Psychopomp Intervention

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In early March 2012 I traveled to Real de Catorce, a tourist mining town in Central Mexico, arriving with a group of my shamanic students to do some ceremonial work in this high desert region. I have been going to Real for the last twenty five years and this was our annual pilgrimage lasting for several days. The town lies close to Mount Quemado, most sacred pilgrimage destination of the Huichol people, in the news recently because of a huge protest over an effort to mine the mountain by a Canadian mining company. Fortunately the protest was successful and the Mexican government issued a stay to all operations on Quemado.

After performing our ceremonies and prayers we always visit the Church of Guadalupe, a church that lies just outside the village, built in sixteen hundred by the Franciscans with indigenous labor. Although there is a large Catholic Cathedral in the center of town, I like to visit the little church because it was built by and for the indigenous people and therefore has unique qualities. It is situated with a view of Mount Quemado and is surrounded by a colorful and quite beautiful cemetery. Rather than Jesus hanging on the cross over the altar characteristic of most churches in Mexico, this church has a big picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe over the altar instead. Clearly it is a church dedicated to the feminine face of spirit rather than the masculine.

On this occasion we arrived at the church and after visiting inside, the woman caretaking the church (whom I shall call Carolina) pointed out to us a fresh grave outside. She said it was the grave of a young man only twenty-eight years old who had been murdered in town the week prior. She went on to explain in Spanish that he was her husband’s nephew and it had been a tragic sudden death. Another young man had stabbed him in the neck during a fight and he died quickly spilling much blood. While I was in a great mood before, the minute I arrived at the grave I felt a wave of disturbance wash over me. I wanted to get away as quickly as possible. This told me that there was some work to do at this site, that this soul had not crossed over in a peaceful way, and was still hanging around the gravesite. Some of my students also said they felt the same disturbance at the site. Not prepared to do anything that day, I resolved to come back with my tools and do some work later. I realized that it was also a perfect opportunity to do some SWB and actual psychopomp work and it presented a spontaneous teaching situation for my students.

Armed with rattles, tobacco, feathers and other tools we returned on another day to take on the task. There were about twelve of us in our small group as some elected not to come because of exhaustion as a result of the high altitude and our ceremonial activities over the last few days and nights.

Here is what transpired to the best of my recollection with some help from those who participated:

We again met Carolina the caretaker and asked her permission to do some prayers and work at the gravesite. Being Mexican she was very happy to hear our intent and she quickly agreed, coming with us to watch our activities. The first order of business was to ask permission of the spirit in question (I shall call him Pedro here) if we could indeed be of some service. Everybody but one person got a “yes” and for the one person it was unclear.

Carolina told us that people had brought rocks covered with blood from the murder scene to the gravesite and she pointed them out to us. Graves in this cemetery are fairly close to the surface due to the rocky and hard ground. Each grave is piled high with mounds of earth and rock and this one was no exception. After checking in I sensed that the next step in our process would be to clean the grave with tobacco smoke and sage. The entire group participated in this process. I instructed them to clean not only the outside of the grave but to visualize cleaning the body as well. I also used a chunk of black tourmaline to clean any negative energy from the grave that may have accumulated. After, this the gravesite felt much cleaner yet there was still much work to do.

The third step was to journey on the spot. Our group distributed itself around the grave and sat down on the earth. It was sunny, mid afternoon, and the wind picked up strongly as we began the journey. We had no drum with us at the site so I found an empty plastic pot and overturned it to use as a makeshift drum. Our group was experienced at journeying so I simply gave them the instructions to travel with a guide to where the spirit of the young man was and ask about this condition, his well being, what he needed, whether we could help him, and how. Then I proceeded with the drumming, using my knuckles as a beater. After about ten minutes I stopped and one by one we went around and heard from each member of the group about what they got. I will begin here with my own experience and then summarize the rest.

Although I asked for my guide I traveled only a short distance and discovered that Pedro was close to his body at the gravesite. He appeared frightened and confused but he was able to answer questions. His essence told me that he had a substance abuse problem and that alcohol was a significant factor in his death. Also his death coincided with his Saturn return, the end of the fourth cycle of seven in his life. He had been heading down a self-destructive path and chose the murder as a way of ending his life since he did not see a future for himself. The death also qualified as the completion of a karmic debt. On the essence level, he was interested in help crossing over to the other side and was available to us at this time. I saw also that on the personality level, he did not know what had happened to him and that he wasn’t quite sure he was dead. He seemed to be quite connected with his mother and asked about her. He needed to be surrounded by golden light and was helped across with this light and with the assistance of Kauyumari, the great blue deer and powerful symbol of the Huichol.

Here is what the others in the group shared:

Four people said that he seemed very interested in alcohol and one reported that he asked them for a beer.

Two people reported that he missed his mother and that he wanted to say goodbye to her, that he would be willing to go if we could get a message to her that he loved her.

Eight of the twelve reported that he seemed confused and lost and didn’t seem to know he was dead or what had happened to him.

Seven people reported that he seemed sad or depressed.

