Welcome to Winged Wednesdays where I talk about angels, angel myths, and all things angel. I must admit, as of last night, I had no idea what to write about. I had a few ideas mulling around in there, but nothing solid. This morning, I checked my email to find I was gifted with some photographs to share with you from my friend, and fellow author, Stephanie Lawton. I saw these gorgeous photos and knew what my topic was going to be.
Psychopomp – What is it?
The word psychopomp literally means a “guide of souls”. Psychopomps are spirits whose duty is to escort the dead to the afterlife. Psychopomps can be seen across many cultures, from Anubis who guarded the dead and led them to the underworld in ancient Egypt; Charon in ancient Greece, who guided souls across the River Styx; or the Valkyries in Norse mythology who escorted the dead to Valhalla. How widespread is the idea of psychopomps? There are references to Sraosha in ancient Persia (Zoroastrianism) that dates back to 6th century BCE, and Yama in Hinduism, dating back to 5000 BCE. According to Wikipedia, psychopomps can be found in many cultures: Egyptian, Nigerian, Aztec, Inuit, Mayan, Native American, Vodun, Irish, Celtic, Welsh, Anglo-Saxon, Breton, Norse, Etruscan, Greek, Roman, Spanish, Islamic, Jewish, Buddist, Hindu, Japanese, Korean, Persian, more here. They can be animals, like the raven or crow; ghoulish figures, like the grim reaper; or even deities like the Norse Odin or Celtic Morrigan.
Angels as Psychopomps
In Judaisim, Christianity and Islam, angels have taken on the role of psychopomps. Thus the stone angels we see in cemeteries.
Certainly some people see these angels as guardian angels, who watch over the dead. If so, then these stone angels are acting like Anubis. And as I mentioned before, Anubis is one of the psychopomps of ancient Egypt, watching over the dead, the embalming process, to prepare people for the underworld. However, if these stone angels represent guides to help souls cross over to the afterlife, then they are psychopomps. Certainly, the role of angels, as messengers and servants of God/Allah have more than one role. They perform all sorts of tasks, but the psychopomp, which predates Christianity by millenia, is clearly one of them.
Which Angels are Psychopomps?
According to the different traditions, different angels play the role of psychopomp. In Islam, and some Jewish and Christian traditions, Azrael (Malak al-Maut) is the archangel of death. The name is Hebrew for “whom God helps”. In Judaism, many angels perform the role of psychopomp not the least of which is the archangels Gabriel and Sandalphon. The same applies to Christianity, including the archangel Michael. (who seems like he would be a very busy angel). My question today comes totally out of left field. I’ve heard people tell of near death experiences where they go to the light and are greeted by deceased loved ones, like their grandparents, parents, or spouses. Are those people psychopomps? Have the dead automatically turned into angels? Or are the angels appearing as someone or something familiar to the person facing their own death (like Jodi Foster’s dad appeared to her in the movie Contact)? Come to think of it, are angels even psychopomps? or are the psychopomps appearing as angels to some the way they would appear as long-lost relatives to others? What do you think?