Psychopomps: Gods and Goddesses of the Underworld and Otherworld

Updated on April 23, 2018
kittythedreamer profile image

Nicole believes our ancestors' beliefs may still convey deep and profound meanings in our lives. She continually studies mythology.

Definition of a Psychopomp

What is a psychopomp? A psychopomp is known as a spiritual being of sorts that waits on the edges of the physical realm in order to guide our departed souls to the next realm. Pretty much every culture has a spiritual being that could be called a psychopomp. These beings include, but are not limited to: gods, goddesses, angels, human spirits, animal spirits, and more.

Psychopomps are sprinkled throughout our literature, history books, and religious texts...it's just that most people do not know them as the term "psychopomps". You may have even dreamed of a psychopomp, or perhaps a psychopomp is your patron god or matron goddess. In this article, we will take a look at some of the most interesting and well-known psychopomps, and perhaps a few that are not so well known.

Keep in mind that psychopomps not only guide a newly departed soul to the other realm, but they also guard those who partake in astral travel, dreamwork, and any kind of shamanic journeying into the Underworld or Otherworld. So although they may be considered gods of the dead, do not fear them...revere them.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Anubis appears here to the far rightManannan's Chair in Isle of ManManannan's realm lies under the sea.Hermes
Anubis appears here to the far right
Anubis appears here to the far right
Manannan's Chair in Isle of Man
Manannan's Chair in Isle of Man | Source
Manannan's realm lies under the sea.
Manannan's realm lies under the sea.
Hermes
Hermes | Source

Psychopomps: Gods of the Underworld & Otherworld

Anubis

Anubis is an ancient Egyptian god known specifically as the "jackal-headed god". He is credited with giving the ancient Egyptians the idea and practice of mummification or embalmification. Anubis appears on ancient Egyptian temple walls, and he also can be seen in the Egyptian Book of the Dead as well as many other ancient Egyptian texts. Anubis is an Egyptian god that many people might fear or tend to shy away from, specifically because of his appearance (many people think he looks like an angry wolf) plus the fact that he is the first god one meets upon death. Anubis could be considered a psychopomp because he is sort of the ancient Egyptian grim reaper, to put it lightly (or not so lightly). He is thought to guard the tombs in Egypt, and he was thought to have played a key role in the "weighing of the hearts"...which is sort of like a judgment after death to determine where the soul went in the afterlife. But to fear Anubis means to never know or understand the power of his guardianship in the Otherworld. If you follow an Egyptian tradition and are looking to get into dreamwork or astral travel, Anubis is a wonderful god to call upon for protection during your astral plane experiences. To read more about Anubis, here is an article written by fellow hubber Daughter of Maat, whose patron god is Anubis!

Manannan Mac Lir

Manannan mac Lir is a Celtic Irish god who is the divine representation of the Isle of Man. There is speculation that the name for the Irish island actually came from this god's name. Manannan is a god of the sea and is thought to have been the son of the sea god Lyr. Manannan lives under the waves, in a world beneath the sea...what many ancient Irish thought was the Otherworld. By guiding newly departed souls and shamanic journeying souls of this realm to his realm under the sea, Manannan takes his place in history and paganism as a gentle and humorous psychopomp. For those who have the pleasure of being visited by Manannan, they find that he is sort of a trickster but at the same time is kind and brings a longing to explore the otherworlds. Manannan was thought to have put the veil between the worlds - between the fairies and the humans. He did this after his wife had an affair with a human Irish hero (Cuchulainn). In one tale, Manannan takes someone to the otherworld to teach him a lesson, and in the end that person returns to earth and to his family. Manannan may come to you in the form of birds—specifically birds associated with the ocean such as seagulls or pelicans.

Hermes

Hermes is the ancient Greek god of cleromancy, gambling, traveling, and shamans. Zeus used Hermes as his messenger and so Hermes had the ability to travel between worlds making him a very important psychopomp in the Greek tradition. Judika Iles says in the Encyclopedia of Spirits that Hermes "conveys the souls of the dead to Hades", and he has been seen as another trickster god of sorts. He is not thought to be mean or scary but has been known in Greek mythology to have killed Argus (Hera's guardian) by first boring him to sleep and then touching him with his staff of death. Hermes is not a god or psychopomp to fear, and you can call on him to aid you in your travels both in the physical realm and between realms. He is particularly helpful for those who are learning to be shamans. Hermes is said to love those who have a sense of humor and who are humble; you can also call on him when there is a spirit who will not leave your home—he will guide them to the right place.

