Looking Upon Death With Different Eyes
From the ancients
to modern day, every culture has their own particular way of explaining death. Many ancient cultures believed in separate deities who ruled over the dead and were associated with death. The Greek knew Hades, the dark god of the lifeless underworld and the realm of the dead. In Greek mythology, he is known for kidnapping Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the grain and harvest goddess. The Romans knew him as Dis or Pluto.
In Norse mythology, Hel is the goddess of the netherworld and ruler of the dead. Half her face had human features, and half her face was blank.
In Indian mythology, Siva is the terrifying god of destruction, a deity so fearsome, people use flattery to avert catastrophe. His wife, Kali, was a bloodthirsty fertility goddess decorated with emblems of death.
The ancient Aztecs were a bloodthirsty race who believed human sacrifice was an essential part of maintaining life and balance. Through the gods offerings of their blood, they created the human race. In acts of bloodletting and sacrifice, the Aztecs were simply continuing the tradition of the gods.
Modern day Christianity explains that death came about with Adam and Eves fall from grace in Eden. Their disobedience brought sin and death to this world.
One legend mentions Lilith, wife of Adam prior to Eve. She refused to partake in his male-dominant way of intercourse and ran off to become a daughter of the devil. She became mother to the Lilim, a race of succubi. The succubi were known to seduce men at night. Lilith is known as a dark goddess of death.
In Persian mythology, there are demons or div, which are described as the personification of Ahriman, the devil. These div actually represent a particular group of enemy kings. Female div were called pairaka who were active during the night and had a witch-like personality. Pairaka could disguise themselves as a rat or a shooting star, or just like the Lilim, they could make themselves beautiful to seduce men.
The darkest angel of them all, Lucifer, has various aliases: Satan, Sammael, Mastema, Beliel, Azazel, Beelzebub, Duma, Gadreel, Sier, Memphistopheles, and Asmodeus. Lucifer, meaning the Bearer of Light, was originally one of Gods beloved Seraphim. At the dawn of time, his pride led to his downfall; he was jealous of Gods new creation, man. Because of this, Satan was banished to Hell, along with a third of the angels who agreed with him. In Miltons Paradise Lost, Satan was once a beautiful Seraphim who figured it was better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, and the underworld became his realm. In Dantes Inferno, Satan is a hideous creature who dwells in the last icy circle of Hell. His three mouths chew on the three betrayers of humankind: Cain, Brutus, and Judas. Satan has also been depicted as a satyr; horns, hooves, and a forked tail... very much modeled after the pagans horned god.
The subject of death is quite taboo in our modern day culture. Funerals and grieving are gone about in different ways here in America compared to Europe or Asia. In western culture, black is the color of mourning. Wearing black clothing at funerals comes from a very old custom, dating back to pre-Christian times; it was introduced to England by the Romans. The black clothes were supposed to hide the relatives of the dead person so that his/her spirit would not haunt them. In eastern culture, the color of mourning is white. In Tibetan Buddhism, death is not a hard situation to deal with. As a person is dying, they are told that they are dying; the dying persons mind and body are deteriorating but they gain a higher consciousness, since he/she is being told the truth. Death and birth are merely a part of the cycle of life.
Burial customs depend on the country and religion of the society. Ancient societies would bury their kings or a wealthy person with all their possessions as well as their servants (think the Egyptians and the pyramids). Vikings would place their dead captains on their ships and set them aflame as they drifted out to sea. The ancient Greeks (around the time of Homer) believed in cremating the dead, since their bodies were of no use to them.
Today, cremation is forbidden among the Muslims and the Jewish. The Muslims believe in reincarnation, so cremation would be inhibiting; the Jewish believe cremation denies the resurrection of the body. In most countries outside the United States and Canada, embalming is rare, unless a person dies far from home and is being buried in his/her native land.
Americans grieve while Mexicans truly cherish their dead and celebrate. Day of the Dead is a large celebration held on November 1st. Its an even bigger holiday than Christmas in Mexico, and families save their money to buy candies, presents for the dead (things the deceased family member would have enjoyed), and calaveras. Calaveras are any skeleton or skull image found in candies, ceramics, and toys. On Day of the Dead, entire families hold celebrations and picnics in the graveyards, wherever their loved ones are buried.
I think people truly do not know how to deal with death in this country. I suppose its mostly out of fear because no one can really claim to be an authority on the subject. (How many people do you know that have come back from the dead to tell you what its like? So stop pretending to be a vampire! ha ha ha)
Whether or not there is an afterlife is a thought hanging over peoples heads...