Eleven people reported that he was open to assistance. One person reported that he was not entirely open to help and that he seemed to want to go back to his life as it was. Note: This appeared to be an accurate assessment of his personality. On an essence level he was much more cooperative and interested in help.

All twelve people reported that he seemed to be hanging around his gravesite and was close by.

Four people reported that he needed a field of bright light to help him cross over.

Two people reported that he needed a rainbow to cross over.

Three people reported that he needed a feminine figure to help him over. Two mentioned the Virgin of Guadalupe.

One person said it seemed important for him to go back into the church in order to leave the area on his journey to the other side.

I suggested that we rattle over the grave to break up any patterns that might be holding Pedro back. I used a peyote rattle and proceeded to rattle vigorously over the grave when suddenly the head popped off the rattle spraying the seeds inside all over the grave. Others produced rattles at that point and continued to rattle. Afterwards the consensus was that major patterns had been broken with the breaking of the rattle.

I suggested to everyone that we all hold hands around the grave and asked them to follow a guided visualization based on what we had all come up with. I began by speaking directly to Pedro. I told him that we were here to assist him to cross over to where he needed to go now that his body was no longer viable to him. I told him that we did not know exactly where he needed to go but spirit knew that and would direct him. He could use this assistance we were offering him or not. It was up to him. I told him that we would see to it that his messages to his mother and family members would be delivered.

I then told the group to visualize a beautiful bright field of light all over the gravesite and up into the church and all around the area. I asked them to visualize a beautiful rainbow leading to the other side and at the other end of the rainbow, the Virgin of Guadalupe waiting to receive him. On this side of the rainbow would be the Huichol Blue Deer, Kauyumari, ready to lead him to the other side.

After several intense minutes we released each others hands and the procedure was done. Then we shared with one another what we had noticed. Everyone agreed that he had taken the opportunity and had gone. Kauyumari was very gentle with him and led him over to his mother substitute, the Virgin of Guadalupe, whom he felt very safe with. We all agreed that on a strictly personality level he still seemed to crave beer.

I then suggested that we use tobacco to thoroughly clear ourselves of any residue from this work. We helped one another with tobacco smoke and this felt quite good.

Afterward I wandered over to where Carolina, the caretaker, was now sitting with her husband who had joined her. He sat next to her smiling broadly at me. Apparently he had been watching the proceedings as well. In Spanish I told them what had transpired and they nodded their heads agreeably. I asked them if Pedro had had trouble with alcohol and they said yes, he had, and that he and other young men had all been drinking when the murder took place. I asked if he had been in trouble and they said yes. Then I asked if he had been particularly close to his mother and they both agreed that yes, he had been and that she was heartbroken over his death and visited the gravesite every day weeping. I told them of his desire to tell his family and particularly his mother that he missed them and that he wanted to say goodbye and that he loved them. They agreed to tell the family and seemed very satisfied about what had transpired.

We all left the cemetery with a mixture of feelings, elated, relieved, and tired all at the same time. It had clearly been a very intense experience for everyone.


I cannot say for sure exactly where he went but it seemed quite clear that Pedro was no longer going to hang around his buried body.

Clearly he is addicted to alcohol and he may have to work out this addiction in a bardo state before he can move on in his experience.

The experience seemed productive to all involved, Pedro, the caretakers, and our group.

We all got value and learned something from the experience. Just because a person’s body is dead does not mean they do not still crave what they did in their life. He appeared to be hanging around for some more beer in addition to wanting to say goodbye but not knowing how.

We cannot always fix it for a person who has died but we can help to send them on their way to the next step in their journey. We can be the carriers of communication and messages that wish to be sent to love ones left behind.

One thing is sure. The grave no longer feels disturbed and tragic. It feels like any other grave in the cemetery, rather neutral. If we had had more time and had known where the murder took place, we could have perhaps gone there and done some work to clear that location up as well. However, since we were leaving early the next morning, we had no time to do this. We did what we could. All is well.


José Stevens

José Luis Stevens, PhD is the president and co-founder (with wife Lena) of Power Path Seminars, an international school and consulting firm dedicated to the study and application of shamanism and indigenous wisdom to business and everyday life. José completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol (Wixarika) Maracame (Huichol shaman) in the Sierras of Central Mexico. In addition, he is studying with Shipibo shamans in the Peruvian Amazon and with Paqos (shamans) in the Andes in Peru. In 1983 he completed his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies focusing on the interface between shamanism and western psychological counseling. Since then, he has studied cross-cultural shamanism around the world to distill the core elements of shamanic healing and practice. He is the author of twenty books and numerous articles including Encounters With Power, Awaken The Inner Shaman, The Power Path, Secrets of Shamanism, Transforming Your Dragons and How To Pray The Shaman’s Way.

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You may make copies of this writing and distribute it in any media you wish, so long as you do not charge for it or alter it in any way. You must credit the author and include this entire copyright notice. While the text may be shared, no audio files, including lectures, music and/or sound meditations, may be posted on any site for any reason without written permission from the Power Path.

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