Yes, I am one of those people who love to wander cemeteries. I find it akin to visiting an art museum; an opportunity to enjoy rarely appreciated sculpture, intricate carvings, and amazing architecture in a tranquil outdoor setting. This is a blog about cemetery culture; art, history, issues of death, and genealogy - subjects of current relevance. I usually find something that intrigues me, something that makes me want to dig deeper - relevant, yet fascinating. Care to join me? Read on.....
Psychopomps - Guides of the Soul into the Afterlife
is an odd word we don’t really use much, but do recognize the mean of –a guide who
escorts souls to the afterlife.The word originates from the Greek words pompos, which is a conductor or guide, and psyche, which means breath of life, or soul.When you think of a pyschopomp, you may
think of angels, ancestors, owls, even the Grim Reaper! These are just a few of
the many ‘soul guides’ that have been mentioned throughout history.
main role of these spirits is to provide safe passage for a newly departed soul
to the afterlife, or the next level of being. The psychopomp helps guide the
deceased through the veil in a calm and peaceful manner.
ancient times, the Greeks believed that Hermes was a spirit guide.An Olympian god, Hermes was a guide to
the Underworld and assisted souls in getting to the River Styx, the boundary
between earth and the Underworld. If a coin had been placed in the deceased’s
mouth, the ferryman would transport their soul on to the Underworld. If not,
they could not cross the Styx, and were forever doomed to wander.
the Egyptians, Anubis was the guide through death.Anubis, the jackal-headed god, was viewed as the protector
of the dead and their tombs. He represented mummification and the afterlife in
Norse soul guides were represented by the Valkyries – winged female warriors
who decided who would die in battle.They would then claim their chosen and take them to the Hall of the Slain
where they would prepare daily for an immense battle, and feast nightly on the
resurrecting beast, Saehrimnir.Valkyries could also be represented by ravens or swans.
Archangel Michael is viewed as the Christian Angel of Death.At the time of death, Michael gives
each soul the chance to redeem itself before passing on. Michael is then the
guide who takes the soul to heaven, where each is weighed on his perfectly
balanced scales. Michael is depicted as the ultimate enemy of Satan.
angels are often regarded as psychopomps, guiding and protecting mankind, while
interceding for him in heaven.Angels act as messengers of God.
Americans considered Muut to be the messenger of death.Muut would take the form of an
owl.He or death was said to be
close when owls hooted at the same time and place on consecutively nights.
Celts believed the Ankou was a soul gatherer and guide.The Ankou was said to be the spirit of
the last person who died in the village the previous year.The Ankou, or Graveyard Watcher, drove
a creaking cart, piled high with bodies.He usually wore a wide hat over long white hair, and his head revolved
completely around so he could survey all.His task was to collect lost souls so that he could pass on to the other
side. If the cart stopped in front of a home, all inside would die.
modern times, it is the Grim Reaper that we recognize as a psychopomp,
directing the recently dead to the afterlife.This specter of death is shown as a skeletal figure, which
may or may not wear a long black, hooded robe.The Grim Reaper carries a scythe used to harvest souls.Some believe that the Grim Reaper can
actually cause a person to die.
are portrayed in many ways on tombstones, as dogs, ravens, owls, horses and
various birds.But all have the
same mission, to escort the newly dead, in a calm transition, into the next
chapter of the unknown.