Posts Tagged ‘psychopomp’

Working with deities or spirits can be a rewarding experience. Throughout the world, mythologies illustrate that the gods are often all too willing to tell us what to do to celebrate and honor them. But to work with Barinthus, the Bargeman of Avalon, one has to investigate the possibilities.

As discussed here last week, there’s not a lot written about him. We have what Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote about him. We can glean some information by looking at those he may be connected to, such as Manannan mac Lir or St. Barrind. We know he is an excellent seaman and navigator – he knows the stars and constellations and the tides. He’s a psychopomp, ferrying souls to the Otherworld. These offer us some good clues.

First on most people’s minds when trying to connect with a spirit is an offering. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Items from the sea, such as seashells and driftwood, could be good items for connecting with this watery spirit.
  • Burn a “watery” incense blend as an offering
  • Food items connected to the sea (vegans might choose seaweed)
  • Apples – given his role as a psycho pomp, he’d probably have an appreciation for the fruit that represents eternal life. Plus, he’s the Bargeman of Avalon, which is connected to apples.

You could even create a small altar to him – one beside a pond or yard water feature would be most excellent.

While offerings are a classic way to connect, I often prefer something more active­ that also helps me understand the spirit better or to see the world from his or her perspective. For Barinthus, here’s a few suggestions:

  • How’s your elemental balance? If your water element is weak, you might work on strengthening it through water meditations, spending time near (or in) water, add more water foods from the elemental diet, and so forth. Even if you prefer to acknowledge the three Celtic Realms of Land, Sea, and Sky instead of the four Elements, this one still works for Sea. Gotta’ love a two-for-one special.
  • Take up stargazing. Barinthus can read the night sky, so learning to do so yourself is a good way to connect with him. Pick up a star chart or a cell phone ap that helps you learn the different constellations. Then, go outside and look at the night sky and try to learn how the wheel of stars changes throughout the year.
  • Use the power of your mind to meet Barinthus. Yes, you read correctly. While recorded meditations are wonderful, learning to take yourself on a guided mediation is a smart addition to your spiritual toolbox. See your spirit self approaching a shore and calling for the barge to Avalon. See the barge arrive, Barinthus guiding it. See yourself get in, travel to the Isle, ask him questions – you get the idea. Create the journey that will allow you to meet him while furthering your spiritual development.
  • Unleash your creative side to honor the Bargeman. Write poetry or a chant about him, draw or paint him as you see him, and so forth. Even if you don’t consider yourself artistic, the effort of trying is important and you might unlock something wonderful from your subconscious.
  • This last one is probably the most difficult and is certainly not for most people: learn to help with what’s called modern psychopomp work. At the most basic level, this is helping the dying prepare for the end. Some even try to help clear the confusion of souls that are “stuck” between planes so they can move on. Some do this through occupations such as hospice workers or spiritual counselors while others do this as a part of shamanism or energy work. Again, this is not for everyone. To learn more, visit

Of course, many of these suggestions would work for any spirit with a couple of tweaks. Be creative and don’t limit yourself!

Just as an extra, I’m adding a call to Barinthus that I wrote last fall for a ritual that incorporated some Avalonian characters. I’ve used it for my own personal practice, so I thought I’d share it in case any of you have found your interest piqued by the Bargeman.

Barinthus, Bargeman of Avalon,

By the magnetism of the Earth,

The Realm of Land guides you.

By the changing currents and tides,

The Realm of Sea guides you.

By the bright stars above us,

The Realm of Sky guides you.

Barinthus, Great Navigator,

We beseech you, deliver us to the Isle.

© 2010 PJ Graham

You’ve probably noticed the use of the Realms of Land, Sea, and Sky, which is something I believe has tremendous power for those following a Celtic path.

Also, most of the lines focus on his navigational abilities, which can also be used by us for spiritual navigation. Consider reaching out to him when in need of guidance. Really, it’s OK – he doesn’t bite.

