The spiritual process of losing the ego

The average Western person is filled to the brim: filled with thoughts, feelings, stimuli, restlessness, stress, and especially filled with ego. We are full of ourselves. And in those who are full of themselves there is no place for God.

The way to God is a way of becoming empty, in many ways: de-stressing, detaching, draining the swamp of the unconscious, and “undressing” your ego. Only naked can we see God face to face. (1)

Usually this process of emptying is not explicitly explained in spiritual traditions, but is referred to only in metaphors, which the spiritual seeker himself is supposed to translate to a working method. Examples include decapitation, face covering, invisibility, and a major cleaning.


A beautiful example of beheading with a spiritual meaning is the Hindu god Ganesha. This popular elephant-headed god embodies enlightened man. According to myth, Ganesha is beheaded in his youth by his father, the god Shiva, during an outburst of rage. After this, full of remorse, he places an elephant head on his son’s shoulders.

The head is the seat of the ego. Liberated from the ego, the spiritual aspirant experiences a spiritual rebirth. The elephant head, with its large ears and brain, represents the sharpened senses and the expanded consciousness of this enlightened human being.

In Hindu iconography, a cut-through coconut often lies at the feet of Ganesha (see illustration on right). One of the rituals in Hinduism is breaking a coconut for Ganesha. The hairy coconut somewhat resembles a human’s head. The underlying symbolism of the ritual is the cracking of the ‘hard nut’ of our ego.

The Hindu god Ganesha. Only one foot rests on the lotus; a reference to transcending duality: he has realized the (oneness of) the divine.

David with Goliath’s head.

Another example is the Bible story of the beheading of Goliath by the young shepherd David. (2) The enormous giant Goliath symbolizes the ego of David that must die if he is to become king of Israël (a Biblical metaphor for God-realization). With a rock from his sling, David hits his opponent Goliath exactly in the forehead during a duel; energetically the place in man where the ego dies, during the process of spiritual awakening. Then he decapitates him with his sword.

Face covering

The disappearance of a face is also symbolism to express the disappearance of the ego. The prophet Moses has an impressive encounter with God on a mountain (symbol for an expansion of consciousness). He resides on the mountain for forty days and nights (symbolism for a period of transformation). When he comes down, he covers his face with a cloth when he speaks to the Israelites. (4) With this image, the Bible writers are saying that Moses no longer speaks from his (disappeared) ego, but from a divine source.

Moses wears a veil

The prophet Elijah hides his face behind his cloak

The face of the prophet Elijah also disappears after meeting God on a mountain. In a cave on top of the mountain, Elijah first feels a strong wind splitting the mountains and breaking rocks; then there is an earthquake and finally a fire. (5) These impressive images describe the process of emptying: Elijah is being ‘broken open’, purified and transformed.

And after the fire came a soft silence.
And it happened, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face with his cloak, went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him, saying, What are you doing here, Elijah? (6)

It is quiet after the violence of nature. This is the inner silence that man experiences after the completion of the process of emptying. Elijah wraps his cloak around his face: his ego has become “invisible” through the purification process. It is now completely transparent, like a clean window. The divine light can flow through it unhindered. As with Moses, this allows Elijah to hear the voice of God.(7)


Invisibility is also a metaphor for egolessness. The Greek god Hermes has a helmet that can make him invisible; the so-called Helmet of Hades. Hermes lends his helmet to Perseus when he confronts the infamous gorgo Medusa. Perseus is sent to get the head of Medusa; a life-threatening task because everyone who looks her in the eye petrifies. Through the Helmet of Hades, Perseus manages to approach Medusa unseen and cuts off her head

This beheading is also about emptying. Medusa has snakes on her head instead of hair; this refers to the “poisonous” thoughts that emanate from the ego, and that stand in the way of experiencing God.

Petrification is a wonderful metaphor for the inner world of a person who is ‘stuck’ in his past: in ingrained patterns, old pain and false beliefs. The ego is, as it were, ‘petrified’. It is motionless and lifeless.

Medusa by Caravaggio (circa 1600)

This myth uses both the metaphor of invisibility and that of beheading for its spiritual message: the necessity of emptying for the realization of the divine. The wings on the Helmet of Hades represent an expansion of consciousness.

