Throughout history, there has existed within mankind a profound fear of the unknown – and with it, the fear of death itself. Perhaps the greatest mystery of the universe, numerous pagan cultures around the world have painted incredibly graphic ideas of death to fill in the blanks, from detailed depictions of underworlds to the personification of death itself.
You may even notice that many of these deities share certain commonalities and symbolism, despite coming from different parts of the world with very diverse cultures and belief systems.
Why Work With The Gods Of Death?
You may be wondering why someone may want to work with an entity so closely intertwined with death. Death is a natural part of the cycle of life, and a practitioner may perform death work for many reasons, like healing personal trauma or connecting with ancestors who reside just beyond the veil.
Others may choose to work with death deities to ease their concerns with the afterlife. For example, Thanatos is a comforting figure to those who fear death. Hence his name lends itself to the word thanatophobia, or fear of death.
Chthonic deities can also help us to cope with the loss of a loved one. If you work with these entities, then you know that someone is gently accompanying us and those we love to the other side. There’s also a certain comfort in believing that we will see a familiar face waiting for us when we cross over.
Lastly, many of these goddesses and gods of death fall within domains outside the reaches of death, so there’s no reason to fear if they do call out to you. They may have contacted you to work with something else entirely. Remember that this archetype does not only involve death, but also the concepts of change and rebirth.
Is A God Of Death Reaching Out To You?
Have symbols of death been prominent in your life lately? Have you lost a lot of loved ones and held a close relationship with death throughout your life? Maybe that part of your life is occurring now, and you’re looking for some sort of closure or guidance.
Perhaps you’ve recently done a deity identification reading and drawn the Death card. What exactly does it all mean? Also, there are so many entities that can be archetyped as Death, so how do you know which one is reaching out to you?
Many of these Goddesses and Gods of death represent cycles instead of physical death. If you feel that an old part of yourself is “dying” to make way for a new part of yourself, then this could be a sign that it’s time to work with a death deity.
How To Connect With The Goddesses & Gods Of Death
It can be difficult to tell some of these entities apart, so look for unique symbols and clues from mythology to help find your answer. When in doubt, you can use a divination method such as a pendulum or tarot cards to see if you’re on the right track.
13. Anubis: Egyptian God Of Death
This Ancient Egyptian god of the afterlife and mummification is known for having the head of a jackal atop a humanoid body. His skin is blackened like a corpse after mummification. Anubis’ otherworldly duties included embalming, guarding the graves of the dead, and a mouth-opening ritual that allowed spirits who crossed over into the afterlife to possess the ability to speak.
Most notably, Anubis is in charge of weighing the hearts of the dead against an ostrich feather. Should a heart be heavier than the feather, the owner’s soul would be devoured by the fearsome goddess Ammit.
Although he was initially given the title of God of the Underworld, Anubis would eventually be replaced in his role by the god Osiris during the time of the Middle Kingdom. However, Anubis remains one of the most important gods of death even today.
During the later Ptolemaic period, Anubis was syncretized with Hermes of the Greek pantheon. This means that during the time that Egypt was occupied by Hellenic leaders, they were heavily influenced by Greek culture and equated many of their existing gods with these influences. In the way Hermes was a messenger that also helped lead souls to Hades, Anubis’ work embalming and subsequent work ensured that a soul would find its rightful place in the afterlife. He is one of the most important gods of the Underworld, or what the Egyptians believed of the Underworld.
Symbols Of Anubis
- The Sarcophagus
- Curved staff
- Scales or Libra
- Justice (In tarot)
- Jackals or dogs
Working With Anubis
Anubis comes to us in times of transformation: if you are going through some tough changes, then this deity will be great at preparing you for the transition. He brings hope to those in times of despair, and comfort to those who know he will gently and respectfully tend to their bodies once their souls have departed. His judgment is seen as a source of truth and justice to his worshipers, who place their trust in him.
When doing spellwork with Anubis, you can invoke his archetype with the Justice or Death card. Likewise, if you see these cards in a deity identification reading, it may be a sign that Anubis is willing to work with you. If you would like to work with Anubis or believe that he is reaching out to you, then there are several ways that you can extend your hand to him.