Mithra, A Zoroastrian Psychopomp and Deity
Mithra, A Zoroastrian Psychopomp and Deity
Click thumbnail to view full-size
KalmaHecate at the CrossroadsThe MorriganTemple of HathorHathor with Seti I
Kalma
Kalma
Hecate at the Crossroads
Hecate at the Crossroads
The Morrigan
The Morrigan
Temple of Hathor
Temple of Hathor | Source
Hathor with Seti I
Hathor with Seti I | Source

Psychopomps: Goddesses of the Underworld & Otherworld

Kalma

Unfortunately, not many people talk about Kalma, the Finnish Goddess of the Dead. Nor do many Pagan circles even know about her. The legends and stories about Kalma say that she was distinguishable by her scent. Because she is the Goddess of the Dead, it was thought that Kalma smelled like the dead. When I picture Kalma in my mind's eye, I see Kalma as a beautiful, disheveled yet powerful woman...very similar to the picture posted here. She is standing in the midst of a graveyard, watching over the dead. She has been doing this for so long, for ages, that she has taken on the appearance and attributes of the dead surrounding her. As for the stench that Kalma is said to give off, I prefer to think she smells a little more of wilting roses and graveyard dust than rotting corpse.

In Judika Iles' "Encyclopedia of Spirits", Kalma is defined as being the daughter to the underworld. She is the daughter of Tuoni who is the ruler of the Finnish otherworld known as "Tuonela". Her name, Kalma, is actually very similar to the modern Finnish word for cemetery which is kalmisto. Kalma is sometimes said to be seen with a large canine creature who also guards the underworld.

How can Kalma be brought into one's practice? For one thing, I would suggest to really get to know her first. Do more research on her and maybe offer something of yourself before calling or invoking her into your circle. She is the Goddess of the Dead, so if you're working with spirits of the dead (i.e. ancestors), she might be a good one to ask for aid in communication. Just be careful to show her your appreciation in some way. Maybe take some flowers to a nearby graveyard and leave them for her. Or bury something of yours, something special, in the near graveyard as a thanks to her for her help.

The Morrigan

The Morrigan is an extremely interesting psychopomp for various reasons. She is actually an Irish Celtic goddess that plays a major role in my life and practice. She recently came to me in the form of blackbirds—crows and ravens, to be exact. Everywhere I looked, I saw crows and ravens for a period of about a month or so. I knew it had to be a sign and eventually realized it was the Morrigan calling for me to recognize her. In Irish lore, the Morrigan helped Cu Chulainn in the battle of Ulster by shapeshifting into different forms, including a crow and an eel. But despite her shapeshifting prowess, she can be a very gentle and caring goddess, like a nurturing mother. Never forget that she is also a fearsome warrior goddess, one who stands guard at the gates to the Otherworlds. The Morrigan is said to be a psychopomp because she is also a goddess of transition, she aids new shamans on their journeys into the underworld and otherworld, as well as stands beside them in their transitioning to a new way of life and spirituality. Call upon The Morrigan when you are going into a deep shamanic journey and require protection and guidance.

Hathor

An ancient Egyptian goddess known as the Golden One, Hathor is usually depicted as a woman with bull horns on her head or as a "divine cow". She is thought to have protected women during childbirth and during lovemaking. The Milky Way was said to have spilled from the milk of her breasts, and she is known as a primordial goddess. She is a psychopomp that is specifically fond of women and fortune tellers. I picture Hathor as being a celestial being, and a goddess who will guide souls to the heavenly realms after death. Anyone can call upon Hathor for guidance, especially using offerings of beer and pomegranate juice as these were her favorite offerings in ancient times.

Hecate

Hecate is the goddess of the crossroads and is a matron goddess of modern-day witches. A psychopomp who guides shamans and newly departed souls between the realms, Hecate is usually seen as a wizened old crone guarded by a pack of spirit dogs. Hekate is sometimes depicted as a woman with three heads, the three heads perched in a position to guard all three paths of the crossroads (which to me represents the underworld, overworld, and physical world). She is a very powerful spirit and psychopomp and can be called upon to guard almost any aspect in life. Leave an offering at the crossroads for her or have a dinner in her honor. Offerings left for Hecate traditionally included fish, eggs, garlic, honey, and breads. A black candle is often used to invoke Hecate as a psychopomp between the worlds and in spiritual empowerment. Being the goddess of witches, Hecate's sacred days are thought to be Friday the 13th, the waxing moon, and also the last day of every month.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Angels are psychopompsAnimal Spirits are psychopompsCertain Loa can be psychopomps
Angels are psychopomps
Angels are psychopomps
Animal Spirits are psychopomps
Animal Spirits are psychopomps
Certain Loa can be psychopomps
Certain Loa can be psychopomps
Source

Other Psychopomps

Throughout history and various cultures, we have seen that many deities can be considered psychopomps and escort the dead to the other side. They also act as a shaman's best friends. But it is not just the gods and goddesses who can act as a psychopomp for the newly departed or deeply spiritual person. Other types of spiritual beings can act as psychopomps.

