Monster Primer #1: Psychopomps
Guess what? We’re kicking up the release schedule of these primers because I am on a world-building train that cannot be stopped!
Psychopomps are a unique class of celestials who act as neutral parties between the forces of hells and heavens. These beings uphold a certain balance that the Divine Sanctuaries and most sentient life relies upon. After mortal creatures die, their souls depart their bodies and become unbound from the Material Plane. It is up to the psychopomps to make sure that souls do not overwhelm mortal worlds and, instead, travel to the Divine Sanctuaries where they can move on to a new existence. Acting as guardians, guides, and sometimes hunters psychopomps all hold different roles in maintaining this balance.
Stalking the Spectral Swamps of Gehenna are strange beasts known as ammut. With the body of a lion and the head of a crocodile, these psychopomps hunt the souls of the dead. Perdition is a challenge both due to its inhabitants and inherent in its purpose. The ammut make sure of this. Souls are hunted and harried, maneuvered towards the appropriate river based on its life and the Sanctuary it is destined to arrive at. Those who made little of themselves in the eyes of any who hold court in the Sanctuaries are attacked and mauled with regularity, whispers in the fog urging them to petition a deity of some kind. Those who both find no Sanctuary and are unable to survive Gehenna are eventually consumed by the ammut and their souls obliterated.
Common visages among the psychopomp is that of a skeletal figure and the ankou is generally one of the first witnessed by souls after dying. This figure wears a long, black coat and a wide-brimmed black hat while carrying a lantern in one hand. Most of the time an ankou patrols graveyards, keeping in the dead and keeping out those who would mess with the cosmic order. On new moons when things are calm and most safe, the ankous travel unseen roads using their lantern to guide souls to the River Styx where they begin their journey to the Divine Sanctuaries.
Skeletal in form but dressed up in beautiful and colorful garb, the catrina are psychopomps who occasionally take the place of the ankou as first sight greeted by newly dead souls. Those who were unprepared for their death are at greatest risk for becoming something like a ghost or spectre. The catrina acts as comfort for the deceased, guiding them to safe haven and easing them into death. More than this the catrinas are symbols for many cultures, or the source of like symbols, where the living focus on the celebration of the deceased’s life rather than focusing on the death itself.
Guarding the banks of the rivers of deaths are the three headed hounds known as cerberus. These beings guard the rivers from those who plunder souls from its waters and disrupt the order of things. They are responsible, as well, for making sure souls do not find their way to undeserved Sanctuaries. Along the mouths of the Vaitarna and Archeron Rivers are the largest cerberus hounds, some of which are said to have three spectral heads capable of discerning which souls belong within the river they warden.