Symbols of death are the symbolic, often allegorical, portrayal of death in various cultures.
- 1 Images
- 2 Religious symbols
- 3 Colors
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
ImagesImage of the Grim Reaper on the tailfin of a U.S. Navy F-14D Tomcat of Flight Squadron, VF-101, nicknamed the "Grim Reapers." Traditional Jolly Roger, the flag of "Black Sam" Bellamy and other pirates of the 18th century, displaying a skull and crossbones.
Various images are used traditionally to symbolize death; these rank from blunt depictions of cadavers and their parts to more allusive suggestions that time is fleeting and all men are mortals.
The human skull is an obvious and frequent symbol of death, found in many cultures and religious traditions. Human skeletons and sometimes non-human animal skeletons and skulls can also be used as blunt images of death; the traditional figures of the Grim Reaper – a black-hooded skeleton with a scythe – is one use of such symbolism. Within the Grim Reaper itself, the skeleton represents the decayed body whereas the robe symbolizes those worn by religious people conducting funeral services. The skull and crossbones motif (☠) has been used among Europeans as a symbol of both piracy and poison. The skull is also important as it remains the only "recognizable" aspect of a person once they have died.
Decayed cadavers can also be used to depict death; in medieval Europe, they were often featured in artistic depictions of the danse macabre, or in cadaver tombs which depicted the living and decomposed body of the person entombed. Coffins also serve as blunt reminders of mortality. Europeans were also seen to use coffins and cemeteries to symbolize the wealth and status of the person who has died, serving as a reminder to the living and the deceased as well.Less blunt symbols of death frequently allude to the passage of time and the fragility of life, and can be described as memento mori; that is, an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death. Clocks, hourglasses, sundials, and other timepieces both call to mind that time is passing. Similarly, a candle both marks the passage of time, and bears witness that it will eventually burn itself out as well as a symbol of hope of salvation. These sorts of symbols were often incorporated into vanitas paintings, a variety of early still life.
Certain animals such as crows, cats, owls, moths, vultures and bats are associated with death; some because they feed on carrion, others because they are nocturnal. Along with death, vultures can also represent transformation and renewal.
Religious symbols of death and depictions of the afterlife will vary with the religion practiced by the people who use them.
Tombs, tombstones, and other items of funeral architecture are obvious candidates for symbols of death. In ancient Egypt, the gods Osiris and Ptah were typically depicted as mummies; these gods governed the Egyptian afterlife. In Christianity, the Christian cross is frequently used on graves, and is meant to call to mind the crucifixion of Jesus. Some Christians also erect temporary crosses along public highways as memorials for those who died in accidents. In Buddhism, the symbol of a wheel represents the perpetual cycle of death and rebirth that happens in samsara. The symbol of a grave or tomb, especially one in a picturesque or unusual location, can be used to represent death, as in Nicholas Poussin's famous painting Et in Arcadia ego.
Images of life in the afterlife are also symbols of death. Here, again, the ancient Egyptians produced detailed pictorial representations of the life enjoyed by the dead. In Christian folk religion, the spirits... ...read more