Psychopomp

I recently received an email from a newsletter I subscribe to and in it was this story:

My mother and I took a taxi to visit my father’s grave for the first time the other day.

The graveyard is called Karşıyaka — “the other shore”. The name doesn’t refer to a seashore; Ankara is a long way from the sea. The taxi driver finds the plot for us, or we’d be lost.  He looks down at the little note we gave him, walks along the rows, and finally points out the granite gravestone that has my father’s name carved into it.

When we stood shivering at the same spot, in the middle of winter, this section of the massive necropolis was a patch of muddy, icy ground in the dismal steppe wasteland. We couldn’t see much for our tears and for the falling snow. Now the same patch is tightly packed with graves, built up in stone and bare earth sectioned off by kerbstones.

The taxi driver, seeing us as absolutely useless, takes charge. He calls to a group of gravediggers working nearby to ask them about planting the plot with some evergreen ground cover and winter pansies. He herds the little boys who come to water the flowers, divvies the tip between them, and then shoos them off. When I ask about the little hollow at the foot of the kerb enclosure, he informs me that it’s for the birds to drink from. The birds carry your prayers for the dead. He duly fetches a bottle of water from the boot of his taxi to fill the hollow with water.

On the drive home, he tells us that he’s the head of the taxi stand and that we should call him if ever we need anything. He hands me his card, and I read his name — it’s Hayati, meaning, “of life”, or “vital”.

That’s when I realize that we’ve been under the care of a “psychopomp”, a guide to the underworld. As I thank Hayati Bey for his help and pay him his fare, I’m thinking about how myths can still help us recognize the patterns in our modern-day lives, and if not ease our passage, then at least give us a diverting story to retell.

So being a lover of words I had to look up “psychopomp”.  The definition is (in Greek mythology) a guide of souls to the place of the dead.

  • the spiritual guide of a living person’s soul.
  • “a psychopomp figure who stays by her and walks in her dreams”

Psychopomps are creatures, spirits, angels, demons, 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 guide them.

Classical examples of a psychopomp

The ancient Egyptian god Anubis, the deity Yama in Hinduism, the Greek ferryman Charon and god Hermes, the Roman god Mercury, the Norse Valkyries, the Aztec Xolotl, Slavic Morana, and the Etruscan Vanth.

In modern religion

Heibai Wuchang, literally “Black and White Impermanence”, are two Deities in Chinese folk religion in charge of escorting the spirits of the dead to the underworld.

The form of Shiva as Tarakeshwara in Hinduism performs a similar role, although leading the soul to moksha rather than an afterlife. Additionally, in the Bhagavata Purana, the Visnudutas and Yamadutas are also messengers for their respective masters, Vishnu and Yama. Their role is illustrated vividly in the story of Ajamila.

In the Persian tradition, Daena, the Zoroastrian self-guide, appears as a beautiful young maiden to those who deserve to cross the Chinvat Bridge or a hideous old hag to those who do not.

In Islam, Azrael plays the role of the angel of death who carries the soul up to the heavens. However, he only acts with the permission of God.

A Jewish Psychopomp is the archangel Samael whose role in Talmudic and post-Talmudic lore is both as Angel of death and accuser.

In many cultures

The shaman fulfills the role of the psychopomp. This may include not only accompanying the soul of the dead but also helping at birth, to introduce the newborn child’s soul to the world.  This also accounts for the contemporary title of “midwife to the dying” or “End of Life Doula”, which is another form of psychopomp work.

In Filipino culture, ancestral spirits (anito) function as psychopomps. When the dying calls out to specific dead persons (e.g. parents, partners), the spirits of the latter are supposedly visible to the former. The spirits, who traditionally wait at the foot of the deathbed, retrieve (Tagalog: sundô) the soul soon after death and escort it into the afterlife.

In Christianity, Saint Peter, Michael the Archangel, and Jesus are thought of as psychopomps either as leading the dead to heaven or, as in the case of Peter, allowing them through the gates.

The underworld is perhaps the most important motif in mythology and literature – tied up with ideas about life, the afterlife, belief, culture, storytelling, and the psyche, it’s the setting of humanity’s reckoning with the ephemeral nature of mortality.

Psychology

In Jungian psychology, the psychopomp is a mediator between the unconscious and conscious realms. It is symbolically personified in dreams as a wise man or woman, or sometimes as a helpful animal.

The underworld is a world of adventure, the underworld is a world of the dead.

In dreams, or in your Mind’s Eye, the “Threshold of Adventure” is when you leave the Ordinary World behind. The rest of your story takes place in this symbolic underworld until your psyche crosses the threshold once again and returns home.

Who are some of the Psychopomps?

Charon

Charon is the ferryman who, after receiving a soul from Hermes, would guide them across the rivers Styx and/or Acheron to the underworld. At funerals, the deceased traditionally had an obol placed over their eye or under their tongue, so they could pay Charon to take them across.