Offerings for Anubis may include wheat, barley, bread, beer, or crystals like those mentioned above. In fact, Carnelian and Hematite were often used to embellish tombs or sarcophagi, so their significance to this deity of death runs deep. You can also perform devotional acts such as burning incense in his honor or volunteering at your local cemetery or dog shelter.
12. Hades: Greek God Of The Dead (God Of The Underworld)
Ruler of the Greek underworld of the same name, Hades is the brother of Zeus, King of the Gods. He was so feared in ancient Greece that he became somewhat of a He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. As a result, he was often referred to as Pluto, Pluton, or one of his many epithets.
Married to Persephone, the goddess of Spring, Hades is the only Olympian (so to speak) that remained faithful to his wife, according to most mythological sources. Perhaps this says something of his romantic side.
Although not traditionally worshiped in Ancient Greece, Hades has become a much more popular deity for modern witches to work with. As the Greek god of the Underworld, he provides an opportunity to peer into a different world.
Here are some of the symbols that you may encounter if this god of death is reaching out to you:
Symbols of Hades
- Black dogs
- Screech owls
Working With Hades
Hades is known by worshipers to provide comfort in the darkest of times, consoling us through the deaths of loved ones while providing a gentle reminder of the ultimate cost of life. Although intimidating at first, Hades’ stern disposition can be read as almost fatherly. That said, he does not meddle with mortals who don’t take him seriously.
Let’s be honest: most mortals in Ancient Greece didn’t seek out the favor of Hades. Mortals didn’t even want to be perceived by Hades, if they could help it, for fear of incurring the wrath of the god of the Underworld (a place they did not want to go). That said, if you’re a brave enough soul, there are a few ways that you can try to earn his trust.
You can create an altar to Hades that also honors your ancestors. Honoring and tending to the dead is a great way to show Hades that you harbor great respect for the souls in his realm. Expanding on this, you can also volunteer at your local cemetery, or spend time there in meditation.
Alternatively, you can make monetary offerings to Hades, who also oversees the domain of wealth. It is because of this domain that I tend to associate Hades with the King of Pentacles tarot card (in addition to Death, of course).
Keep in mind that as a god of the Underworld, you may experience some “scary” things when you start working with him, especially in your dreams.
I could go on and on about Hades, so if you’re looking for more information, be sure to check out a more in-depth post about the Greek god Hades here. As the ultimate god of the Underworld, he’s a really cool deity and there’s simply so much to say about him!
11. The Grim Reaper
A notable figure in modern folklore, it seemed appropriate (if not absolutely necessary) for this entity to receive his own special spot on the list.
The Grim Reaper is a personification of death that was widely popularized during the time of the Black Plague. Death weighed greatly on the minds of Europeans, who suffered innumerable losses during this time.
Harvesting souls of the dead with his trusty scythe, The Grim Reaper was an entity that struck fear into the hearts of citizens that were already barely surviving a time of great darkness and despair.
Although he’s not in charge of doing any sort of killing or even determining one’s death, the Reaper serves as a psychopomp to lead souls to the afterlife. He’s a god of death that functions as a kind of symbol across myths and is quite universal.
Symbols of The Grim Reaper
- Skeletons or bones
Working With The Grim Reaper
Since the Grim Reaper is more of an archetype than a deity, you won’t find many pagans who work with this entity. Instead, look for interpretations of this archetype in a multitude of other cultures.
For example, Thanatos of Hellenic lore, the Phoenician Mot, or the Ankou of Celtic tradition, are all personifications of death itself, and each of these cultures may worship or acknowledge the presence of death in a different way. The Grim Reaper appears through the myths of many gods of death.
While he isn’t quite a god of the Underworld, in some traditions, the Grim Reaper is associated with the Underworld (such as the portrayal of the ferryman in Greek mythology).
10. Hel: Norse Goddess Of The Dead
In Norse mythology, Hel is the gruesome goddess of death and of the dead. A daughter to Loki and the giantess Angrboða, Hel was sometimes described as half-black and half-white, or even depicted with her darker half resembling a decayed body or skeleton.
