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What is a Psychopomp? (Shamanism)

Shaman Performing a Soul Retrieval Ceremony

In many cultures and mythology, a psychopomp is a person or being that assists souls in their transition to the other side.

Most of us are familiar with the Grim Reaper, a figure that dates 15th-century England. Other examples include the Roman god Mercury, the Greek ferryman Charon, the ancient Egyptian god Anubis, and the Norse Valkyries. In some references, Saint Michael the Archangel is mentioned as an example from Christianity, while in Judaism, it is recognized that only God is the master of life and death.

In many cultures, animals accompany souls into the afterlife. Birds, because they are able to fly close to the heavens, are often seen in this role. In Australian and Greco-Roman cultures, where a soul’s journey is over water, dolphins serve as psychopomps. Celtic traditions rely on the fox to guide souls to the afterlife, while dogs as soul companions are part of many belief systems. Both Celts and Muslims welcome the arrival of a horse to carry them to paradise. Even the diminutive bee was considered by Ancient Greeks to be a sacred insect that served as a psychopomp for their tombs. In fact, some believed that the bee was the transformed human soul flying away into the heavens.

Working within the Spirit World is foundational to shamanism. Shamans not only assist the soul in transitioning but are also often present to welcome new souls to the physical world at birth. Unlike the Grim Reaper, the shaman’s role is not to take the soul but to help release the energy or vital essence of an individual from the physical plane. Shamans are sometimes called “deathwalkers,” which is a more traditional way of referring to spirit work than the term psychopomp.

Many shamans are called specifically to do the work of the psychopomp. This differs from the general work of assisting souls entering and leaving the earthly plane by focusing on working with a variety of disembodied spirits - those that we call ghosts or earthbound spirits. In this role, shamans may perform home clearings to remove unwanted spirits or energy, contact a lost or disruptive spirit and encourage them to leave a dwelling, connect with the spirit of the land and perform a clearing ritual, or connect with ancestral spirits and ask for their guidance, forgiveness, and blessing in support of a client in their care. This is not a comprehensive list but some examples of common psychopomp work - the Spirit World seems always to be adding new “wrinkles” to what we know about it, possibly because of the prevalence of new sources of energy to fuel it in the form of ubiquitous electricity and transmission lines, smartphones and other handheld electronic devices, and emerging technology.

Finally, not all shamanic practitioners (or psychics, mediums, Wiccans, etc.) work with and have experience working with earthbound spirits. If you are in need of a house clearing or the removal of attached spirit entities or negative energy, it is always best to find someone that specializes in this type of work. All too often, people choose someone believing that anyone can bless a home, for example. A simple blessing, yes. A negative energy or entity requires an experienced shamanic practitioner. The risk is that you may simply stir things up and the worst-case scenario is that a sharp increase in activity may occur. And not all mediums speak with or connect with earthbound spirits - in my experience, many are taught not to engage with them at all. I was taught to avoid all contact with them in 2 of the 3 professional mediumship programs I have attended (I was instead drawn to this work). So just as you would check into someone doing carpentry or electrical work on your home, you should make sure that the spiritual practitioner you select has the experience needed for the job!

Carol Pollio

Dr. Carol Pollio

Director, Intuitive Investigations®


Psychopomp Guide: Psychopomps from Around the World. Available online:

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