Richard Hale is a tattoo enthusiast who studies and researches tattoo symbolism, meanings, and history.
The Angel of Death
The Grim Reaper is a highly symbolic and meaningful tattoo. In this article, I will discuss different designs and the meanings behind this dark and bold design. I hope that you are able to find ideas and inspiration for your next tattoo.
Grim Reaper Tattoos: A Timeless Classic
More than anything else, the Grim Reaper represents death.
He has been depicted in ancient art, literature, tattoos, and movies for many years. His long black cloak and razor-sharp scythe are enough to put fear into anyone that captures a glimpse of him. He makes a unique and fierce-looking tattoo that will catch anyone's eye. When properly done, the Grim Reaper tattoo is absolutely stunning.
Legend says that the Grim Reaper appears when someone is just moments from death. It is believed that the he uses his sharp scythe to separate the human soul from the body. He then accompanies the soul to its final resting place, which is either Heaven or Hell.
How to Portray the Grim Reaper in a Tattoo
The Grim Reaper tattoo is an old school tattoo design that has been around for a number of years. There are a variety of different ways that the Grim Reaper can be portrayed as a tattoo:
- Most portray the Reaper in a long black robe with his famous long scythe. He can be shown holding his scythe in a variety of ways, such as in front of his body or over his shoulder.
- Instead of a scythe, he can also be shown with a powerful sword or, if you want a more contemporary look, maybe even a gun or two.
- Due to the length of the robe, only certain parts of the Reaper are usually shown.
- Skeleton hands are usually seen holding the long scythe.
- His face is usually portrayed as a skeleton skull. However, some tattoos show the Grim Reaper as "faceless."
- You also have the option of having him smiling or displaying another similar expression to indicate a certain sense of playfulness or trickery, rather than just doom and gloom.
- It's usually done in black or shades of dark gray. Since the Reaper represents death, it is associated with the color black.
- With more and more tattoo artists testing their creative sides, some Grim Reapers can be inked in vibrant colors. These types of tattoos are actually gaining popularity and allow the wearer a design that is less intimidating.
Different Portrayals of the Grim Reaper Figure
The Grim Reaper is most commonly associated with a story from the Christian Bible. He is associated with the four horsemen of the apocalypse mentioned in the Book of Revelations.
The fourth horsemen represents death, he rides a pale horse and carries a scythe. It is not uncommon to see tattoos that show him riding a pale or black horse because of this.
Because of his association with death, the Grim Reaper is usually portrayed negatively or in an evil way. Some cultures, though, view him more in a neutral way than positive or negative. In Roman mythology, the collector of souls was actually portrayed in a positive manner as a sign of good luck.
But in most cases, he is associated with death.
What Does a Grim Reaper Tattoo Represent?
Although the Grim Reaper commonly represents "death," he can take on a variety of meanings. In the end though, your Grim Reaper tattoo will represent what you want it to.
Here are some common meanings:
Potential Meanings and Symbolism for Grim Reaper Tattoos
"Cycle of Life"
Positive Connotations of Grim Reaper Tattoos
The Grim Reaper can represent the "circle of life," showing that you understand that life and death happens to us all and is an event that we will all eventually face.
Or he can represent a more abstract sense of change in one's life that need not be bad—perhaps just the end of a certain phase of life (often a difficult or painful one) and the transition to a new, maybe even better and more exciting, phase altogether.
He can also represent bravery and courage, showing that you are not afraid to die or meet your faith. Because of this, this tattoo can be commonly seen on soldiers.
It's also seen in goth culture. Some people just like to have fierce-looking ink, whether it holds symbolic value or not.
Before you choose a final design though, make sure you view as many as you can. The designs can include skulls, ravens, flames, chains, swirls, and more.
More Tattoo Design Inspiration
- Tattoo Ideas: Symbols of Growth, Change, New Beginnings
- Unique Skull Tattoo Meanings and Pictures
- 5 Original Skull Tattoo Designs
- Coffin Tattoo Meanings, Ideas, and Designs
Brandon kearney on October 05, 2017:
I personally have a grim reaper tattooed on my shoulder. I got it in a dark time in my life as my mother and father had kicked me out because I had taken my car and was in a bad accident. I got the tattoo not as a negative part in my life but as a new beginning. I got it almost a year ago and everyone that sees it asks what it means, so I tell them that if it wasn't for me getting in that car accident I wouldn't be as happy as I am I wouldn't be in the military and I might have still hated myself so this tattoo means a new start to me
Johnny on October 17, 2015:
i would love to have this tattoo but i dont know how to view i
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on May 25, 2014:
Thanks for the comment Raymond. Yes, I'm with you. Love that classic black ink reaper. Saw one the other day done in traditional black but with flames in bright orange, red and yellow. The flames were in the background, great detail on the face, probably one of the best colored grim reaper tattoos I've ever seen. Raymond, be sure to drop back by when you get it, share it with us. Best to you..