Thanatos

Also known as the Pale Horseman, the same as that of the ancient Greek personification of death, and the only one of the horsemen to be named.  His counterpart in Roman mythology is Mors or Letum. Thanatos is the son of Nyx (Goddess of Night) and brother of Hypnos (God of Sleep).

Anubis

Depicted as a protector of graves as early as the First Dynasty (c. 3100 – c. 2890 BC).  Anubis is a jackal-headed deity who presides over the afterlife as well as the patron god of lost souls and the helpless. When the dead are being judged by Osiris, Anubis places their hearts on one side of a scale and a feather (representing Maat) on the other.

Yama

Yama and Yami are, in some myths, the first humans and creators of the human race, but in other versions, Yama is the first human to die and so the first to pass into the next world.  Yama (Sanskrit: यम), is the Hindu god of Death and Justice and is responsible for the dispensation of law and punishment of sinners in his abode, Yamaloka. Yama is also one of the oldest deities in the pantheon and some of his earliest appearances are found in the Rigveda. 

Mercury

Mercury is a major god in Roman religion and mythology. He is the god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery, and thieves; he also serves as the guide of souls to the underworld.  He was awarded a magic wand by Apollo, which later turned into the caduceus, the staff with intertwined snakes.

The Caduceus was a mark of professionalism long before there were accreditations to be had. Using the two snakes is a nod to those efforts to make the trade professional and accountable. But if you want to be accurate, it’s the staff with one snake you’re after.

Interesting side note: there is also a snake staff in the Bible: According to the Bible, Nehushtan was a metal serpent mounted on a staff that Moses had made, by God’s command, to cure the Israelites of snake bites while wandering in the desert. The bronze serpent on a rod, whose mere contemplation is sufficient to cure anyone bitten by a snake, symbolizes salvation. The image thus foreshadows Christ’s crucifixion, which brings redemption to humankind and triumphs over the mortal serpent of Original Sin.

Valkyries

A Valkyrie is a figure in Norse mythology depicted as a warrior woman on horseback, a wolf or boar, and armed with a spear. A Valkyrie is one of a host of female figures who guide the souls of the deceased on one of two paths. Selecting among half of those who die in battle go to Fólkvangr, Freyja’s afterlife, and the other half go to Odin’s hall called Valhalla. There, the deceased warriors become einherjar.

Xolotl

In Aztec mythology, Xolotl was a god of fire and lightning. He was commonly depicted as a dog-headed man and was a soul guide for the dead.  In addition, the Aztecs believed Xolotl was the Sunset god; he accompanied and guarded the Sun into the land of Death every night. The world was said to have been destroyed four times before our present age. Xolotl was said to have transformed into a salamander (Axolotls), among other forms, to avoid being sacrificed so the sun and moon could move in the sky. 

Note about Axolotls:  These Mexican amphibians are impressive enough on their own, with the ability to regenerate lost limbs and stay “young” throughout their lives.

Morana

Some medieval Christian sources such as the Czech 13th century Mater Verborum compare her to the Greek goddess Hecate, associating her with sorcery.  Morana has many names: Marzanna (in Polish), Morė (in Lithuanian), Marena (in Russian), Mara (in Ukrainian), Morana (in Czech, Slovene, and Serbo-Croatian), Morena (in Slovak and Macedonian) or Mora (in Bulgarian).  She is a pagan goddess associated with seasonal rites based on the idea of death and the rebirth of nature. She was imagined either as a black-haired, pale woman with fangs and claws or similar to Baba Yaga – as an ugly, old witch.

Vanth

Vanth is an Etruscan Goddess of the Underworld, perhaps a psychopomp, whose presence indicates recent or impending death. Her character is a little ambiguous—for while She is present at these scenes She does not usually take an active role, and thus some authorities call Her an “angel”, others a “demon”.  She is almost always shown with great arching wings that spread out behind Her and which have probably contributed to the appellation of “angel”. Sometimes Her wings are painted with eyes, perhaps to represent all-seeing and inevitable death. She carries a torch with which to light the dark Underworld. She can also be shown with a key with which to open the tomb or gate to the Underworld; and/or with snakes twined around both forearms, their heads in Her hands.  She is quite frequently depicted as a partner to Charun, the Etruscan version of the Greek Charon, the Underworld guardian whose job it was to ferry souls over the river Styx. One favorite way of pairing them was to paint one on each side of the door of a tomb as if guarding the entrance.

Shinigami

Shinigami are gods or supernatural spirits that invite humans toward death in certain aspects of Japanese religion and culture. The death spirit’s job is to invite mortal humans to death, which sounds much more polite than having your soul reaped by a tall skeleton in a robe. However, just which kami are true Shinigami is not always clear.  The word “Shinigami” is made from two other Japanese words: “shi” and “kami”. These literally mean “death” and “god”.  In Japanese mythology, the world is filled with kami of various sorts. Everything in the world has a spirit that governs it. There are kami of the sky, kami of the rivers, kami of luck, and, of course, kami of death. These are the Shinigami.  Shinigami have been described as monsters, helpers, and creatures of darkness.

