(Artist: Charles Frizzell)
The 5 Stages of Ego Death and how Runes cause it
Hello Beloved Readers, I wanted to share some beautiful wisdom that I have learned in the last 5 years. In Shamanic circles we often talk about ego-death like a badge of honor, but I wanted to unpack what ego-death may look like and feel like as it happens in us. We may think that us Shamans and Seidrworkers are special, but we are people, just like everyone else. We bleed, we have heartbreaks, and we lose our sense of self just like everyone else. I would say our only difference is that we have very powerful tools to use and the powerful knowledge that the Runes teach us about God being not just an external concept, but an internal one. Once you fully start to grasp that the Gods are inside you just as much as they are in others, you begin to see the beauty of human interaction in brave new ways. You begin to realize that every being on this planet channels incredible divine energies and understanding those energies may take lifetimes to even touch the surface and understand.
We all have egos. The having of an ego is a beautiful and necessary thing. We need our egos to process and talk to other people. Our ego quantifies and makes sense out of our experience and that ego often filters out things that don’t make sense or add up. I remember the first time I came across magic and for weeks afterwards I started noticing people who I saw every day in a completely different light. The ego, while an incredible processing machine, can also trap us in the way we see the world. After trauma or any kind of experience that breaks our ego, we may find those we thought were are enemies are not our enemies, we may find the things that we thought were a comfort to us and strengthening us, are actually keeping us in denial. It’s hard to walk the world with such openness and ego death is messy work. I have found that those who go through ego-death mimic the very stages of grief after tragedy….for after all, what is tragedy, but a circumstance that breaks our concept of what we think the world is. Horror and tragedy come in many different disguises: it could be illness, loss of a loved one, divorce, loss of career, imprisonment, facing addiction to substances, going to war, child abuse, being attacked...the list goes on. There are so many ways that the reality of life can come crashing down on us and we realize that we aren’t the invincible beings we thought we were. We realize that we are just like everyone else trying to make sense of this world.
In my recent journey through grief, a good friend pointed out the Five Stages of Grief by Ross and Kessler. Looking at the chart, I was inspired to use Runes as markers to help in these stages. As someone who’s been studying Runes for a while, I have noticed that Runes do indeed cause Ego-Death. There is something about the energies of the Runes that brings a person to face their true self. In the Havamal, it says that Odin sacrificed himself fully to his greater Self. He faced who he was in full Truth and honesty and screaming he fell and grabbed the Runes. So it would appear that the Runes come from a place of ultimate self-truth. This truth lives beyond the veil of the ego and is possibly the one thing many of us run from our whole lives. The belief in self, this belief in what we think we are, will always act as a barrier to what reality shows us. Allowing ourselves to accept the pain and the reality that we don’t know everything, that we don’t know the ultimate Right-Way is the only way to face the ego and enter into it’s dance of death and rebirth. This is the greatest treasure of the Shamanic path, I believe: the willingness to not only face the death of the ego, but to consciously seek it out. For in that space, when the ego crumbles, we fall screaming into the void. It is there that the Runes sing back to us. It is there that we touch upon the greatest mysteries of the Universe. It is dying to our lesser selves so we can eventually live in greater truth with ourselves.
As Ross & Kessler state, these 5 stages are not a linear progression. As we go through the ego-death process, we begin to delve into all of these ways to cope with the fact that reality as we know it is not really what reality is. Below is a list of the 5 Stages and Runes I think represent those stages. For those of you who want to take your meditation a little further, I have listed Runes that may aid in getting out of those stages based on my own meditations of the Runes. If you feel like I can add more or have different ideas, please let me know. I fully understand that I only know a fraction of Runic knowledge out there….and the more we share and engage in Runic wisdom with one another, the more this world benefits from people having access to more paths towards Self-Illumination.
