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Thread: Psychopomp and Doula

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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Psychopomp and Doula

    This could probably go in any number of area's but for my discussion I placed it here in the aspect it tends to fall in regards to shamanism. Note: I am capitalizing Psychopomp as I intend to discuss it as a person / entity more so than an action.


    In its most basic definition a Psychopomp is a person, creature, entity that in some capacity is seen to lead the spirits to the hereafter. It can take the form of a divinity that actually gather's the spirit and then guides it to some destination, usually associated with some underworld location. It can take the form of being a person who prepares the living for death then guides them or even acts as a Spirit Guardian / Guide who assists the spirit in dropping it's earthly garb. Needless to say as a concept it has many variations and forms.


    Yet is that all a Psychopomp actually is?


    In Jungian works a Psychopomp is a manifestation or though form that serves to connect a person between the conscious and unconscious world of the mind. It might manifest as an older and wiser male or female that the person will encounter in dream time or journey work. It might manifest as something similar to a spirit guide or even a totem like creature in that it can be something non-human. Yet it's sole purpose is to guide the entities conscious self and unconscious self.


    So again we have a character that serves the purpose of carrying or guiding a person from one place to another. To give guidance, safe passage to an extent and companionship in some degree while they journey together to some destination. Yet it is similar to the death aspect of the Psychopomp in that it is the end process of finishing aspect. Though dissimilar I suppose in that the Psychopomp as a death guide is usually short and direct unless serving as a Spirit Keeper. Where the Jungian variation may cross through several adventures, journeys or encounters to resolve some issue.


    But what of the starting point or condition? For some, especially women it seems, the Psychopomp may also fall into the position known as a Doula. The so called midwife aspect. What makes it interesting to me anyway, is the Doula may act in the capacity of a midwife who aides and guides / assists in the delivery of a child. To be there and give strength, support, guidance during the actual birthing process. Perhaps even in the delivery room as a 3rd person to the team of the delivery doctor & assisting nurse.


    It is still a transitional function that is served by the Doula / Psychopomp. Yet the transitional stage here is the beginning of life vice the termination of life. The Mid-Wife position as it where. A two position calling that the person may choose to specialize in one aspect vice the other, or fully embrace both birthing and death.


    In my own calling I know for certain I have aided in the death crossing / Spirit Keeper role. I believe I have functioned in the Doula role to the extend of advising another but not actually being present at the actual birthing. Personally the Doula role as a male seems complicated in that you advise against or for a process you can never experience. Probably one reason it falls to women so often vice men. Figure odd's are even if the Doula has not experienced giving birth herself at least she is a woman and the birthing mother can connect to her.


    So there you go. The Psychopomp as one who guides and aides the spirits of the dead in crossing over or preparation of dying. One who aides and guides in the role of birthing assistant or death assistant. A manifestation within the mind of the person that acts as a guide or aide during some situation or ongoing situations.
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    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: Psychopomp and Doula

    Good post, monsno_leedra!
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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: Psychopomp and Doula

    Quote Originally Posted by B. de Corbin View Post
    Good post, monsno_leedra!
    Thank You.

    To continue the idea of the Psychopomp / Doula. If we use the definition of Psychopomp being "Guide of Souls" then the Psychopomp / Doula has to ask which souls and where does it end? For many if not most, perhaps all, those who identify as a Psychopomp / Death Doula the ending is never a clear location or condition. Figure we assist the deceased's Spirit by aiding his / her family, friends, community, even strangers who are influenced by their death. Sometimes it might be as simple as listening to another person as they release the emotional load they've built up during the death sequence. It might be as complex as being a Spirit Keeper for the deceased's Spirit which could last anywhere from a few hours to a year or more. It can even take the form of occurring years after the death as some individual comes to us asking about the deceased. Sometimes even a deceased person we never once met in physical life but the Spirit calls to us or brings others to us to aide in its crossing.

    Personally I have seen the usage of Death Doula rise within the death works pathway. As I stated above mostly women being involved in this aspect of things. Not to say men are not to be found in it but they seem to be few and far between.

    Yet that raises a question, well for me anyway. How does one become a Psychopomp or Death Doula? There really are no schools for it. No degree's to be earned from some recognized learning institution that grants or bestows a degree upon the person naming them a Death Doula or Psychopomp. Now it seem's for many it's more of a title that is bestowed and recognized based upon both a cultural norm and folkish norm. As such the titles found more often in one society than say another, holding various levels or degree's of importance. The importance and sense of cultural psychology being the factor for their presence.