  • For many Native Americans, animal spirits can act as a guide to the other side. Mostly these animal spirit guides as psychopomps were horses, wolves, and birds of various kinds. The sacred white horse would escort the warrior's soul to the other side upon death.
  • In Abrahamic religions such as Christianity and Islam, Gabriel the angel has served as a psychopomp. Mostly he has served as a messenger between the realms, delivering God's many important messages from the heavens to the worthy folks here on earth. In Islam, the muslims believe that Gabriel actually brought the Quran to Mohammed. Whether or not Gabriel is a great angel to call upon for shamans is not something that I have experienced yet, but many pagans and Christians do in fact work with the angel Gabriel for various rites.
  • In the religion of Voodoo (Vodou), there are lesser deities under the main godhead that are known as the Lwa (also spelled Loa). A few of these spirits are thought to guard the gates between the living and the dead. One of these spirits or Loa is known as Papa Legba. He is said to also be a guard at the crossroads. One can work with Papa Legba by leaving offerings of cigars, candy, and rum for him at the crossroads. Keep in mind that Papa Legba must be called upon and evoked first before any other Loa can be reached. This is why he is known as a psychopomp...he serves as a messenger and a protector of the different realms.

Psychopomps are not as scary as one might assume, but a full understanding of who they are and how they work is necessary before contact and invocation can occur. Having a pure heart, open chakras, and pure intentions is the first step to working with the psychopomps in shamanism.

Questions & Answers

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    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 5 years ago from Arkansas

      Thanks girl! I've been researching all I can on him. I'll letcha know how things go. :)

    • kittythedreamer profile image
      Author

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from Summerland

      Daniella - I'm going to be honest with you and say that I do not know a whole lot about the Greek or Roman pantheons. I've never been interested or had a connection with them, so I don't want to mislead you and tell you any incorrect info. on Hades. It sounds like he's looking to get your attention though, for sure. When a god or goddess comes to me via dreams, I usually do all I can to learn as much about that deity as I can...read things on the internet, get a book, and even meditate to try to make contact. You could also leave an offering for that deity and ask them why they are contacting you. Blessings and let me know what happens! :)

    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 5 years ago from Arkansas

      Hey Kitty, loved this hub. I actually have a question for you.

      Have you done any research on Hades? I keep seeing him/having visions of him. Normally this would freak me out, but it's actually been very soothing and empowering. Just wondering if you could help me interpret this.

      Blessed be!

    • kittythedreamer profile image
      Author

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from Summerland

      Thanks, John!

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi blake4d, and what an interesting hub this is. I really enjoyed and, voted up.

      John

    • blake4d profile image

      Blake Ford Hall 5 years ago from Now Rising Out of Phoenix Arizona Earthlings

      You are so welcome KTD. I gracefully take a bow and go hippity hopping on my way. Keep on Hubbing. Blake4d

    • kittythedreamer profile image
      Author

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from Summerland

      blake - You are astounding...in a good way! Thanks for enlightening us all. :)

    • blake4d profile image

      Blake Ford Hall 5 years ago from Now Rising Out of Phoenix Arizona Earthlings

      You missed one important little fuzzy fact KTD. Not to be Psychopompus. LOL! I wrote this poem for a friend recently and rather than publish it...I believe it belongs here, with my little explanation at the end.

      Psychopomp

      by Blake4d ( Written for Laura Summerville Reed on 07/24/2012 )

