Psychopomp Workshop – Group Journey Class

Today, I had the opportunity to attend Monika’s first advanced group journey class. The topic was psychopomp work, which, as a death worker, is something that naturally interests me. It’s something I have always wanted to include in my death work repertoire, and this was the perfect way to learn that skill under the guidance of a practiced shaman and healer.

We gathered in the basement of Monika’s house and went on three journeys, each with a specific goal in mind.

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The Human Filter

An important thought came to me yesterday morning as I drove to work: that our human minds, which can only comprehend so much, in so many ways, automatically filter new information through certain tropes and symbols based on how we, individually, perceive the world. In the case of malevolent spirits, for example, a Christian might experience them as demons with horns and barbed tails, but a Pagan might experience them as a nightmarish shadow (or anything specific to their individual path).

What if the same applies to experiences we have with gods and spirits? What if I experience Anubis as a father figure because He knows I respond well to compassionate authority? Perhaps Anubis knew, long before I realized it, that He had to establish that kind of relationship with me if He wanted me to serve Him. And what if a friend witnessed a god healing His devotee in a pool of water, like a parent tending to a child, because said friend will be a parent soon too, and she herself is a woman of healing waters? Perhaps that was the best way for that god to show my friend just how deeply He cares for His devotee.

Many different factors contribute to this phenomenon: personality, elemental composition, how one was raised, how one grew up, significant life experiences, preferred themes and tropes… Surely, the list goes on. In my case, I am a very literal person, a being of Earth and Fire. I respond best to directness, physicality, and action. Without a doubt, my gods take advantage of this. Not with any ill intentions, of course — but the gods operate on a much grander scale than any human does, and They see and know more than we are capable of comprehending. They will make demands of us, for both Their benefit and ours, and it behooves Them to know how to manipulate us in Their favor.

Despite how much of this sounds incredibly selfish of gods, it comforts me. What I experience with gods and spirits is valid because it’s just how my tiny, human brain is able to interpret interactions with them. And the fact that gods, especially, might purposefully choose certain themes, symbols, or tropes means that they care. They know what matters to us. They know what we consider important or meaningful.

Thoughts on Shinto

Reading Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye by Marie Mutsuki Mockett is filling me with so much emotion about Shinto and, more generally, Japanese animism. I went through old photos of when I lived in Japan and I am so overwhelmed by nostalgia and memory. There were shrines everywhere. I remember the tree that had been struck by lightning next to Inuyama Castle, and how the people of Inuyama claim that the tree had saved their beloved castle from the bolt, and so they have enshrined the tree and make offerings to it. I remember the towering torii and the austere yet compassionate face of Inari Okami. I remember the little stone statues with their bibs and hats. I remember dutifully cleansing my hands with water before entering any shrine.

And yet I cannot reconcile how Shinto views death as impure with the fact that death is the bedrock of my spirituality. As beautiful as Shinto is, I must only look to it for inspiration, so that I too can build a faith and practice as deeply embedded into my daily life as Shinto is embedded into the Japanese way of life.