Perseus with the severed head of Medusa (Cellini, 1545–54).

A depiction of the alchemist’s Magnum Opus (metaphor for God-realization). Hades’ Helmet makes the face invisible. (From the alchemical treatise Wasserstein der Weysen by Johann Ambrosius Siebmacher, 1619)

A major cleaning job

Emptying is sometimes also represented by a process of purification. A well-known example is Noah’s Flood. The enormous flood of water in which people and animals perish, represents the “flushing” of the spiritual seeker (Noah). All that is “sinful” is purified. When the water sinks again, Noah’s Ark ends up on a mountain top (symbol for an expansion of consciousness). (8)

Noah’s ark ends on a mountain top: a symbol for an expansion of consciousness

A second example is the cleansing job that the Greek demigod Herakles faces: mucking out the stables of King Augias. This task is the fifth of the twelve “labors” (assignments) that Herakles is to perform on behalf of King Eurystheus. The twelve labors represent the challenges the spiritual aspirant faces who wants to realize the divine.

King Augias owned 3,000 cattle and the stables had not been cleaned for 30 years. So a gigantic job, which has to tell us that spiritual emptying is not an easy task. The number 3 refers to the three aspects of man, all of which must be cleansed: body, head (thinking) and heart (feeling). This myth has found its way into our proverbs and expressions: an “Augias stable” represents an enormous amount of dirt.

John the Baptist

The ultimate example of a man who has managed to empty himself completely, with the rest of the world knowing about it, is John the Baptist.

John is seen as the one who first predicts the coming of the Messiah and then recognizes Jesus as “the Lamb of God” at his baptism in the Jordan. This is how he is presented in the Bible, and John thus fit the expectations of the Jews who, based on the prophecies in the book of Malachi, assumed that the coming of the long-awaited Messiah would be preceded by a great prophet.

However, John the Baptist was not only the herald of Jesus. He was Jesus. He became a Christos, an anointed one, after a long process of God-realization, a moment symbolically depicted in all the Gospels as the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan.

Jesus points with two fingers (2 = 1) at John the Baptist: Jesus = John. Their appearance is also the same. (Basilica of San Marco, Venice, 11th-13th century)

Because John did not meet the expectations that the Jews had about the Messiah, the evangelists posthumously give him a new name and a new identity, which refers to a figure from the Old Testament: Joshua (Jesus) the son of Nun.

The Gospels are full of subtle cues that endorse this statement. For this you sometimes have to go back to the Greek source texts. I have written a book about this subject: John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ. There has always been a group of initiates who knew about this great secret. Below you will find a number of paintings in which it is hinted, in a concealed way, that John the Baptist was Jesus. In my book, and on this web page, many more examples.

John the Baptist points with one finger at Jesus and with two fingers at the lamb at his feet. His hand gesture means: Jesus and he are both the Lamb of God. (Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1553)

In iconography John the Baptist usually points at Jesus, because in the Bible he is the one who recognizes Jesus as the Lamb of God. In this painting, however, he points at himself. (Michelino da Besozzo, circa 1420)

Saint Lucia points with two fingers pressed together (2 = 1) to the baptism scene with John and Jesus, on the chasuble of the bishop. Her hand gesture means John = Jesus. (Amico Aspertini, 1510)

The beheading of John

One of these indications is that the public life of Jesus starts from the moment John the Baptist is beheaded by King Herod:

When Jesus heard that John had been handed down, He returned to Galilee … From then on Jesus started to preach and say: “Repent, because the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (9)

Jesus preaches in the above quote in exactly the same words as John did. The Baptist also says to his listeners, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand“. (10)

John is captured and beheaded by Herod for the criticism he openly has on him. That this beheading on the spiritual level is a festive event is underlined by the fact that it takes place during the celebration of Herod’s birthday. The “birth” that is celebrated is the rebirth of John, who, after his “beheading,” will now, in the Bible, go by the name “Jesus the Christ.”

