“You do not have a soul.
You are a soul.
You have a body.”
~ C.S. Lewis
In the shamanic perspective, both life and death are transitory processes. Because our true nature is the eternal soul, our coming into life in a human body is a transition from one state to another. Similarly, our leaving our human bodies during the time of death is, also, a transition of our soul into another state of being. And, because shamanic work is accomplished in the realm of the soul, a soul can be healed after death, or before life. This is the work of the psychopomp.
Psychopomp is a Greek word meaning “guide or conductor of the soul.” So many spiritual cosmologies describe death and the compassionate beings that guide souls through it: Anubis for the ancient Egyptians; Hermes for the ancient Greeks; angels and archangels in the Abrahamic religions; and so many more. These deities or spiritual beings are the compassionate ones who guide the soul on its journey after death. Shamanic practitioners are humans who are sometimes also called upon to act as psychopomp, to guide the soul as it enters or leaves this life.
Shamanic practitioners, then, are called upon on that happiest of occasions, when a child is about to come into this life. In this work, the practitioner will journey to the soul that is about to embody in the child about to be born, and provides that soul with a welcome into life. The practitioner may transmit messages from the parents-to-be to the soul, or may inquire about the soul’s inspiration for choosing to come into life at that time.
Practitioners are also called into psychopomp service to heal those who are dying, helping to ease the fears about the impending transition, both for the dying and for family and friends. The practitioner can help the dying person to understand the process of dying from a spiritual perspective, easing fears of what lies ahead by clarifying the mystery. Through a variety of shamanic techniques, the practitioner can also help the dying person to reconcile and balance relationships and events in their life, which can help to alleviate burdens and attachments to this life that can make the transition more frightening or difficult. The practitioner can also help connect the dying to those loved ones and compassionate beings who are already in the spiritual realms, helping the dying one to know they are moving from one set of relationships and into another welcoming, supporting set of relationships. This work prepares the dying for the understanding that they are merely transitioning from one state to another, and that their process is supported well by Spirit.
Psychopomp work is also very useful to help heal those who have died, but have been unable for any reason to complete their transition back to union with the Divine. Shamans recognize that our world is a reflection of the spiritual world; we call the world that is a spiritual version of our own the Middle World. As we transition from our human bodies, our soul moves into the Middle World to do the work in which we end our attachments to our human existence, which allows us to return to our true nature and join ourselves to the Light of the Divine. Sometimes, a soul has a difficult time during this transition, and can end up being “stuck” in this Middle World.
When a soul needs help in completing its transition to the Light of the Divine, the shamanic practitioner can bring a kit of shamanic tools to bear in assisting that soul. So, for example, a soul may feel it cannot leave the Middle World until it receives some important soul essence it lost; so the shamanic practitioner can call for the return of lost soul parts, restore them to the stuck soul, and then help ease that soul’s way back to the Light. At other times, souls sometimes remain in the Middle World because they are lost or confused about what has happened to them. In that case, the practitioner can help the soul to understand the events of death, and point out the next steps that the soul can choose to take on its journey.
Psychopomp work can be done on behalf of the dead from anywhere. A shamanic practitioner knows the way to the places in the Middle World where stuck souls dwell, and can enter that realm and work to free those souls.
Helping the dead to heal can be important work for the benefit of the living as well. The living sometimes feel the emotions or energy of the departed soul who is stalled in its transition. For example, a client and his family experienced waves of anger in their home. When an ancestor who had lived in the house was helped back to the Light, the entire family became less angry and more able to enjoy their lives.