Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
While in Toronto last month, I got into one of those discussions about the ego, and how it needs to be dissolved or surpassed in order for attainment to occur. The discussion never really seemed to resolve itself, so I thought it was worth revisiting the subject here.
The term ‘ego’ is Latin for “I am.” Sigmund Freud adopted the word to depict the personal self, the outer vehicle of personality, in his psychoanalytic system. This is, often, can be the unhappy compromise that we pull together out of our hopes and terrors, dreams and delusions, traumas and sorrows, and Freud achieved lasting fame in being the first person to provide a coherent account of its travails.
Yet in the Mysteries, the term has long been capitalised – Ego – to refer to the individual Self, which is a much more complex concept. Carl Jung took the quintessential Self to be an archetype, and the lengthy process of realising it and bringing it through into our lives, which he called individuation, has various parallels with the Hermetic road to Adeptship.
These two egos – the mundane ego, the mind’s self image that it presents to the world – and the individuated Ego – need to be separated in our thinking, or we muddle the planes in our understanding of initiation. Much of the early work in a mystery school is about deconstructing the structures of the mundane ego, to allow the upper-case Ego a clearer route to emergence. But until the Ego has begun to emerge, it remains hypothetical or suspect to many students, and thus the issue is clouded.
The Self, as an archetype, is transpersonal. That is, it isn’t to be identified with the personality, or we can lose ourselves, undergoing ego-inflation (“I’m an Adept – and you’re not”) and miss our deeper realisations.
In recent years, a rationalist school of pseudo-Thelema has arisen that seems based around such misplaced notions. (“This so-called HGA is just my own essential being;” “Only rational, conscious thinking is reliable; intuition leads us into delusory bullshit.”) But the real Selfhood that emerges with the opening up of Adept consciousness, while it includes the ego, has its roots well beyond any sense of a separate, lower-case self. And it doesn’t pay much attention to our rational selves.
The mundane ego is always necessary. We need it to deal with banks and bus drivers, bosses and bureaucrats, families and frustrations. It’s an essential interface. But when the Self-consciousness, called the Ruach in Qabalistic psychology, becomes fully operative, it is well aware of the HGA, which is beyond and above and within it. A profound I-Thou relationship develops within the Adept, and the Ego arises out of this ongoing dialogue that is beyond words. The small-e ego has its continuing place in the psycho-spiritual economy, but its primacy steadily diminishes.
Ultimately, the Adept reaches the periphery of that (non)state we call the Abyss; and at some point, ripens his or her Selfhood enough that crossing through this utter absence of signposts or light becomes a necessity. But again, it isn’t the mundane ego that is lost here. At this stage, if the Adept is truly an Adept, that ego has no huge significance. It’s the Selfhood, the Adept-Self, that is dissolved or incinerated or annihilated (depending on the Adept’s preferred terminology), to remove the barriers to the full entry of supernal Light.
The HGA, which has informed and led this entire process in the background, and latterly in the foreground, is itself absent from the crossing, or else it wouldn’t be an Abyss, but more like a tunnel with a light at the end. It re-emerges once the crossing is complete.
And of course, the mundane ego also survives. The Master who has made it past individual Adeptship values the small-e ego rather like a pet who is well loved, or at least tolerated, even if it chews his slippers when he’s out. The personality structures that make up the ego likewise persist, since they form the bedrock of the human psyche, though the work of mastering major destructive or limiting tendencies will have been completed well before the Abyss is approached.
But the capital-E Ego with its individuality? As Liber Cheth says, “And the angels shall lay thy dust in the City of the Pyramids, and the name thereof shall be no more.”
Love is the law, love under will.