Fascination with death

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'Seductive death' by Eustache-Hyacinthe Langlois Seductive death EHLanglois.jpg
'Seductive death' by Eustache-Hyacinthe Langlois

Fascination with death has occurred throughout human history, characterized by obsessions with death and all things related to death and the afterlife.

Death permanent cessation of vital functions

Death is the permanent cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include aging, predation, malnutrition, disease, suicide, homicide, starvation, dehydration, and accidents or major trauma resulting in terminal injury. In most cases, bodies of living organisms begin to decompose shortly after death.

The afterlife is the belief that the essential part of an individual's identity or the stream of consciousness continues after the death of the physical body. According to various ideas about the afterlife, the essential aspect of the individual that lives on after death may be some partial element, or the entire soul or spirit, of an individual, which carries with it and may confer personal identity or, on the contrary, may not, as in Indian nirvana. Belief in an afterlife is in contrast to the belief in oblivion after death.

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

Anubis Egyptian deity of mummification and the afterlife, usually depicted as a man with a canine head

Anubis is the Greek name of a god associated with mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion, usually depicted as a canine or a man with a canine head. Archeologists have identified Anubis's sacred animal as an Egyptian canid, the African golden wolf.

Osiris God of the afterlife in Egyptian mythology

Osiris is the god of the afterlife, the underworld, and rebirth in ancient Egyptian religion. He was classically depicted as a green-skinned deity with a pharaoh's beard, partially mummy-wrapped at the legs, wearing a distinctive atef crown, and holding a symbolic crook and flail. Osiris was at times considered the eldest son of the god Geb and the sky goddess Nut, as well as being brother and husband of Isis, with Horus being considered his posthumously begotten son. He was also associated with the epithet Khenti-Amentiu, meaning "Foremost of the Westerners", a reference to his kingship in the land of the dead. As ruler of the dead, Osiris was also sometimes called "king of the living": ancient Egyptians considered the blessed dead "the living ones". Through syncretism with Iah, he is also the god of the Moon.

Hades Greek god of the underworld in Greek mythology

Hades, in the ancient Greek religion and myth, is the god of the dead and the king of the underworld, with which his name became synonymous. Hades was the eldest son of Cronus and Rhea, although the last son regurgitated by his father. He and his brothers, Zeus and Poseidon, defeated their father's generation of gods, the Titans, and claimed rulership over the cosmos. Hades received the underworld, Zeus the sky, and Poseidon the sea, with the solid earth, long the province of Gaia, available to all three concurrently. Hades was often portrayed with his three-headed guard dog Cerberus.

History

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.

Necropolis large ancient cemetery with elaborate tomb monuments

A necropolis is a large, designed cemetery with elaborate tomb monuments. The name stems from the Ancient Greek νεκρόπολις nekropolis, literally meaning "city 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.

Greek underworld location in Greek mythology

In mythology, the Greek underworld is an otherworld where souls go after death. The original Greek idea of afterlife is that, at the moment of death, the soul is separated from the corpse, taking on the shape of the former person, and is transported to the entrance of the underworld. The underworld itself—sometimes known as Hades, after its patron god—is described as being either at the outer bounds of the ocean or beneath the depths or ends of the earth. It is considered the dark counterpart to the brightness of Mount Olympus with the kingdom of the dead corresponding to the kingdom of the gods. Hades is a realm invisible to the living, made solely for the dead.

Acheron canyon in Greece

The Acheron is a river located in the Epirus region of northwest Greece. It is 52 km (32 mi) long, and its drainage area is 705 km2 (272 sq mi). Its source is near the village Zotiko, in the southwestern part of the Ioannina regional unit and it flows into the Ionian Sea in Ammoudia, near Parga.

Cocytus or Kokytos is a river in the underworld in Greek mythology. Cocytus flows into the river Acheron, on the other side of which lies Hades, The Underworld, the mythological abode of the dead. There are five rivers encircling Hades: the Styx, Phlegethon, Lethe, Acheron and Cocytus.

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

Vikings Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates

Vikings were Norse seafarers, mainly speaking the Old Norse language, who during the late 8th to late 11th centuries, raided and traded from their Northern European homelands across wide areas of Europe, and explored westwards to Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland. The term is also commonly extended in modern English and other vernaculars to the inhabitants of Norse home communities during what has become known as the Viking Age. This period of Nordic military, mercantile and demographic expansion constitutes an important element in the early medieval history of Scandinavia, Estonia, the British Isles, France, Kievan Rus' and Sicily.

