Countless discussions have taken place concerning the nature of the ego, across various schools of thought, from philosophy to psychology as well as the various esoteric schools of thought which give their interpretation of the ego. Religion, due to its preoccupation with morals and dogma has not found an answer outside of superstition for the mystery of the mind. Over the course of my spiritual and psychological development throughout the years, having considered many of these interpretations, my intention with this essay is not to redefine the ego, but to break it down all the way to its core, revealing the meaning that it has always had, though obscured.
The etymology of the word ego is the single letter 'I', which in dictionaries pointing to 'I' as its root, do not expound upon what this mysterious 'I' is. One can make any number of speculations of what this 'I' is in it's essence. My conclusion is that it is the "identity" of a personality---particularly the human body and what it experiences; the very "identity" in which the majority of the world-society equate with the entirety of their being. There is a deeper, spiritual meaning to the word ego, but for the purposes of explaining the human ego, that revelation will be postponed for another article.
The ego then, is here simplified as, "the personal identity complex within the mind which through the five senses of taste, touch, sight, sound and scent, actively engages in convincing the subconscious of what it senses to be real, without thorough consideration as to whether or not that is in reality the case." So then, throughout this essay, I will at times say, "Personal Ego" to indicate this definition of the ego.
Being that this ego operates initially and has its expression through the conscious mind, the conscious portion of the mind is the domain of the ego. When the ego takes control over the mind it takes its experiences in the world of senses and impregnates the subconscious, causing the individual to believe that whatever has been experienced personally is real and absolute. However, occultists and even most clinical psychologists recognize that the world of senses deals primarily in relative experiences, and nothing the body goes through is permanent, or else our bodies would be immortal. The mind itself is not actually going through anything either. It is in actuality the minds identification with the body which causes the experiences underwent by the body to be impregnated into to the subconscious, as through this psychological identification with the body it has no other awareness but to receive such experience as real.
With this explanation of the ego, I'm going to talk about how it serves as the greatest adversary to the magicians progress when she or he wills to empower them-self, relinquishing the influence of the external world upon their will, from which the ego gains its fortification. For the Magician, when choosing to empower the mind and body with spirituality, the practitioner is replacing the active influence of ego(human personal identity) with the active influence of spirit(metaphysical impersonal identity). Here's a vivid scenario on what goes on in the mind when such a change oriented decision is made. Look to any social setting such as a relationship wherein a couple has been together for certain amount of years. "Suddenly", one partner informs the other that they are ending the relationship, as they have found someone more compatible and responsive to their needs. The reaction from the divorced partner will most often be a series of emotions such as denial, blame, shame, refutation, depression, outrage, slander and sometimes, threats of retaliation---all of which responses are tentacles of the two root emotions rage and fear. Though this former companion will no doubt feel neglected and abused by what is perceived to be a sudden breakdown of what was "going good", they do not consider that the possible reason for this breakup is poor performance in the relationship. The person ending the relationship may have come to a point of no longer choosing to be co-dependent and feeding the never-ending wants of a narcissist.
This analogy illustrates the psychological effects caused in the mind of one who decides to change their mental habits via willing to allow spirit to guide their mind as opposed to human ego identity. In choosing spirit over ego, there's going to be some jealous reactions by the former ruler of the mind. When one decides to move beyond the mediocre worldview they have allowed to dominate their mind, there is an immediate response of emotions and psychological impressions that refute this new-found audacity by invoking fear-based emotions such as doubt and unworthiness, which begs the individual to remain put as to not step into something which may be "unsafe". The personal ego is obsessed with security, sensation, and safety, all conditions corresponding directly to the lower three chakras, which occultists recognize as the three dimensional domain of the human ego. The personal ego in protest will attempt to conjure feelings of depression, laziness, or even delusion, causing the person to become so confused that they return to their former way of life in fear of going insane. Fear is the great tool of the ego. But the question is, what is the backbone of this fear? Death. Though more so, the imagined perception of death.
You see, as I have explained earlier, the personal identity complex which we are calling ego believes itself to be real, even though it is fundamentally artificial by its having it's identity fashioned by external effects channeled through the five senses and programmed into the ultra receptive subconscious mind. When we come into this world we soon find out that there are things which we find pleasant and things which we fine unpleasant. The moment we experience something which is unpleasant we set up a mental safety net to prevent us from having to experience such unpleasant things. These unpleasant things become registered as traumas and in some cases build up superstitions. Either way, these safety nets are designed for protecting the body and mind from a perceived threat that is believed to be capable of affecting harm. I choose this long explanation so you will understand clearly what I'm going to say next. The ego fights back so heavily against change because through its control over the senses, it gives the psychological impression in the mind that the individual is actually going to physically expire. Because it's identity is based upon it's relative experience, when you alter it's design, since it has no other outlook other than what it senses, its conclusion is that it is dying and must fight back or else be consumed by what it is originally shielding itself from, the unknown. However this fear is imaginary. And this "death" is only imagined. It is only the passing away of a poisonous condition, towards the cultivating of a new psychological disposition more conducive to spiritual attainment---one that does not limit the potential but encourages and actually serves as a conductor by which such potential is utilized in producing transformation in the mind and heart of the spiritual practitioner. .
