Death with a scythe.

dminoz

Here are some ideas about the Death image. The following is a quote from a book titled "Gods of Eden", by William Bramley (listed on Amazon). The subject is the Black Death.

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"Sightings of unusual aerial phenomena usually occurred from several minutes to a year before an outbreak of Plague.

Where there was a gap between such a sighting and the arrival of the Plague, a second phenomenon was sometimes reported: The appearance of frightening human-like figures dressed in black. Those figures were often seen on the outskirts of a town or village and their presence would signal the outbreak of an epidemic almost immediately.

A summary written in 1682 tells of one such visit a century earlier:

In Brandenburg (Germany) there appeared in 1559 horrible men of whom at first fifteen and later on twelve were seen ... the others (had) fearful faces and long scythes, with which they cut at the oats, so that the swish could be heard at a great distance, but the oats remained standing ... The visit of the strange men to the oat fields was followed immediately by a severe outbreak of the Plague in Brandenburg.

This incident raises intriguing questions: who were the mysterious figures?

What were the long scythe-like instruments they had that emitted a loud swishing sound?

It appears that the "scythes" may have been long instruments designed to spray poison or germ-laden gas.

This would mean that the townspeople misinterpreted the movement of the "scythes" as an attempt to cut oats when, in fact, the movements were the act of spraying aerosols on the town.

Similar men dressed in black were reported in Hungary ... there appeared so many black riders that the opinion was prevalent that the Turks were making a secret raid, but who rapidly disappeared again, and thereupon a raging plague broke out in the neighborhood.

Strange men dressed in black, "demons" and other terrifying figures were observed in other European communities. The frightening creatures were often observed carrying long "brooms," "scythes," or "swords" that were used to "sweep" or "knock at" the doors of people's homes. The inhabitants of those homes fell ill with plague afterwards. It is from these reports that people created the popular image of "Death" as a skeleton or demoncarrying a scythe. The scythe came to symbolize the act of Death mowing down people like stalks of grain ..

Of all the phenomena connected to the Black Death, by far the most frequently reported were the strange, noxious "mists." The vapors were often observed even when other phenomena were not. Mr. Nohl points out that moist pestilential fogs were "a feature which preceded the epidemic throughout its whole course." A great many physicians of the time took it for granted that the strange mists caused the Plague.

The connection was established at the very beginning of the Black Death..."

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The above is extracted from this page:
http://fernlothng.freeservers.com/plague_spray.html
...which also contains an interesting graphic of cupid-like figures with not only bows and arrows, but also two vases.

Now clearly, the logical common-sense explanation of this is that the mysterious figures doing the spraying were time-travelling Mossad-Halliburton agents, and that their base was in Bavaria, since that was the one part of Europe which never experienced the plague; but we should never rule out more bizarre explanations as well.

Does anyone have any historical timeline for the image of Death as being a figure holding a scythe? Where does it come from, and did it exist before the Black Death? Or is William Bramley right in the above quote from "Gods of Eden", and did the image originate with the Black Death?
 

Fulgour

As a point of reference~ I'd like to share
an important aspect of XIII's wardrobe...

She is wearing an Apron and Babushka!

Contrary to the 'Historical Iconographers'
I see Tarot XIII as being unique to Tarot.
 

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DoctorArcanus

The Revelation of Saint John the Devine

An interesting question. I think the source might be the Book of The Revelation.

The latin word "falcem" (from "falx") used in the Vulgata can be translated with scythe as well as sickle.


14:14 And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one
sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and
in his hand a sharp sickle.

14:15 And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud
voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap:
for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is
ripe.

14:16 And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth;
and the earth was reaped.

14:17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he
also having a sharp sickle.

14:18 And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over
fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle,
saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the
vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.

14:19 And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered
the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the
wrath of God.

14:20 And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came
out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a
thousand and six hundred furlongs.

Marco
 

Ross G Caldwell

dminoz said:
Does anyone have any historical timeline for the image of Death as being a figure holding a scythe? Where does it come from, and did it exist before the Black Death? Or is William Bramley right in the above quote from "Gods of Eden", and did the image originate with the Black Death?

I do think that the sickle-bearing reaper of the Apocalypse is part of the source of the image, and that it did exist well before the first outbreak of the Black Death (1348-50). The scythe or sickle represents Death's power to "mow down" whole sheaves of people at once. This scale of killing was witnessed so often during outbreaks of the plague; before it was almost unheard of.

