Archetypal Magic- The Psychopomp
by Stevie Joy Leigh
As I'm writing this, the planet Mercury is about to station direct (Mercury stations retrograde about three times a year). It will hang out in a kind of liminal space for a few days before it starts moving forward again. Mercury is my ruling planet (I'm a Gemini rising, to figure out your ruling planet see which planet rules your rising sign) and I've really been embracing my mercurial nature lately. Though it's something we aren't necessarily taught to work with.
Capitalism has taught us to goooo go go, always, and it's a challenge to unwrap the binds of this lesson. Working with the Moon has been a huge tool for me in my efforts to slow down and live cyclically- but Mercury seems to also have some lessons for me. And perhaps for you too.
Mercury, as an archetype, is related to the Greek god Hermes (derived from the Roman, Mercury), channeling, moving through realms, and generally presiding over communication between the otherworld and the material world.
Hermes is a psychopomp. They are one of many psychopomps throughout mythology. But this isn't just a mythological character.
Let me back up- a psychopomp is a “conductor of souls” and is said to guide recently departed souls to the otherworld. They are the bridge between this world and the next. As a Westerner, I immediately think of Hermes or the “Grim Reaper” character with his scythe. But this figure appears throughout history and in many cultural mythologies.
We have Charon who ferries recently departed souls over the river Styx into the underworld (this is the ferryman imagery we see sometimes in art or stories, he requires payment for passage. Often a gold coin under the tongue.) This is also Greek mythology from my understanding which is perhaps why we in the West are so familiar with this image.
Anubis presides over the purification and mummification of the recently departed. This is a dedicated and sacred act. He acts as psychopomp in this way. I've also read (and felt) that Hathor is a guide for the souls who are making their way into the afterlife. Both of these deities come from Egyptian mythology.
One of the primary archangels from Muslim traditions is Azrail who watches over a sacred tree in paradise. When someone is born, a new leaf grows. When it is time for them to pass, the leaf falls from the tree and Azrail comes to collect their soul.
But these messengers don't just come in the form of deities. We often hear cultural stories of bees, birds, and dolphins acting as messengers from the otherworld. They may guide us in our crossing or bring us messages from our ancestors or beloved dead.
Something that isn't explicitly stated in a lot of texts (or I just haven't found this yet, and if you have please send it on over!) is that, not only are these archetypes the ones that cross the dead into the underworld- but they are the conductor of souls into this world as well. It's all the same realm. I felt this very deeply when I was actively doing birthwork. Those that guide the souls out are also the ones that guide the souls in.
Which brings me to embodying these archetypes. Deathworkers, birthworkers, dreamwalkers, and spirit workers all fall under the category of psychopomp in my mind. These are all real world embodiments of this archetype.
A psychopomp is someone who walks between realms. A psychopomp is a mediator between the conscious and the subconscious (something Jung has written about). This figure exists in our modern world and in our day to day.
Bringing it back to Mercury- there is an opportunity to work with the energy of this planet or this archetype to start exploring your own psychopompic depths. In order to do this work or understand this archetype, we need regular periods of withdrawal. Regular periods of going under, going deep, stealing away. In this, I'm also describing the planet's retrograde patterns. When do you need to retrograde? When do you need to go underground?
In feeling in to this archetype, I'm also thinking about tarot (which I read as a series of archetypes we all hold within us). The Death card and The Hermit come to mind for sure, but so does The Fool. The Fool is ether, spirit, and exists in the in-betweens. The Fool is the bridge between one card to the next. The Fool is everywhere and always right around the corner. They absolutely feel mercurial and carry a certain amount of trickster energy to them. Is this an energy you're familiar with? What does it feel like for you?
I also think about the 8 of cups- this card features a cloaked character turning their back on what they've known- in the form of 8 neatly lined up cups- in search of something unknown. They appear to me to be walking into the in-between. Perhaps into unconscious depths. Or maybe into the otherworld or the dreaming.
Here are some reflection questions for you if you'd like to explore this archetype within yourself and within your world.
Do you have a dream practice? How do you dream?
How do you appear in other people's dreams?
Do you have any cultural birth or death practices that feel like they fall under the realm of the psychopomp? What are they?
What are your ancestral or lineage traditions around death and birth?
How do you connect with your ancestors, or guides, or God?
What is your relationship to your subconscious? To the emotions woven throughout your body? To the otherworld?
When do you give yourself time to steal away? Is there a pattern to this?
I'll leave you with a poem written by Leonora Carrington when she worked with Octavio Paz on a stage play called “La Fille de Rappaccini” (based off of a Nathaniel Hawthorn short story- Rappaccini’s Daughter).
It feels very much to me like a poem or a prayer or an evocation to/for the psychopomp.
"My name does not matter
neither my origin
in reality I have no name
I am not man or woman
child or elder
yesterday or tomorrow
north or south.
both genders, the three arrows,
the four ages, and the four cardinal directions
converge and dissolve on me"
If this piece resonated with you, I'd love to hear from you! Send me an email if you'd like to be in further communication about this theme.
Sending you warmth and safety.
Stevie Joy Leigh
STEVIE LEIGH FEBRUARY 19, 2021
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