The Grim Origin of the Grim Reaper

Scholars trace the origin of the Grim Reaper to ancient times where he was known as Cronus to the Greeks and Saturn to the Romans, but the Grim Reaper as he is depicted today comes directly to us from the Middle Ages and the Black Death.

According to William Bramley, author of The Gods of Eden: “In Brandenburg, Germany, there appeared fifteen men with ‘fearful faces and long scythes, with which they cut the oats, so that the swish could be heard at great distance, but the oats remained standing.’ The visit of these men was followed immediately by a severe outbreak of plague in Brandenburg. Were the ‘scythes’ long instruments designed to spray poison or germ-laden gases?

“Strange men in black, demons, and other terrifying figures were observed in other European communities carrying ‘brooms’ or ‘scythes’ or ‘swords’ that were used to sweep or knock at people’s doors. The inhabitants of these houses fell ill with plague afterwards. It is from these reports that people created the popular image of death as a skeleton, a demon, a man in a black robe carrying a scythe.

The Black Death began in Asia and spread to Europe between 1347 and 1350 where it killed over 25 million people, 1/3 of the population.

Despite the current belief that rats in overcrowded cities spread the plague, many outbreaks occurred during the summer in uncrowded conditions. And not all outbreaks were preceded by rat infestation. In fact, most outbreaks seemed to have nothing to do with an increase in rodent population. Nor were outbreaks confined to urban areas. The plague often struck isolated human populations which had no contact with infected areas.

Many people in stricken areas reported that outbreaks of the plague were caused by evil-smelling mists. Bright lights and unusual activity in the skies frequently accompanied these mists. And sometimes, a mist was seen to be coming from rocket-like airships. Not only did these mists kill people; they killed trees and destroyed the fertility of the land.

People were warned: “If newly baked bread is placed for the night at the end of a pole and in the morning is found to be milewed and internally grown green, yellow, and uneatable, and when thrown to the dogs causes them to die from eating it, then the plague is near at hand.”

Foul mists were blamed for other epidemics. During a plague in ancient Rome, Hippocrates (c.460-337 BC) had people build large public bonfires that he believed would get rid of the bad air. Considering the current belief that the plague was caused by a disease carried on the fleas of rodents, this advice seems ludicrous. But if what is intimated by these reports is true, and the plague was caused by germ-saturated aerosols such as those used in modern biological warfare, then bonfires would be the only defense.


Bramley’s descriptions and hypotheses of what happened in the middle ages, and the implications of what it might mean if true, really spooked me. I used this research for the following excert from Light Bringer:

“Alchemy wasn’t merely about the transmutation of metals,” Ernst said. “It was also about the transmutation of the alchemist. Once this mutation took place, the alchemist’s life span increased by hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. Apparently they learned to turn off the death genes.”

How interesting that he should mention alchemists, Teodora thought. Arist Kochavallos had recently told her that one reason for the Black Death in medieval times was that humans were becoming too advanced and had to be retarded. For him, those were not the dark ages, but an age of light. The alchemists, a greater percentage of the population than anyone imagined, were learning about nuclear fusion and fission. The Arabs were learning about rocketry and jet propulsion. Architecture, as manifested in European cathedrals, was unsurpassed. Along with many other technological inventions, a simple binary machine—a computer—had been created.

And the custodians of earth did not like what they saw.

Outbreaks of the plague were accompanied by strange phenomena, such as torpedo-shaped craft emitting noxious mists, and men dressed all in black walking through the streets with long instruments that made a swishing sound like a scythe.

According to Arist, that’s where the image of death as a skeleton in a black robe carrying a scythe originated.

More than anything else, finding out the origins of the plague had convinced Teodora that the tenth planet existed, that at least a small enclave of its inhabitants resided on Earth, and that they had no love of humans.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Great Reviews for Light Bringer

I got a great review for Light Bringer yesterday from S.M Senden. “Pat Bertram has woven a wonderful story that weaves together imagination with history, science fiction, love, power and so much more, and it works so well. If you are looking for a good story, well written, then read this book. I hope you will love it as much as I did!”

I am thrilled when readers love any of my books, but especially Light Bringer.

First, it is very difficult to classify, even for reviewers. As Aaron Lazar wrote, “Light Bringer is something completely new and surprising . . . surprising in its freshness, originality, its genre bending brilliance. Part thriller, part fantasy, part sci fi, part mystery . . . its plots were large and complex, encompassing themes that plague us every day; offering social and world commentary blended with weather trend observations (where ARE all those tornadoes and tsunamis coming from??) I do believe Bertram has defined a new genre, and it is a pure delight. Fresh. Original. Riveting. The characters are real and engaging.”

Second, it is the result of twenty years of research into conspiracy theories and myth. Many researchers have traced the drive toward a one-world government conspiracy back 7000 years. Others believe that the black death was a man-made epidemic, created in an effort to “dumb down” the inhabitants of Earth. (William Bramley, author of Gods of Eden, wrote: “Strange men in black, demons, and other terrifying figures were observed in other European communities carrying ‘brooms’ or ‘scythes’ or ‘swords’ that were used to sweep or knock at people’s doors. The inhabitants of these houses fell ill with plague afterwards. It is from these reports that people created the popular image of death as a skeleton, a demon, a man in a black robe carrying a scythe.” This is the origin of the grim reaper) In fact, myths all over the world speak of the gods giving and the gods taking away. According to the Popul Vuh, the gods created the first humans exactly like the gods themselves. Displeased that the simple creatures of their making were also gods, the creators took some of the god-like abilities away from them, and we are the result. And from all that research came the idea for Light Bringer.

Third, the lyricism of the book seems to bring out a corresponding lyricism in reviewers. Sheila Deeth called Light Bringer “mysteriously beautiful and musical,” and then added, “Pat Bertram’s novel soars in her descriptions of mystery and scenery. The song of the rainbow flows through the characters, binding them together, while the silence of the great unknown drives them and pulls them apart.” Tracy Fabre wrote, “This novel is color and sound and more color, described as it’s never been described before. Part sci-fi, part small town life, part intrigue, part romance, part rainbow explosion, this is a tale of two people who are not like other people yet end up in a little out-of-the-way community where a lot of strange things have happened and continue to happen. It’s a multi-layered story she should be very proud of, and incidentally will make you crave muffins. Consider yourself warned.”


Light Bringer: Becka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

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