The duality of her physical appearance is representative of the duality of life and death: both tragic and beautiful all at once. There can be no light without dark, and Hel is a grim reminder of this fact.
Much like the Greek god Hades, Hel shares a name with the Underworld in which she reigns. In Hel (also called Helheim), she is joined by two servants, Ganglati and Ganglot, who offer her meals to be eaten with a plate and knife called Hunger and Famine, respectively. It’s clear that Hel is also a goddess of the Underworld.
In later works, Hel was equated with the Roman goddess Proserpina – also known to the Greeks as Persephone. In appearance, however, Hel’s duplicitous appearance aligns more closely with Persephone’s daughter Melinoë.
Symbols of Hel
- Black hounds
Working With Hel
If you’d like to appeal to Hel, I hear she is fond of decadent altars with fruit and flowers left out to rot. Wine, bread, and other foods are also acceptable offerings – just make sure you leave them out until they’re rotted. You can further decorate your altar with bones, black and white flowers, or one black and one white candle. You may also use your altar as a space to honor your ancestors.
Hel, like death, wishes not to be feared but respected. You can honor her by honoring the dead: through solemn meditation, moments of silence, and cemetery visits. Dedicate your time to helping those who are in bereavement or nearing death. As you may expect, she likes her worshipers to be on top of their shadow work, rather than shy away from difficult topics.
Although popularly portrayed as a terrifying crone, I perceive Hel as gentle and nurturing. She is known to give special attention to mothers who die in childbirth as well as children who pass onto the Netherrealm. As a result, she has been accepted as a patron to mothers and children alike, providing comfort in the darkest of times despite her otherwise fearsome nature.
If you’re going through the profound loss of a child, I’m very sorry for your predicament. Hel is sure to be kind to you in your time of despair. In fact, she’s one of the kindest goddesses of death and can actually help you process a death.
9. Melinoë: Greek Nymph
Daughter to Persephone and Hades (or Persephone and Zeus disguised as Hades, depending on the tale), Melinoë is a Hellenic nymph of nightmares and madness. As the embodiment of both light and darkness, Melinoë’s body is often depicted as both black and white, split perfectly down the middle.
Though Melinoë isn’t specifically classified as a goddess of death in Greek mythology, she represents death because of her appearance, her powers, and of course, her legendary parents.
Symbols Of Melinoë
- Howling dogs
- Ghosts & spirits
Working With Melinoë
As a goddess of ghosts, Melinoë can be called upon when working with spirits of the dead or trying to bridge contact. In ways, she’s like a rogue of the underworld, carrying secrets to and from the world above. These powers can be harnessed by divination workers and psychic mediums who may be looking to bridge the gap to the other side.
8. Osiris: Egyptian God Of Death
Osiris took over leadership of the underworld from his son Anubis during Egypt’s Middle Ages, a change that many historians surmise reflects the political shift of the era. Green-skinned and crowned in a traditional feathered Atef, Osiris bears a crooked staff and a flail, which are symbols of authority and fertility, respectively.
Although a god of the underworld, Osiris has been syncretized with Dionysus of the Greek pantheon. Bearing an interesting commonality to the Hindu goddess Kali, Osiris is a god of death and fertility, representing an interesting duality. Once again, we see the idea that death is not a singular experience but part of a larger cycle.
Symbols Of Osiris
- Atef crown
- Crook and flail
- Ostrich feathers
Working With Osiris
Osiris wields power over many things. His death and birth are said to bring periods of drought and flooding, which imply that his dominion extends over the land and sea, as well. In this way, Osiris is much more than a god of death – he can lend his abilities to nearly any of your magical workings, and will gladly do so.
Keep in mind that Osiris is much more than just one of the gods of death, so working with him is a large undertaking.
7. Thanatos: Greek God Of Death
While Hades is the god of the underworld and rules over the dead, Thanatos is the god of death. Since he is the personification of death, he’s sort of like a Hellenic Grim Reaper. Although he’s charged with leading souls to Hades to await their judgment, Thanatos is more of a gentle but firm messenger.