Grim Reapers

Despite their Western origin, many people will refer to both the Death Note characters and the folkloric Shinigami using the Japanese name instead of the English translation or even “Grim Reaper”.  Death is frequently imagined as a personified force. In some mythologies, a character known as the Grim Reaper causes the victim’s death by coming to collect that person’s soul.  Death, especially when personified as a man or skeleton, is described with a scythe.  The Grim Reaper has often – falsely – been depicted as an evil spirit that preys on mortals. In truth, however, they are neither evil nor good, merely a force of nature and order.  Death makes its home in the Realm of Death, a dimension normally inaccessible to the living.  Just like other psychopomps, the Grim Reaper’s job is to escort departed souls to the afterlife. The Reaper doesn’t necessarily take a soul to Heaven, Hell, or any other religious afterlife. It simply helps the recently deceased cross the boundary between this life and whatever’s on the other side.

Words Have Power

Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

As one of the winners of the “Here’s Where It Gets Crazy” sweepstakes, I received an advance copy of Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know.  The book has been interesting. #STDWYTK

One of the interesting things for me is some of the WORDS they have used in their stories of conspiracy theories.

For example, Obfuscate, Prevaricate, Omission, and Commission.

In their first story “Your Government is Lying to You”

For many folks watching the news, reading social media, or speaking with their loved ones, hearing something described as a conspiracy theory automatically detracts from the credibility of the claims. This is both convenient and dangerous. Of course, the world would be a simpler, possibly happier place if just calling something untrue made it so. But that is not the world we live in.

The book explores genuine conspiracies and the theories that spring from them.

It states:

Why do so many government-related conspiracy theories seem plausible? Because the US government has actively, provably lied about its actions in the past. If it actually did that, the argument goes, why couldn’t it do this? The simplicity of this logic is intoxicating because the undeniable reality of our world is that governments lie.  They obfuscate. They prevaricate. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, the collection of bureaucrats, administrators, and pollical leaders who make up your country’s government has deceived you in the past and are almost certainly deceiving you in some way right now – whether by omission or by commission.

So, let’s break down these words.

Obfuscate

To render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible.

Similar: confuse, blur, muddle, jumble, complicate, garble, muddy, cloud  

What does it mean to obfuscate the truth?  Some people are experts at obfuscating the truth by being evasive, unclear, or obscure in the telling of the facts. The people who are good at obfuscating would include defense lawyers and teenagers asked about their plans for Saturday night.

Prevaricate

To speak or act in an evasive way.

Similar: be evasive, beat around the bush, hedge, fence, shilly-shally, shuffle

Some common synonyms of prevaricate are equivocate, fib, lie, and palter. While all these words mean “to tell an untruth,” Prevaricate softens the bluntness of a lie by implying quibbling or confusing the issue.

Omission

A person or thing that has been left out or excluded.

Similar: deletion, cut, exclusion, gap, blank, oversight

What are acts of omission?  An act that was pre-agreed but failed to act upon. More so when there was a duty to the individual or the public with the said act. Omissions are more common than thought in legal disputes yet are not something typically associated with crime.

Commission

An instruction, command, or duty is given to a person or group of people.

Similar: task, employment, job, work, piece of work, project, mission

What does it mean to commission something or someone?  The act of committing or entrusting a person, group, etc., with supervisory power or authority. an authoritative order, charge, or direction. The authority granted for a particular action or function. a document granting such authority.

Catch of the Day – How to Clean Fresh Fish

No doubt about it Fresh Fish is one of the best ways to stay healthy

Fish is a low-fat high-quality protein. Fish is filled with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins such as D and B2 (riboflavin). Fish is rich in calcium and phosphorus and a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week as part of a healthy diet. Fish is packed with protein, vitamins, and nutrients that can lower blood pressure and help reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Eating fish is an important source of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential nutrients keep our heart and brain health. Two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Our bodies don’t produce omega-3 fatty acids so we must get them through the food we eat. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in every kind of fish but are especially high in fatty fish. Some good choices are salmon, trout, sardines, herring, canned mackerel, canned light tuna, and oysters.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

Help maintain a healthy heart by lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of sudden death, heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms, and strokes.

Aid healthy brain function and infant development of vision and nerves during pregnancy.

May decrease the risk of depression, ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and diabetes.

May prevent inflammation and reduce the risk of arthritis.

