The Deities of different cultures have always had their importance amongst the populace. We find many archaeological artifacts since pre-history till the early medieval ages (where in some places the old gods were still worshiped) of deities linked to fertility; the so called smithing gods linked to atmospheric changes and the power of natural forces of the sky and their influence over the earth. But such artefacts representing the fertility deities are linked to the common folk, whose work was agro-pastoral.
People worship the deities more closed to them and to their needs and professional affairs. So it is only obvious that common folk would worship fertility gods and deities related with farming, sexuality, protection and so on, because that was what they needed. Warriors would worship war deities, violent deities, bloodthirsty deities, etc. So what about the death deities? Well, the elites administering communities have the power over religion, and they are the ones who make the rules and administrate the social-religious cults. Linked to religion comes death of course, and all the cults, myths and ideias around death. People would only need to have contact with such deities, when a member of their community or family would die, or even themselves. But those whose affairs in society were constantly related with death, such as priests and priestesses, were the ones to worship the death deities.
As such, it is natural to see that the most famous deities are linked to death, because those are the deities worshiped by the elites of each ancient societies, therefore their representations and names come in all forms because only the wealthiest have the means to registrate, either in written form, in architecture and artefacts, the deities they worship.
That is why, till this day, we know more about death deities than any other deities; even if we only hear the name, we know it and we link it automatically with a deity, whilst other names of other deities are less familiar to us. So here is a tiny list of pagan death deities that you have certainly heard about:
Cichol – Leader of the Formorians, a race of semi-divine creatures. A being who preceded the gods of Celtic lore.
Mannanan – Technically a sea deity but is also associated with the veil between the living and afterlife.
Donn – Lord of the dead in Celtic lore.
Morrígan – Associated with battle, strife, and sovereignty. Most frequently seen on the battle-fields in a form of a crow or raven, seeking the dead.
There are many celtic deities associated with death, for the celts were a variety of peoples with similarities in their warrior-culture. They were constantly in conflict amongst themselves and with others, for the basis of their religious ideas was to achieve glory, honour and to become heroes, by their deeds in battle, the control of the art of war and their warrior skills.
Anubis – Guardian of the dead, mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion.
Osiris – Lord of the Underworld.
Nephthys – Anubis’ mother, and sister of Osiris, was also a guardian of the dead. She was believed to also escort dead souls to Osiris.
Seker – A falcon god of the Memphite necropolis who was known as a patron of the living, as well as a god of the dead. He is known to be closely tied to Osiris.
Hades – King of Underworld. (of course)
Persephone – Queen of the Underworld, wife of Hades and goddess of spring growth.
Hecate – Goddess of magic, night, moon, ghosts, necromancy and crossroads.
Thanatos – Spirit of death and mortality.
Macaria – Daughter of Hades, goddess of the blessed death.
Melinoe – Daughter of Persephone and Hades (or Zeus disguised as Hades),
goddess of the restless undead, (ghosts etc.).
Angelos – A daughter of Zeus and Hera who became an underworld goddess.
Erebus – The primeval god of darkness, his mists encircled the underworld and filled the hollows of the earth
Keres – Goddesses of violent death, sisters of Thanatos.
Styx – Goddess of the river Styx (the river the dead have to cross), a river that formed a boundary between Earth and the Underworld.
Erinyes – Chthonic deities of vengeance
Odin – God of many things, including death.
Hel – Goddess of the dead, presides over a realm also called Hel or Helheim.
Freyja – Goddess of fertility, magic and also death. Part of the fallen in battle don’t go to Valhalla but to Fólkvangr, the Halls of Freyja.
The scandinavian cultures have a similarity with the celtic one. In the case of Odin, you might think that he is associated with magic and all the cult around that. In truth, Odin was the god of war and death, and not many people worshiped this deity; in fact, the cult of Odin was made by chieftains, specific priests and warriors. The cult of Odin was very violent, therefore not many people worshiped him. With the coming of christianity into scandinavian ground, the worship of the Norse pagan gods was prohibited, but since Odin had had a major importance in the warrior-society of old, his cult was maintained in hiding and he became almost the only old god to be worshiped. This is why all the witchcraft practices also became linked to him and the story of Freyja teaching him magic, spells and all those sort of things, was created. Odin was never a god of magic but a god or war and death.
Tuoni – The god of the Tuonela (Underworld).
Dis Pater – God of the underworld
Mania – Goddess of death
Mors – Personification of death
Orcus – Punisher of broken oaths; usually folded in with Pluto
Pluto – Ruler of the underworld
In the case of the romans, the most famous deities are not linked with death but with the imperial cult. The cult of the emperor and his figure representing power, righteousness, divine love and law, was much more important during the roman empire (obviously).
Morena – Associated with seasonal rites based on the idea of death and rebirth of nature.
Chernobog – The name means “black god”. It may be associated with death, although there isn’t a very strong association with it or anything else. There are historical sources – christian ones – that interpret him as a malicious god. However, for the Slavs this deity may never had that connotation and wasn’t seen as evil.
Peklenc – The lord of the underground and a divine judge.
Veles – Associated with water and the underworld.
Lusitanian and Celtiberian
Cariocecus – God of war and also associated with sacrifices, both of animals and people, which may also be linked to death.
Durius – The god of the river of that same name (nowadays called Douro). There were many river deities, and it is possible that they were linked to death due to the deposition of the peoples’ ashes, after funeral rites, on important rivers, including offerings of weapons.
Trebaruna – Goddess associated with home, families, protection, battles, animal sacrifices and possibly death due to the two last associations.