      If you were born

      As some animal

      Any kind at all it seems

      But I think you would be

      Most like a rabbit to me

      Running through the mind

      Like a rabbit running rampid

      Leaping over grasses under trees

      Landing on the otherside of the lake

      Past the waters and the rising reeds

      She lands just far enough

      Overshooting the wetlands

      Leaping over them with such ease

      Landing softly with no sweet mistake

      Bouncing and landing both of her feet

      She stands just for a second

      Overlooking the marshlands

      Then leaps her way to and fro

      Loving the days heat scampering

      Shivers off night cold by hibernation

      She playfully hops along naturally

      Occasionally stopping

      Ears perked up

      Then quickly dropping

      She wiggles her nose

      And then off she goes

      Into the soft grasses

      Again and again

      ( For those wondering about the title. "One of the most important archetypes is that of the Psychopomp. A Psychopomp is a god or goddess (energy form) that acts as a liaison, and guide, between the three worlds. First the physical earthly level that we dwell upon, the Underworld and the Heavens. In classical mythology, the Roman God Mercury was a Psychopomp, for example...but mythologically speaking, the Psychopomp is represented by the rabbit, who lives above ground, but resides in the underworld most of its life. The psychopomp represents intuition, synchronicity and coincidances, as they naturally occur..." ) 2011 was the year of the Shiny Metal Psychopomp in Eastern astrology. Alice in the Wonderland story is led on her path, astray and then is tricked by the Psychopomp. The Easter Bunny is the modern ritual of the Psychopomp, kids search for the rabbits magic eggs and candy, but never for the rabbit. And the most common modern usage is all magicians have a Psychopomp that appears or diappears out of their hats.

      Oh and I should mention that Hugh Hefner reinvoked the Psychopomp when he created the Playboy bunny, whose symbol is always hidden in the magazine cover somewhere, but is never actually a rabbit. Silly rabbit tricks are for kids.

      But I jester just a little. Nice work on this hub. It was right up my alley. Keep on Hubbing. Blake4d

    • kittythedreamer profile image
      Author

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from Summerland

      Scott - Very true with Osiris and Odin being psychopomps, and you're correct in saying that pretty much anyone who has died and come back could be considered a psychopomp...that would also include Persephone (I just thought of her!) Sounds like that raven really liked you! As for your near death experience, I am sorry you had to go through that but wow...that is amazing. Thanks for commenting.

    • ScottLoogan profile image

      ScottLoogan 5 years ago from High Point, NC, USA

      I had an experience where a raven followed me for a quarter mile, flitting from light pole to light pole, as I walked down a city street. Always wondered what it meant. I do know the raven and crow in many Native American beliefs are a guide to the next world for the newly departed. And I know Odin is associated with ravens, and he is the head deity in the halls of Valhalla, the realm of the dead warriors. Did not know ravens were associated with Morrigan. Thanks for the heads up. I always wondered why canines were always so associated with death in myths and beliefs. From jackal headed death gods, to the familiars of death deities, to actual spirit animals. I think it may have something to do with them being carrion eaters. I'm pretty sure that's why crows and ravens are. I think the Valkyries and Odin are psychopomps. And Osiris. He's also a judge of the dead, and he died and came back himself. Just about anyone who's died and come back in myths is a candidate for a guide to the dead. So are living people who have died and come back. I actually died once, but I was very young and don't remember it. Just have the burn scars. I think any form of the Reaper or Angel of Death is useful to make one think and ponder the afterlife, as well as a guide to visit it: Azrael, Thanotos, Samael, Sariel, Michael, Mairya, Mot, Ankou, Giltinė, etc. Anywho, great Hub. Thanks.

    • kittythedreamer profile image
      Author

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from Summerland

      rcrumple - I'll have to check it out for sure then.

      Ttoombs08 - I also wanted to be an archaeologist when I was a kid! My favorite was Celtic and ancient Egyptian history. Thanks for the comment!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Fascinating stuff, Kitty. When I was a kid, I so wanted to be an archeologist and studied everything I could get my hands on related to ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian history. This was a wonderful refresher as well and an addictive introduction to some other eternal Gods and Godesses of the Underworld and Otherworld. Excellent!

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 5 years ago from Kentucky

      Kitty -

      I have a hub concerning the experience. Easily recognized. That might explain. It's the first experience listed. This isn't self promotion.

    • kittythedreamer profile image
      Author

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from Summerland

      rcrumple - That is a really intriguing question. I guarantee the gods (specifically the pyschopomps) will speak to you in whatever voice will reach you at that point in time. Can you explain further? I'm intrigued now...

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 5 years ago from Kentucky

      Kitty -

      I am familiar with a couple of these from personal readings, as well as, Hecate, who I believe you discussed previously in your Crossroads hub. Kalma, for some reason, stands out here to me, as I have gone back twice to read about her in the hub. Could Kalma talk to a person in a male voice? I know this sounds strange, but an event in my past is creating a curiosity within. Great Hub, as always!

    • kittythedreamer profile image
      Author

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from Summerland

      Daughter of Maat - Thank you for the wonderful comment. Hathor is an interesting goddess, isn't she?

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image

      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      This is a beautifully laid out hub kitty!! I actually learned something as well, I wasn't aware that Hathor was also a psychopomp (that's such a great word lol). Brilliant hub! I bookmarked it so I could read it again. There's so much info here!! Thank you so much, btw, for the mention!!

      I shared this as well and pinned it :D

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