Afterlife Connections

Afterlife Connections by Jan Engels-Smith

I have written two other articles on the topic of death and dying—“Death and Dying from a Shamanic Perspective” and “Psychopomp.” This third article describes contacting those in the afterlife. Afterlife contact is common amongst mediums as well as shamans. The contact involves a connection to and a conversation with someone who has crossed over into the light. In shamanism this is usually done for closure and is initiated by request from a client to make contact with someone on the other side. The shaman travels into the light calling the name of the deceased.   It is important for the shaman to intend for the highest version of the deceased to appear. The spirits have repeatedly told me that time is not linear, but holographic, meaning that all things happen at the same moment but in different realities. This makes shamanic journeying to visit different dimensions of life possible. The person doing the journey travels into a particular time dimension, which in these types of journeys is into the light.

A soul that is in the light is enlightened and this guarantees that the soul is only capable of expressing love, no matter what the circumstances were at their time of death or what type of relationship they had with the client. When a soul is enlightened there is a new perspective available to the deceased. In this perspective the deceased understands the trials and tribulations of life without judgment. An enlightened soul also can express a perception of life purpose often not available in a normal human awareness.

When contact is made by the shaman there is often a loving exchange, which in turn brings great healing and closure for the client. No matter what age the deceased was at the time of passing, the greatest and most radiant self usually appears. This includes those that died at birth, were aborted, or died very young. The soul will appear in its greatest version even if that was never expressed on the earth. For clients that struggled with a parent or loved one that was abusive or authoritative, this radiant version of the deceased can bring a complete transformation in the earthly relationship. In this contact with the deceased, I have witnessed miracles including an exchange of information that lifts pain out of a client’s body.

I would share these two very different examples to show the diverse ways journeys to the afterlife can help with difficult situations:

Jim, a client of mine, was struggling with a career decision. Jim’s current career had started with the death of John Lennon. Jim was about 18 years old at the time of Lennon’s death, but he had had a powerful experience, which changed the course of his life. When Lennon died, Jim felt John contact him. This contact was so powerful that Jim committed himself to John’s spirit and became obsessed with learning all of his music. Jim is a talented musician and developed a very successful band, which played Beatle standards. This supported Jim, both financially and soulfully. Jim felt that he was keeping John’s spirit alive through this commitment and dedication to his music. But after many years, Jim felt as if he were becoming lost as an individual. He wanted to develop his own style of music and be recognized for himself. There came a time when Jim was ready to hang up his Sergeant Pepper’s suit, but he had much indecision and remorse about this career change. He felt as though he were breaking his commitment to keep John and his music alive. He asked me to journey to John’s spirit in the light for closure.

My spirit helpers almost always show me things metaphorically during a journey, somewhat like a dream. Luckily for me, my spirit helpers also usually explain the metaphors to me, unlike a dream where you must figure out the symbolism for yourself. I contacted John in the afterlife. John said, “Let me show you some things.” The first scene that came to me was Jim lying on the floor sobbing into his hands. John walked up and pulled Jim to his knees. He then embraced him tightly. Jim continued to sob on John’s shoulder with John supporting and consoling him. The scene then changed to Jim and John flying through the air. Their bodies were actually blended, as if they were superimposed on each other. Each of them had one arm and leg free and off to the side, but their inside arms and legs were superimposed. John was about a head’s length in front of Jim. After several moments of this, the scene changed to Jim and John curling up into a ball, or sphere, that appeared like rolling light. I then saw the Earth off in the distance as if I was viewing the planet from a space capsule.

I asked for an explanation of the metaphors and I received the following understanding. The first scene, where John was consoling Jim, had a real twist in it for my client. Jim had been a drug addict, and his involvement with John’s music actually was part of his own healing. The Beatle tribute band had kept Jim productive, responsible, and clean. In order to be a success, he had to take care of himself. John was actually keeping Jim alive, not the other way around.

The second scene, with them flying through the air superimposed, was explained as Jim and John actually being the same soul expressed in two different incarnations at the same time! Absolutely amazing! John’s head was shown a head’s length in front of Jim because he was about 20 years older than Jim and further along in the expression of his life. I marveled at the meaning contained in such a simple image. I found it incredible.

The spirits then went on to explain the imagery of the spherical ball of light that Jim and John became. They stressed again through this imagery that time is not linear; it is holographic. There really is no such thing as past or future lives. Everything is happening simultaneously in different dimensions of time. The Earth was used to illustrate that we can look at all individuals and see different incarnations of our soul being lived out. We’ve got a whole planet of people who are different expressions of us. John Lennon’s words from “I Am the Walrus” are interestingly appropriate to Jim’s experience, like a message to him across time:

I am he,

and he is me,

and we are all together.

With this information and closure to his Beatle band career Jim started a new music career. John in his enlightened self was able to explain these greater life perceptions in such a fascinating way that it not only helped and healed my client Jim but also brought me into a state of awe, propelling me into many more exploratory journeys about incarnation.

March 6, 2015 marked the two-year anniversary of my mom’s passing. It is strange for someone such as myself, who teaches death and dying, has a large clientele of those that want to communicate with their deceased loved ones, and am presenting at the National Afterlife Conference this spring, to state that I had not made contact with my mom since she had passed. We had done numerous “pre-crossing” journeys together and she had a stellar death process. To me everything was and is in divine order.

