Various Anthropomorphic Personifications of Death and Something We Can Learn About Certain Cultures From Each. (part 2 – Ankou)

Ankou is a figure in Breton, Cornish (an Ankow in Cornish), Welsh (yr Angau in Welsh) and Norman French folklore. Ankou was a figure in orally transmitted mythologies and most of what we have written down about him comes from later collections of tales and myths. Originating in the Celtic mythology of Brittany, Ankou was described as a being tasked to perpetuate the cycle of life and death, wielding a hammer able to grant both. But as centuries went by, the Ankou became solely associated with Death and was progressively likened to a Grim Reaper-like psychopomp.

I will not be writing much about the Celtic roots as they didn’t write anything down and are much harder to research.

The image of the Ankou Shifted back and forth over the ages and in different myths and tellings he was, a harbinger of death and gatherer of souls, a servant of Death, king of the dead, first son of Adam and Eve, and in later tales the last person of each parish to die in the year became the Ankou of their parish. in most depictions regardless of what exactly the Ankou was he remained a grim harvester of souls.

He is often described as a tall and thin figure clad in black Breton garments, wearing a large felt hat concealing his face, standing up in a creaking cart similar to the ones used during the Middle-Age to gather corpses, in which he gathers the souls of the dead, and wielding a scythe whose blade is turned outward for striking forward instead of reaping, which glows under the moonlight. Sometimes he was human looking sometimes a humanoid shadow and sometimes a skeleton.

The Ankou (as it should be bloody obvious by now) was the precursor to the modern idea of the Grim Reaper as most tales of the Grim reaper are adaptations of tale told about Ankou.

What I learned from researching this is that there are no myths without history behind them and that when trying to research ancient belief we never know what we will discover about modern stories fantasies and mythos.

I don’t think I will make part tomorrow as I will be busy and this one was a lot of work without much to show for it but you can probably expect it sometime next week (I will still make weekday posts but they may end up being smaller as I will be busy doing other stuff).

In order to get a more complete view of the mythos of Ankou I recommend you read the following stories

Ankou: Breton Halloween Story

I couldn’t find a source for the 3 one as I found it mentioned but not told in full so here is the Wikipedia version:

One tale says that there were three drunk friends walking home one night when they came across an old man on a rickety cart. Two of the men began shouting at the Ankou and threw stones. When they broke the axle on his cart, they ran off.

The third friend felt pity and, wanting to help the Ankou, found a branch to replace the broken axle and gave the Ankou his shoe-laces to tie the axle to the cart. The next morning, the two friends who were throwing stones at the Ankou were dead while the one who stayed to help only had his hair turned white. He would never speak of how it happened.

Various Anthropomorphic Personifications of Death and Something We Can Learn About Certain Cultures From Each. (part 1 – Thanatos)

Good Morning, Evening or night, I apologize for not posting yesterday my computer died. It wasn’t easy to identify which death gods actually were anthropomorphic personifications of death and for which death was a secondary aspect so if any of my entries don’t fit the definition mention it in the comments and I will add a more correct entry (leaving the wrong entries to the end).

Today’s post will cover the Greeks as this became a far different assignment than I original suspected, as it requires far more research.
I may even do ten post each of which covers a different culture (and if I do such I will re-title the list, and if that interests say something in the comments)

Thanatos is a ancient Greek god of death, and in later depictions non-violent or peaceful death, and he is depicted as unbiased and indiscriminate, hated by both men and gods, incapable of being bargained with yet having a gentle touch being quick and painless, in later eras on as the transition from life to death in Elysium became a more attractive option as in his depictions he was shown as being more angelic with lighter colored wings, Thanatos came to be seen as a beautiful. He became associated more with a gentle passing than a woeful demise. Most early depictions of Thanatos show him with dark wings and a scythe*. While later portrayed as, a slumbering infant in the arms of his mother Nyx, as a youth carrying a butteefly, the ancient Greek word “ψυχή” can mean soul or butterfly, or life, amongst other things), or a wreath of poppies (poppies were associated with Hypnos and Thanatos because of their Hypnogogic traits and the eventual death engendered by overexposure to them).

Thanatos was one of the earliest Greek gods and is probably an amalgam of multiple death gods worshiped by various Greek tribes as different tribes and cities had there own understanding of gods and religion which over time melded together to something similar to what we know today.
Thanatos was said to be the son of Darkest Night and brother of Hypnos.
Counted among Thanatos’ siblings were other negative personifications such as Geras (Old Age), Oizes (Suffering), Moros (Doom), Apate (Deception), Momus (Blame), Eris (Strife), Nemesis (Retribution) and even the Acherousian/Stygian boatman Charon. Not all children of Nyx were seen as evil as in addition to the above mentioned children of Nyx there ware also Philotes (Friendship), Moirai (Fates), and the tribe of Oneiroi (Dreams).

As Thanatos became more associated with peaceful death other death gods known as the Keres, who were female death-spirits rose to prominence. They were the goddesses who personified violent death and who were drawn to bloody deaths on battle fields. The Keres were also daughters of Nyx. And the word Keres is also the name of a cult worshiping Nyx.

When looking at the Greek Mythos we discover that they made personifications of many different aspects of life in this I see a view of life as a game played between the gods and the view of heroic and villainous individuals as ones who defeat or push off their fates. Hercules had once defeated Thanatos in battle, and Thanatos could occasionally be outwitted, a feat that the sly King Sisyphus of Korinth twice accomplished. the difference seen here is that the heroic individual, Hercules, struggled against Thanatos and defeated him in a context of strength and as such achieved his goal, wherein Sisyphus escaped his fate through trickery and in the end Sisyphus was subject to an even worse fate.