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File:Seductive death EHLanglois.jpg

E. H. Langlois

The fascination with death extends far back into human history. Throughout time, people have had obsessions with death and all things related to death and the afterlife.

In past times, people would form cults around death gods and figures. Famously, Anubis, Osiris, Hades, and Death (Saint Death) have all had large cult followings. Saint Death, or the personification of death, is currently worshiped by many in Mexico and other countries in Central America. Day of the Dead, November 2, is a celebration for the dead in Saint Death's honor.

The ancient Egyptians are most famous for their fascination of death by mummifying their dead and building exquisite tombs, like the pyramids of Giza, for their dead. Many of their deities were death-related, such as: Ammut, the devourer of unworthy souls; Anubis, the guardian of the Necropolis and the keeper of poisons, medicines, and herbs; and Osiris, the king of the dead.

The Greek underworld, Hades, was ruled by the god Hades, and had five rivers that flowed through it. The rivers were: Acheron, river of sadness; Cocytus, river of lamentation; Lethe, river of forgetfulness; Phlegethon, river of fire; Styx, river of hate. The Underworld had attendants who, though not rulers, were important gods and beings. The Furies were female spirits who exacted vengeance against people who committed specific crimes. Keres were female spirits of death and destruction. Persephone was the goddess of the underworld and the spouse of Hades. Thanatos, the god of death, was said to wear dark robes.

The Vikings believed that if a warrior died in battle, he would be taken to the Norse afterlife: the hall of Välhäll, in which the warriors would prepare for Ragnarökk, the battle at the end of the world. Rune stones were erected to commemmorate particularly brave warriors. Death in one's sleep (a "straw death") was considered dishonorable.

Death-related holidays


The Triumph of Death by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

  • Kali Puja in Kolkata, India, in which people light candles in memory of the dead
  • Samhain, a Celtic holiday marked with bonfires in which the spirits of the dead travel to the otherworld. The holiday was later transformed by Christian missionaries into the festivals of Halloween, All Saints and All Souls Day from 31 October to 2 November. The two latter days are celebrated in Mexico as the Day of the Dead.
  • Ullambana, a Buddhist festival normally in August stemming from the Ullambana Sutra, which describes a man saving his mother from the underworld by making offerings to the sangha. Today it is celebrated as the Bon Festival of Japan, the Ghost Festival of China, and Vu Lan of Vietnam

In contemporary Western culture

In the early part of the 20th century, it was common to hold séances at dinner parties. Harry Houdini was known for going to these séances and proving that the medium, the person conducting the séance, was a fraud. A séance is the event where a group of people (3 or more) try to communicate with the dead through one person of the group, the medium.

Today there are a number of commenters who have spoken on the fascination people have with death. "If it bleeds it leads" is a phrase related to this, meaning that in the media, the most popular material - as well as most of the material in general - is based on death. For example - death as a topic in the news. Musician and artist Marilyn Manson often talks and bases his music and artwork around the way people are fascinated with death, as well as fame (in relation). He comments on how people will use death to gain a certain immortality in the minds of others (fame). He has further commented that people are willing to die and kill if they know enough people are watching, to gain this immortality or fame. This extends into a social comment on martyrism, television, and the hypocrisy people show between their fascination and thus promotion of death, and their decryment of violence.

See also



  • "Death: A User's Guide" by Tom Hickman
  • "Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife" by Mary Roach
  • "Life After Death : A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion" by Alan F. Segal
  • "The Beginner's Guide for the Recently Deceased" by David Staume

External links

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