What is a Psychopomp?

A psychopomp is a guide, whose primary function is to escort souls to the afterlife, but they can also serve as guides through the various transitions of life. The term originates from the Greek words pompos (conductor or guide) and psyche (breath, life, soul, or mind). Stories of psychopomps are widespread throughout the mythological tales, religious texts, sacred narratives, and real-life stories of people around the world.

Some of the most well-known psychopomps include the Greek god Hermes, the Egyptian jackal-headed god Anubis, the Archangel Michael, and the female Valkyries of Teutonic legend. A wide variety of angels, animals, birds, and other helpful beings have also been known to act as guides to the afterlife. And it is not uncommon to hear of former ancestors and friends who come to greet the deceased at the time of death. Such guidance generally guarantees a successful transition for the soul, but there are other times when additional aid is needed. This has long been a role of the shaman and others with the ability to travel to the spirit realms and offer help to those in need.

It is important to know that every single human being, from the moment of birth until the moment when we make the transition and end this physical existence, is in the presence of guides or guardian angels who will wait for us and help us in the transition from life to life after death.

- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Throughout much of human history, such archetypal escorts have been of great comfort to the dying. They confirm that there is some form of existence after the death of the body, and that a compassionate being will be waiting to offer their assistance through the transition. Unfortunately, many of the myths and rituals that once contained images of psychopomps and helped prepare people for this final rite of passage seem to be largely lost or forgotten in the Western world—a world that is also plagued with fears of dying.

At present, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in psychopomps. This is due to a number of factors, including the reemergence of this archetype in the field of psychology, the spread of eastern religious teachings over the past century, the reports of guides from people who have had an NDE or other death-like experience, the modern ability to hypnotically regress a person to a time between lifetimes, and the renewed interest in shamanism around the world.

There is also a growing number of people who are once again learning how to fulfill the sacred role of the psychopomp. Some choose to offer their assistance in conjunction with their function as a hospice worker, or as a midwife to the dying. Others prefer to focus more on helping those who may be trapped in the spirit realms, and go by such titles as soul rescuer, deathwalker, spiritual guide, or shaman. There are also individuals who quietly offer aid to those in transition as they go about their routine jobs in hospitals, nursing homes, and other such locations. And many of us are currently discovering how we can apply such skills to help both people and the planet as we go through the various earth changes that are now occurring.

We know from many of the myths and stories that psychopomps come in a wide variety of forms, and often present themselves in a manner that is compatible with the beliefs of the person in need. According to my research they do frequently share some common characteristics.

Psychopomps are generally:

  • adept at guiding others through such transformative experiences as death
  • compassionate, nonjudgmental, and friendly
  • experienced border crossers and walkers between the worlds
  • tricksters who will do whatever is required to achieve their goals
  • shapeshifters who can change their appearance to match the setting and the times
  • arbiters of change for individuals and the culture
  • magical beings who can facilitate healing in unexpected ways.

If you would like to explore some of the many characters that are known to act as psychopomps, please see the Guide to Psychopomps.