    Sort of along the lines of the person who has had an operation and doesn't respond until their priest, preacher, holy person, etc has come to talk to them and sit with them. They are no doctor, nurse, etc but they are accepted into the recovery rooms, hospital rooms, homes, etc due to the psychological influences they have in bettering the persons recovery or mental preparation for their impending deaths.

    Of course we also have to consider the front side of the life cycle, that of birth. Again the task of the Birthing Doula or Psychopomp seldom will end at the end of the actual birthing process. Heck many times starting long before the actual birthing event occurs. As to actual tasks performed, that varies nearly as much as the death tasks. As such a great amount of specifics and actions will depend upon cultural and social norms again. Yet there is one aspect that I personally find interesting, that being many times it seems the birth Doula / Psychopomp is an elderly woman and seldom a young woman. Yes younger women may assist in the process but the person directing and guiding it almost always seems to be the older woman. In some instances what we might view as the village female elder.

    Yet inversely it seems many times the Death Doula might be a younger woman or middle aged woman. As to why I can only speculate as it is not 100 percent consistent as to which age group will be found where. Yet personally I think it might have something to do with implied strength and knowledge in each given role. Birthing was seen as a greater risk and required the wisdom of age and experience. So to the expectant mother the older woman was more experienced and more trusted. Inversely it might be seen as more life force and energy was seen as being needed to guide the deceased and aide the families and that was something younger woman possessed. But then those are just my own opinions and thoughts, so others may have different conclusions and ideas.
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  4. #4

    Re: Psychopomp and Doula

    You have given me a lot to think about with this. I have at various phases of life worked in areas that relate to mental health, sex, fertility. All in ways other people find squeamish but necessary. Passing into a new phase of life, I wonder what next. And death appears as the next squeamish necessity. So I have wondered about roles along the lines of a death doula. To be honest, I think that isn't the next path. But I wouldn't be surprised if it came up for me.

    I don't know that my experience concurs with your age grouping, but it is interesting to think about. With birthing, you have two or more people at the edge of life and death, so more experience might be the best choice. It could be, also, that an elder is in a way closer to the threshold of life and death than a young or middle aged adult. This could definitely be a spiritual advantage in such a liminal situation.

    Perhaps with death, the doula would need to have a foot more solidly in life. The liminality is much more the place of the actual dying one. The role of the doula might be more of helping push the boat off the dock, than pulling it out to sea. The doula would need a firm footing on the solid dock to be effective.

    I'm tempted to apply the boat metaphor to birthing, but I think I'd better stop and think a little more

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    Live and learn anunitu's Avatar
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    Re: Psychopomp and Doula

    I kind of did this for my MIL when she got sick and passed...I think it is something people used to do before we pushed death into the Taboo place. Having a person to be there in the last moments of ones passing seems to me the real human caring of another.
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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: Psychopomp and Doula

    Quote Originally Posted by anunitu View Post
    I kind of did this for my MIL when she got sick and passed...I think it is something people used to do before we pushed death into the Taboo place. Having a person to be there in the last moments of ones passing seems to me the real human caring of another.
    Oh I agree we used to be closer to death and had a lot of ceremonies / rituals for the deceased as well as surviving family. Figure at one time you had death watches, wakes, sin eaters, almost a revival type mourning and festivities and many other's I've either forgotten about or never knew. Even the idea of dying at home and surrounded by family has fallen by the wayside in a lot of ways. We place the dying in hospices, hospitals, old folks homes where the spirit is more often than not alone and to a degree scared more than needs to be. Even to the point where death is an enemy whose approach is both heavily feared and greatly hushed or only spoken of in whispers and hushed tones.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Prickly Pear View Post
    You have given me a lot to think about with this. I have at various phases of life worked in areas that relate to mental health, sex, fertility. All in ways other people find squeamish but necessary. Passing into a new phase of life, I wonder what next. And death appears as the next squeamish necessity. So I have wondered about roles along the lines of a death doula. To be honest, I think that isn't the next path. But I wouldn't be surprised if it came up for me.

    I don't know that my experience concurs with your age grouping, but it is interesting to think about. With birthing, you have two or more people at the edge of life and death, so more experience might be the best choice. It could be, also, that an elder is in a way closer to the threshold of life and death than a young or middle aged adult. This could definitely be a spiritual advantage in such a liminal situation.

