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What is a Psychopomp?

In many different religious circles, there are creatures, spirits, deities or angels that act as a ‘guide of the soul’ , making sure that the soul of the newly deceased reaches their place in the afterlife. These guides are called psychopomps. In this article, you will learn about some of the various psychopomps attached to various cultures.

A psychopomp makes sure that a soul arrives at their place in the afterlife. They do not assume the role of a judge, but are in charge of the transport of the soul. A psychopomp can take the form of many different things and are often seen as an animal, such as a sparrow, owl, crow, dog, raven, or horse , depending on the culture.

Examples of a Psychopomp

Ankou

In Breton mythology, Ankou was the personification of death. In some legends, he is described as the henchman of Death and a watcher of graves that protects final resting places and the souls connected to it. In the many tales that Ankou is mentioned in, he appears as a man or skeleton wearing a cloak. In his hand, he holds a scythe. In some tales, he is simply a shadow that takes on the form of a man that wears an old hat. He is often portrayed sitting on top of a cart that is used for collecting the dead.

In some legends, Ankou is referred to the first child of Adam and Eve. There is another version that says Ankou is the first dead person of the year , yet always a male and always an adult. This is the person who is in charge of collecting souls before he can go to the afterlife.

Santa Compana

In myths that involve Santa Compana, the main idea is to show that the presence of the dead is a constant throughout the world of the living. Different variations on the legend exist, but one thing is clear , the Santa Compana is a procession of the dead or souls in torment that wander about at midnight. A person still alive carries a cross and a cauldron filled with holy water during a procession, which is said to have souls of the departed following behind. It is believed that they carry candles and the smell of wax can be detected. When a breeze emerges, it is said that this is a sign that the souls are present.

The individual responsible for carrying the cross must never turn around or abandon his duty as leading the Santa Compana. He is only freed from the task if he is successful in locating another person to carry the cross and cauldron. Because of this, there are ways that people try to avoid the responsibility. The individual that leads the procession can be male or female, as it is the gender of the patron saint of the parish that determines the sex of the leader. The Santa Compana is known as the “announcer of death,” as they move about town , it is in charge of going to the homes where death will soon pay a visit.