October 19, 2016

Psychopomp: Greek Edition III

God of Death
Lieutenant of Hades
Chief Reaper of Souls
Death beats equally at the poor man's gate and at the palaces of kings.
Thanatos is the God of Peaceful Death. He is the son of Nyx and the twin brother of Hypnos. His Roman counterpart is Letus (Mors). Thanatos was called the god of peaceful death while the Keres were his antithesis as the spirits of violent death. His coming was marked by pain and grief. Thanatos was the son of the primordial gods Erebus (God of Darkness) and Nyx (the dark Goddess of Night) and the brother of the many of the dark gods of death, night, pain and other miseries of humanity.
Once he was tricked by Sisyphus which was one of the reasons why the mortal was condemned to the Fields of Punishment. When Thanatos came to take Sisyphus to the Underworld, the cunning man chained up the god, and shoved him under his bed, effectively stopping death until Ares freed him. No matter what you think of death, Thanatos was a noble god who could not be bribed. When it was your time to die, he would make certain that it happened, but he did not take those whose time had not come. Thanatos could not be talked out of claiming someone scheduled to die, but he could be beaten out of collecting his prize. Thanatos also wrestled with Heracles for the life of Queen Alcestis, the wife of King Admetus. He lost the match, and was forced to bring the queen back to life. He previously owned a scroll now owns a pure black iPad that he uses to keep track of the escaped souls. This item is also able to use video conferencing and has Hades’s (Pluto's) Skype address.  
 Necromancy: since Thanatos is the god of death, he has absolute control over death, and the ability to kill someone with a touch. As part of his duties, Thanatos is able to separate the dead from the living. He captures souls trying to escape from the Underworld and sends them back.
·         Doors of Death: as the god of death, Thanatos is usually in complete control of the Doors of Death, and is able to quickly pass between the world of the living and the dead. The Doors of Death act as a fast passage in and out of the Underworld for Thanatos, who is in control of bring people to the Underworld, as well as making sure that no one ever escapes as well. Also Thanatos is able to tell where the Doors of Death are at all times, even if they are not under his control.
Invisibility: After Ares, God of War, frees Thanatos from Sisyphus, the god of death no longer openly approaches souls directly, and instead, chooses to reap them while staying invisible.
·         Flight: with the help of his huge black wings, Thanatos can quickly glide through the air, which helps him capture souls at very high speeds.
Over the years, Thanatos used several forms and guises in order to escort the spirits or shades of the dead to their respective afterlife. In most forms, he takes on the appearance of a handsome non-assuming young man or a beautiful young woman where needed. Thanatos's wings were always on his back, just like Eros, the god of love.
During the Dark Ages, he was often pictured as a grim skeleton in tattered robes carrying a scythe, especially during times of plague, called the Grim Reaper, but he is actually a harmless and peaceful entity of great compassion devoted to making the end of mortal life as peaceful as possible. He has been deceived and waylaid on occasion, but eventually, death becomes inevitable. His depiction as carrying a scythe and being 'the Reaper of Souls' is similar to many folklores' description of the Grim Reaper, a hooded skeleton carrying a scythe to 'mow down' the dead. This implies Thanatos may have inspired these legends and the Angel of Death.

October 18, 2016

Psychopomp: Greek Edition II

Guide of the Dead
Messenger of the Gods
God of Travelers and Thieves

Hermes is the Greek god of roads, speed, messengers, commerce, travel, thieves, merchants, athletes, and mail deliverers. His Roman counterpart is Mercury. His symbol is the Caduceus. Hermes is the son of Zeus and Maia, daughter of the Titan Atlas, and was born in a cave on mount Cyllene in Arcadia. He is the fastest of the gods, and his position is as the Messenger to Zeus and all the other gods. He is also the Divine Herald, the solemn guide who knew the road to hell and would lead the souls of the dead down to the Underworld, after Thanatos (God of Death) did his job. That's why he was also called Psychopompus, a name given to him for being the guide of souls to the Underworld.
Hermes is also the Greek god of Commerce and the Market, and thus the patron of traders, merchants and thieves. His distinguishing qualities were cunning, ingenuity, knowledge and creativity.
His realm included Gymnastics; he was the patron of all gymnastic games in Greece, and gymnasia were under his protection. The Greek artists derived their ideal of the god from the gymnasium and thus they represented Hermes as a handsome youth with beautiful limbs harmoniously developed by athletic exercises and gymnastic excellence.
As the messenger of gods Hermes would often serve as the intermediary between the gods and the mortal world. As a result, Hermes became the only major Olympian that could freely enter the realm of any other god without an invitation.
Hades: Ruler of the Underworld
Hades, like his brother Zeus, soon realizes his abilities. He hires him to his kingdom and instructs to him the call and transfer of the dead to their new home. Hermes, with the jurisdictions that Hades offers him, is the only major god who crosses and acts in the three worlds: in the sky, in earth and in the Underworld. Other gods with similar jurisdiction are Hecate, Titan Goddess of Magic, and Iris, Messenger of Hera and Goddess of Rainbow. Since another one of Hermes' jobs is to guide the souls of the deceased into the Underworld, he is one of the few Olympians to have been on good terms with Hades. In most mythological themes and incidents, Hermes takes place with the three most basic properties: the messenger, the soul carrier and the companion and protector.
The actions of Hermes to the Underworld as an intermediary and savior are not inferior to his actions as a messenger. Hermes stole the dead Alcmene, mother of Heracles, and brought her to the island of Makaron. Hermes again helped Heracles, who wanted to raise the Cerberus to earth. Hermes again brought back Persephone to the world, daughter of Demeter who was grabbed by the god of the Underworld, after he persuaded Hades to let her go.
Hermes invited with his wand the souls of the dead suitors of Penelope that lay in the palace of Odysseus and annoyed the hell out Penelope and her son, and led them to the Underworld. The myths surrounding the life and action of Hermes, as also the facts on which he participated, converge on the outline of a single character. The variety and richness of the factors that his personality has, degrades his appearance as a god in a good way. In other words, he embodies virtues and defects of a mortal man.