    Perhaps with death, the doula would need to have a foot more solidly in life. The liminality is much more the place of the actual dying one. The role of the doula might be more of helping push the boat off the dock, than pulling it out to sea. The doula would need a firm footing on the solid dock to be effective.

    I'm tempted to apply the boat metaphor to birthing, but I think I'd better stop and think a little more
    I think the idea of the elder woman being present at birth also goes back to the old naming practices. For many rural areas, some tribal nations I've read about and old country practices I've read about, a child's name was first spoken by the female head of the family or village elder. She would be the first to fully name the child and give or bestow her blessings and even charms upon the new born. Many times being the first person to actually hold the child, even cutting the cord as it were and passing the child to the mother as she spoke its name out loud. How she said it is supposed to have almost been like an announcement as the now named child is introduced to the spirits of the past, the lineage of the family and area are recited and the child becomes a part of things. I've only encountered it once or twice but there was an implied notion that the elder also gave the named child the spirit to live and experience of her years were some how passed to the spirit of the child.

    I could never prove it being a male but i've been spoken to about blood rituals and ceremonies that also went with the birthing. Ceremonies that I am told could only be performed by the female head of the family, the eldest female in the family and / or village (not always the same) and a third person who was younger and actually captured the blood in some vessel. Might just be old wives tales and things we heard in the mountain's and in my family in my youth.
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    Sr. Member faye_cat's Avatar
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    Re: Psychopomp and Doula

    I'm sorry, I'm going to be jumping around, I'll try to make it as easy as possible to follow.

    MonSno, you said:
    Yet there is one aspect that I personally find interesting, that being many times it seems the birth Doula / Psychopomp is an elderly woman and seldom a young woman. Yes younger women may assist in the process but the person directing and guiding it almost always seems to be the older woman. In some instances what we might view as the village female elder
    I hope this isn't too off topic, do you think this is where the Maid/Mother/Crone triad may have (even in part) stemmed from?

    I'm not too familiar with Jungian theory, but is the Psychopomp limited to only death/birth transitions, or could it also be applied to transitions throughout life, in terms of trauma (mental or physical), career change (especially if they are not an individual's choice but forced upon them), and even just the socially accepted child to adult (whether puberty or legal adult age of 18, etc)? If so, then could that be why society is starting to revere (That might not be the best word...perhaps flock to?) life coaches and public speakers? To fill that void and find that guidance to the next stage?

    (Monsno, post 6)
    We place the dying in hospices, hospitals, old folks homes where the spirit is more often than not alone and to a degree scared more than needs to be.
    I wonder if this is why so people are uncomfortable with those places, and find them so unnerving...because they go against what is ingrained in our past: the need to accept death as natural and as a part of our life instead of separating and shunning it and those associated with it.

    Prickly Pear, could you expand on this thought? I find it very interesting.
    Perhaps with death, the doula would need to have a foot more solidly in life. The liminality is much more the place of the actual dying one. The role of the doula might be more of helping push the boat off the dock, than pulling it out to sea. The doula would need a firm footing on the solid dock to be effective.
    (Monsno, post 3)
    Yet that raises a question, well for me anyway. How does one become a Psychopomp or Death Doula? There really are no schools for it. No degree's to be earned from some recognized learning institution that grants or bestows a degree upon the person naming them a Death Doula or Psychopomp. Now it seem's for many it's more of a title that is bestowed and recognized based upon both a cultural norm and folkish norm. As such the titles found more often in one society than say another, holding various levels or degree's of importance. The importance and sense of cultural psychology being the factor for their presence.
    I think that people rise to the occasion through personal experience. Some may get degrees or jobs in it (such as nurse, therapist, or ordination) but ultimately, it's because some people have an innate understanding of the cycle and end up dealing with it. There are the people who help their family organize the chaos when people die (making the arrangements, dealing with the problems and the emotions) and assist their relatives/friends with the grieving process.
    People may end up creating a certificate or program for it, but as with all things, you may have all the knowledge in the world and not be able to apply it to world situations.
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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: Psychopomp and Doula

    Quote Originally Posted by faye_cat View Post
    I hope this isn't too off topic, do you think this is where the Maid/Mother/Crone triad may have (even in part) stemmed from?
    Truthfully I do not think so.

