Death deity

Yama, the Hindu and Buddhist god of death and Lord of Naraka (hell).

Deities associated with death take many different forms, depending on the specific culture and religion being referenced. Psychopomps, deities of the underworld, and resurrection deities are commonly called death deities in comparative religions texts. The term colloquially refers to deities that either collect or rule over the dead, rather than those deities who determine the time of death. However, all these types will be included in this article.

Many cultures have incorporated a god of death into their mythology or religion. As death, along with birth, is among the major parts of human life, these deities may often be one of the most important deities of a religion. In some religions with a single powerful deity as the source of worship, the death deity is an antagonistic deity against which the primary deity struggles. The related term death worship has most often been used as a derogatory term to accuse certain groups of morally abhorrent practices which set no value on human life, or which seem to glorify death as something positive in itself.



In polytheistic religions or mythologies which have a complex system of deities governing various natural phenomena and aspects of human life, it is common to have a deity who is assigned the function of presiding over death. The inclusion of such a "departmental" deity of death in a religion's pantheon is not necessarily the same thing as the glorification of death which is commonly condemned by the use of the term "death-worship" in modern political rhetoric.

In the theology of monotheistic religion, the one god governs both life and death. However in practice this manifests in different rituals and traditions and varies according to a number of factors including geography, politics, traditions and the influence of other religions.

List of death deities

Deity Name Culture/Religion Category References
Mictlantecuhtli Aztec Underworld, Lord
Ankou Breton
Ereshkigal Babylonian Underworld [1][2]
Nergal Babylonian secondary Underworld [1] [2]
Iku Yoruba, Yoruba influenced syncretic religions such as Santería, Umbanda and Candomblé
Yama: Yama (Hinduism), Yanluo, Enma Hinduism, Chinese Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism
Mot Canaanite
Cichol Celtic
Morrigan Celtic
Anubis Ancient Egypt Lord of the Underworld
Osiris Ancient Egypt Lord of the Underworld [3] [4]
Tuoni, with his wife and children Finnish
Thanatos Greek Personification of Death
Hades Greek Lord of Underworld
Ghede Haitian Vodou
Ogbunabali Igbo
Azrael Arabic
Izanami Japan (Shinto)
Hine-nui-te-pō Maori
Kisin, Uacmitun Ahau Maya Lord of Underworld
Ishtar-Deela Nakh Lord of Underworld [3]
Santa Muerte Mexico
Grim Reaper Europe Personification of Death
Mara Hindu
Māra Latvian
Giltinė Lithuania
Dahaka Persian
Morana Slavic
Mors Roman
Pluto Roman
Orcus Roman
Dis Pater Roman
Erlik Turkic Underworld
Odin Norse [4][5]
Hel Norse [4][5]
Freyja Norse [4][5]
Erio Basque

In fiction

In the universe of George Orwell's novel 1984, "Death Worship" was the common propagandistic English-language translation of the name of the governing philosophy of Eastasia (more accurately translated as "Obliteration of Self"). This ideology presumably made some allusion to Buddhist cultural concepts, but was functionally indistinguishable from the totalitarian "oligarchical collectivist" ideologies of the other two superpowers (Ingsoc in Oceania and "Neo-Bolshevism" in Eurasia).

Death is the protagonist in the science fantasy novel On a Pale Horse.

See also


  1. ^ "The counterpart to these deities of sky, air, water, and earth was the underworld, the realm of the dead, originally seen as ruled by the powerful Goddess Ereshkigal." Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23146-5
  2. ^ "After consulting his mistress Ereshkigal, the queen of the Nether World, he admits Ishtar" Kramer, "Ishtar in the Nether World According to a New Sumerian Text" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 1940. Google scholar results as the JSTOR link is unlikely to be universally available.
  3. ^ Jaimoukha, Amjad M. (2005-03-01). The Chechens: a handbook (1st ed.). Routledge. pp. 110. ISBN 978-0415323284. Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  4. ^ a b c Kveldulf Gundarsson. (1993, 2005) Our Troth. ISBN 0-9770165-0-1
  5. ^ a b c The dwelling one went to after death varied depending on where one died, at the battlefield or not. If not at the battlefield, one would go to Hel (not to be confused with the Christian Hell). Of the slain at the battlefield, some went to Folkvang, the dwelling of Freyja and some went to Valhalla, the dwelling of Odin (see Grímnismál):
    The ninth hall is Folkvang, where bright Freyja
    Decides where the warriors shall sit:
    Some of the fallen belong to her,
    And some belong to Odin.

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