Introducing the Cultural Psychopomp
Lately I've been chewing on the idea that some people who write about the potential collapse/transition/reorganization of modern civilization are acting - whether consciously or not - as "cultural psychopomps".

Traditionally, a psychopomp (also known as a "death midwife") is someone who helps a dying individual cross over to the afterlife:
"A psychopomp is a guide, whose primary function is to escort souls to the afterlife, but they can also serve as guides through the various transitions of life. The term originates from the Greek words pompos (conductor or guide) and psyche (breath, life, soul, or mind). Such guidance generally guarantees a successful transition for the soul, but there are other times when additional aid is needed. This has long been a role of the shaman and others with the ability to travel to the spirit realms and offer help to those in need.
Stories of psychopomps are widespread throughout the mythological tales, religious texts, sacred narratives, and real-life stories of people around the world."
It occurred to me that some of the writers I follow in the Doomosphere™, particularly those with a broad multi-disciplinary understanding of the situation as well as an understanding of its spiritual dimension, may be serving in the capacity of psychopomps to a culture they see as standing on the brink of metaphorical death.  This line of thought was triggered by a paragraph from Peter Kingsley's remarkable new book A Story Waiting to Pierce You:

The simple truth is that every single civilization, including this western world, was brought into being from a sacred place to serve a sacred purpose. And when that purpose is forgotten, when its original alignment gets lost, when the fundamental balance and harmony of its existence becomes disrupted beyond a certain point, then nature has her way. This is the mystery of birth and death not only for humans, but for cultures too. And for thousands of years it has been understood that, just as civilizations have to come to an end, there can even be times of global extinctions. But always there are people who know how to gather the essence of life and hold it safely, protect it and nurture it until the next seeding.
I would include in this group people like Joanna Macy, Carolyn Baker, Charles Eisenstein, David Korten and the late Thomas Berry.  They all have a deep understanding of the fact that our civilization is entering a phase shift, and have devoted themselves to helping us find the way across.
I haven't seen the term "cultural psychopomp" used very much yet, but it feels to me like an idea whose time has come.

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Paul Chefurka
February 13, 2011

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