    If I had to guess from a historical perspective I'd say it owes its origination to the tri-grouping of Persephone, Demeter and Hekate and the women's mysteries that are loosely associated with Eleusinian Mysteries. I say loosely because no one knows for certain just what they entailed. Though I do think it has been really corrupted in just who was placed in what position by modern influences. From my perspective Hekate is the maiden not the crone, Persephone is the mother figure in that she has passed from maidenhood and wild into the realm of the established wife and mother. Which places Demeter in the role of the crone who watches over the new wife and potential mother as she is transitioned from maiden into womanhood and her place in the ancient Hellene society. Yet also adds somewhat confusion in that by moving Persephone into the womanhood / mother figure it also forces Demeter into the role of Crone or elder as she now watches her child pass from free spirit daughter into socially defined and accepted woman.

    Yet since Zeus turns to Hades and somewhat causes it so his daughter becomes a women one might argue it also ties into the notion of a son is a son till he takes a wife but a daughter is a daughter all of her life. So Demeter being the mother doesn't want Persephone to grow into womanhood and struggles against it while Zeus insists his daughter becomes a woman. Which I think also goes back to the stages of a woman's life as seen in archaic Hellas (Greece).

    I'm not too familiar with Jungian theory, but is the Psychopomp limited to only death/birth transitions, or could it also be applied to transitions throughout life, in terms of trauma (mental or physical), career change (especially if they are not an individual's choice but forced upon them), and even just the socially accepted child to adult (whether puberty or legal adult age of 18, etc)? If so, then could that be why society is starting to revere (That might not be the best word...perhaps flock to?) life coaches and public speakers? To fill that void and find that guidance to the next stage?
    In Jungian theory the psychopomp is more associated with a guide that aides the spirit to develop and I suppose evolve as it faces new situations and experiences. So it is the wise older person often that we encounter in our dreams or in journey type workings. It can be a human of the same sex as the dreamer which sort of acts as a higher self, it can be a human of the opposite sex which causes the person to think outside of themselves or from opposing perspectives. In a little bit of reading I did it can even appear in human form but be a pair that sort of plays off of itself, sort of like a jester or fool did to point out things about life in general. Then of course it can also take the form of non-human entities and use those forms to influence things.

    Not sure I would agree with the idea of that's why people are flocking to life coaches and such. Figure powerful Orators have been around for many decades, inspiring people. Life coaches equally have been around though how we might identify them or title them has changed. Nearly with every generation it seems sometimes to me.

    (Monsno, post 6) I wonder if this is why so people are uncomfortable with those places, and find them so unnerving...because they go against what is ingrained in our past: the need to accept death as natural and as a part of our life instead of separating and shunning it and those associated with it.
    That's possible. I think in part though it's because they are places we tend to dump our elderly. As a society in general and as a whole in many ways we have little to no use for the elderly and I think many see them more as a burden upon us than a benefit to us. So in some capacity we know its a place of despair, refuge and simply a waiting place to die many times. Especially the hospices and such places. Hospitals are a bit different but I think those are also seen as places that treat symptoms more than people, so they have that same sense of detachment and sense of inhuman treatment.

    (Monsno, post 3) I think that people rise to the occasion through personal experience. Some may get degrees or jobs in it (such as nurse, therapist, or ordination) but ultimately, it's because some people have an innate understanding of the cycle and end up dealing with it. There are the people who help their family organize the chaos when people die (making the arrangements, dealing with the problems and the emotions) and assist their relatives/friends with the grieving process.
    I think part of the issue when questioning how people become a Psychopomp / Doula forms with what we expect them to do. There are more than a few who give up their own lives basically to assist in the death Doula / Psychopomp aspect. Going so far as to move in with the dying and sort of serve as their primary caretaker. Then once the person has passed they move onto the next dying person. The same might be said of the Birth Doula but of course in that instance it would be from one birthing situation to another though the degree and amount of time for each might vary.

