surprise that some version of the Grim Reaper can be found in every human culture. (Popular guy, right?)

The main differences really seem to be the name and physical characteristics.

For example, in Hindu, the Grim Reaper is known as King Yama, lord of death. And he uses a lasso not a scythe to reclaim souls. Oh, and he's upgraded to riding a black buffalo.

In Aztec culture, death was known as Mictlancihuatl, a female god who watched over the bones of the deceased. She was celebrated as the lady of death and some historians point to the ancient Aztec festivals that honored her as the earliest beginnings of the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead.

Born from the Black Death

As for the depiction of the Grim Reaper in Western culture, the spooky black figure emerged during the Middle Ages. The Black Death that came about because of the plague and decimated one-third of Europe’s entire population in the 14th century is viewed as origin of the Grim Reaper.

With regards to the bare bones figure, the black robe and scythe, these characteristics are tied to pre-Christian Pagan beliefs. Skeletons of course are symbolic of death and black robes were often worn during Pagan religious ceremonies, such as a funeral. Some doctors during the Black Death were also said to wear black robes to protect them from contaminated air.

And that giant menacing blade that the Reaper is always carrying around? Well, the scythe is an ancient tool used for harvesting crops and that's essentially what the Grim Reaper is doing. Except he's harvesting souls instead of wheat, mwahahah!

In Scandinavia around this time Death was seen as an old woman known as  Pesta - the not so endearing name meant "plague hag." Pesta didn't have a scythe but instead visited with either a rake or broom. If she visited a village with a rake, some people would survive the plague. However, if she visited with a broom, everyone was a dead as a doornail.

While Death's image might change and the tools may get swapped out, the ghoul's job remains the same. Just a little something to keep in mind next time you feel like scarfing down another greasy burger, cholesterol be damned.