Until next time, bright blessings!



© 2011 PJ Graham

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In autumn, an Avalonian girl’s fancy lightly turns to  . . . Barinthus.

OK, I have a confession: I have a thing for Barinthus, a kind of mythical crush. The bargeman of Avalon, mentioned by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the Vita Merlini (The Life of Merlin), seems more interesting to me because he’s so mysterious and, well, quiet.

And let’s face it, Avalon isn’t known for being a stronghold of masculinity. I suspect part my interest in Barinthus is due to seeking a male-female balance on the Avalonian path.

OK, back at the ranch:

Many people have never heard of Barinthus. For those unsure of who I’m talking about, Barinthus is the man (some consider him of the fairie folk or a god) who guides the barge that carries King Arthur to Avalon in Geoffrey’s story. We’ve looked at this part of the Vita Merlini before, but let’s refresh our memories:

“Thither after the battle of Camlan we took the wounded Arthur, guided by Barinthus to whom the waters and the stars of heaven were well known. With him steering the ship we arrived there with the prince, and Morgen received us with fitting honour, and in her chamber she placed the king on a golden bed and with her own hand she uncovered his honourable wound and gazed at it for a long time. At length she said that health could be restored to him if he stayed with her for a long time and made use of her healing art. Rejoicing, therefore, we entrusted the king to her and returning spread our sails to the favouring winds.”

Not much to go on, really. The folks at the Celtnet Nemeton web site suggest that Barinthus might be a Cymric (Welsh) god as his name could be based on the Cymric word baran, which means fury or wrath.

The site also puts forward the idea that perhaps the bargeman is based on St. Barrind, who inspired the legendary journey of St. Brendan to a Promised Land of Saints with his own similar journey. This land may well be a Christianized version of the Isle of the Blest of Celtic myths.

While these may or may not be true, others see a connection between Barinthus and the Irish sea god, Manannan mac Lir. As you might remember from an earlier post, Manannan was listed as a ruler of two different Irish Otherworlds: Emhain Ablach and Mag Mell. Manannan rides horses made of ocean waves – Barinthus rides a barge on the ocean waves. Manannan has cloak of mist and Barinthus is connected to an island hidden from the world by mist.


Charon and Psyche by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope in 1883 – Charon and Barinthus share some traits

Some people – myself included – view this “great Navigator” as a psychopomp, or a spirit that takes the souls of the dead to the Otherworld (another trait shared by the bargeman and Manannan). Like Charon, the ferryman of classical mythology, Barinthus takes the dead across the waters to the next realm. Considering that Avalon itself can be considered the Celtic Otherworld of Annwn, one could easily draw that conclusion – even based on this little bit of text.

Frankly, I’m not aware of too many other writers that include the bargeman in medieval or modern writings. However, author and teacher Mara Freeman includes the bargeman in The Avalon Meditations CD (available at:

Given that there is so little written about Barinthus and yet being fascinated by him, I have on occasion turned to self-guided imagery to free my mind to make connections about him. My impressions have been that he appears surly but is actually quite helpful when approached with sincerity and without pride.

Early on in these exercises, he did little more than dump me off on the shore and point to a distant spot on the Isle. But by continuing my focus on this spirit, he has guided me to several answers I needed to unblock and further my spiritual path. And I have discovered, much as you might expect of one connected with water, that he has much more passion and emotion than he first appears.

Is Barinthus totally new to you and, if so, what do you think of this spirit? So would you include him in the psychopomp category? Or have you found modern stories that include him? I’d be excited to see the bargeman return in newer stories!

Next time, we will look at ways to work with this lesser known figure.

Until then, bright blessings!


Addition: Don’t miss the following post on the Bargeman!


Geoffrey of Monmouth, Vita

Celtnet Nemeton –

Illes, Judicka, Encyclopedia of Spirits.

Jones Celtic Library –

The Temple of Manannan –


© 2011 PJ Graham

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