Quite possibly the most terrifying thing to put into any ghost story is the ultimate personification of death. Over the years death has appeared in many different forms. But Death shows up more than just a skeleton in a hood and carrying a scythe.
Ancient Greece believed death was inevitable, so Death’s appearance was not considered evil. As a matter of fact, Death often appeared as a bearded man with wings or a young man. Death, or Thanatos, was the end of life and appeared male, whereas Life appeared as female in ancient Greek culture.
Celtic beliefs differed depending on the region. Bretons saw death as a bearded man with a wide brim hat who pushed a wagon with a creaking axle that was piled with corpses. His head was always revolving so as to see everyone and everything as he passed by. A stop in front of a home was often a sure sign of instant death for anyone inside. The Bretons called this spectre Ankou, and the Ankou was usually the spirit of the last person who died in the community.
In Ireland, death was known as dullahan. The dullahan carried it’s own head under it’s arm, which had wide eyes and a smile that was said to go from ear to ear. It would ride a black horse or drive a carriage lead by black horses and stop in front of a home where someone was about to die and call out their name. The dullahan did not like to be watched, and if they found someone watching them, they lash their eyes with a whip made of a spine, which was a mark that the person would be the next to die. In Scotland, the spirits of the dead were taken to the afterlife by black or dark green dog known as a Cù Sìth.
Various cultures around the world have had their own version of death. And many religions have also recognized death. In Islamic tradition, death is seen as celebratory, as a person passes on from one life onto the next world. A person’s spirit would pass on to be closer to their creator and is seen as a time of joy, not one of sorrow.
Death has naturally made his (or her) appearances in popular culture, often times offering a person who is about to die a chance at life by challenging death to a game. In Ingmar Bergman‘s film, The Seventh Seal, a knight returning from the crusades challenges death to a game of chess. While death thinks the knight is attempting to win his life, the knight is in fact distracting death from other people. This is one of the more popular visuals of death in pop culture. But one that is probably the most unique was Death of the Endless, from Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman graphic novel. She was the sister of Dream and often came by to cheer up her brother. Death was not a terrifying figure in the series, but instead appeared as a simple girl who dressed in more trendy fashions, and she wasn’t a harbinger of doom, but a guide who lead souls to their afterlife. She often appeared to many who passed away from many different cultures and was said to know their practices and traditions intimately.
Death is the only thing on the face of the planet which is absolutely inevitable. I mean, after all, we’ve seen that even people can avoid taxes and use loop holes to avoid paying them, so in truth only death remains as the one true inevitable in the universe.
Because at some point, everything dies.