Review: Deathwalking edited by Laura Perry

Deathwalking: Helping Them Cross the Bridge is a short book (88 pages) in the Moon Books Shaman Pathways series. It is edited by Pagan author and artist Laura Perry and features a dozen essays from Pagans and shamanic practitioners from various traditions and backgrounds.

Its focus is the little known or spoken about practice of deathwalking, or pyschopomping, which Laura explains is ‘helping the helping the spirits of the deceased move on from this world to the next.’

This interested me because, as a devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd, a god who guides the dead to the Annwn (the Brythonic Otherworld) I have been called on to retell the stories of the dead and to act as a guide on a couple of occasions, and wondered if I will be led to work more deeply in this area in the future.

If so, what might I expect? What guidance might someone new to psychopomping gain from this book?

As a relative newcomer to this area I found some of the essays easier to relate to than others. Perhaps because she is also an awenydd rooted in the Brythonic tradition, Elen Sentier’s spoke to me most. Her descriptions of washing the bodies of the dead, laid out on a kitchen table, with elder vinegar and a smoke wash from hedgerow herbs seemed so earthy and natural. Even in more difficult matters like helping a dead man pass by acting as a medium between him and his friend who killed him, and aiding her stepmother’s passing with thirteen friends, her words made intuitive sense.

Lucy Starza’s contribution on encountering Death as a ‘huge black bird’ who arrived to take a friend who had died of cardiac arrest in a nightclub, and to whom she prayed to aid the passing of her father, was moving and resonated deeply with my intuitions about birds as psychopomps.

I thought Veela Keelakantan and Danu Forest provided sound accounts of the myths and rites surrounding death in the Hindu and Celtic traditions. Laura Perry’s experiences of being opened to psychopomping as a child and Ilmelda Almqvist’s work with child psychopomps were illuminating.

The essays about more advanced shamanic techniques were challenging and real eye-openers. Midwife to the dead, Kenn Day, provides a poignant account of tracking down the ancestors of a dying woman who had lost her connection with them and reuniting her with her grandmother after death. Yvonne Ryves shares her experiences of performing ‘entity removals’: removing lost spirits who have attached themselves to clients through negotiating with them and providing them with a vessel.

In ‘Deathwalking with Reluctant Spirits’ Dorothy Abrams speaks of flying in spirit to Aleppo (presumably from her home in New York) to aid the passing of sixteen boys and their Imam who were killed by a bomb. I had always assumed shamanic practitoners serve mainly within their locality and tradition so this surprised me and raised questions about how far one’s responsibilities extend.

The piece I found it hardest to engage with was ‘Dealing with Misplaced Energy’ by Janet Elizabeth Gale. Some of the language was poorly chosen. For example ghosts are referred to as ‘aberrations’. I felt it could have benefited from an introductory discussion for beginners on how to discern when it is right to clear a place or a move a spirit on and when it best to leave them alone. It seemed implicit that one should follow the guidance of one’s spirits but, for me, this wasn’t made explicit enough.

Deathwalking is an eye-opening collection and I commend the contributors for having the courage to share their experiences of helping the dead to pass. Many are difficult and intimate and challenge the worldviews of secular society and the Abrahamic faiths by evidencing communications with spirits.

It has given me a clearer idea of what it is like to care for the dying and guide the dead. As the first book on this topic I would recommend it as a valuable resource for practicing psychopomps, those who are drawn to the practice, and any open-minded person with an interest in death and what lies beyond.

Deathwalking is available from Moon Books HERE.

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