A son to Nyx, the goddess of night, Thanatos was the twin brother of Hypnos, the god of sleep. Together, they make a comforting pair. The death that Thanatos brings is thought to be a sort of healing.
Thanatos is the god of death as a simple existence. His presence implies that death comes for all: it is not sadistic but simply cyclical. He is one of the most impartial gods of death in all of mythology.
Symbols Of Thanatos
Working With Thanatos
Thanatos, the stoic Guide of the Dead, is kind to those who fear it. He embraces all who reach out to him in death work, whether out of fear or despair. He is a strong shoulder of support to those in pain and will gladly carry messages back to loved ones in the underworld, should you ask.
6. Yama: Hindu God of Death
Yama is regarded as the God of death in the Hindu Vedic tradition. According to Hindu tradition, each person’s records are recorded in a book called “Book of Destiny.” Yama oversees this process.
Similarly, Hindu Vedic tradition believes Yama was the very first human to die and then make his way to the new world where he was given the task of being one of the gods of death.
Yama is also regarded by Hindus as the king of all ancestors, the king of ghosts, and the king of justice. Yama is feared by some people because of his two hounds, while others believe he does not possess any evil or wickedness at all. However, it’s clear that in addition to being one of the gods of death, Yama is also a god of justice, so it makes sense that many Hindus did fear him. He was the one to decide their fate.
Symbols Of Yama
- Pair of hounds
- The noose
5. Freyja: Norse Goddess of Death
Norse mythology associates Freyja with death (though there are a few Norse goddesses of death in total since death is seen as a cycle). However, that’s not all she’s associated with. In addition to her beauty, fertility, abundance, and battle, Freyja represents love and beauty.
Even though Freyja is a goddess of death, she is often remembered as someone who assists in childbirth, boosts positivity, and helps with marital issues. And in spite of being associated with death, she was adored by all, including the Asgardian giants and elves.
Freya’s image shows her flying around in a hawk-feathered cloak or her cat-drawn carriage. Norse mythology considers her one of the most beloved and famous goddesses. Not only was she in charge of death, but also the underworld, where most of the souls belonged to people killed in battles. The other half of the underworld was handled by Odr, the god she married.
Symbols Of Freyja
Working With Freyja
Being yourself unapologetically is something Freyja can teach you. In a literal sense, she’s a warrior. You might not be able to release your trauma slowly with Freyja, but she will teach you how to grow a tough skin and make your life what you want.
In addition, she can teach divination in various ways. I suggest you leave an offering and ask Freyja if she is willing to teach you divination.
Pagans often consult Freyja about fertility issues. As a Norse goddess of fertility, she guides pagans through fertility struggles.
4. Meng Po: Chinese Goddess of Death
According to Chinese mythology, there are several realms beneath the Earth. Ming Po controls the Diyu realm, which belongs to the dead. As one of the goddesses of death, her duty is to ensure that the souls who are to be reincarnated are wiped of their memories so they are unable to remember their previous lives or their time in hell. Similarly, she is often called the goddess of forgetfulness.
According to legend, the soup is served by the goddess on the Bridge of Forgetfulness or Nai He Bridge. In order to make the soup, the goddess gathers herbs from various streams and ponds. The soup wipes the memories of those who are set to be reincarnated in order to ensure that they will move on without the burdens and experiences of their previous lives.
Ming Po is also said to greet dead souls at the Fengdu realm’s entrance.
Symbols Of Ming Po
3. The Morrigan: Celtic Goddess of Death
According to Celtic mythology, The Morrigan is the goddess of death, war, strife, battle, and fertility. In Ireland as well as in other parts of Europe, including France, she was regarded as one of the most powerful goddesses of death (and goddesses overall).
Known also as the ‘Phantom Queen’ or the ‘Great Queen,’ she is sometimes depicted as either a single goddess or as a trio of sister goddesses. In most cases, the trio was comprised of Badb (crow), Macha (sovereignty), and Nemain (frenzy in battle). In that sense, she was not three separate gods, but rather one god with multiple aspects.
