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New Year symbols: out with the old, in with the new

[social history]

The image of the old man with the sickle and hourglass is of Father Time. This image probably has its origins in Chronos.
The archetype of time is also a symbol of death. Note also that the common image of the Grim Reaper is also a man with a sickle.

In the Middle Ages there were many engravings of the Grim Reaper which depict a skeletal figure holding a scythe and hourglass with a crow nearby.


Q: Where did the term "The Grim Reaper" come from?

A: According to the Web site Mythologyweb, the figure of the Grim Reaper is derived from the ancient Greek god Cronus. Cronus, god of Time and father of Zeus, carried a sickle which he used to attack his father, Uranus. He also swallowed each of his children when they were born, fearing a prophecy which predicted one would overthrow him (which Zeus did, after rescuing his brothers and sisters, who were just fine after all that time being swallowed, surprisingly!) The Romans identified Cronus with their father god, Saturn, who use HIS sickle as god of the harvest and agriculture.

The sickle and the hourglass which often accompany the Grim Reaper are derived from this dual identities of the father-god, and represent how time is always passing and there is a season for everything, turn, turn, turn.......The idea of the Reaper as a skeleton or old man in a hooded cloak may have developed in the Middle Ages, when the Plague and other unpleasantries sparked an interest in the more grotesque.

So, in short, the figure is called a reaper because he carries a sickle in order to reap the fields during the harvest, and he is decidedly grim in appearance and in his association with death and decay.

The sickle, used for harvest, was a potent symbol, as the Grim Reaper uses it to harvest the lives (or souls) of people.

Conditor, a Roman field god, was also depicted wearing a toga and holding a sickle.

In the early 1800's, father time was interpreted on the cover of the Farmer's Almanac to be an old man with wings (an angel?) pouring out an urn.


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