Death, Psychopomp

Psychopomp: Your Guide to the Afterlife

It is a common belief across many cultures that the newly dead will have an escort from the earthly life into the realm of the afterlife. This escort may be an angel or a spirit, maybe even a demi-god. The term for an escort of this type is “psychopomp,” which derives from the Greek “psychopompos.” The Greeks saw the psychpompos as a guide from the earthly world into the afterlife. The psychpomp’s role was not to judge, but simply to be lead. Pschologist Carl Jung explained that the concept of psychopomps fufills the human need for a mediator between concious and unconcious understandings of the afterlife.

Psychopomps are present in many cultures. They may take human form. They might be angelic, or merely a spirit, or they may even take the form of a helpful animal that provides comfort and guidance to an individual passing from life into afterlife. In some cultures, including many Native American beliefs, the psychopomp is a shaman, a being a great mystical capacity who can not only guide but comfort a soul that is passing from one realm to another. In this view, the psychopomp is a facilitator, helping the dying being to let go of his or her physical body to find a new form and home. The psychopomp often makes appearances in popular culture.

The recent television series, “Dead Like Me,” was built around the concept of a group of previously deceased beings who were charged with helping to release the souls of others at the very moment of their deaths. Cartoonists’ cliche black-cloaked being with a scythe can also arguably be seen as a psychopomp, though the psychopomp’s complete role is not merely to bring death but also to escort the dying to a destination beyond the moment of dying.

Popular culture also often assumes that the dying will be met by a pre-deceased relative. This, too, fits the ancient concept of psychopomps and may be understood as Jung suggested: a belief that eases discomfort between the experiential knowledge of this world and the unknown that we face after death. To comfort our fear of dying, the psychopomp stands reassuringly reliable and ready to guide us and ease our passage into the afterlife.

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