But on March 6, as I gazed upon the beautiful blooming star gazer magnolia tree that a couple of students/friends had given me to acknowledge her death, I knew that this was the day to make contact with her in the afterlife.

I had a quiet space and my husband was at the park with our 18-month-old grandson so I had a couple hours to myself. I began my connection journey and found myself sobbing within minutes. A floodgate of emotion swept through me. I had not realized how much I had pent up inside myself the feelings of missing my mom.

My mom appeared in all her radiance. The love emanating from her was spellbinding. We greeted, hugged, kissed, and wrapped ourselves together. I was overwhelmed with recall of special intimate moments. My life flashed before me with magical instances with my mom. It was holographic in nature. All my senses where activated: smell, touch, sight and sound. I was reliving my life with my mom much as I would image a life review but everything happened simultaneously and holistically instead of in chronological order. I fully embodied our life together from my birth to her death. I basked in this love fest for several minutes.

As our time progressed and I gained my composure, I asked her what she wished to share with me. She said: Life is all about relationships. Love is just another word for relationships. All relationships need to eventually be unconditional. What you don’t bring into alignment in this lifetime you will repeat until you get it right. (I was thinking ground hog day on steroids!) Time passes on earth like a flash, enjoy and foster good relationships. Make that happen for yourself. Do whatever you can to make that happen, always. Share this information with your children, your grandchildren, your friends and all that you know. Relationships are the foundation of love. I contemplated her statements. My mom never taught with words, always through example. Her relationships were exemplary. Of course this would carry over to the afterlife. Had she discovered the truth about love while living? My heart was bursting.

I asked her, what she would like me to do with her ashes. She laughed and said, “Put me in your garden. I will help your flowers grow.”

She exited with a wave, a laugh and a wink. “See you soon!” I laughed.

As we have heard over and over again from sage, prophet, scholar, and saint, life is short, enjoy each moment, and enjoy each other!

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Transition Blanket

Transition Blanket by Jan Engels-Smith

Transition Blanket


I created a Transition Blanket in preparation for my father’s imminent death. To this day, this sacred object continues to bestow life-altering blessings on my entire family. I’m convinced that this divinely inspired gift is meant to reach far beyond my own family after witnessing what this blanket did not only for my father, but for all who experienced its healing power. This is the story of how the first Transition Blanket came into being, and the remarkable impact it had on everyone it touched.

When my father died, he died with an expression of horror frozen on his face. His eyes bulged; a mask of stark terror twisted his visage as his final breath escaped- a deeply distressing image that haunted all of us who witnessed his passage. My stepmother instantly succumbed to a wrenching fear that something awful had just happened to her beloved husband on the Other Side and that he was now trapped in a terrible place, for eternity. She was inconsolably distraught.

In my own heart, I knew how much my father had always dreaded death and his ultimate passage into unknown realms. Once this inevitable moment was upon him, it was impossible for Dad to conceal his terror any longer. I felt certain what we’d seen on my father’s face was simply a lifetime of fear at last releasing itself; though realizing this brought little solace. I, too, felt overwhelmed at this moment, imagining what the future would be like as I struggled to make peace with this final horrific scene, and somehow bring comfort to my family in the days and years ahead.

The Transition Blanket proved to be the generous purveyor of the strength and comfort we all needed to find. Its miraculous powers soon transformed our family’s experience from one of tragedy and suffering into an experience of profound healing and peaceful acceptance. Yet this miracle, like this very special blanket, took a while to unfold… Our ultimate opening to the inevitable death process may represent one of life’s richest experiences. In fact, ancient Tibetan traditions teach that death is life’s most important event. One’s own impending death, or the death of a loved one, holds great potential for shifting priorities and reframing relationships more profoundly than any other earthly event. Renewed and reshaped perceptions have the power to alter both physical and non-physical realities in surprising ways that can contribute enormously toward an aware and awakened life. Yet the looming sense of loss and finality that fills the heart and mind as death approaches can precipitate either great healing or emotionally devastating results. Death becomes the Master Teacher during such deeply transformational times. And so it was for my family…

I have spent my entire adult life in a career of service, helping people in difficult life situations. As a licensed psychologist, I’ve worked with thousands of individuals over the years. I am a seasoned alternative healer as well, primarily in shamanic practices, having received formal training and intense individual instruction from powerful medicine people. I teach shamanic classes on death and dying. I’m a certified Reiki master and have been actively merging my shamanic training with Reiki disciplines for ten years. Yet none of this extensive experience had fully prepared me for this time when I would be called to usher my own family through the gates.

I felt an overwhelming personal sorrow about soon losing all physical connection with my dying father. We lived thousands of miles apart. Knowing I could help him in so many ways, if we lived closer left me frustrated and longing for deeper connection. I called upon the spirits and other compassionate energies for assistance, as is my shamanic way.

It is impossible to fully explain the spiritual beliefs I hold, or the nature of my personal interactions with the divine realm, in the scope of this brief article, yet I must offer at least a little background so you can better understand the constant sources of my inspiration, and how the Transition Blanket eventually came to be.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, an unfathomable resource of wisdom and love, in many forms, exists just beyond what we know as our reality. This other universe is commonly called non-ordinary reality. In this parallel realm, all is possible. Non-ordinary reality is the place to which a shaman journeys in an altered state to obtain information from the spirit helpers. Reiki is also sourced from this sphere.

