First, the definition of psychopomp, from wikipedia:
Many religious belief systems have a particular spirit, angel or deity whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to the afterlife. These creatures are called psychopomps, from the Greek word ψυχοπομπός (psychopompos), literally meaning the “guide of souls”. Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply provide safe passage. Frequently depicted on funerary art, psychopomps have been associated at different times and in different cultures with horses, whippoorwills, ravens, owls, dogs, crows, sparrows, and dolphins.
In Jungian psychology, the psychopomp is 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. In many cultures, the shaman also fulfills the role of the psychopomp. This may include not only accompanying the soul of the dead, but also vice versa: to help at birth, to introduce the newborn’s soul to the world. This also accounts for the contemporary title of “midwife to the dying,” which is another form of psychopomp work.
During this season of heightened activity of the ancestral spirits, you may be taught in unusual ways about living our dying. One way of being taught is through our dream states, which begin to wake us up to the activity around death and dying as we head into fall and winter and particularly towards Hallowed E’en and All Saints Day. Here’s a dream I had several years ago during this time of the year.
Dream title: Dreams should always be this much fun
October 21, 2002, early am
In Phoenix (I think this is a play on words, later on reflection, relating to the fire-bird). I live there (never have lived in the literal Phoenix in ‘this’ reality). I’m living in an artistic community. I’m searching for something in a large building up on a balcony, looking down on a showroom floor, overlooking many rooms without ceilings. It’s like looking down into a mock-up of a large home, without ceilings. No people, but interesting colors and furniture.
Then, I’m in the rooms, exploring, enjoying the curious themes and textures: brights, earthy, etc. As I leave one of the rooms, the furniture starts to follow me! It stops when I turn around and look at it. I am delighted and play with the furniture.
Next scene: I am at somebody’s house that I have been searching for. They are an old white-haired couple and are in twin beds. I apologize profusely, from the door of their bedroom, for my intrusion. They laugh like they expected me. Then these little psychopomp-things start jumping (in the dream it’s my energy that enlivens them first and only then do they enliven the so-called inanimate objects in the environment). They jump up and touch the old folks’ bathrobes, which then come alive, fly onto the beds and start tickling and wrestling with the people, who are delighted. I am still apologizing, even while I’m laughing. Then we go to the kitchen to fix breakfast, and I’m setting the table and the china starts following me around like the furniture had! I am delighted and giggling as I wake up.
I’ve done a fair amount of work with this dream, and there are, as in any dream, multiple layers of meaning; the one that I want to highlight for this post is about the work of the psychopomps to help me enjoy the sexuality and the sensuality of the old people in this dream, and to help me delight in the inanimate objects vitality! It’s the work of our ancestral energies, which are both called to us, and come un-called, that helps us do the work of ‘winter’–the growing delight in letting go of outworn ideas, concepts and beliefs, to prepare us for death, so that when it is our time for physical death, we’ve practiced it so well that it’s like falling off a log, literally!
In this vein, it was a delight to see what my new friend, Phil Wyman over at Square No More blog and The Gathering (church) in Salem, Massachusetts is up to this week. Phil is a Pentecostal minister that both calls himself and is called ‘a friend with witches’. Although some of his theology leaves me puzzled (maybe because I don’t yet understand it) I love his heart and his desire to see life-and death in ever-bigger terms.
Phil doesn’t believe in or live from the place that the gospel is about drawing the circle into ‘who’s-in-who’s-out’. And because of that, he has befriended some pretty counter-cultural (to most Christians anyway!) groups and characters. My observation of Phil after several months of being a regular reader and commenter on his blog, as well as now participating in a regular SynchroBlog with him and other out of the box Christians (watch for the next edition on “Leadership” being posted at sites near you on election day, November 4) that Phil leads the way in emergent Christianity.
That being said, I’ll follow him around, asking questions, sniffing for whiffs of judgement. So far, notta.
Phil’s very busy over there in Salem this week, what with Hallowed E’en upon us and all that happens in his ‘hood around the celebration of the coming of darkness, Innana, and the like. I wish I was there–it sounds like a whole lot of fun! He posted this post earlier this week. In it he ties the worlds-bridging work of shamanism to glossalalia (‘speaking in tongues’) so honored and core in the Pentecostal traditions. He goes a little far for me (I’m probably not quite there yet…wait up, Phil) but it’s worth a read and some serious reflection. Please feel free to post a comment at Square No More…or here on the Virtual Tea House.
Relief from a carved funerary lekythos at Athens:
Hermes as psychopomp conducts the deceased, Myrrhine, to Hades,
ca 430-420 BCE (National Archaeological Museum of Athens)
From Square No More:
Glossalalia and the Sacred Language of the Shaman: Christians as Pre-Mortem Psychopomps:
“Communication with the spirits beyond the curtain of our visible/audible/tangible world is a skill belonging to the most spiritual, and perhaps the most insane among us. Those who hear the voices of gods and goddesses, angels and demons, ancestors and ghosts have been revered, feared, and ridiculed through ages and cultures of human history.
“These holy men and women appear to see and hear things the average person does not. Sometimes with the senses, sometimes beyond their senses they experience a tie to a realm invisible to human eyes, and inaudible to human ears.
“What distinguished these holy people from the common public was not only having ears and eyes, which perceive things most people do not, but even their speech hearkened the unseen realm. These mystics of the other world spoke the language of the spirits, and their communication traveled in both directions. They heard the secrets of the heaven and hell, and somehow spoke the secrets in languages unknown to the uninitiated.” Read the rest of the post here: Square No More: Glossalalia and The Sacred Language of the Shaman: Christians as Pre-Mortem Psychopomps
Wow…lots to chew on here for the coming winter. We may be skinny as a mother bear when we come out of our cave in the spring, but we’ll have some phenomenal dreams and visions by ingesting this stuff!
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