Psychopomps: Guides to the newly Dead

October 27, 2008

Each human being has one thing that no other creature on the earth has:

  • an awareness that, one day, we will physically die.

The discomfort that this reality poses is dealt with in several ways, across different cultures and time. We create stories that help us live our lives in accord to our beliefs.

Some stories are small and some are big. Myths are big.

A psychopomp is a term used to describe a specific spirit, angel, or deity whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to the afterlife. The term comes from the Greek word ψυχοπομπός (psychopompos) which literally means the “guide of souls”. Psychopomps are traditionally depicted in the following forms: deer, horse, dog, raven, owl, crow, etc.).

An important point to note: They do not judge. Their job is to give safe passage only.

Because we fear and deny death so much, we fail to see both sides [a benevolent as well as a malevolent side] of any classic role. Anything to do with death: automatically bad and ugly. Christianity has not helped very much with this.

Check out how artists have depicted the psychopomp: the Greek v. Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment ferryman.

The Greeks saw Charon as a ferryman who carried souls of the newly deceased across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. A coin was sometimes placed on or in the mouth of a dead person as payment to Charon. Those who could not pay the fee, or those whose bodies were left unburied, had to wander the shores for one hundred years.

Jungian Psychology views the psychopomp as a mediator between the unconscious and conscious realms. It is symbolically personified in dreams as a wise man (or woman), or sometimes as a helpful animal. A soul guide, guru or teacher.

We die once physically and where our soul goes is a very large question.

But in a knowledge-or awareness-sense we die many, many times in our life.

This is a tricky concept at times but here goes the logic:

  • we view the world in a certain way based on our background, skills and knowledge up to that time in our life,
  • as time goes by, life [no matter what our free will has to say about it], seems to force experiences onto us
  • our choice is not change/no change. Our choice is whether we accept/reject or life.

Therefore, in a very real but hard to see way, we are becoming something and someone new, all the time. As a snake sheds their skin, though, we must cast aside the old [die to the old self?] in order to embrace our new identity.

  • Does this make any sense?

Summary: In order to live properly, we must accept new experiences [good or bad] as necessary for our development as humans. We are engineered to mature into adults and if we continue to fail to “grow up”, we will pay a price.

The Greeks maybe saying that refusing your own life will mean you will wander, alone, for 100 years.

  • Not truly dead but certainly not alive. Surviving not living.

We hate franchise lawyers and those they seem to protect so much because they remind us of our own death and our refusal to accept it finite nature.

In our old, incomplete and innocent eyes, they are “bad men” because they enable very painful experiences to happen to thousands of people. But some traditions say that life is, by definition, a vale of tears and that franchising is just one example of many different types of pain coming into our lives.

After some time away from the battle, it seems almost as if “they” are doing a thankless job. Almost that Big Franchising is an undertaker to your too child-like self.

Our choice, maybe only for a moment at first, is to put aside our fear of the pain that comes from change and see if there is a well-hidden message waiting to learn.


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