Personally, I have found this stage to be the hardest to get out of. It’s the trickiest because when we are in denial, we actually believe we are doing the right thing. I’ve done this myself, so many times. I’ve burned myself out trying to justify how right I was. I’ve done this so much that I have a mantra I try to say every day, “If you have to brag about it, you don’t really believe it.” I know we all get caught up in “wanting” certain things to be true. I have done this so many times myself. I look back on my journals often and cringe because I see where I was in denial of myself. I was so desperately trying to prove to everyone and myself that I was doing the right things that I would busy myself in bragging about my achievements and experiences that I didn’t stop to actually face the fact that I wasn’t fulfilled in that experience. If you have to prove it to the world, then there’s most likely a part of you that is struggling with some untruth.. For me, this is the Realm of ISA. It can be a powerful Rune to calm and strengthen….but is can also be a trap. The key is understanding that Denial is a part of grief. Sometimes we need to have our fantasies so that we can get to a place in order to cope with the trauma of reality. I try very much not to judge myself when I catch myself in denial, that way, I can open myself to healing and regrowth. I have found that the Runes of fire and the Sun which act as illumination and warming Runes can help melt that ice, so to speak!
“Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery;
it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems;
it is a floor wrought by the frost, fair to look upon.”
bark of rivers
and roof of the wave
and destruction of the doomed.”
“Ice we call the broad bridge;
the blind man must be led.”
RUNES THAT HELP:
KENAZ. DAGAZ. SOWILO
This is a painful stage for almost everyone involved. When I was in my early 20’s I had a tragedy happen in my family….really an accumulation of abuse and struggle and after getting my father arrested, I was disowned. I was barely able to take care of myself and had no support network for a while. I lived in a lot of denial at that time and as I rose out of denial, I channeled a lot of my anger and rage into environmental activism. I would rage with a bullhorn at rallys, I was a fervent little fanatic. I became a vegetarian and I judged and talked down to those who did not have my lifestyle. I hurt a lot of people. I perceived that most people were my enemies. I was righteous and I knew the right way to live. I was a Pagan and worshipped the earth and felt like I was a better human that the rest of the planet. Then I met incredible brave people who didn’t take my bullshit. I found compassion in the eyes of a hunter. I found friendship in those who had conservative political leanings. I realized that I was compensating for my hurt at the loss of my family by hating those who weren’t like me. It wasn’t until I faced my anger that I learned to forgive and listen. I learned to try and understand people before making judgements. I learned that even I could make mistakes...that the word “enemy” is so subjective and most people were very much like me; just trying to make sense of a world they didn’t understand.
The runes that helped me at this time was Wunjo and Ingwaz. I learned to give myself more joy and bliss so that I stopped obsessing about what others did wrong. I, instead, focused on what was right for me. I also learned Ingwaz magic (seed magic) from a very wise trucker Shaman who told me to give all my wisdom away. “Don’t hoard information and give the seeds of magic freely as you walk through the world”. This type of magic really helped me to rise out of fanaticism and become a kinder and more humble person.
"The thorn is exceedingly sharp,
an evil thing for any knight to touch,
uncommonly severe on all who sit among them"
torture of women
and husband of a giantess."
"Giant causes anguish to women;
misfortune makes few men cheerful."
RUNES THAT HELP:
This is the stage that I always felt the most uncomfortable in and was incredibly painful to face. If you feel the need to help or change others to your way of thinking, then it’s most likely because some part of you needs reassurance from that person being “on your side”. This is Nauthiz, that constraint or friction that comes from being a slave to something, even if it’s propping up your own dying ego. It’s when we make the last ditch efforts to try and help others and change everyone we know. We feel like Mother fucking Joan of Arc on a crusade to change the world, when in reality, it is us that needs to change. The world will just go on being the world….we chose this path with the Runes, we chose this discomfort and the humiliation that comes with facing how we’ve lied to ourselves all these years. It hurts to face such deep wounds, that maybe we aren’t all that great and powerful. Maybe we are just like everybody else. Maybe all the wisdom we do have, we got from kind ancestors who passed wisdom freely down through lore and deeds and we have convinced ourselves that we own that wisdom. The only shit we own is our actions and in this phase...I often cringe to remember it...I became a white knight mother fucking Saint Theresa, trying to fix the whole world. I was perplexed when everyone I loved ran from me like the plague. I felt incredible rejection and abandonment at this stage. I felt like I was holy and the whole world just didn’t understand me. I was both in denial and bargaining to keep the truth at bay.