Cultural Importance

Fish is an important cultural icon that defines a recreational as well as a spiritual way of life. Fish is not only an important source of nutrition, the act of catching, preparing, and eating fish are important cultural and family practices as well. To Native American Indian Tribes, fish, especially salmon, are an integral part of their lives, and serve as a symbol of their prosperity, culture, and heritage.

How to clean and prepare fish before cooking

Follow this link to a YouTube video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWnmQubQYlE

Should I wash fresh fish before cooking?

Food Safety experts (including us at USDA) do not recommend washing raw meat and poultry before cooking. Many bacteria are quite loosely attached and when you rinse these foods the bacteria will be spread around your kitchen.

Per Van Isle Marina here are step-by-step instructions

Cleaning Fish on a boat or next to your fishing spot

It’s never the best part of the fishing experience, and it’s often a thankless task, but someone on board the boat or at your fishing spot has got to do it. We’re talking about cleaning your catch. Knowing how to clean a fish properly is something every fisherman should know how to do. It’s the first step in getting your fish to taste delicious, after all.

When do you need to clean your fish?

Try and clean your fish within an hour or two of catching it, or at the very least, on the day you catch it – this is true even if you are planning on freezing the fish eventually. If you’ll be out fishing for several days, it will be important you have everything you need to easily clean your catch right there on the spot. Fortunately, you don’t need much to clean a fish.

To clean a fish, you’ll need a sanitary workstation

Dull butter knife, spoon, or fork for removing scales

Pliers if removing skin

Sharp knife for gutting your fish

Bucket to collect your fish guts

Clean ice bucket to collect your clean fish

Newspaper or plastic lining (optional)

Plastic gloves (optional)

Clean running water

Cleaning a fish in 7 easy steps

Step 1: Bleed the Fish

A fish should be bled when you first catch it to preserve the flavor of the meat and to make for a cleaner gutting experience. To do so, make a shallow incision under the fish’s gills. Snap its head back, breaking the spinal cord, then thread a rope through its mouth and out the gills. Allow the fish to bleed out into the water. Put the fresh catch on ice. Keep it there until you’re ready for the next steps.

Step 2: Prepare Your Materials

Lay out some newspaper on your sanitized workspace to help absorb liquids spilling from the fish and onto the floor. Do your fish cleaning outdoors if possible as it’s going to get messy! Use gloves if you prefer and have them handy.

Have your bag or bucket nearby to collect the bones, fins, head, and guts of the fish.

Inspect your fish for signs of diseases, including spots, sores, wounds, and discoloration before proceeding.

Step 3: Remove Scales

Remove the scales from your cold fish using a dull knife, fork, or spoon. From the tail towards the head, use a raking motion working against the direction of the scales. Do both sides of the fish, as well as the top and bottom.

Don’t worry if you can’t remove all the scales (they are not harmful to consume) – just aim for most of them because they don’t taste very good.

If you’re dealing with a thick-skinned fish, consider skinning it instead of descaling. To do this, cut a 1-inch notch where the top of the fish’s head connects to its body. Grip the fish at the head and simply peel the skin down to the tail. Pliers might be needed if the skin is tough.

Step 4: Remove Guts

It’s time to gut your fish. To do so, cut a long, shallow incision along the belly of the fish from the anus to the base of the gills. The incision must be shallow, or you’ll nick the intestines, making them harder and much messier to remove.

Remove the fish guts from the abdominal cavity with your fingers or scoop them out with a spoon. The guts should be easy to remove, albeit unpleasant. Don’t miss anything! There might be darker membranes remaining in certain types of fish. Be sure to scrape these out as well to prevent a strong flavor and aroma from making its way into your meal.

Step 5: Remove Fins and Head

Remove the head of the fish if you plan on doing so. Cut it off from directly behind the gills. Some people choose to leave the head on the fish, and in some cooking methods – for trout especially – the head adds flavor and depth to your dish.

Next, remove the dorsal fin at the bottom of the fish (also optional) by quickly pulling it firmly towards the head. Removing the dorsal fin, if done in a swift motion, removes many small bones from your fish. You can also just cut it off.

Dispose of your fish guts responsibly. If you’re out on the open ocean, toss the guts back in, but if you’re in a residential area/smaller lake, it’s best to wrap these up in the newspaper and dispose of them when you’re back on shore.

Step 6: Rinse or Wipe Down the Fish

Quickly rinse the fish in cold water – inside and out – specifically rinsing off any blood, sticky scales, and other random fish bits. There are no cleaning chemicals required here – just water ought to do it. However, don’t overdo it with the water, or else you end up washing away the flavor of the fish. If you prefer, you can gently wipe the fish with a paper towel rather than rinsing it.

Step 7: Cook Your Fish

Depending on your preferred cooking method, you might have more prep work to do before you can cook your fish, like filleting or cutting it into steaks, and removing its backbone prior to cooking (if you’re not BBQing or baking it whole).

Either way, you’re done cleaning and are well on your way to enjoying your catch of the day!