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Reaper Tattoo Designs

Forbidding or Friendly Grim Reaper Tattoos

By Matt Garrett

The custom of giving death human characteristics (Grim Reaper Tattoo) is nothing new; it may date as far back as the ancient Greek’s harvest god Cronus, who was portrayed with a sickle and whose name led him to be confused for Chronos, who was the Greek god of time. Cronus’ sickle was eventually transformed into a scythe, and his harvest changed from agricultural to a harvest of the souls of the dead.

From this confusion of Cronus and Chronos, Western civilization has built its conception of how death would look if it had a form. And that form has become the subject of interpretations for millions of Grim Reaper tattoos through the years.

The Grim Reaper first took serious hold of the European imagination in the 1400s, garbed in a black hooded robe which mimicked those which priests wore at the bedsides of the dying. Instead of being there to bless the dying, however, he brought along a scythe, and was often merely a skeleton beneath his robes, with only his eyes visible under their cowl. Plenty of material for the imagination to feed upon, and Grim Reaper tattoos have become a mainstay of tattoo artists the world over.

While almost all Grim Reaper tattoos incorporate the basics of a skeletal black robed figure with a scythe, those basics can be interpreted in almost any style. There are tribal Grim Reaper tattoos; traditional Grim Reaper tattoos; and even Celtic tattoo designs featuring the Grim Reaper flowing out of their intricate plaitwork.

Grim Reaper tattoos first gained a foothold in the Americas in 18th century Mexico and Argentina, where poor criminals adopted them as totems to ward off capture by the police. Mexican Grim Reaper tattoos, surprisingly, depict the Reaper as a female; but even more surprisingly, in both the Mexican and Argentinean cultures, the Grim Reaper is regarded as a saint, “La Santisima Muerte” in Mexico and “San La Muerte” in Argentina.

Grim Reaper tattoos, along with skulls and scantily clad mermaids, were once reserved for bikers, prison inmates, and sailors or marines. But with the arrival of the Goth subculture, the skull and Grim Reaper tattoos have found a new and younger set of admirers, and are prominent among both male and female Goths who appreciate their mythological and morbid aspects.

Grim Reaper tattoos are most often done in black with shades of gray. But as more people are attracted to their messages about the fleetingness of life and the possibility of an afterlife, Grim Reaper tattoos often appear in more vibrant positive colors. Some Grim Reaper tattoos even take on an air of Halloween, with the Reaper having an eerily pumpkinlike appearance.

A Grim Reaper tattoo can be as forbidding or inviting as you and your tattoo artist choose to make it, but like all tattoos, its most important feature should be what it says about you!

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