The thing that got me out of this was Ansuz and Laguz. Oddly enough, Laguz leads to the next stage...Coming out of this stage, I would often feel like I was drowning in the ocean, that I was no longer a person, but just a mere drop of water in the vast seas. I lost my sense of identity and the only thing that got me through was my connection to the Gods and the words of Wotan. Ansuz became a mantra for me at that time and helped me to hear Wotan and his wisdom through the loss of everything that I held dear in this life.
"Trouble is oppressive to the heart;
yet often it proves a source of help and salvation
to the children of men, to everyone who heeds it betimes."
grief of the bond-maid
and state of oppression
and toilsome work."
"Constraint gives scant choice;
a naked man is chilled by the frost."
RUNES THAT HELP:
This is one that I go back to a lot lately. That feeling like one is adrift on an unknown sea and not knowing where I was. In that feeling of being lost and alone, I finally had time to take stock in what I found important. I remember sitting at my kitchen table confiding in a kind friend and telling her I had no idea what to do after my divorce and she said, “Why do you need to do anything?”. I thought about it for a while and realized I could just sit in this place and accept what is. I slowed down enough that I realized that I had been so rough on my body all these years. I had tried for so long to change and alter myself for others, I never stopped to think about just accepting who and where I was. The compassion that comes with Berkano helped lead me into more healing ways to approach my mind and my body. I started meditating again and doing yoga, I sought to ask myself every day what was right for me. I started to change little things like the way I talked to myself and what I ate and when I ate. I started to write more, picking up poetry and reading books I’ve always wanted to read and study languages I always wanted to learn. I started with adding one thing to my life that made me feel strong and blissful. Sometimes I would realize that new thing was not right for me and I dropped it and switched to something new. I was compassionate to myself and allowed myself to change my mind. I was figuring out my new self, I had no idea what I was doing. If I have to be honest, while I think I know what acceptance looks like, I don’t even think I’m there yet. I still struggle with depression and the grief that has come from changing my life so drastically. In fact, I wonder if any of us fully go to that ultimate place of Acceptance of Ego Death until the very day our physical body dies. I think I’ve had moments of bright clarity and insight, but I also am still humbled and feel great sadness. I cannot change the past, but I know now that I can change how I face my future.
"The ocean seems interminable to men,
if they venture on the rolling bark
and the waves of the sea terrify them
and the courser of the deep heed not its bridle."
and broad geysir
and land of the fish."
"A waterfall is a River which falls from a mountain-side;
but ornaments are of gold."
RUNES THAT HELP:
SOWILO, WUNJO, BERKANO
As I said before, I think true Acceptance of the Death of Ego is a very fleeting and momentary experience. I would be surprised if I could meet someone who could live mostly in that state. From my own experience, I will have flashes of complete acceptance of my spirit, then reality will soon set in. Usually it happens by helping someone or doing something that I don’t get any credit for but it needs to be done. Usually, it’s coming to peace with myself and the world around me. Usually is involves a tremendous amount of self-forgiveness which helps me to a place to forgive others. This is the realm of the Gods and one I get to touch on when I do my devotions and blots for them. I feel like the Gods live here, in this place of absolute acceptance and when I talk to Wotan and Frijo, I feel how they accept me for exactly as I am. I have learned to ask for insights rather than gifts because their insight often comes illuminated with true acceptance. This acceptance opens up my own mind and heart to new realities of not only myself, but of the worlds around me.
The sun is ever a joy in the hopes of seafarers
when they journey away over the fishes' bath,
until the courser of the deep bears them to land.
shield of the clouds
and shining ray
and destroyer of ice."
"Sun is the light of the world;
I bow to the divine decree."
So if you find yourself or those you love going through the stages of Ego-Death, please remember to be compassionate and that all things change. The Wheel turns and we all find ways in order to grow and evolve. The life inside us wants to evolve and change….I think the Runes just bring us to that place of accepting it.
What I have listed here is only my story. All of you out there have your own story and the beautiful thing is that while you are still alive and experiencing this world, you get to write that it. I wish you all many fantastic and illuminating adventures!