Keenly aware of my human limitations, I often journey out to ask my wise spirit helpers and guides for advice and assistance. Now I asked the spirits to teach me how I might best serve my father in spite of the physical distance between us. During this astounding journey, not only did my trusted allies show me powerful ways to support my elders, but they also tended my own grieving heart in the most loving and intimate way. I emerged with a clear sense of purpose and renewed confidence that all would be well as soon as I followed the detailed guidance I was given. The spirits were certainly answering my urgent needs, but it also felt like they were using me to “birth” yet another powerful healing method into ordinary reality, a method I would soon feel compelled to share with others. They were teaching me how to create a beautiful transition experience for my father, which included something I didn’t yet understand… a Transition Blanket!

The first task my spirit helpers assigned me was to examine and define what I personally believed about the death process. They wanted me to review how my Western culture had prepared me, or not prepared me, for the eventuality of a loved one’s death.

I was shocked by what I discovered. While my own unusual path of exploration and learning provided m with powerful beliefs and intricate road maps for navigating through the end-of-life experience, Western culture, in general, essentially ignores this entire “uncomfortable” subject. Fixated on perpetual youth and feel-good-now pursuits, Western culture acts as if death will never come.

It became painfully clear how ill-informed and ill-prepared our society is for the ineffable end-of-life event that will surely touch us all. In this fast-moving culture where elders are often pushed aside, viewed as burdens rather than precious reservoirs of wisdom, the ancient rituals and ceremonies that truly honor aging, and the sacred transition to the afterlife, have all but disappeared. Is it really any wonder we feel shocked, and lost, and utterly terrified when Death’s hard knuckles finally wrap upon our door?

My own father was one of these lost and terrified people now, facing the most profound, unknown experience of his life. Like so many others, Dad’s natural fear of the unknown was magnified because he had so little real knowledge about where he was going or how he was supposed to get there.

In my many years of counseling and death work, I’ve noticed that those who’ve led an essentially “unexamined life” seem to experience far greater anxiety and suffering as death approaches. They find themselves without any meaningful way to relate to the life they’ve lived, or to the great mystery that now unfolds before them. Their end-of-life struggle and confusion creates HUGE emotional distress, and their exit, which could be and should be an elegantly peaceful process, is severely hampered. What a terrible travesty this is!

Unfortunately, “pat” religious dogma that often preempts personal questioning and introspection can never substitute for a gentle, truly meaningful, and deeply explored experience when the end of life draws near. Unsupported by ancient beliefs, the powerful death rituals and ceremonies that once safely guided our forbears into the afterlife, how might we better prepare our “modern” selves for this inevitable end-of-life experience? What can we expect and what should we believe? Where is our roadmap? Perhaps the Transition Blanket had come to show us the way…

I hardly knew where to begin, but enduring love for my father held my feet to the sacred fire. I was supposed to create some kind of “transition blanket.” But beyond this, what exactly was I expected to do? If I truly intended to help my father, I needed to act NOW.

Long aware that our beliefs ultimately create our reality, it was time for me to carefully review my own beliefs about the death process, just as the spirits had already advised. I needed to recognize which of “my beliefs” were actually borrowed, and which were authentically mine. This would help me discover and discard any old, outmoded beliefs that now stood in my way. It was a daunting but necessary task if I hoped to offer my father a peaceful transition.

My head swirled with endless questions. Even with “freshly cleaned” beliefs, even if I were allowed to unravel the death mystery for myself, would my personal discoveries really translate to help others with very different beliefs? (like my own father, for example!) Could my intense desire to help him, along with some kind of “mystery blanket” actually bridge the huge gap between our personal beliefs about death and the afterlife… could a Transition Blanket somehow bring both ends of my father’s life circle gracefully back together again? Was there still enough time to find out?

In my father’s final moments, did I need to visualize my version of what the afterlife promised, or his? What exactly does my father believe about death anyway? An uncomfortable subject, to be sure! Like most families, we’d never really talked about it, and I’d never bothered to ask. How could I ever construct a proper Transition Blanket for him, or create a ceremony that would truly support his transition experience if I didn’t know these answers? Floundering in an endless sea of questions, I decided to seek more guidance from my trusted spirit helpers.

As I journeyed this time, a strange calm came over me and a plan suddenly emerged. A whole tapestry of death transition teachings already existed for me- threads of clarity woven throughout the various faiths of the world. I could look there for my answers!

There was no time to waste. I was already familiar with Methodist and Baptist versions of Christian doctrine from my childhood, though I’d left this path many years before. Now my belief system is steeped in the Lakota traditions, though I’m not a traditionalist by any stretch of the imagination. I began researching the death transition practices from many other cultures of the world.

The common thread unifying all these variant versions of the death transition always led the soul into a new existence. However, in these other traditions, without exception, each individual was carefully prepared in advance, receiving clearly defined information about the precise actions necessary to achieve a successful transition to the afterlife. Somehow, this critical piece was missing from “modern” Western culture’s puzzle and many souls were now paying the agonizing price.

