Many religious belief systems have a particular spirit, angel, or deity whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to the afterlife. These creatures are called psychopomps, from the Greek word ψυχοπομπός (psychopompos), literally meaning the "guide of souls". Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply provide safe passage. Frequently depicted on funerary art, psychopomps have been associated at different times and in different cultures with horses, whippoorwills, ravens, dogs, crows, owls, sparrows, harts, and dolphins.
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. In many cultures, the shaman also fulfills the role of the psychopomp. This may include not only accompanying the soul of the dead, but also vice versa: to help at birth, to introduce the newborn's soul to the world (p. 36 of ). This also accounts for the contemporary title of "midwife to the dying," which is another form of psychopomp work.
George Lass and the other reapers on the Showtime series Dead Like Me are more accurately described as psychopomps, as they do not actually kill people but instead remove their souls moments before death and escort them to the afterlife.
The Reapers of the TV series Supernatural act as psychopomps.
In modern literature, the title character of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is said to act as a guide for children: “At first Mrs. Darling did not know, but after thinking back into her childhood she just remembered a Peter Pan who was said to live with the fairies. There were odd stories about him; as that when children died he went part of the way with them, so that they should not be frightened.”
In Northern Lights Yambe Akka serves as a guide to dead or dying witches, taking them peacefully to the underworld.
Enma Ai of the anime series Jigoku Shoujo acts as a psychopomp, ferrying grudged-upon souls to Hell.
Death is one of many psychopomp characters in Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics. Lucifer Morningstar is another psychopomp and refers to himself as one when he kills the Shiko-Mi demon in the second story arc.
At the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Will Turner becomes a psychopomp by becoming the captain of the Flying Dutchman in order to guide the souls of men who died at sea to the land of the dead, a job previously tasked to but neglected by Davy Jones.
In the final episode of Six Feet Under, Nathanial and Nate Fisher serve as psychopomps for Ruth Fisher, while Keith Charles-Fisher serves as one for his husband, David.
Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series is inaugurated by On a Pale Horse, which introduces protagonist Zane, who inadvertently assumes the immortal role of psychopomp, Thanatos, through a confluence of circumstances surrounding a noncommittal suicide attempt.