#FolkloreThursday, Aesop's Fables, Death, Death in Folklore, Death Omens, folklore, Grim Reaper, preview of work, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, short story, The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog, Wattpad, Wikipedia, writing
Who didn’t swoon when Brad Pitt played the role of Death in Meet Joe Black?
The personification of Death has been going on for millennia. The Ancient Greeks even had a god, Thanatos, as Death personified. And it’s been rampant in folklore – even in Aesop’s fables.
The Old Man and Death
An Old Man cut himself a bundle of faggots in a wood and started to carry them home. He had a long way to go, and was tired out before he had got much more than half-way. Casting his burden on the ground, he called upon Death to come and release him from his life of toil. The words were scarcely out of his mouth when, much to his dismay, Death stood before him and professed his readiness to serve him. He was almost frightened out of his wits, but he had enough presence of mind to stammer out, “Good sir, if you’d be so kind, pray help me up with my burden again.”
– Aesop’s Fables, p207, William Heinemann Ltd 1974 Reprint
Death’s approach should surprise no one
Death promised a man that he would not take him without first sending messengers. The man’s youth soon passed and he became miserable. One day Death arrived, but the man refused to follow him, because the promised messengers had not yet appeared. Death responded: “Have you not been sick? Have you not experienced dizziness, ringing in your ears, toothache, and blurred vision? These were my messengers.” The man, at last recognizing the truth, quietly yielded and went away.
Source: Retold from Death’s Messengers, Grimm, no. 177, type 335. This was a popular plot for the medieval writers of jests and fables. Lutz Röhrich gives twelve variants in his Erzählungen des späten Mittelalters und ihr Weiterleben in Literatur und Volksdichtung bis zur Gegenwart, vol. 1, pp. 80-92
Death Omens are found in many different cultures and in almost every part of the world. They can be as simple as watching a picture fall off the wall or as hard to understand as the cry of the banshee. The list of omens is quite long. Why is this? Why do people search for these clues? What is the obsession that humans have with death? The quick and simple answer to the questions above is that death is something most of us do not fully understand. We do not and cannot know with 100% certainty what if anything is on the other side. We wait until our time comes and it is our turn to find out what lies behind the dreaded word death. http://www.pararesearchers.org/index.php?/20080801457/Folklore-Mythology/Death-Omens.html
Animal Death Omens
The meowing of a black cat at midnight is a sure sign of coming death.
A German superstition states that if a black cat sits on the bed of a sick person, it is a sign that they will die.
If bees swarm a rotten tree, there will be a death in the family owning or living on the property within a year. Likewise, bees swarming a house are a sign of coming doom.
Birds & Bats
If a bird flies into your house, there will soon be a death in the family. One of the surer omens of death is a bird entering the bedroom of a sick person and landing on the bedpost.
If a bat flies into the house and then gets away, there will be a death in the family. Kill the bat before it escapes, however, and everyone will be alright.
Dogs are thought by many to have a peculiar sense of approaching trouble, and it is thought that dogs, in cases of sickness, know the outcome ahead of time. If a dog is persistent at howling under your window, it foreshadows a death in the house.
Others say that a dog scratching on the floor is an ominous omen.
Rats leaving a house foretells death. Likewise, a mouse running over your foot.
A white rabbit crossing your path is an omen of death to some, while others say that seeing a two white rabbits together at night means a death in the family.
If you dream of a white horse, you will hear of a death before the week is over.
The concept of Death as a personified being is timeless, being as old as time itself but the grim figure of a hooded skeleton carrying a scythe was not very evident until the medieval period – during a time where morality was seen as pivotal to society and fear of the unknown was high it was perhaps unsurprising that life’s greatest mystery (death) would come to be vied in the medieval mind as frightening and ever-present: the ghostly phantom of Death became known in time as the Grim Reaper and although a neutral force was as feared in the past as it is today. But today the Grim Reaper is viewed a needed being, just as death is necessary to keep humanity from overpopulation.
The Grim Reaper was seen as a collector of souls, the messenger of the dead and most important of all the guide that came to all mortals – it was not the Grim Reaper’s place to judge souls, nor was it the entity’s role to aid or hinder mortal affairs: put simply the Grim Reaper’s task was to appear to the dying and guide them to their final destination where they would be judged accordingly by higher powers.
Death – stories from ancient folklore
Few subjects possess a wider or more extensive folklore than death, or are surrounded with a greater variety of mystic legends. We cannot be surprised that this is so, considering how all the nations of the world have believed that the souls of men continue to survive after this life is over.
Hence, the departure of the dead man’s soul from the world of living beings here on earth, and its journey to the distant home of spirits, have become interwoven with a network of superstitions varying more or less in every country and tribe; the chief of which consist in the idea that, at death, the soul is free to do as it likes, either to wander on earth, to flit in the air, to linger near the tomb, or to travel at once to the world beyond the grave
It is said that death generally announces its coming by some mysterious noise, such as a knocking at the wall or door, a rumbling in the floor; or that dying persons themselves make known their decease in similar strange sounds.
|“||Three loud and distinct knocks at the bed’s head of a sick person, or at the bed’s head or door of any of his relations, is an omen of his death.||”|
Many families have particular warnings; some by the appearance of a bird, and others by the figure of a tall woman, dressed all in white, who goes shrieking about the house. This apparition is common in Ireland, and goes by the name of Benshea, and the Shrieking Woman.
|“||Considering that the season was midsummer, and not winter, the visit of two robin redbreasts to the sick-room may be noticed as interesting. They remained fluttering round, and sometimes perching on the uncurtained bed. The priests, struck by the novelty of the circumstance, made no effort to expel the little visitors ; and the robins hung lovingly over the bishop’s head until death released him.||”|
In Devonshire the appearance of a white-breasted bird has from time immemorial been regarded as a certain omen of death. This superstition is said to have originated in a circumstance that happened to -one of the Oxenham family in that county …
|“||I stepped into a lapidary or stone-cutter’s shop, to treat with the master for a stone to be put upon my father’s tomb ; and casting my eyes up and down, I might spie a huge marble with a large inscription, which was thus, to my best remembrance:� Here lies John Oxenham, a goodly young man, in whose chamber, as he was struggling with the pangs of death, a bird with a white breast was seen fluttering about his bed, and so vanish’d. Here lies also Mary Oxenham, the sister of the said John, who died the next day, and the same apparition was seen in the room.||”|
Death has such a grip on the imagination that it’s no wonder it creeps into the stories we write. In the first tale in the Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog, her mother dies. In the second, Saphira the Tracker, she explores her feelings toward death.
“Saphira came to a sudden stop. She was breathing shallowly. She was certain that the tracks leading to the beach was that of the previous queen. Not only did it look like hers, the smell was unmistakably her mother’s…
It couldn’t be! She’s dead, Saphira thought sadly.
The black-and-tan Faery Dog crept closer to the tracks. Her eyes flew around to check that she was truly alone. Her heart was beating faster than a chicken’s. Her breathing was irregular.
There were smaller tracks next to the big ones.
She sniffed the small tracks and took an unwilling step back.
– Saphira the Tracker, The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading the second tale in the series. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. Any stories about death you’d like to share?