For some unexplained reason, I suddenly found myself pondering the biblical concept that “wherever two or more are gathered” there is strength and power. Aha! Perhaps believing is the important part — maybe the “details” of what we believe really don’t matter much at all. In the final analysis, could it be that the generic power of believing (in anything!) supplies all the energy the human consciousness needs to escape the physical body and fuel the soul’s journey to the “believed in” afterlife? Wherever two or more are gathered. Propelled by the loving support of others who genuinely care about us, no matter what their personal beliefs- could this extra fuel ease and speed our death transition process? These sudden insights landed like rock-solid truth in the middle of my being- I was onto something here… I could feel it!

My new understanding indicated that no particular spiritual belief system is superior to any other. It also suggested that we might very well continue to follow our own truth, whatever it is, even after we die.

I was ecstatic! Oh, we are all such magnificent beings, filled with such incredible eternal power… but how easily we forget!

Hungry for even deeper understanding now, I journeyed again and again. With each journey, I discussed another layer of my feelings and my intense desire to provide powerful transition support for my father. My spirit helpers were eager to actively participate in this process. They confirmed that there is, indeed, a sacred preparation for each soul, to help it on its way. I learned that proper care of the soul is essential for well being both here on the earth plane and in the afterlife. To my delight, the spirits were now willing to teach me this transition preparation!

During subsequent journeys, various spirit helpers presented themselves. They were eager to provide help not only for my own family members, but for humankind in general. I’ve found this to be true at other times in my work as well. That the benevolent spirits of non-ordinary reality are just itching for humankind to seek their advice and ask the correct questions. They can finally offer us the techniques, the ceremonies, the rituals that will help us, as a nation of human beings, to take better energetic care of ourselves. This is precisely why they had been instructing me to make a Transition Blanket for my father. Now I was finally ready to do it!

My spirit helpers told me to buy blanket material and to sew small objects on the blanket, objects that I would imbue with power in shamanic terms, “imbue” indicates the act of “blowing power into” an object). I bought some gorgeous woolen blanket material at the Pendleton Woolen Store and sewed a rich binding around the borders. I made it a manageable size so a sick person could easily carry it to cover himself or herself as they lay in bed, rested in a chair, or stretched out on a couch in front of the TV.

With each step of construction, I journeyed again, asking for additional detail about the objects I should use for my father’s blanket. I was given several options and decided to make four red prayer tie bundles in the Lakota way. My spirit helpers told me that each bundle was to hold different information- power objects, spiritual helpers, and Reiki symbols. Each time I was given new information, I brought this information back from non-ordinary reality into ordinary reality by holding my intention and then literally blowing this energy into the individual objects as I finished my journey.

Once imbued with power, the object now contained the specific prayers, spiritual helpers, Reiki symbols, etc. is tied onto the blanket. Even though the imbuing process seems to be directed toward the objects, the entire blanket soon becomes imbued with love and healing power. When the dying individual lies under the Transition Blanket, the Reiki symbols and spirits instantly become activated (as the recipient might soon report!)

With my father’s Transition Blanket, the first spirits to take form and action were the Spirits of Extraction and the Reiki Usui power symbol. They entered the first object I made. These particular spirits activate a clearing process, removed any foreign energy that might intrude into a person’s natural (authentic) energy system. Such intrusive energies are harmful to a person, causing hardship because of their low vibratory frequency. These harmful energies include fear, doubt, anxiety, worry, sadness, and other low frequency emotions. The extraction process allows a person’s energy system to quickly return to its pure radiant, magnificent nature- the highest vibration frequency, which is most natural for this particular soul. This instantly restores balance to the person on an energetic level. What a profound blessing for someone whose body is so gravely ill!

The second object attached to my father’s blanket contained the Spirits of Soul Retrieval and the Reiki Distance Symbol. These spirits bring back lost soul parts or any divine essence a person may have lost throughout their lifetime. Soul retrieval restores the person in the most sacred way, so that when the soul begins its next journey outside of the body it will do so in its most intact and complete form. The Reiki distance symbol facilitates the soul retrieval process. By interfacing with these benevolent spirits, lost soul parts or divine essence can far more easily find its way back home to the original host as they rest beneath the cozy warmth of their Transition Blanket. The qualities of calmness, serenity, peace, joy, trust, and knowingness will also return, for these are the natural feelings of wholeness every intact soul enjoys.

I then imbued the third object with the Master Healers and the Reiki Master Symbols, opening the channels to the Universal Life Force of unconditional love. Several of these particular symbols and spirits will also help with pain reduction and inspire feelings of well-being no matter how difficult the last “physical” days may become.

The final object held the spirit helpers of Transition and Psycho Pomp (a Greek word for taking souls to the light) and the Reiki Distance Symbol. The Distance symbol activates what I call the angels (spirits) of transition. These angels escort the soul after it lifts from the body. They midwife the soul to the other side, to heaven or the equivalent realm, according to that individual’s personal beliefs.

All of these sacred symbols can be activated into greater strength by saying or drawing the symbol each time the person lies under the blanket. But if the recipient is not a Reiki practitioner or even aware of Reiki or shamanism, love and power will still be activated simply by the presence of a body form lying under the blanket.

Many other small objects could be used on a blanket to hold spiritual power. One might sew on strips of cloth, feathers, beads, or ribbons, draw pictures of power allies on fabric, later attaching these to the blanket. Shamanic journeys and information from your allies will offer your best guidance about this. Let your intuition inspire you. The spirits are always eager to help their human relatives!

