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.


I had a bit of a scare this morning. I checked my blog as usual found a comment on my “Origin of the Grim Reaper” bloggery from someone named Robert Weniger, who said: You Plagiarist. I posted the exact words and you copy/pasted it from my website.

Um . . . What??

I love WordPress and all the statistics and information one gets! Besides email addresses from commenters, wordpress notes the IP address. I searched for Weniger’s address on the “What is My IP Address” site, and discovered the comment had been sent from a proxy server. According to the IP address site, A proxy server is a computer that offers a computer network service to allow clients to make indirect network connections to other network services. A client connects to the proxy server, then requests a connection, file, or other resource available on a different server. The proxy provides the resource either by connecting to the specified server or by serving it from a cache. In some cases, the proxy may alter the client’s request or the server’s response for various purposes.

Apparently, the comment was some sort of spam. What’s interesting is that most of  that particular bloggery was plagiarized, though if one credits the writer, it’s not truly plagiarism. It’s called research.  So, if you’re interested in my citation of William Bramley’s grim reaper information, be sure to check out The Origin of the Grim Reaper.

I also had a delightful surprise this morning. At today’s Daughter Am I blog tour stop, Zhadi’s Den, they are talking about my books! Wow, if anything will make someone feel like a real writer, it’s e-vesdropping on a people discussing one’s works. (Nope, that’s not a typo. I just thought it looked better than e-eavesdropping.) So, please meet me at Zhadi’s Den to talk about consistency in writing or my books, whichever you prefer.

DAIClick here to buy Daughter Am I from Second Wind Publishing, LLC. 

Click here to buy Daughter Am I from Amazon.

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On the Eve of Publication…

After seeing my article, “A Book Reviewer’s Lexicon,” where I mentioned that I’d read 20,000 books, author Ken Coffman asked what books stuck out in my mind as premier ones, what authors consistently pleased me, and which books I’ve read more than once. Off the top of my head, I posted a list of books. Premier? I don’t know that they are, but for some reason, I remember the title and author years — sometimes decades — after finishing them:

Sakkara by Noel Barber
Sarum by Edward Rutherford
The River God by Wilbur Smith
The Left Hand of God by William Barrett
The Balance Wheel by Taylor Caldwell (for many reasons, both good and bad)
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (because of the irony)
The Creature From Jekyll Island by G. Edward Griffin (non-fiction)
The Gods of Eden by William Bramley (non-fiction)
The Twelfth Planet by Zeccharia Sitchen (non-fiction)
Story by Robert McKee (non-fiction)
most books written by Antony Sutton (non-fiction)
most books written by Stephen J. Gould (non-fiction)
a few books written by Hank Messick (non-fiction)

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend any of these books. I read them so long ago, I was a different person. That I remembered titles and authors shows what an impact they had at the time. In recent years, the only book that had any impact on me was Duma Key by Stephen King. I’m ashamed to admit it, but he did get me with that one. During the past couple of decades, the only other books that have completely pulled me in are The River God and Sarum, both of which I intend to reread. The River God is a story based on scrolls found in an Egyptian tomb, and Sarum is a Michener-type book about the Salisbury Plain in England. I don’t agree with a lot of Rutherford’s history, but the book fascinated me. I want to reread Sakkara if I can ever get it again, though I don’t remember much about it except that it’s a sort of North African Gone With the Wind. (Interestingly, I don’t like Gone With the Wind, though I did when I was very young. I tried rereading it a while back, and got bored.) I did reread Tanamera, (also by Noel Barber, and a sort of Singapore Gone With the Wind) and liked it the second time, too. In fact, I will reread all of Noel Barber’s books some day. Maybe even some of Nevil Shute’s books. And David Westheimer’s.

I read The Balance Wheel during the Vietnam era. Now THAT made an impact — reading a book about the war-to-end-all-wars during a later war. If I ever come across a copy of the book, I’ll reread it. (I lent it to someone who promised — actually swore — that she’d return it but never did.)

One book that got left off the above list is The Killing Gift by Bari Wood. I read it many years ago, and always remembered it. Reread it a few years ago, and it still had the same impact. It’s one of the few I’ve kept to re-reread.

I’ve also kept a copy of The Proteus Operation by James P. Hogan, so I can reread it someday.

One author who consistently pleased me was Kate Wilhelm until she stopped writing science fiction. On my wish list would be a newly written Kate Wilhelm science fiction novel (Are you listening, Kate?), but so far she’s sticking with mysteries. (They’re mostly published by Mira, which seems like hiding a diamond in the mud.)

Interestingly, I started rereading some of the classics, and couldn’t do it. Nicholas Nickleby, Sense and Sensibilty, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. AAGGHH!!!

For about fifteen years I got so sick of the pap put out by the major publishers that I stuck with non-fiction. Read everything — history, quantum mechanics, string theory, health, archeology, etc, etc, but that got old (or I did) so now I’m back to fiction.

I’ve decided I need to get rich so I can start buying indie books. I feel like the man who kept shrinking and shrinking until finally he shrunk so much he ended up in an entirely different universe, a microscopic one. For me, the publishing world has shrunk so much that the only hope for finding the sort of books that interests me is to find another world. Which I have. The indie world. I guess I’ll just have to get people to send me books to “review.” Yes, that’s it. I’ll tell people I’ll do a review if they send me their book.

I thought that it would bother me posting this for anyone to see — it does say something about me, though I don’t know what — and I half-intended to delete it, but then it dawned on me: this is the eve of my becoming a published author. I’ve approved the proofs, so More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire will soon show up on Amazon. (They are already listed on the Second Wind Publishing site.) If a list of books I’ve read exposes me, then the books I’ve written will expose me even more.

So, here I am.

For what it’s worth.

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