October 17, 2016

Psychopomp: Greek Edition I

Charon: The Ferryman
Charon, son of Nyx, was the ferryman of Hades, who carries the souls of the newly deceased across the River Styx that divided the world of the living from the dead. A coin to pay Charon for passage, usually an obolus or drachma, was sometimes placed in or on the mouth of a dead person.
The people who didn't receive a proper burial and thus had no obolus were left to wander on the shores of the river Acheron for one hundred years. That's why for the ancient Greeks it was so important to give a respectable burial to the deceased. In some places, it is require by law to properly bury the dead for protection for the citizens and honor gods especially Hades. For instance, Antigone risked her life by burying her brother, Polyneces, because he was considered a traitor and the king of Thebes forbid everyone to bury him.
Plato tells us that the souls of the deceased were judged and then, according to their sins, they were taken by Charon to different areas where they were purified from their sins or where they received punishment.
Charon also had to ferry some living people, even if he didn't really want to. Among them were the hero Heracles (Roman name Heracles), who easily convinced Charon by using his club, and Orpheus, who probably convinced him with his song, when he got into the underworld. After returning to the world of the living and looking back, he lost Eurydice for the second time. Orpheus could see her taken by Charon to the other shore; as much as he wanted to return to Hades, Charon refused to ferry him again. When a pregnant Psyche wanders into the Underworld on a final quest for Aphrodite, Charon initially refuses to take her over the Styx, but has a change of heart once she gives him a fresh golden drachma. He later takes her back over for a second drachma.

Charon's Associate:

Titan nymph of the River of the Hate and his business partner

Ruler of the Underworld and his boss

Messenger of the Gods, God of Traveler and his supplyer of souls (likely pay customers)

October 15, 2016

The Guide of the Afterlife


Psychopomps (from the Greek word psuchopompos, literally meaning the "guide of souls") are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife. Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply to provide safe passage. Appearing frequently on funerary art, psychopomps have been depicted at different times and in different cultures.

Anubis is the jackal-headed god of ancient Egypt, who presides over the purification and mummification of the body and is well known for his role as a psychopomp. At the time of death he leads the ba (the aspect of a person that is activated in non-ordinary states, such as sleep and death) to the entrance to the underworld, where the ba undergoes its own purifying journey. After this, Anubis reunites the person’s ba with their core self (or heart) and then leads the deceased to the Hall of Maat where the scales of judgment weigh the heart against a feather. When the scales tip in the favor of the deceased, they are granted immortality and access to the Egyptian afterlife.

Hermes is the ancient Greek trickster god who acts as a guide and messenger between the heavens and the underworld.

Charon (Kharon) — one could argue that Charon is not a true psychopomp, because the dead had to find their own way to the river Styx or be taken there by Hermes. And when they did arrive there, Charon required the payment of a fee, often in the form of a coin under the tongue of the deceased, to be ferried across the river to Hades' domain. Anyone who couldn't afford the payment was doomed to wander the banks of the river of Styx.

Thanatos may not feature as prominently as Charon or Hermes—but as the personification of death, he deserves a higher place of Greek psychopomps. He is hated by mortals and immortals alike, because he is merciless, careless of status and ranking  and indiscriminate. For all his cruelty, he was known to have been tricked on occasion—most famously by Sisyphus—or just beaten physically, as he was by Heracles. Thanatos is usually depicted as a winged youth, carrying a sword, and he is almost universally shown with his brother, Hypnos, the god of sleep.

Epona is a horse-riding Roman-Celtic goddess who was known from Britannia to North Africa where she carries the souls of the deceased to the Otherworld.

Mercury—the god of commerce, trickery and communication—was one of the Roman psychopomps. Much of his personal mythology was based on the Greek god Hermes, although he borrowed a little from the Etruscan god Turms as well. Mercury’s job was to guide souls upon death to Avernus, a crater in Italy which was said to be the entrance to the Roman underworld.

The Valkyries are beautiful, horse-riding battle maidens from Northern Europe who collect dead warriors from the battlefield and deliver them to Valhalla, where they can continue their favorite pastimes of fighting and feasting.