The Transition Blanket, now fully imbued with spirit helpers and Reiki symbols, will protect the individual both in this world and the next. As an individual lies under the blanket, all the spirit helpers will be activated and working with the individual energetically (except the transition helpers, which will activate only once, at the actual moment of death). The feelings and energies that an individual receives from the blanket should be exceptional. But remember- as with any spiritual healing being offered to another, always ask their permission first and never assume they would want help such as this.

I tried the blanket myself before I mailed it off to my father and I loved it! I could feel the power pouring from it. When Dad received his Transition Blanket, he was in stage four of esophageal cancer. He experienced immediate reduction in his pain level whenever he placed the blanket over himself. He told me it brought him peace and he could feel my love.

I spoke almost daily with Dad by phone. After he received the blanket he often mentioned the effects it had on him. He said, “I feel so much better. I have less pain. It makes me feel good. I feel your love. I feel more at peace. It calms me.” In fact my step-mom soon refused to leave Dad alone in the house unless he had his special blanket nearby, because she knew if things got bad while she was gone, he’d have it as a ready resource for instant help and pain management.

Since my Dad had no prior experience with energetic healing of any kind, his words couldn’t really reflect what was happening to him energetically. The balancing (I feel better), the extraction of fear (it brings me peace), the soul pieces returning to him (I feel love, it makes me feel better) were all clear signs that the healing spirits and Reiki energies were working powerfully with him. What I took for granted and knew to be happening on an energetic level, my father was expressing in his own beautifully simple way.

I earnestly believe the Transition Blanket prepared my father well for his transition. During his illness, he managed his fear and showed amazing life vitality. He barely seemed ill just a week before he died His voice, color, and personality were strong almost to the end. I believe this was all a gift from the blanket. When Dad’s time finally came, he crossed over quickly. I remain convinced that the final horror that swept over his face in those last moments was just the dread he felt about his imminent “life review” (or as he would say, “His Judgment Day”). Perhaps we’ll all tremble a bit when it’s our turn to have every “shortcoming” pointed out, one by one?

I was instructed to keep the Transition Blanket over someone for four hours after death. For a person to “die in a good way” the time after passing shouldn’t be rushed. Four is a sacred number to the Lakota and this amount of time gives the soul time to transition. The number four reflects the four elements of earth, fire, air and water, and the four seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall. The four elements of earth, fire, air and water contained in the physical body must also transition. This, too, takes time.

If prayer ties are used on a Transition Blanket these ties should be removed from the blanket so they can be burned or buried with the body once the death process is complete. The blanket can then become a family heirloom, perhaps to be used again when other family members are ready to transition. The Reiki symbols and spirit helpers will reunite you quickly with loved ones on the Other Side!

At the time of my father’s death, all that I had been taught by the helping spirits proved true. His Transition Blanket was pulled over his body and face, where it remained for the next four hours. We all breathed a sigh of relief when the blanket mercifully concealed Dad’s horrified expression.

After the designated amount of time, my father was uncovered. As the blanket was pulled back, we were shocked by what we saw. Dad’s face was now completely serene, relaxed and peaceful with a slight smile on his lips. My stepmother fell to the floor in weeping gratitude. I have witnessed many miracles in my life but this one tops the list.

Looking back just four hours, I wondered if the spirits had orchestrated this profound change of my father’s expression just to awaken my family. So much remains a mystery.

This sacred blanket served us all miraculously and still brings daily strength and comfort to my stepmother. With the blanket nearby, my step-mom feels strongly connected to my Dad and well-protected by the spirits. In fact, she sleeps with it every night!

The Transition Blanket did far more than anyone expected. Besides preparing my father for his transition and next incarnation, the healing energy of the blanket touched each of us in the most profound and personal way. It seems as though the spirits and Reiki energy knew exactly what each of us needed and provided individual healings for all of us as well. This magical blanket certainly proved itself to my stepmother and my sisters! The tangible evidence we received quickly erased any doubts about the power of a Transition Blanket.

My intuitive guess is that a Transition Blanket will likely yield different experiences for each person it serves. Compassionate spirits and Reiki energies know precisely what to do in every situation. Quite literally, we can trust them with our lives!

By sharing this story, my ultimate intention is fulfilled- to make the powerful concept of a “transition blanket” available to everyone who wants it. How you choose to apply this information is left to you, and the guidance of Universal Love.

The first Transition Blanket brought my father peace when he needed it most. It brings me peace now. May it do the same for you and everyone you cherish. I invite you to prepare for the inevitable, for surely it will come. As my own family learned, mindful preparation can quickly transmute fear into faith, worry into compassion, and anxiety into peace. This is apparently the sacred mission of the Transition Blanket. Is there any greater parting gift to wrap around someone we love?

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Psychopomps By Jan Engels-Smith

(From the Greek psuchopompos, literally meaning “the guide of souls”)



Birth and death, the entry and the exit from this life, are events accompanied by spiritual entities that assist us in our transitions. As eternal beings, we inhabit this reality for a fixed time and our spiritual helpers always attend to us, at least to the degree that we recognize and engage them. The exit from this reality is not an end but a journey to our next existence and cultures throughout the world have identified beings in many different forms that assist with the departure. In modern shamanism, we have learned much that can benefit all of us in the death experience and make this difficult passage better for those who pass and those who mourn the passing.

