The Faces of Death

The following is an article from Uncle John's 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader.

Who will you encounter after you kick the bucket? The Grim Reaper? Or maybe an entirely different specter? It might depend on where you live, since none of the world's religions seems to agree on who -or what- will be waiting on the other side. Here are some of Death's strangest personifications.


Name: Yamaraj

Origin: Hindu culture

Details: Also known as Dharmaraj, or Yama, for short, his name literally means "the Lord of Death." In artistic depictions, he's a portly man with a mustache and, legend says, skin that's "the color of a rain cloud." He rides the plains of existence on a water buffalo, and upon a person's death, ropes the departed soul with a lasso and carries it to Yamalok, the Hindu underworld. His assistant, Chitragupta, keeps track of all the good and bad deeds of every human on the planet, and after checking the records, Yama determines how each should will be reincarnated. If the person was good, he might return as a tiger. If not: a mosquito.

(Image credit: Papa Ghede by DeviantART member snapesgirl34) 

Name: Papa Ghede

Origin: Haiti

Details: Voodoo practitioners believe that a short, cigar-chomping man in a top hat is waiting of rhtem at the crossroads of Earth and the afterlife. That man is Papa Ghede, who legend says is the living corpse of the first man who ever died. He's aided by four other spirits who handle everything from guarding graveyards to giving voices to the dead during seances. Ghede loves rum and is known for his crass sense of humor and great wisdom, which includes an extensive knowledge of everything that happens in the worlds of the living and the dead. He also reads minds and sometime inhabits humans, inspiring them to make love. If that isn't enough, Ghede is also the patron saint of those who die young. Worshipers offer him rum, cigars, or sacrificed cows to prevent him from taking sick children to the underworld.


Name: Giltine

Origin: Eastern Europe, primarily the Baltic states

Details: Before they adopted the more Western depiction of Death as a hooded skeleton with a scythe, people in the Baltic region had Giltine, a grotesque woman with a crooked, blue nose and a sharp, poisonous tongue, whose name means "to sting." According to folklore, she was once a beautiful young woman… until she was trapped in a coffin for seven years and emerged a monster. Then the legend goes, she collected poison from graveyards and used it to lick the dying to death.


Name: Izanami

Origin: Japan

Details: According to Japanese mythology, a god named Izanagi-no-Mikoto and his goddess wife, Izanami, helped bridge the gap between Heaven and Earth, creating humanity and the islands of japan in the process. Izanami died while giving birth to a fire god; overcome with grief, Izanagi-no-Mikoto went looking for her in Yomi, the land of the dead. He found her, but after discovering that her beauty had been ravaged by death, he fled back to Earth. Enraged by his betrayal, Izanami vowed to take the lives of 1,000 humans per day, becoming the Goddess of Death. Izanagi responded with a vow of his own: to offset her wrath by creating 1,500 people per day.


Name: Santa Muerte

Origin: Mexico

Details: Literally "Saint Death," she is usually portrayed in mexican folk art as a female skeleton wearing a dress and a large floral hat. The concept emerged from a combination of Meso-American native religions and the Catholicism that dominates the country today. Belief in the skeleton-deity has been condemned over the centuries, with the Catholic Church of Mexico going so far as to dub believers -even if they are also Catholic- a "cult." Nevertheless, millions of Mexicans reportedly worship Santa Muerte, celebrating her during the huge cultural festivities called Dia de los Muertes (Day of the Dead) on November 1 of every year and erecting altars to her in their homes. The faithful believe that Santa Muerte not only assists souls in the afterlife but can grant favors to the living, protect them from boldly harm, and make others fall in love with them.

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The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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