What I have explained is the meaning of "ego death". It is often said by sages and adepts to destroy the ego. They're not incorrect in their teaching because they are speaking figuratively. What is meant by the teaching is the same meaning as is codified in the warring of Horus and Set: that the ruling of Set(ego) in Egypt (the body and mind) causes imbalance which prevents the prosperity of civilization(balance). Horus(spirit) on the other hand, by reason of his inner balance, is more suited to rule over the land, due to being holistic in view rather than rigid, and thus after a period of battle gains governance over egypt. This myth means the ego is to be transformed, placed in its proper position, as a servant to the higher force in the mind, and not the ruler. Both ego and spirit are of the same root, intellect. To occultists, and metaphysicians alike, I have just made a controversial statement, but I ask for your patience. Ego, with it's identification with relativity is human intellect, and spirit with its union with Akasha is divine intellect. The cause for my attribution of spirit to intellect is because, although its intuition originates subconsciously, it shines forth in conscious results, making its expression felt through the conscious mind, which is the domain of the intellect. The spirit is of course beyond the intellect, but, as I have just expressed, the language will be understood with my explanation in mind. This ego isn't so scary after all then. It's really a complex of traumas reacting to its sensory experiences. It's the factual basis of every theological "devil". In the so called Christian myth, Satan is the adversary of Jesus, the Virgin born son of God. And Set, in the mythology of the Kamites, is the adversary of Horus, the alchemically produced son of Isis. These religious tales illustrate the ultimate duality in mind which is ego and spirit---The Tale of Two Brothers. The illustration of this point is symbolized in the picture which introduces this article.
In magick and other spiritual systems, the ego is transformed into a helper in matters which are relative to its domain. For instance, the ego is needed in all social and economic affairs. And also needed in domestic affairs such as sharing one's life with a family. There is no need to be spiritual when withdrawing money from your bank account or even during a home invasion. Spirituality has always been about unifying opposites, this ancient understanding echoing into the new age where even most humans recognize that the pinnacle of life is to achieve balance. Yet, it is not likely that most humans know what it is they are in need of balancing, and their ideas remain abstract without practical knowledge on how to bring about such a balance. In future essays, details will be shared about such practices which originate from Alchemy and Tantric systems, describing the means and methods to achieve true inner harmony and through long-term practice, enlightenment and immortality...
As a growing symbol of this blog, I intend to share practices that will help the spiritual practitioner to experiment with techniques and exercises capable of producing effects in consciousness wherein the user may notice a before and an after. I therefore depart from the brunt of this essay with a brief on how to overcome the ego when willing to change your mind from being governed by your personal ego, to spirit. Spirit is that Divine, gnostic agent in the mind which has never lost its union with the Absolute. The ego is "the fallen self" who became a human and forgot it's divine identity of which, the vast records of spiritual wisdom and magical techniques are designed to cause that reunion.
Exercise: When practically working with meditation to program the mind with a new thought form different from self-limiting beliefs, opposing thoughts and emotions are sure to arise as a response. Do not give in to such thoughts or feelings. You may even experience certain setbacks with finances or "lose" "friends". Changing the mind is a mental version of what fasting does to the body---purging away all that excess which secretly causing you disease, though you had come to identify with it over a period of time. It is just a necessary breaking down of that which is no longer serving your growth and development. It will try to revert you back to old thoughts. Method: Induce a trance by breathing deeply through the nose, filling your diaphragm with vital energy, and circulating the energy toward your chest (known as the vase breath). Then, calmly affirm your will to change, stating confidently for example, “I am the master of my mind” and “I am in control of my ego”. Repeating this to yourself or other like affirmations, as a mantrical practice, will, soon enough, banish those weak thoughts, and further open your subconscious to be programmed with these new thoughts. You may also experiment with talking to your ego, learning to observe the difference between its words and the words of your spirit, and use whatever language you find effective towards putting it in his place. This basic technique works, and it's properly directed because it focuses on the magical desire rather than concentrating on suppressing that which is not desired. With continual practice the influence of the ego becomes less and less. However, always be direct and sure of success, just as the magician must have confidence that success will follow an incantation due to a strong implementation of the will.
Having dealt in sufficient detail with this strange entity we call ego, defining its origins, associations, how it stunts growth etc, and some basics on how to bring it under your control, I have expressed all there needs to written about this subject. I composed this essay with those practicing magicians and mystics in mind who will find this information useful in understanding not only the complexities of the human ego, but the mind as a whole. May the work be fruitful to you.
Further Reading: Conquering of Fear, Swami Sivananda, Conquering of Anger (by same author)