Valhalla in Norse mythology enormous hall located in Asgard

In Norse mythology, Valhalla is a majestic, enormous hall located in Asgard, ruled over by the god Odin. Chosen by Odin, half of those who die in combat travel to Valhalla upon death, led by valkyries, while the other half go to the goddess Freyja's field Fólkvangr. In Valhalla, the dead join the masses of those who have died in combat known as Einherjar and various legendary Germanic heroes and kings, as they prepare to aid Odin during the events of Ragnarök. Before the hall stands the golden tree Glasir, and the hall's ceiling is thatched with golden shields. Various creatures live around Valhalla, such as the stag Eikþyrnir and the goat Heiðrún, both described as standing atop Valhalla and consuming the foliage of the tree Læraðr.

Modern Western culture

In the early part of the 20th century, it was common to hold séances at dinner parties. A séance is an event where a group of people (3 or more) try to communicate with the dead through one person of the group, known as a psychic medium.

Séance attempt to communicate with spirits

A séance or seance is an attempt to communicate with spirits. The word "séance" comes from the French word for "session", from the Old French seoir, "to sit". In French, the word's meaning is quite general: one may, for example, speak of "une séance de cinéma". In English, however, the word came to be used specifically for a meeting of people who are gathered to receive messages from ghosts or to listen to a spirit medium discourse with or relay messages from spirits. In modern English usage, participants need not be seated while engaged in a séance.

This fascination with death in Western Culture can be observed in many of Walt Disney's fairytales. After being responsible for the death of an owl on his family's farm when he was 7 years old, he was haunted by the experience and other influences of death in his life, leading to a strong correlation with death in his children's stories.

Today there are a number of authors 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 mass media most of the material is based on death. For example: death and crime are almost always a topic in the news. The goth and metal subcultures are often associated with death and dying.

Daniel Kahneman and others have studied the psychology behind this. For example, people buy insurance and make other decisions based on what comes readily to mind—e.g., the previously recorded high-water mark for a flood, rarely considering that something worse is possible and in many cases eventually likely. This interacts with the management policies of media outlets to create availability cascades and media feeding frenzies: For example, "strokes cause almost twice as many deaths as all accidents combined, but 80% of respondents [in a survey] judged accidental death to be more likely. ... [This is because media] coverage is itself biased toward novelty and poignancy. The media do not just shape what the public is interested in, but also are shaped by it." [1]

This fascination with death and interaction with media editorial policies sometimes has problematic consequences for public policy. For example, Vincent Sacco [2] [3] and others described how the mainstream commercial media in the United States changed their editorial policies in the 1970s to focus more on the police blotter. The human psychology behind "If it bleeds, it leads" meant they could retain or even increase their audience while reducing the cost of producing the news: Investigative journalism is enormously expensive, especially if it offends a major advertiser. Focusing on crimes apparently committed by people without substantive political or economic power is cheap. The resulting increase in crime stories convinced the US electorate that crime was out of control. This led to the election of politicians who would "get tough on crime." The result was a five-fold increase in the United States incarceration rate not justified by any actual increase in crime.

Necrophilia

'Necrophilia' is generally used in English to refer to the paraphilia associated with dead bodies, although the term has been used in a broader sense and in foreign language merely to refer to 'a fascination with death.'

See also

Notes

  1. Kahneman, Daniel (2011), Thinking, Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN   978-0374275631
  2. Sacco, Vincent F. (May 1995), "Media Constructions of Crime", Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 539: 141–154, reprinted as chapter 2 of Potter and Kapeller (1998, pp. 37-51, esp. p. 42)
  3. Sacco, Vincent F (2005). When Crime Waves. Sage. ISBN   0761927832.

Related Research Articles

Persephone daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld in Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, Persephone, also called Kore, is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Homer describes her as the formidable, venerable majestic queen of the underworld, who carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead. She becomes the queen of the underworld through her abduction by and subsequent marriage to Hades, the god of the underworld. The myth of her abduction represents her function as the personification of vegetation, which shoots forth in spring and withdraws into the earth after harvest; hence, she is also associated with spring as well as the fertility of vegetation. Similar myths appear in the Orient, in the cults of male gods like Attis, Adonis, and Osiris, and in Minoan Crete.

Psychopomp entity believed to escort deceased souls to an afterlife

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Ammit female demon in ancient Egyptian religion

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Apis (deity) sacred bull in Egyptian mythology

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Ancient Egyptian concept of the soul mythical character

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Sheol underworld in the Old Testament

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Coffin Texts collection, text corpus of ancient Egyptian funerary spells written on coffins

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Nekyia

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The Asphodel Meadows is a section of the ancient Greek underworld where ordinary souls were sent to live after death.

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Imhotep (<i>The Mummy</i>) character and the titular antagonist in the 1932 film The Mummy

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Ancient Egyptian afterlife beliefs

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