The Morrigan, in her original form, was often accompanied by ominous birds like ravens and crows. In some cases, she would also appear as a cow or wolf, or shapeshift into a bird; the Morrigan has many forms.
She often appeared on the battlefield which may be where her reputation as one of the fiercest goddesses of death from. Warriors believed that crows feasting on dead bodies represented The Morrigan.
She was also regarded as a great warrior herself due to her extensive experience with wars and battles.
Symbols Of The Morrigan
- The number 3
Working With The Morrigan
The Morrigan, the goddess of death, teaches us about reinventing the wheel since it is only through death that we can be reborn. So in some ways, she is really a goddess of personal transformation.
Think of the Morrigan as the Celtic equivalent of the “Death” Tarot card. All things old must die to make room for the new.
Though the Morrigan is by no means an easy goddess of death to work with, she will definitely help to transform your life (whether you like it or not).
2. Coatlicue: Aztech Goddess of Death
According to Aztec mythology, Coatlicue is the minor goddess of death and rebirth. The goddesses Toci, “our grandmother,” and Cihuac**tl, “snake woman,” were also thought of as aspects of Coatlicue. She is a mother to hundreds!
But interestingly enough, as one of the most important mothers in Aztec mythology, she’s also one of the goddesses of death.
Among Coatlicue’s many characteristics was her association with snakes. Her skirt was made of rattlesnakes, her hands were snakes, and she had two serpentine heads instead of one. She is portrayed both as beneficial and as demonic, depending on the myth.
Symbols Of Coatlicue
- Snake jewelry/clothing
- The serpentine head
Working With Coatlicue
While not many pagans work with Coatlicue, some believe that she can help practitioners learn to “shed their skin,” much like a snake, and be reborn.
1. Hecate: Greek Goddess Of Death
As a result of her association with boundaries and the liminal spaces between worlds, Hecate is also considered a chthonic goddess (underworld). In a 3rd-century BCE poem by Theocritus, she is described as possessing the keys that open all gates between realms, including the gates of death.
Hecate was originally a goddess of fertility and childbirth. However, over time, she came to be associated with the moon and became a goddess of the Underworld.
Hecate is strongly connected to the spiritual world and the souls of those who have passed. Traditionally, she is seen as the gatekeeper between the mortal and spiritual worlds: she holds the keys that open the gate. And she’s not totally impartial: like the Furies, she has no qualms about seeking revenge against those who have wronged her loved ones.
If you’re looking for goddesses of death in order to reach out to the dead or somehow cross worlds, Hecate is a wonderful goddess of the Underworld to work with.
Symbols Of Hecate
- Black dogs
- The triple moon
Working With Hecate
Hecate has a reputation for being very particular about the people she works with. In the Chaldean Oracles, it’s obvious that Hecate favors the virtuous, and demands that her followers show kindness and integrity to others through charitable acts.
In addition to physical crossroads and boundaries, Hecate is also the goddess of spiritual crossings and boundaries. As you work with her, she will help you set personal boundaries for yourself and guide you through the many crossroads your life path may present.
Hecate may seem very cheerful, but she has a darker side as well. Through shadow work, those who work with her can address their trauma. Other people seek to commune with the dead through this liminal goddess’ guidance.
Hecate is the goddess of witchcraft, magic, and spells, so I often invoke her for guidance on intent, concrete manifestations, and more efficient spellwork.
Hopefully, these goddesses and gods of death appeal to you and show you that death is more than just the end. As we see over and over with these gods and goddesses of death, the act of passing is simply part of a cycle that continues over and over. Plus, death can represent more than physical death, especially when you consider working with these deities. They can teach you how to leave behind old parts of yourself in order to embrace the new.
Whether you’re considering working with goddesses and gods of the Underworld, of death, of the dead, or other deities, I simply can’t recommend this work enough! It has truly changed my life for the better. From personal experience, deities have much more (ancient) power than we can ever imagine and can unlock new parts of ourselves.