Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died, and was buried. He descended into the dead. – The Apostles Creed
Jesus was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison… – 1 Peter 3:19
Psychopomps are journeys where a shaman meets a soul in a postmortem state who is unable to cross over into the other world. This soul is stuck in between the worlds, often confused, in pain, and alone.
The shaman, acting as psychopomp, helps the soul: a) realize it is in fact dead b) clear any remaining ties that bind the soul to this world c) encourage the soul to make the journey across the dividing line between this world and the hereafter.
The First Letter of Peter states that Jesus’ Descent into the Dead is understood to include preaching to the spirits in the underworld. I believe Jesus is here acting as a psychopomp. My sense is that he is trying to help free these trapped souls so that they can follow the light.
Psychopomp is yet another modality that would be of benefit to contemporary society. The ancients understood well that souls trapped between the worlds are bad for both them and for us. They understood that the line between the dead and the living was permeable and therefore we continue to have relationships beyond death (e.g. ancestor veneration; in Christian language this is called The Communion of Saints). But again, this modality is not commonly available because of our culture’s materialist bias which sees death as complete once the physical body is no more. As the ancients (more wisely) understood, physical death is just a point near the beginning of a much longer process.
In my work as a pastor, I’m convinced more and more that our society’s inability to truly grieve and to allow our loved ones to transition between the worlds compassionately is at the root of a great deal of suffering – addictive behaviors (to cover over the grief), emotional disconnection, and a great many other negative expressions. A recovery of Jesus as Psychopomp could help us retrieve this important practice in our day.
Coming next week in the Jesus the Shaman series: Jesus and the Apocalyptic.
Chris Dierkes is a long time student and practitioner of the Christ-consciousness mystical path. After receiving his MDiv., Chris worked in parish ministry for three years (Anglican Church of Canada) and now maintains a private practice in interspiritual soul work. In addition Chris has studied energy healing, intuitive arts, and shamanic practice. He writes frequently on subjects of spirituality in the contemporary world. He lives in Vancouver with his wife Chloe and their daughter Sage. You can check out his writing and practice here.