Shamanic Psychopomps


(From the Greek psuchopompos, literally meaning “the guide of souls”)

Birth and death, the entry and the exit from this life, are events accompanied by spiritual entities that assist us in our transitions. As eternal beings, we inhabit this reality for a fixed time and our spiritual helpers always attend to us, at least to the degree that we recognize and engage them. The exit from this reality is not an end but a journey to our next existence and cultures throughout the world have identified beings in many different forms that assist with the departure. In modern shamanism, we have learned much that can benefit all of us in the death experience and make this difficult passage better for those who pass and those who mourn the passing.

In many ancient religions, psychopomps were creatures, spirits, angels, or deities whose responsibility was to escort newly deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife. Their role was not to judge but to simply provide safe passage. Psychopomps have been associated at different times and in different cultures with horses, whippoorwills, ravens, crows, owls, sparrows, cuckoos, and harts. In some indigenous civilizations, such as in the Filipino culture, the spirits of ancestors and other dead loved ones function as psychopomps. In the classical civilizations of Greece, Rome, and Egypt, Charon, Mercury, Hermes and Anubis served as psychopomps. In many ancient tombs, funerary art and statuary often depict psychopomp beings that provide support in the passage to the afterlife. The history of human existence is rife with examples.

Shamans have also served in this role of “midwife to the dying.” The shaman acts as a guide communing with the spirits of other worlds to facilitate the passing. Twenty-first century shamanism can play an important part in a modern culture where humankind has forgotten its connection to the spiritual world and where people are ill prepared for this mysterious journey that we all must experience. We come into this world alone and we exit alone. This solitary event can certainly be traumatic for the dying and those left behind. I believe that modern shamanism can serve to restore the recognition that we are not alone in our transition but can be ably assisted by the spirits-the psychopomps for our own time.

The transition journey is mystical and, although many have had near-death experiences, traditional science has little to offer us in an understanding of what lies beyond. The accumulation of mystical experiences offers perhaps the best means of preparing ourselves for this journey. In my shamanic practice I have facilitated hundreds of psychopomp journeys and each one has taught me more about the human condition and how the spirits can assist to bring comfort and contentment to those who leave this reality and the loved ones left behind.

The links between this reality and the afterlife are sometimes revealed through the connections of one who has passed with a loved one who remains. Long-term relationships often result in a surviving husband or wife dying a short time after the passing of a spouse. I had an uncle who was relatively healthy but after a minor surgery developed an infection and died suddenly. The dramatic change in my aunt, his spouse of 54 years, was startling. She had been a highly energetic individual who looked younger than her years. Seemingly overnight, she looked older and weaker. After a minor car accident, she suffered illnesses and the life force seemed to leave her. She died within a year of her husband. The attachments between living and deceased spirits can be powerful. The deceased who has gone into the multiverse is still energetically attached to the surviving loved one and seeks to be reunited. The deceased has an attachment cord to the living and tugs at it in an attempt to reunite. Sometimes it is necessary to sever this cord to protect the living entity, as well as release the deceased from his or her energetic bonds. Shamanically, we recognize this connection and in our assistance to the transition from this world we attempt to help the one who is passing as well as those left behind. The psychopomp provides the guidance and reassurance that all is well and the natural transition from this reality can be made in peace, confident in the expectation of spiritual assistance.

I have learned much from my experiences with the passing of friends, loved ones, and many that I have assisted in my work. The spirits have made me ever more sure of their benevolence and the eternity of the soul. I once had a running partner that I will call Ann (not her real name). Ann lived in my neighborhood and we met early mornings to run. We did this for a few years. Ann was a no-frills person of strong opinions, which she expressed freely, usually with colorful curse words. She could talk nonstop and I was entertained by her unwavering certainty in her sentiments and the energy she exhibited in her expression of ideas. I did not challenge her nor did I share with her the work that I did. Ann seemed to waver between agnosticism and atheism and I doubted that she would be open to my metaphysical beliefs. It mattered not, for we enjoyed each other’s company and shared a love of running. Ann was a very fit athlete and participated in several marathons each year. One morning of a scheduled run, I received a call from Ann’s husband that she had died in her sleep during the night. I and others who had known Ann were shocked by the unexpected news and were in a state of disbelief. The belief system I had at the time allowed me to conclude that all was well and that Ann would be taken care of by the divine spirits. About a month passed before I felt ready to journey and seek out Ann’s soul. I was surprised to find her soul lost and wandering and I approached her with my allies and told her I was there to help her. I explained that she had died and she replied in her usual colorful language that if I wanted to help her that I should help her get back into her body. I told her that this was not possible, as she had donated her body to science and weeks had passed. She was despondent. I explained to her that she could experience peace and wellness beyond the physical in the middle world if she agreed to have my allies assist her to the light. With her consent, the light appeared and she was magnetically drawn to it. As she felt its radiance penetrating her she turned to me and said, “This is #@&%*! alright.” She crossed into the light with a smile on her face-ever Ann.

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