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An instrument of the harvest, alluding to Christ's parable of the wheat field. Death cuts us down, after which the wheat is separated from the chaff. Medieval depictions of the Grim Reaper showed a rotting mass of walking putrescence: today, a kindly old man shoulders the blade. Artisans seldom depict him using it.

J.E. Cirlot claims that the scythe is a lunar symbol, which makes it both "feminine and passive". There are some problems with this interpretation. First, the scythe is always associated with a male figure -- Father Time, Death, or Saturn/Cronos (who aggressively sought to prevent his dethronement as King of the Universe by eating all his children!). Second, the carrier holds the scythe so that he can use it. Cirlot, like many Jungians eager to find repetition of certain cherished archetypes, overlooks these obvious points.

Why do we never see a scythe in use? Cemetery motifs sometimes function to communicate certain ideas. The scythe, on one hand, reminds us of the quickness of death -- that for all of us the harvest is coming. Cemetery owners and the clergy do not wish to frighten us, so for this reason modern figures of Time carry the scythe over their shoulders, making them as threatening as a band of colorful peasants on the way home from the fields.