Whether or not one believes in an afterlife, they may still take steps to ensure that they’re spared a grim fate. Are these options real, or parlour tricks and pageantry?
The Ancient and Blameless Order of Psychopomps began by offering a single and singular service: the capture of a human soul at the moment of death and the redirection of said immortal essence to the afterlife of the departed’s prior choosing. We know that this promise was delivered via an innumerable measure of slight variations, available for anyone who believed and, more importantly, was willing and able to pay, but the Psychopomps’ early history is all but buried now, lost to history. I have investigated for years, carrying on the work of my forebears and predecessors, and have followed countless leads to dead ends, to misinformation or to myth. Their origins might well be unknowable to anyone who has not themselves been an adherent or acolyte or otherwise part of their cause, no matter in whatever forms it has taken, or may continue to take, to this day.
Initially appealing to the fears that the terminally-ill and the more well-heeled condemned criminals might have had about the state of their souls and the subsequent destination that they had, by word and deed, assured for them, the rites and rituals performed by the Psychopomps were as decadent and eye-wateringly extravagant as the recompense they demanded. Baroque glossolaliac chants and the artful application of rare unguents performed in the fug of rich and earthy incenses made visible the strained and snapped thread between the physical and the, typically-soiled immortal component. Cleansed, restored or purified through a variety of religiosities (as per semantic choice or the preference of any given tradition) the soul was then released into the aether, newly prepared for whatever metaphysical measures its former owner believed must be met in order to achieve the optimum post-corporeal fate.
Before long though, as the limitations around the necessary wealth and convenience of their existing rites caused profitability to plateau, the order diversified into a range of more pragmatic services. Whilst the old rituals were still popular, charmed objects and adornments (typically set into jewellery) began to be offered as an alternative for those whose death could not be planned around, or scheduled as part of, an elaborate ceremony. These charmed objects varied in their functions from simple soul-traps, which captured the wearer’s soul upon death and were then returned to The Ancient and Blameless Order of Psychopomps for the purification and release of the trapped soul (in accordance with the contract arranged and paid for along with the charmed object), to more expensive and elaborate pieces which, albeit with less ostentatious visuals, performed an immediate approximation of the more ornate rites and rituals.
These more expensive charms incorporated elements which were altered by the deaths of their bearers, gemstones which glowed white hot before dimming to ashen greys, metals which rusted to flakes, and so forth. Whether these were an active feature of the processes or merely a cosmetic representation, meant to reassure their patrons' families that the ornaments were working and that the high price they had paid had been worthwhile, remains unconfirmed. There is, however, evidence that for those for whom money was no object The Ancient and Blameless Order of Psychopomps were willing to construct more permanent, personalised paradises. Designed as self-contained vessels for the soul, these objects - usually a single large crystal set in a wooden housing - promised an eternity to play out whatever fantasies or vices the buyer had specified, allowing for the procurement of a hedonic afterlife away from the eyes of any gods or monsters of which such behaviour in life would have drawn the attention.
This last service, in particular, was a key part of the disputes which lead to The Psychopomps garnering the fervent and longstanding distaste and distrust from any established religious or spiritual groups who became aware of their operations. By selling the opportunity to subvert and circumvent each and every religions’ individual strictures and moral teachings; serving no particular faith whilst tacitly, perversely, legitimising all faiths in disregard for their internal and external contradictions and incompatibilities, they drew ire and outright hostility from all quarters. At its most genteel the conflict was reserved to words - with the Psychopomps described, with teeth-gritting restraint, as amoral or, more earnestly, as wilfully and self-servingly perverting the very idea of moral consequence - on other occasions their rites and rituals were violently, even fatally, disrupted.
Eventually, after more than a millennia of operating in the most carefully protected secrecy, The Ancient and Blameless Order of Psychopomps underwent a radical restructuring in the early eighteen-eighties. Where once they had been an absolutist theosophical organisation whose name was spoken in fearful whispers or with the derision of disbelief and dismissal, they began to operate openly on the world stage, though still without fanfare, as a corporate interest with an unspecified but purportedly vast turnover. Citing a newfound synthesis between moral, political and fiscal concerns as the rationale behind their emergence they became known as Psychopomps Incorporated. Despite their initial success they faltered at the turn of the century due to ongoing and increasingly acrimonious disputes with governments across the world as to prospective charitable or religious tax-exemptions as well as a particularly byzantine and secretive organisational culture left over from their previous incarnation and officially shuttered their doors in January of 1910, leaving all their offices and buildings entirely emptied of any trace of their former presence.
Nevertheless, and despite only hearsay and unconfirmed reports of people tracking down anyone who could be believed to having worked for Psychopomps Incorporated after they had closed down, versions of their charms and devices have continued to appear throughout the last hundred years. Their soul traps and similar, derivative designs, both of the simple and the more complex varieties, have been found on the persons of people who have died, either in accidents or more peacefully, usually immediately reclaimed by knowing family members, and several prominent assassinations of this period, both attempted and successful, have been undertaken with weapons that included soul traps in their design. We cannot be sure who constructed them, whether the Psychopomps continue to practise, but these traps are not a sign of mercy; they were designed such as to allow an assassin to ensnare their victims’ essences in purgatorial prisons or used the services of whatever version of The Psychopomps remains to send the captured souls to the most horrific hells and bleakest abyssal plains imaginable or, worse, to a private torment based on their own worst nightmares.