The Death of the Ego

The Death of the Ego

Orpheus in the Underworld, by

Henryk Siemiradzki (1843–1902)

Each night when we drift off into sleep, Ego dies. We enter the Underworld in our dreams. But it is not the Ego that experiences them. It’s kind of like the old childhood story of toys coming to life while
their young owner is sleeping. When we fall asleep, in this case, the gods have a field day on the playgrounds of our minds. It is just that this playground is the Land of the Dead. Ego dies
and the gods and goddesses awaken.The Ego is resurrected every morning, as the dying and rising god myth plays itself out daily. As the light of Sol awakens the Ego every morning, the gods, in turn, rest until it is once again their time to frolic.

Unconsciousness in sleep is like death. It is as if Ego has perished. We spend about one-third of our lives in the world of shades, visiting the Land of the Dead. Just as Persephone was snatched from the dayworld by Hades and taken into the Underworld, we, too, descend into that dark world upon falling asleep every night. It is no mistake that the dead are buried below the ground. This is a very old instinctual and archetypal practice. It is actually a ritualistic acting out of the nightly death and burial of Ego.

James Hillman believes that our visits to the Underworld each night teach us to

abandon our hopes for achieving unification of personality by means of the dream (The Dream and the Underworld, p. 41).

He says that, in the Underworld, the spirits there are spoken of in terms of plurality. He thinks the myriad personalities in Hades represent “the endlessness of the soul, and dreams restore to consciousness this sense of multiplicity (ibid.). This, of course, is Hillman’s famous opposition to Jung’s notion of integration of the archetypes into a unified whole, which Jung called the Self.

This makes sense to me, since the Greeks, when referring to the shades, the spirits of the dead, were usually spoken of in the plural sense. Furthermore, I like to use the lessons of Nature Herself in these matters. Just look up into a clear night sky if you want a clue as to what Soul really looks like. As above, so below. Just as the heavens are composed of billions of gods–stars, galaxies, planets–so also Soul is similarly composed. The myriad heavenly bodies do not integrate into one single mass; why would we think Soul would be any different?

Psychologist, David Miller, says

A polytheistic theology will release man into depth. He may now trust
that breadth in life will be accounted for by all those others who are
living the forms of other Gods and Goddesses. He will be relieved from a
Puritan sense of duty to perfection and completeness. … He will return
to the Gods who have been forgotten and repressed. And there he will
find the depth that has been hiding all along (The New Polytheism).

The way we meet these innumerable gods and goddesses is through our dreams. I can hardly wait to fall asleep!

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