In many ancient religions, psychopomps were creatures, spirits, angels, or deities whose responsibility was to escort newly deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife. Their role was not to judge but to simply provide safe passage. Psychopomps have been associated at different times and in different cultures with horses, whippoorwills, ravens, crows, owls, sparrows, cuckoos, and harts. In some indigenous civilizations, such as in the Filipino culture, the spirits of ancestors and other dead loved ones function as psychopomps. In the classical civilizations of Greece, Rome, and Egypt, Charon, Mercury, Hermes and Anubis served as psychopomps. In many ancient tombs, funerary art and statuary often depict psychopomp beings that provide support in the passage to the afterlife. The history of human existence is rife with examples.

Shamans have also served in this role of “midwife to the dying.” The shaman acts as a guide communing with the spirits of other worlds to facilitate the passing. Twenty-first century shamanism can play an important part in a modern culture where humankind has forgotten its connection to the spiritual world and where people are ill prepared for this mysterious journey that we all must experience. We come into this world alone and we exit alone. This solitary event can certainly be traumatic for the dying and those left behind. I believe that modern shamanism can serve to restore the recognition that we are not alone in our transition but can be ably assisted by the spirits—the psychopomps for our own time.

The transition journey is mystical and, although many have had near-death experiences, traditional science has little to offer us in an understanding of what lies beyond. The accumulation of mystical experiences offers perhaps the best means of preparing ourselves for this journey. In my shamanic practice I have facilitated hundreds of psychopomp journeys and each one has taught me more about the human condition and how the spirits can assist to bring comfort and contentment to those who leave this reality and the loved ones left behind.

The links between this reality and the afterlife are sometimes revealed through the connections of one who has passed with a loved one who remains. Long-term relationships often result in a surviving husband or wife dying a short time after the passing of a spouse. I had an uncle who was relatively healthy but after a minor surgery developed an infection and died suddenly. The dramatic change in my aunt, his spouse of 54 years, was startling. She had been a highly energetic individual who looked younger than her years. Seemingly overnight, she looked older and weaker. After a minor car accident, she suffered illnesses and the life force seemed to leave her. She died within a year of her husband. The attachments between living and deceased spirits can be powerful. The deceased who has gone into the multiverse is still energetically attached to the surviving loved one and seeks to be reunited. The deceased has an attachment cord to the living and tugs at it in an attempt to reunite. Sometimes it is necessary to sever this cord to protect the living entity, as well as release the deceased from his or her energetic bonds. Shamanically, we recognize this connection and in our assistance to the transition from this world we attempt to help the one who is passing as well as those left behind. The psychopomp provides the guidance and reassurance that all is well and the natural transition from this reality can be made in peace, confident in the expectation of spiritual assistance.

I have learned much from my experiences with the passing of friends, loved ones, and many that I have assisted in my work. The spirits have made me ever more sure of their benevolence and the eternity of the soul. I once had a running partner that I will call Ann (not her real name). Ann lived in my neighborhood and we met early mornings to run. We did this for a few years. Ann was a no-frills person of strong opinions, which she expressed freely, usually with colorful curse words. She could talk nonstop and I was entertained by her unwavering certainty in her sentiments and the energy she exhibited in her expression of ideas. I did not challenge her nor did I share with her the work that I did. Ann seemed to waver between agnosticism and atheism and I doubted that she would be open to my metaphysical beliefs. It mattered not, for we enjoyed each other’s company and shared a love of running. Ann was a very fit athlete and participated in several marathons each year. One morning of a scheduled run, I received a call from Ann’s husband that she had died in her sleep during the night. I and others who had known Ann were shocked by the unexpected news and were in a state of disbelief. The belief system I had at the time allowed me to conclude that all was well and that Ann would be taken care of by the divine spirits. About a month passed before I felt ready to journey and seek out Ann’s soul. I was surprised to find her soul lost and wandering and I approached her with my allies and told her I was there to help her. I explained that she had died and she replied in her usual colorful language that if I wanted to help her that I should help her get back into her body. I told her that this was not possible, as she had donated her body to science and weeks had passed. She was despondent. I explained to her that she could experience peace and wellness beyond the physical in the middle world if she agreed to have my allies assist her to the light. With her consent, the light appeared and she was magnetically drawn to it. As she felt its radiance penetrating her she turned to me and said, “This is #@&%*! alright.”  She crossed into the light with a smile on her face—ever Ann.

I learned much from this experience. I felt that Ann and I had been brought together so that I might help her to find peace in her next life, as though our fated meeting was predetermined. The experience altered my thinking about the transition from this reality and compelled me to look deeper into how shamanic work as a psychopomp would help people in transitioning from this reality to the next. I knew that the fateful meeting of Ann and me was not only to assist her in her passing but also to aid me in my shamanic exploration. Like other experiences, the act of helping becomes an opportunity for learning and those who help surely benefit as much as those who are helped. Reciprocity is fundamental to shamanic work in this modern age as we access ancient wisdom to define modern spirituality and to provide a deeper understanding of how 21st century shamanism can help to restore our forgotten divinity.

