Ego death, known to some as a shamanic death and rebirth, is defined as “an experience that reveals the illusory aspect of the ego[...]“. The ego, of course, is who we are as people. It is what makes us, us. It is that person that walks down the halls, goes to work, chats with friends. It defines who we are as people. It is our personality, it is the reason we react to certain things, it is our behavior. It is our identity.
Now ego death sounds a little scary does it not?
The destruction of the self? The tearing away of all that is known about a person? The removal of one’s identity? That is ego death. That is the death and rebirth. That is the Death before Death.
I know many people that ask to experience a shamanic death and rebirth. I wonder why they would want to experience such a traumatic event! Such a complicated event. What if you don’t come out alive again? What if you go mad? Both of which are certainly possible! It is not something that I recommend going through.
In this day and age we look upon death as something to fear. Imagine watching yourself be torn apart by ravenous birds, picked clean, and then put back together again. What could that do to a person? A disturbing thing to think about to be sure. Tibetan monks will sit in a graveyard and meditate on their body disintegrating; they will meditate on the worms devouring the bodies so that their souls will be set free. Practitioners of Europe would imbibe Amantia Muscaria (Fly Agaric) and go into sacred trance and watch as their bodies were ripped apart by wolves, their bones picked clean by birds of prey, and then the Old Bone Mother would come down from the Tree and wash their bones and put the shaman back together again. Witches would smear flying ointment on their bodies and call out to the Mistress of Witchcraft, giving their All to Her, and then they were whisked away to the Sabbat and to be initiated.
Individuals who have gone on heavy trips with acid, LSD, and ‘shrooms have claimed a similar ego death. That their being was ripped away and they see the world in a whole new light. Perhaps have they have, but I should say that they do not know what to do with this new person that they have become. So they become higher and higher trying to find themselves again, instead of accepting that they are not who they were, and will never be again. The unfortunate thing is that each time they try and find “themselves” a new part of their ego is stripped away, but they do not know what to do with the knowledge that is underneath the Self. That is to truly know one’s self. To look into the hidden shadows beneath the ego and make use of it.
The spirits will take you to this place if you are meant to come to it. And they may do it multiple times, tearing away bits and pieces of the ego that you do not need in order for you to learn. And when it happens there is no turning back. The door to your old life has shut behind you and the only way is forward into the maw of your entire being, down into the Rootbog of the Source of all Creation!
It is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. But if you are called to it you must let go, you can not resist or you will go mad. Control freaks will have a hard time understanding ego death. The loss of control, the giving in to strange powers and letting them reshape you into a whole new person is a terrifying thought for those that always want to be in control.
It is a good thing. It is a good thing to let go, to let the spirits guide you to where you need to go on your own personal journey. At the Gathering we spoke a little about this during the Plant Spirit discussion group. The Wise Shaman told us of plant spirits that will take you through this process (like Fly Agaric that I mentioned) whilst others will just want to kill you (like Belladonna!). But they must be taken in a ritual setting and you yourself must be ready for it. No one is every completely ready, of course. If you just take the plant and try and force an ego death you will most likely just have a really fucking bad trip or nothing will happen. The plant spirit knows.
To die before you die. To break down the walls bit by bit to reach enlightenment. It is the madness and beauty of spiritwork. It is not safe, it is not fun. It just is.
Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey by Kenneth Johnson
Grimoire of the Golden Toad by Andrew Chumbley