Angels — often associated with the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; these great beings have become popular throughout the world, and have long been known to protect the vulnerable, to look after those who are lost, and to guide the souls of the dead to the afterlife. 

Azrael, the Angel of Death, features in Jewish and Christian mythology as well, he only really takes on the role of a psychopomp in Islamic mythology. He is said to take every soul straight to Allah upon their death. However, since only Allah is said to know the precise moment when someone is supposed to die, Azrael has no real power of his own—he can only do what he is told. Berber men were once said to shave their heads, leaving a single tuft of hair, so that Azrael would have something to grab on to.

In Welsh mythology, Gwyn Ap Nudd was not only the king of the fairies, but also the ruler of the underworld, known to the Welsh as Annwn. It differed greatly from most depictions, as mortals were free to come and go as they pleased, even while living. Gwyn ap Nudd was also described from time to time as the leader of the Wild Hunt, riding through the sky with supernatural hounds known as the Cwn Annwn to harvest human souls. His role as a psychopomp was especially related to Celtic warriors who fell in battle. Gwyn ap Nudd was also said to have a “blackened face,” which probably wouldn’t go over as well today.

Papa Ghede is the God of Death in the Voodoo religion. Believed to be the corpse of the first man who ever died, Papa Ghede waits at the crossroads of life and death, guiding the souls of the recently deceased to Guinee, the spirit world. Since it originated among African slaves, the afterlife is usually represented by Africa itself. Papa Ghede knows everything that goes on in every minute of existence, even among the dead. He is usually depicted as a man with a hat and a cigar, and he is known for having a strong, sometimes crass sense of humor. During ceremonies for other deities in the Voodoo religion, Papa Ghede is said to show up just to get drunk and crash the party. In case you meet him, rum is his alcohol of choice.

Yama is the Hindu God of Death, as well as its psychopomp, and is sometimes known as Yamarja. Yama’s place of residence is Naraka, a purgatory where the dead are said to suffer punishment for their sins before reincarnating. Since Naraka is said to have seven different levels, it is Yama’s job to direct the souls of the deceased to the correct level. He is also in charge of guiding them to a Swarga, or heaven, of which there are also seven. He was once killed by Shiva for disrespecting the deity, and subsequently resurrected, so Shiva is the only god whom Yama respects and worships. Yama is said to carry a noose in his left hand, which he uses to lasso the soul, pulling it from its corpse.

July 20, 2016

Dog Days of Summer

The Dog Days are traditionally the 40 days leading up to the heliacal rising of Sirius, being the period of 3rd July to 11th August.  These are considered to be the hottest days of the summer – especially in the regions around the Mediterranean Sea, where Sirius has long had a major role in mythology, religion and agriculture.  For the Egyptians the rising of Sirius was essential, marking the inundation of the Nile and the start of a new year.  Sirius, which was also known as Sothis, was closely linked to the Egyptian Mother goddess Isis (Aset) and Osiris, Ruler of the Underworld. 
Osiris: God King of the Underworld
 Sirius has been known since ancient times, and its name signified its nature as “scorching” or “sparkling.” It was associated with the Egyptian god Osiris and other gods. Ancient Egyptians noted that Sirius rose just before the sun each year immediately prior to the annual flooding of the Nile River. Although the floods could bring destruction, they also brought new soil and new life. Fittingly, Osiris, whom Sirius may have represented, was God of Life, Death, Fertility and Rebirth of Plant life along the Nile.
Indra: Thunder God
In India, Sirius is sometimes known as Svana, the dog of Prince Yudhistira. The prince and his four brothers, along with Svana, set out on a long and arduous journey to find the kingdom of heaven. However, one by one the brothers all abandoned the search until only Yudhistira and Svana were left. At long last they came to the gates of heaven. The gatekeeper, Lord Indra, welcomed the prince but denied Svana entrance. Yudhistira was aghast and told Lord Indra that he could not forsake his good and faithful servant and friend. His brothers, Yudhistira told the Lord, had abandoned the journey to heaven to follow their hearts’ desires. But Svana, who had given his heart freely, chose to follow none but Yudhistira. The prince told the Lord that without his dog, he would forsake even heaven. This is what Lord Indra had wanted to hear, and then he welcomed both the prince and the dog through the gates of heaven.
In her new book Isis: The Eternal Goddess of Egypt and Rome (2016) the author Lesley Jackson writes that:
“The star Sirius is in the constellation of Canis Major (the Great Dog) and is also referred to as the Dog Star. It is the brightest star in the sky but, more importantly to the Egyptians, its heliacal rising coincided with the start of the inundation. A heliacal rising is when the star reappears in the east just before sunrise after being invisible for a period. In Egypt in 3,000 BCE this occurred at the summer solstice; now it is about six weeks later. “At the same time that the Dog-star rises…the Nile also in a sense rises, coming up to water the land of Egypt.” The reappearance of Sirius brought the hot ‘dog days’ of the summer. From the earliest times New Year was considered to start with the inundation because it was so critical to the country. “
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