The psychopomp can serve those who have come to the practitioner for healing by determining if there is a past loved one who has died recently but continues to influence the life of the one seeking healing. It is good practice for a shamanic practitioner to ask specific questions during the intake session about family or close friends’ deaths when working on clients with illnesses.  A simple question such as:  “Have you experienced the death of a loved one (family or friend) in the past five years?” can be very revealing.  Depending on the answer, the shaman can create the proper intention with their spirit allies to check on the whereabouts of the deceased.  Are they still wandering or have they crossed into another plane of existence? At times the healing needed for the illness would merit a psychopomp visit with the deceased. During the psychopomp process, attachments to the client can be severed, if necessary.  This often results in the symptoms of the illnesses disappearing.

The beautiful thing about shamanic work or energy medicine is that no matter what happened to the deceased, no matter how violent or unexpected the death was, there are always ways to bring healing.  All circumstances are workable and resolvable. It is the practitioner’s job to work with his or her allies to find the solutions.  The spirits want all beings to be well and thrive.  This includes the time after we leave the plane of this reality.

In his poem, “So We’ll Go No More A-roving,” Lord Byron writes:

For the sword outwears its sheath,

And the soul wears out the breast,

And the heart must pause to breathe,

And Love itself have rest.

Byron understood that that which is meaningful in the human condition will outlive the temporal and fragile vehicle in which it resides. The passage to death is complicated for modern civilization by our identity with our physical form and our failure to understand a universe in which the soul does not cease to exist but journeys eternally through the great cosmos. The psychopomp serves to remind us of this continuity and permanence.

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Death and Dying from a Shamanic Perspective

Death and Dying from a Shamanic Perspective by Jan Engels-Smith

“Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by its breathtaking moments.”  Michael Vance


In shamanism, the belief that there is no death is a concept grounded in the belief of the soul existing in a never-ending process of regeneration. Our soul remembers our ancient past, engages with our current environment, and knows our future lives. We live forever and our soul is immortal.

Our existence, however, is marked by numerous transitions—both between our many lives and sometimes even within the frame of what we view as the current physical life. Emotionally and spiritually, one of our most dramatic transitions involves the leaving of this physical vessel that we currently occupy and the passing to the next realm of our eternal existence.

Death and Dying from a Shamanic Perspective By Jan Engels-Smith


For many people this is understandably a traumatic moment and a transition that might be fraught with fear and anxiety, but the lessons of shamanism can provide a perspective that differs significantly from the traditional Western view of death and dying, which is characterized by the finality of an “ending.” The key to unlocking the mysteries of existence lies in the understanding of the continuity of life and the eternal nature of the soul. Mystery—that wonderful realm of what we sense is there, strive to know, and replicate in our creativity—is the defining nature of spirituality and certainly the essence of our transitional experiences. As Carl Sagan noted, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Shamanism offers a way to know the soul as an eternal shape shifter, endlessly regenerating into limitless forms—some human, some not.

One of the wonderful experiences of the shamanic practice is to see one’s existence in the context of a universe unified not just in its physical state but also in time. Time is not just a linear condition of loss and gain but a summative experience that unifies all time into a singular moment of “here, now, and forever.” The transition that the limited vision calls death, the shaman sees as one more of an infinite number of transitions in the soul’s experience. The lesson to be learned is “how to see and understand the transition we call death and to experience its mystery as a revelatory moment in our eternal existence.” In this way, we focus on the positive energies of the wonderment and beauty of existence and the promises of life.

The basic understanding of the death process from the shamanic view involves working with the souls that are transitioning and, in the process, assisting others connected with the transitioning soul to find peace in a difficult time. There are actually four things that I teach that I feel are important to bring this understanding into full view.

  • First, how to help a soul as it is transitioning from its human form into its light body, which we typically call death.
  • Second, how a student might learn to journey to his own death and see what his soul might decide to do and how it might behave in this process, dependent on the individual’s belief system.
  • Third, how to journey to the soul of a person who has died and to find closure with that person or to ask him what he experienced in his process.
  • Fourth, how to help a soul that is caught between worlds, a discarnate being that has lost the physical body but is not yet in contact with the divine—a dilemma that fear, attachment, or a non-defined belief systems can create.

In this article, I’m going to concentrate on the first lesson and I will write in the future about the other three practices.

Shamanism involves a belief that we create our reality on the earth. You might be familiar with this concept and may well have experienced the life-altering effects of changing your life by the way you choose to see your own reality. What you may not have considered is that this altering of reality through our change in attitude and energy extends into the afterlife. In other words, we create our continuing reality after our soul leaves the body. This is done through our belief system. Just as our belief system determines our current reality, it will also determine the direction and nature of our future existence.

What I have found as a shamanic practitioner is that many people do not have a very refined belief system, so there is a lot of confusion once the soul or the divine essence leaves the body. In other words, it just doesn’t know what to do. That is why in classes we take journeys to experience what our own soul will do.  These journeys allow a person to look at what is in current motion or the probability of what is going to happen and then make adjustments, if they don’t like what they see.

Another thing that I find as a shamanic practitioner in the United States is that there are many lost souls, or wandering souls, that haven’t made it to the light. I personally feel that Western cultures with their hodgepodge of belief systems create this scenario. In indigenous cultures there are very distinct belief systems that the entire tribe believes in and adheres to. This not only gives the soul a template to follow but there is a collective power in that the entire tribe believes the same thing. This collective belief is like rocket fuel to the soul of the transitioning person.

