Wednesday, August 27, 2008

When Death Approaches...

Death is personified as the Grim Reaper, a faceless character that floats around effortlessly with a scythe in hand, collecting souls that have left their bodies. It is garbed from head to toe in a black habit. Its features are constantly hidden under its black hood in order to create a sense of mysteriousness. That is just one version of many.

The Grim Reaper has appeared in many guises. In the Middle ages, the Grim Reaper took the form of an unclothed skeleton, or sometimes a decomposing corpse. At times, it is shown with wings, indicating a role similar to the Angel of Death. In most portrayals, it has a sickle or scythe in one hand, an hourglass in the other. To some, the scythe or the sickle is the instrument that allows the Grim Reaper to command the death of a person into its hands.

The Grim Reaper’s origins is believed to be derived from the Angel of Death in the Old Testament of the Bible and a character known as Kronos from Greek mythology.

The Angel of Death is present in most religions. In Hinduism, Yama, the Lord of Death is nothing like the cadaverous figure of the English Grim Reaper. Instead, he rides on a buffalo and has a rope lasso to carry his victims back into the underworld. In Islam, the Angel of Death is known as Azrael. He is forever writing and erasing names into a large book. A birth is marked by an inscription into the book and a death is marked by erasing the name. In Judaism, it is known as Malach ha-Mavet. In Sikhism, Death is an angel of God.

In Japanese folklore, there is the death goddess who claims 1000 lives in a single day. Slavic paganism described death as a lady in white clothes with an ever-growing green sprout in hand. One touch of the sprout will put a human to eternal sleep. In Lithuanian paganism, Death is a hideous old woman with a poison tongue and a long blue nose.

The Angel of Death could be, as odd as it may sound, a welcoming figure, a messenger of a higher power tasked with collecting the souls for paradise. On the other hand, is may be a figure of darkness that has come in search of souls to be tormented in the underworld.

In the Greek mythology, Kronos the Titan was bestowed a sickle which he used to castrate his father. He swallowed his kids as they were born as he was afraid that the same punishment will be levied on him by his offspring. He was the God of Harvest and the sickle was an agricultural instrument. He was also associated as the bringer of old age.

By combining both the idea of the Angel of Death and Kronos of Greek Mythology, we obtain the Grim Reaper. Death is topic that continues to draw enormous amount of fascination. By the end of the day, when the Grim Reaper comes, it is inevitable, beyond the control of time, circumstances and will.

Monday, August 18, 2008

When Shape Changes...

In the scientific nature of things, shapeshifting is impossible. To be able to switch from one form to another, to change significant characteristics of the body such as the DNA at once own whim is absurd, logically speaking.

However, despite our general agreement that shapeshifting will never happen anytime soon or at least until scientists discover a method of changing genetic constructions, we cannot help but notice that many literature has been written about this topic. Take for instance Beauty and the Beast. The Beast was a once a prince but was put under a spell and took the form of a hideous beast after refusing to offer shelter to a witch on a rainy day. The curse can only be broken once he finds his true love. So as ridiculous as shapeshifting may sound, it remains a subject that is intriguing, mystifying and elusive.

Shapeshift, as the term itself suggests, is the ability to take on a different physical form. It can happen when a human being changes into an animal or the other way round. It is also possible for one human being to take on the physical form of another human being. Mystique, a character from X-Men series, is a solid example of this. She switches from one body to another with ease in order to gain advantage in certain situation or to lure her victims into traps.

The process of shapeshifting varies. In some literature, the subject has two separate bodies and can easily take form of any one of them when and where he/she wishes. Apart from death which will result in the death of both forms, all injuries will not be carried from one form to another. Another form of shapeshifting is when the subject’s flesh forms over the top of the original. In some processes, the body may undergoes alteration such as expanding, peeling, stretching.

Shapeshifting, in some literature, is interpreted as a form of punishment. A shapeshifter is a victim of this cruel transformation which does allow him/her to appreciate the normality of life. They often find themselves alone and misunderstood because of their conditions. They are either alienated by the local community because of their defects or they may choose to isolate themselves as they are afraid of what others might think of them.

That aside, in other literature, be it myth, folklore, myths, science fiction or fantasy, shapeshifting is considered as a superhuman gift and a powerful gift. It allows the user to use this gifts for his/her own survival or to gain a better advantage in certain situation in order to achieve his/her aims, be it positive or negative. In Greek mythology, Zeus disguises himself as Artemis, a female nymph in order to befriend Callisto and tricks her into letting her guard down. When he is close enough to her to not allow to escape, he returns to his original form and rapes her. In this case, shapeshifting is used selfishly in order to achieve one’s own desire. It is not uncommon in many literature that revolves around shapeshifting.