Lethal Threat can show you why the Grim Reaper is such a ubiquitous image in hot rod culture.
With the explosion of popularity for biker culture, we have never seen more of the Grim Reaper than we have these days. But the people who lift icons of biker culture without knowing what those icons really mean water them down.
That's one of the reasons true biker culture sticks around: It is rarely watered down. It is usually 100% concentrated, 200 proof.
What is the Grim Reaper to bikers? Only one of the most important tributes for our love of riding. Motorcycling is an activity that can be dangerous. Yet still we ride, because there is no other feeling quite like it. We dance with death, so might as well display the old boy proudly on our backs.
So kick back, grab a cold one and get comfy. This is your history lesson for the day, or week, or whatever. We'll dive into the meaning of the Grim Reaper, his origins and questions such as "What is the Grim Reaper?" and "Why does the Grim Reaper have a scythe?" We will NOT cover anything about the grim reaper here. That's something different, you perv.
Hundreds of Uses in Culture
Few images are as easily recognizable and widely circulated as the Grim Reaper. The shadowy, cadaverous being who comes to pluck the souls from the deceased has become so well known, that it is instantly associated with death in any context. It has been included in countless movies, comics, and songs, but its roots go further back in time than you might expect. Through centuries of evolution, the Grim Reaper has gone from a symbol of fleeting mortality, to a character in a stoner comedy.
Before we had the scythe-wielding, black-robed presence that we know and love today, there were precursors in ancient mythology.
Thanatos was the Greek personification of death, and would lead souls of the deceased into the underworld. In Norse mythology, the Valkyries would help guide the souls of fallen soldiers to Valhalla. Ancient religions such as these would form the basis for the Angel of Death in more contemporary theology. In the Islamic faith the Angel of Death even has a giant ledger to keep track of souls, both dead and alive, and is depicted with a scythe just like the Reaper.
The furthest that the Grim Reaper can be traced back to is 14th century England, at the peak of the Black Death aka the original pandemic. A fitting time for it to emerge, to say the least.
Works of art depicting death featured the Reaper wielding all manner of weapons as an unsettling reflection of the countless lives lost to the disease at the time. Believe it or not, the scythe wasn't originally the instrument most associated with the Reaper, but it was so fitting that it has endured as one of its trademarks. Just as a farmer would "reap" his crops with the tool, death would reap souls. Some artists also included an hourglass as a reminder that time eventually runs out for all of us, and that it will be waiting for us when it does.
Through the ages, countless stories and folk legends featuring the Reaper have been told. Many of these were famously about attempting to trick or outsmart it to cheat death, always failing in the end.
"The Seventh Seal," a 1957 film in which a knight plays a game of chess against the Reaper for his life, is a prominent example of this. Although the embodiment of death isn't very bony in the movie, he does have a scythe and black cloak. The ghost face costume worn by the self-aware killers in the "Scream" franchise is also made to look like a spectral Grim Reaper, which just highlights how well "Scream" understands horror.
Sometimes, He's Just Chill
Currently, the Grim Reaper isn't always depicted in a foreboding way. It is often used in comedy as a way to deal with morbid humor. "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life" contains a scene in which death arrives at a small farmer's hut to take his soul, but the farmer reacts as if dying were only a minor inconvenience, much to the Reaper's chagrin. "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" has a similar joke when the two accidentally die, but treat meeting the Grim Reaper like it's a casual occurrence, and end up playing a game of Twister with him for their lives. Even Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" is about accepting that death is an inevitable and natural process, and something that we shouldn't be scared of.
Because death is a constant that isn't going anywhere any time soon, the ubiquity of the Grim Reaper lends itself to limitless ways of staying intimidating, funny, or possibly even both. More than a few of our shirts feature the cloaked skeleton, both ominously and with a streak of gallows humor, if any of you are interested.