The belief in a world beyond life, which explains what happens to the soul of someone who dies, has been present throughout the history of mankind. There has been talk of the world of the living and the dead, as well as the beings that populate these dimensions that transcend the physical world. In this sense, psychopomps, mythological beings with a transcendental role with the deceased, take on special importance.
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Psicopompo: a being between two worlds The psicopompos are beings that are entrusted with the task of transporting the souls of the dead who leave this world. When a person dies, her soul would leave the body and the psychopomp would go looking for her, and then accompany her on the journey to the ‘Beyond’, thus preventing her from wandering aimlessly in the world of the living.
In the same way, a psychopomp must also help find the way to those souls that remain in limbo, the world between the land of the living and the dead, unaware that they have died and that they must give way to death. another plane.
Depending on each culture, the appearance and nature of psychopomps varies, so depending on the place, they may be animals, which acquire the status of “sacred”; but also of beings from other universes, such as spirits, angels, demons and even gods. Also add that there may be several psychopomps in the same tradition, not necessarily just one. Shamans, human psychopomps
In many tribes, there is the figure of the shaman, a kind of sorcerer who helps the sick to heal with natural methods, thanks to the extensive knowledge of medicine that he has and that has been transmitted to him through various generations. In this way, the rank of shaman is only granted to the most veteran members., so those who aspire to become one must go through arduous tasks that they must overcome and that are under the supervision of the veteran shaman.
Shamans also have a gift that allows them to see everything that transcends the physical world, which is why many consider them one of the most important psychopomps. Shamans are said to use their special abilities to achieve altered states of consciousness, during which their soul leaves the physical body, allowing them to guide the dead soul to the other side, only to return. On occasion, he can receive the collaboration of the spirits of other psychopomps to complete his mission.
In addition to his funerary functions, the shaman also has a somewhat more luminous function as a psychopomp,assisting the souls of newborns to introduce them into the body in which they have to live.
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5 examples of historical psychopomps
We said that each culture considers different beings, physical or extracorporeal animals, as psychopomps.
The following are examples of some of the psychopomps that History has given over the centuries. It must be said that the term “psychopomp” was coined over time, but they all share the same trait in common, that’s why they are treated as such. 5. Birds Probably because of their ability to fly to great heights , ancient people believed that birds could also cross the border that separates Earth from Heaven, so they act as psychopomps according to the folklore of some peoples.
For example, those birds that have been culturally linked to the dark world or to the gloomy (because of their nocturnal habits or their appearance), such as owls, owls and ravens, are considered psychopomps.
But if there is a bird to which this mystical function has been attributed, it is the vulture. Among the Celtic peoples settled in the Iberian Peninsula, there was a rumor that when a warrior fell in combat and the vultures ate his corpse, the animal assimilated his soul. In this way, the winged psychopomp took flight, crossed the gates of the Underworld and left the spirit there. 4. Mammals
Not only feathers, but some mammals were or are also worshiped as psychopomps by many people.
There are many cultures that treated black dogs in this way (probably a result of the reminiscence of the Egyptian culture, probably because of its relationship with jackals and because it reminded the god Anubis). Across the ocean, though for other reasons, Mesoamerican civilizations revered man’s best friend as a psychopomp.
Another kind of psychopomp was the horse, which, according to the legends of current Muslim ancestors, carried on its back the essence of those who in life had rigorously complied with the precepts of the religion of Allah. 3. Anubis
Among the deities of Ancient Egypt, one of the most iconic was the god Anubis, the guardian of the necropolis and protector of mummified bodiesof the dead who crossed into the Underworld.
Anubis was represented with the head of a jackal, an animal very typical of the desert areas of central Africa and which, by the way, was believed to be the physical manifestation of the god on Earth, so this mammal was also treated as a psychopomp. 2. Valkyries
The Valkyries were the brave warriors who had the mission of carrying the souls of those killed in combat to Valhalla, the Paradise of Scandinavian mythology. There, the fallen braves were reunited with the spirits of ancient war heroes , who had also died fighting, and with the almighty Odin, father of the Valkyries. 1. Charon
In Ancient Greece, they spoke of Charon, the figure that carried the souls in his boat to the other shore, through the Styx lagoon. Now, to be accepted and to be able to cross, you had to pay a tribute to the ferryman in the form of gold coins. Those who did not satisfy this tribute were condemned to wander under the dark waters of Acheron for the next 100 years , until Charon decided to rescue the unfortunate souls.
To avoid this, in the Hellenistic culture (and in later ones that would adapt this custom), the deceased were buried with one, two or three gold coins in their mouths. In this way, when the soul left its prison of flesh and blood, it could pay the cursed boatman.
Although this psychopomp has been popularly represented in the form of a decrepit old man, bearded and dressed in dark clothing; It is also not uncommon to find illustrations in which Charon looks like a dire demon with two wings and armed with a hammer.
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