But it was the Black Death that made the image iconic of Death itself; it spawned the Triumph of Death genre of paintings and frescoes, and the Danse Macabre. There were just so many people dying, so suddenly and without warning, with no cure, both rich and poor, that the course of events was burned into the European mind like nothing before.

I would like to see a timeline like the one you are asking for; I think several pre-Black Death skeleton-with-scythe images can be viewed on the web.

Not all tarots have the scythe; some early ones have a bow. This image may be more ancient in general.
 

Fulcanelli

Revelations?

Citing references to "Revelations" here, I wonder how embedded the imagery of those chapters of the Bible were upon the consciousness of the common man during the times these cards were evolving? Reading was more of a leisure class activity, perhaps even more elitist than that. I imagine story telling troubador-style was more highly refined than it is today, though some may argue that we have access to unlimited stories from bookstores.

I plead ignorance but if someone here knows if "Revelations" was widely known and discussed, I'm all eyes(ears.)

Thanks.
 

DoctorArcanus

Fulcanelli said:
Citing references to "Revelations" here, I wonder how embedded the imagery of those chapters of the Bible were upon the consciousness of the common man during the times these cards were evolving? Reading was more of a leisure class activity, perhaps even more elitist than that.

As Ross writes, the Revelation was represented in Triumph of Death and Danse Macabre frescos. Those frescos were seen by many people, since I think that in the XV century (and earlier times) going to church was reather common.

On the other hand, the older decks we have are not popular products, but work of arts whose value was huge even when they were made. The owner of those early decks must have had wonderful libraries rich of illuminated texts.

By the way, I love "death with a bow", because that makes Death more similar to Love. The "cupid-like" figures pointed out by Dminoz are quite strange and fashinating!

Marco
 

Sophie

Death with a bow would be related to Artemis and Apollo images - they were said to bring death swiftly, with a bow. In fact, "a meeting with Artemis" or "with Apollo" could often mean a quick death - e.g. in battle, or a heart-attack.
 

Elven

The comet stella constellation aspect is also interesting, fortelling of the coming of death - sometimes found on the Tower card and I see this a a 'Revelation' type card.

Im just thinking of the combination with the Tower and the Death card - and their relationship about Plague type disasters.

Reminds me of the purpose of the 'Black Riders' (LOTR) and their role which some attributed to be the like The Appocolyptic Horsemen.

Nothing historical from me (as usual) but love the thread.

Blessings
Elven x
 

Milfoil

Wikipedia has some interesting references to the grim reaper and the angel of death. Similarities include use of swords, daggers and most interestingly for me, the mention of a cord which has been assumed to mean a tool for strangulation yet some the experiences of those who practice astral projection confirm a cord which links the astral body to the physical. This cord is broken or cut at death allowing the soul to move on. I wonder if the blade that death traditionally holds may come from some ancient understanding of this cord being cut??

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grim_Reaper
 

DoctorArcanus

The Fates (Moirae or Moirai)

Milfoil said:
Wikipedia has some interesting references to the grim reaper and the angel of death. Similarities include use of swords, daggers and most interestingly for me, the mention of a cord which has been assumed to mean a tool for strangulation yet some the experiences of those who practice astral projection confirm a cord which links the astral body to the physical. This cord is broken or cut at death allowing the soul to move on. I wonder if the blade that death traditionally holds may come from some ancient understanding of this cord being cut??

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grim_Reaper

Milfoil,thanks for your note which, like what Helvetica wrote, has the quality of bringing us back in time, at least to ancient Greece.

http://www.theoi.com/Daimon/Moirai.html
THE MOIRAI were personifications of the inescapable destiny of man. They assigned to every person his or her fate or share in the scheme of things.

Their name meant 'Parts', 'Shares' or 'Alottted Portions'.
Klotho, whose name meant 'Spinner', spinned the thread of life.
Lakhesis, whose name meant 'Apportioner of Lots' - being derived from a word meaning to receive by lot -, measured the thread of life.
Atropos (or Aisa), whose name meant 'She who cannot be turned', cut the thread of life.​

I don't know which kind of blade Atropos used to cut the thread. I looked for some ancient images, but from those I found, I cannot tell.
Anyway, I did not know about the name of this "minor deity" and I was very impressed by the simple power of it: 'She who cannot be turned'. Seven letters that tell a lot.

Marco