Some time later, when Herod learns about the wandering Jesus who performs special healings, he makes a connection with John’s death:

And King Herod heard it, for his name was known, and said, “John that baptized was raised from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.” Others said, “He is Elijah;” and still others said, “He is a prophet, or He is one of the prophets.” But when Herod heard it, he said, “This is John that I beheaded; he was raised from the dead.” (11)

It can hardly be stated any clearer. Herod says with astonishing certainty, as if resurrections from the dead occurred on a regular basis in Judea: Jesus is John who was raised from the dead.
In the Bible a person who fully identifies with his ego is seen as “dead,” in a spiritual sense. With the discarding of the ego (head) a “resurrection from the realm of the dead” takes place. The apostle Paul urges all of us to this: Awake, you who are sleeping, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. (12)

One of the ways artists have tried to let us know that John the Baptist was Jesus is to give John the appearance of Jesus. This work of art is an example. John is not wearing his traditional camel-hair robe and looks like Jesus.

The fullness of God

After many years of purification and emptying, God takes up residence in John / Jesus: … in Him resides the fullness of the Godhead bodily. (13) He is the “perfected” man. He has attained a state of spiritual wholeness and completion, which characterizes the divine dimensions: “Be perfect then, as your Father who is in the heavens is perfect.” (14)

The Greek teleios, from this quote, means perfect in the sense of perfected, finished, mature, completed. This perfection also refers to “oneness”. John / Jesus is no longer inwardly connected to duality; the sacred marriage of the opposites has taken place in him.

In the Bible this divine oneness is called (the union of) “the Alpha and the Omega”: I am the Alpha, and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. (15) Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, respectively. In the Bible they symbolize the opposites (polarities) of creation.

The sign of the sacred marriage

In Christian iconography, Jesus is often depicted with his index and middle fingers raised. This hand gesture is usually interpreted as a blessing, but its origin and meaning are unknown to historics.

Over the centuries, there has always been a group of initiates who knew that Jesus was not born as the Son of God, but had gone through a spiritual process under the name of John the Baptist. We see evidence of this in iconography, art, and the early Christian catacombs in Rome. (16) The hand gesture of the two raised fingers expresses the union of the opposites: Jesus made “the two into one”. The sacred marriage took place in him: the alpha and the omega, the masculine and feminine, the sun and the moon, have merged to oneness.

Jesus makes the “sign of sacred marriage.” Next to him are the Greek letters Alpha and Omega: they represent the inner polarities that have merged. (Sant Climent de Taüll Church, Spain, circa 1123)

The sacred marriage and a “beheading” (the discarding of the ego) are two interrelated aspects of the process of spiritual awakening. In many paintings of the beheading of John the Baptist we also find the (secret) sign of the sacred marriage (2 = 1) in one way or another. Four examples below.

Andrea Schiavone (16th century)

John looks like Jezus in this painting. Antonio Domingo de Sequeira (18th century)

Cesare da Sesto (circa 1515)

Andrea Solario (circa 1500)

Get to work

What must be done to find God can be found in all major religions and spiritual traditions. So spiritual seekers can stop searching. It is a matter of getting started. Roll up your sleeves and start cleansing your own Augias stable…!

(1) 1 Corinthians 13:12
(2) 1 Samuel 16, 17
(3) For a detailed analysis of the biblical symbolism of the battle between David and Goliath see my book Kundalini Awakening (only in Dutch)
(4) Exodus 34: 29-35
(5) 1 Kings 19: 9-13
(6) 1 Kings 19: 12-13
(7) For a full analysis of Elijah’s encounter with God on Mount Horeb, see my book John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ
(8) For an analysis supporting the deeper meaning of the Flood story see my book Kundalini Awakening (only in Dutch)

(9) Matt. 4:12 and 17, see also Mark 1: 14-15 and Luke 3: 19-21
(10) Matt. 3: 2
(11) Mark 6: 14-16, see also Matt. 14: 1-3 and Luke 9: 7-9
(12) Ephesians 5:14
(13) Col. 2: 9-10
(14) Matt. 5:48
(15) Rev. 22:13, see also Rev. 1: 8
(16) See my book John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

This article has been published in Paravisie Magazine (Jan. ’19)
Copyright Anne-Marie Wegh 2019

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Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book:
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

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