Shamanic cultures have been aware for centuries that death is never really death. Indigenous people believe all things have a spirit and the spirit never truly dies but changes form. They also believe that it may also experience many lifetimes as it is not limited to just one linear time table of one life. Spirit is an energetic form of what one truly is; many refer to it as the “Soul.”
Everything is made of energy. According to science and physics, energy cannot be created or destroyed but only transformed. So if everything has a spirit and is made of energy, then it also must transform, as it can never be destroyed. Shamans have always known and believed this, long before our modern science and physics theories were conceptualized or proven.
Many shamanic cultures view what we consider the “Soul” as not only a singular energy, but a combination of three energies—body, mind and spirit or a soul cluster. These three energies function together, simultaneously. According to shamanic traditions, our spirit is always connected to source. In Huna (Hawaiian) shamanic traditions, the Kahunas call our spirit piece of the soul cluster, “Aumakua”; this translates to, “the Spirit that hangs over me.” Also known as “the over soul,” it connects us to source, the energetic and the physical. In Huna beliefs, when we inhale our first breath at birth, the spirit soul merges with the physical soul and then the mental soul. When we exhale our last breath at death, the spirit soul separates from the physical and mental. Many shamanic cultures believe in the soul cluster and have variations on how it functions depending on cultural beliefs.
Just as healing and celebration occur when one is born, healing and celebration also takes place when one is transitioning from this life. This takes many different forms in shamanic cultures. Despite the various cultural differences, one of the practices that shamans work with in regards to transitioning spirit is psychopomp healing. Practiced for the last 75,000 years by shamans, this form of healing is still facilitated by many modern shamanic practitioners. In addition to healing, psychopomp is also a form of sacred ceremony used to assist a spirit’s transitioning process. The transitioning can be at the actual time of death for an individual, during a terminal illness, or in the event a spirit is “stuck” and not fully transitioned—which can be due to being attached to an area of land, an object or even a home.
Traditionally in indigenous cultures, many of the psychopomp healings were done with the entire community involved and the shaman facilitating the ceremonial healing as directed by the spirits. When a member of the community was dying, family, friends and community members would gather around the individual with offerings, prayers and gifts. The shaman would connect with the helping spirits to assist the individual’s spirit in its transition. Although grieving also occurs during this process, there is a major focus on healing and guidance for the spirit of the individual transitioning as well as celebration. Surviving connections know their loved one is going to be with the spirits and that their loved one is still with them, just in another form. In shamanism, working and communicating with spirits is part of the belief system. Surviving members never view the transition as a true loss as they still have access to, and a relationship with, their loved one in spirit long after the physical “death” of the body.
Psychopomp healing can also be facilitated when an individual is suffering from a terminal illness or lingering death. In this case, a shaman may perform multiple healing ceremonies over a period of hours, days or even months depending on the state of the individual’s soul, when it is ready to transition and the process occurring between the physical and spiritual worlds. Ceremony, prayers, offerings and healing are also included in this process. Additionally, psychopomp healing is used to assist spirits who may have not fully transitioned or may be stuck or lost in a state in between the physical and the spirit world, unaware they are deceased. If there was an extreme trauma on an area of land—such as multiple tragic deaths from a war—there may be a high probability that the spirits of individuals who physically died there may still be spiritually attached to the land. Psychopomp healing may be beneficial in this case. A shaman would connect with and identify these spirits, simultaneously working with helping spirits, prayers, ceremony and further shamanic healing techniques to assist in healing the trauma connected to the spirits. The shaman would also assist the spirits in fully crossing into the spirit world. This is usually a multi-layered process; it may happen quickly or may take an extensive amount of time, healing and ceremonial work. It depends on the state of the spirits and the interaction process during the healing.
Psychopomp work is a very involved form of shamanic healing; it requires extensive advanced shamanic healing training and skills to facilitate it. It is not work to be taken lightly and should never be attempted without professional training as it involves working with souls and the care, respect and healing around their transitioning process. It is highly recommended to seek out a practitioner who is not only professionally trained in psychopomp but well experienced in it for such purposes. Untrained “spirit crossing” not only may harm the souls involved, but the individual attempting it as well.
Psychopomp healing is a labor of love in shamanism, which heals, honors and assists the spirit transformation process. Death never really is death; we may lose our physical body, but we do not lose our spirit. Just like trees shed their leaves in autumn, slumber in winter and return anew in the spring, we may shed our body but we return anew in a different form with different leaves.