For example, the Lakota people believe that the name of a person that has transitioned should not be spoken for one year. This gives the soul plenty of time to make its transition and not be called back to the planet. A memorial is done after a year to honor the person.

They also believe that the path the soul will take is through the canupa (pipe), which is the constellation that we call the Big Dipper.  The Lakota believe that you will be met by your ancestors and ushered to the appropriate place. In the Celtic tradition, all souls transition during All Souls Day (November 1st). Many people dance on the graves of the deceased and sing them across to the other side. There are also rituals and ceremonies that shamans help with on this night.  One such ritual is called the Wild Hunt. The Tibetans have very defined death rituals that are done to the body during its transition process that ensure safe passage of the soul to the other side.

These are just three examples out of hundreds of practices that help the soul transition safely to the other side. The important aspect of these examples is that there is a common focus and a shared belief system that concentrates the power of the many in creating a transitional passage for the eternal soul. In our Western culture, one rarely finds this compelling power generated from a collective belief and that makes it more essential that, if one’s belief system accepts the existence of an immortal soul in a unified universe, we must make an effort to understand the nature of the transition from this life and bring our energies to the process to help the one transitioning and to allow ourselves to appreciate that our loved ones are forever with us in a perfect universe.

I encourage my students to take the time to reflect and to determine what they actually believe about death and immortality. This is a very personal experience for each person. In my own family, we have discussed this as a group, not to argue about who’s right but to have an honoring of each individual’s belief system. I have actually written down our responses so if it ever happens that one of us transitions all of us left behind can envision that soul taking that path to its next phase. We will be the rocket fuel for the movement from one dimension to the next.

We will all find ourselves at some time in the presence of an individual transitioning from this life into the next existence. This exercise of sharing our thoughts regarding a passing is important for any loved one in the transition process. Bringing the energy of a positive force regarding the eternal nature of the soul can create an appreciation of our existence and the significance of our unity with the cosmos.

Conversations regarding death and dying are uncommon in our culture and the discomfort around the subject leaves a void that might be filled with negative energy or fear. In the shamanic practice, there is the possibility of creating a positive energy by recalling that mortality only references the physical body, a fragile and temporary shell, and that the true self resides in a soul that is forever in transition. This does not discount the significance of this moment in existence, for the celebration of a life well-lived demonstrates the significance of every individual in the oneness of existence and places us in the context of the universal truth that time is endless, that life is a condition of continuity, and that we are all connected in a single array of associations. Every birth, every event of life, and every death is linked endlessly in the universe’s grand design and each is but one more transition that we all share and will always be a part of.

In the recent past I have experienced the death of my father and, more recently, my mother. Each experience was painful and difficult but I learned much about the nature of our life in this moment in time. My father had been ill with cancer for some time and I had created a Transition Blanket in preparation for his imminent death. He seemed to struggle in his passing and his expression appeared pained and conflicted. When my father died, he died with an expression of horror frozen on his face. My stepmother instantly succumbed to a wrenching fear that something awful had just happened to her beloved husband on the other side and that he was now trapped in a terrible place, for eternity. She was inconsolably distraught. In my own heart, I knew how much my father had always dreaded death and his ultimate passage into unknown realms. Once this inevitable moment was upon him, it was impossible for Dad to conceal his terror any longer. I felt certain what we’d seen on my father’s face was simply a lifetime of fear at last releasing itself; though realizing this brought little solace. In my journeywork and prayers, I had imbued the blanket with love, peace, and helping spirits for his transition. When it was placed over my father, I continued my meditations of a peaceful transition for him. When the blanket was removed, his countenance was one of serenity and calm—the blanket had done its work. We do have the ability to influence the soul in its transition to its next reality.

My mother’s passing was quite different. I and my husband and her grandchildren and a friend were present in her room and the spirit was one of immense love and connection.  She enjoyed the presence of what she called “my whole crew.” There was laughter and conversation about fond memories in the hours preceding her demise and the shared happiness filled the room with love.  Her passing was serene and peaceful. I felt the loss of her physical presence strongly, of course, but I knew that she traveled to another place in the spirit of affection and loving relationship and that her continuing journey was perfect.  My mother and I had also done pre-transition journeys and discovered that her “true love” was waiting for her on the other side.  He had not incarnated in this lifetime experience so their reconnection was greatly anticipated.

Woody Allen once jokingly said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.” His humorous comment defines that egocentric need that human’s have to be self-perpetuating. Mortality has always been the central dilemma of existence and religions have all focused on the question and offered many scenarios as to how we perpetuate ourselves, whether in a heavenly paradise in the afterlife or a reincarnation into other beings or a ghostly existence in perpetual suspension. Other than our seeing the universe as fragmented and ourselves as separate entities in existence, we hold no greater illusion than that our life is but a brief moment in time and then is no more.

The magnificence of the universe as revealed in the astonishing reality of a leaf glowing red in the autumn sky belies any such existential sense of meaninglessness. We exist because the cosmos wills it and we should not be so inclined to deny its perfection. As one with the universe, we should also accept our own perfection and recognize the immortality of our perfect souls.

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