    But part of what I was pondering regards the things that go with it. It's like I was called to do something and for weeks and weeks I was surrounded by the very smell of death and of rotting meat and decay. You breathed it in, tasted it, ate it and consumed it at every turn. For me it was like a smell I couldn't escape that clung to everything. The closer death got the deeper and heavier it got. Yet it's more than just a smell of death, it's a sense of fear, confusion, anger & hatred at times and the spirits that tend to come around. It's like when my father-in-law was on his final days and our final visit there was a part of the room that was a dark void. From that void you could hear voices calling him, I heard a woman's voice I knew to be his mother, my late mother-in-laws voice and shadowy image was present. He was also aware of their presence as at points he would talk to them and they replied and you could hear the conversations. Thought once again I was going crazy as I listened to it but was fortunate in that my wife's Stepsister could also hear them and see the other spirit's we saw walking the halls at that hospice.

    People may end up creating a certificate or program for it, but as with all things, you may have all the knowledge in the world and not be able to apply it to world situations.
    There are something like 4 or 5 international groups that have certification programs to become a Birth-Doula or Death Doula but no formal accreditation procedures for evaluation by an outside source that I could find. So it's basically what ever each individual group deem's as required to obtain their certifications. Which seems funny to me when if I recall correctly even Nannies and such have to be certified and be recognized in a validated program.

    Not saying nor implying that the programs are not valid as I am not qualified to do so nor have been exposed to any of the material's or teaching methods involved for the certification process. Though again most of those programs are also aimed at women, especially the birthing Doula certifications.
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  9. #9

    Re: Psychopomp and Doula

    Faye_Cat, I hope I can explain myself clearly.

    I was thinking that the role of a death doula would be to help the dying release attachment to this world. Possibly there are spirits or doulas on the other side who help "pull" the spirit into the new world. So an earthly doula would ease pain, and help the dying one to come to terms with goodbyes, fears, regrets and even joyful associations that might hold them to the current life. It would be important, though, for the doula to have a very firm grip on their own earthly life, and not allow pieces of themself to transition across the life/death barrier, because it is not their time to do so. I can see the doula becoming attached to the dying person, or even the dying process to the point where they invest too much of themselves. I could also see a dying person cling to the doula out of fear or other attachment, and exert a spiritual "pull" into death.

    Ideally, a birthing doula would "pull" a soul into the earthly life, sort of catching and securing the lines, if I go back to my boat metaphor. Ideally, you would have a boat coming in straight and true, and anyone on the dock could catch and secure the lines. However, the birth process is actually not necessarily that easy. Both mother and child are closer to death than usual. The doula needs experience in the ways of birthing (or berthing). The situation may call for reaching out, leaning out over the water, shouting and signaling across the water, getting wet, or maybe even wading or diving. She needs the knowledge and experience to know what action is best, the agility to transition between "water" and "earth", and also to guide everyone through the process if the birth is difficult or if either the mother or child slips into death instead of life. S/he then "secures" the mother and child, assisting with bonding, first feeding, etc until they are both grounded firmly enough in this life, and their new roles.

    Also, I have known a few midwives in my time. One of them was told that her aura was surrounded by tiny happy souls. She took this to mean that she formed a very strong bond with the babies she helped deliver, and that in a spiritual or psychological sense, she needed to learn to let them go, to be fully present in their new lives.

    I don't claim to know what happens before or after this physical life, just thinking here.

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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: Psychopomp and Doula

    Quote Originally Posted by Prickly Pear View Post
    .. I was thinking that the role of a death doula would be to help the dying release attachment to this world. Possibly there are spirits or doulas on the other side who help "pull" the spirit into the new world. So an earthly doula would ease pain, and help the dying one to come to terms with goodbyes, fears, regrets and even joyful associations that might hold them to the current life. It would be important, though, for the doula to have a very firm grip on their own earthly life, and not allow pieces of themself to transition across the life/death barrier, because it is not their time to do so. I can see the doula becoming attached to the dying person, or even the dying process to the point where they invest too much of themselves. I could also see a dying person cling to the doula out of fear or other attachment, and exert a spiritual "pull" into death. ..
    From some Shamanic perspectives the Psychopomp is called because they have already died themselves and been to the veil if not actually having crossed over and returned. So it's sort of the idea that you know the route, know the dangers and know what to look for that aides them in helping other spirits reach the veil border. So having died themselves is often a significant identifier of one who will become a shamanic practitioner though of course each society, group, etc may have their own unique name for the person or the capacity they shall serve in.

    One other aspect I was told is that having died we already have experienced the mind shatter as it was called. That sense of being in many places at once and having a sense of belonging to each but also a sense of separation from them. There's more to it than that of course but it's a mental state and pliability I suppose that allows us to sympathize and feel but not become attached and hold them back.
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