raymond lopez on May 25, 2014:
Great format on the reaper.I have always loved skulls and the color black.I agree and associate with the different ways one could relate to the reaper.for me its the lifestyle."fearless" Going to get the big reaper on the forearm with lettering on the side that says"let them hate as long as they fear"
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on October 05, 2012:
Ron, thanks for dropping by. Great way of pointing that out. So many people view tattoos in a negative way. I try to teach others that there is a art and meaning behind many tattoos. Just have to be open about it.
Ron Hites on September 28, 2012:
I have the Grim Reaper on both my arms, upper and lower...
I'm what you would call a "Old Skool Biker" type...
The Reaper is part of the lifestyle...
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on May 28, 2012:
Services4all, appreciate your time and comment. Glad you found it interesting. Best wishes.
services4all from U.S. on May 22, 2012:
I like the different types of tattoos, Its really interesting.
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on May 10, 2012:
Stars439, thanks again for taking the time to stop by. It is greatly appreciated. Take care.
stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on May 10, 2012:
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on March 08, 2012:
Tbrian123, thanks for taking the time to come by. Hope you found it useful. Take care.
tbrian123 from colombo, Sri Lanka on March 04, 2012:
Good one... I would really like to read this type of articles :) Voted up (Y)
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on February 23, 2012:
*Acaetnna, it is always a pleasure to have you drop by. I sincerely appreciate your time and thanks for reading.
*Alastar, thanks again for dropping by friend. This is a design that I almost got once. I don't know why but I am drawn into the reaper design. I just think it is cool. What can I say.
Alastar Packer from North Carolina on February 22, 2012:
Oh my lyric, this ones wicked bad. The artistry's amazing and maybe I'm just an old fuddy-duddy but can't see going through life with one of these permanently inked on. Good info on em though.
acaetnna from Guildford on February 22, 2012:
Great information as always!!
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on February 22, 2012:
*Bri, thanks for taking the time to come by and for your kind words. Hope you enjoyed this article.
*AE, always great to hear from you. I feel the same way. There is just something about that design that is cool looking to me.
*Kash, it is great to hear from you. I appreciate you taking the time to come by and thanks for the comment and vote.
Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on February 22, 2012:
Very interesting and very cool pictures !
Vote up !!!
Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on February 21, 2012:
Wow, The one with the waterfall and many skeletal faces is intriguing. Thank's for sharing...
bri36 on February 21, 2012:
Keep up the good work")
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on February 21, 2012:
*Bri36, always great to hear from you. I spent time in Casa Grande and had the chance to catch a few shows ever now and then. I appreciate your time, comment, and votes friend. See you soon.
*Seeker7, always great to have you come by pal. I just got through reading another paranormal article of yours, "Ghostly Women". Awesome job I must say. Same here, I can see it representing life, not as much as death. I just think the design is cool I guess. Take care and catch you later.
Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on February 21, 2012:
Wow! Not only fascinating information but the artwork is stunning!
I don't think I'd fancy having the Grim Reaper grinning at me all day - and especially at night! But the attraction for these type of tatoos is obvious. I was also interested in the various meanings as well, that's very new to me. I had always just associated the grim reaper with the usual life-death-life cycle.
Great hub + voted up awesome!
bri36 on February 21, 2012:
cool stuff here the lyricwriter like the pictures. Just the other day here in phoenix there was a tattoo show and I remembered You are the tattoo hubber so thanks for a cool hub")Yes I voted^
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on February 21, 2012:
*Gypsy, always great to hear from you doll. It makes you wonder don't it. I like them. I have always been interested in the design rather then meaning. I wouldn't mind having one of these tattoos for sure.
*Frank, well, I would persume that this was the meaning behind the tattoo. I don't know what the Grim Reaper would be doing back there personally. Probably spends more time facedown then anything:) Could be wrong of course. Some people go all out. One would be surprised where some people choose to get tattooed.
Frank Atanacio from Shelton on February 21, 2012:
damn thelyricwriter.. you know I was at a strip-club near NYC and we saw a dancer with a grimp-reaper tattoo on her left butt cheek.. kinda made me wonder.. hit that and die..right? LOL they are pretty scary.. but only you can explain break down and tease tattoos thanks for sharing :) Frank
Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on February 21, 2012:
Being a horror movie fan I voted up. Are these people with the last name of Dracula or Frankenstein??? lol Wild tattoos and a great job as usual.