I think I briefly touched on the meaning of the “Egregore” in one or two earlier posts. And while I had thought of giving the blog (and its readership) a bit of a rest for a spell, a comment this morning by LittleBigMan (and my reply) to “A Very Brief History of Capitalism” suggested I expand upon this a bit. So the meaning of the “Egregore” is the subject of today’s posting.
A lot of people have, in all likelihood, never even heard the term “egregore”, but it’s a very helpful term in coming to understand some peculiar things about our world, consciousness, intentionality, and the process we call “projection”. The egregore is defined as “an occult concept representing a “thoughtform” or “collective group mind”, an autonomous psychic entity made up of, and influencing, the thoughts of a group of people. The symbiotic relationship between an egregore and its group has been compared to the more recent, non-occult concepts of the corporation (as a legal entity) and the meme.” (Wikipedia).
The egregore corresponds, in that sense, to the Jewish “golem“, another very important term to understand because it figures so prominently in the thinking of the cybernetic scientist Norbert Wiener, especially in his book God and Golem, Inc. a warning about potential abuses of cybernetics that greatly concerned and disturbed him.
In effect, the egregore is a semi-autonomous energetic entity, thoughtform, or a “meme” that has gained a measure of autonomy or has become somewhat self-organising. In fact, the very word “egregore” as a “stepping forth” (probably “e-gress”) connects it to meanings of “exist” (ex-stare) and also “projection” (pro-jacere), and therefore what we might understand as an intentional object or entity. For those of you who are familiar with Castaneda’s works, you may recall an episode where Castaneda’s teacher, don Juan, conjures up a cartoonish looking squirrel with enormous buckteeth and round eyeglasses, which sent Castaneda into uncontrollable spasms of laughter that required the physical intervention of don Juan to stop. Don Juan described it to Castaneda as being “true creativity”, and a demonstration of how consciousness, in the form of intent, generates form. The form was, in effect, an egregore.
An egregore is, as a thought-form, an energetic entity that has acquired a measure of autonomy and a degree of autonomous action. It’s sustenance, its nourishment as it were, is the passion that gave it birth in the first place, and which we call “devotion”. Or, it may just as well be fear that sustains it and nourishes it, for by “thoughtform” we don’t mean just some abstract idea or concept. It requires emotion as its propellant, so it is more akin to what we mean by the term “a complex” and the “projection”. This is all-important to understand, for once such a “meme” or “thoughtform” as a truly energetic entity assumes a measure of autonomy, it is implicated in what we call “self-fulfilling prophecy”, and it can be by degrees either benevolent or malicious depending upon the mood that gave birth to it.
Now, the definition of the egregore describes it as something “occult”. This is a bit ridiculous, for what we call State or Church or Corporation are the manifest forms of the egregores, and we even treat them as such, even if we are only peripherally aware that they are, in effect, semi-autonomous thoughtforms. We treat of the Church as “the body of Christ” or of the State as the embodiment of the nation, and as singularities, as “immortal persons”. We do the same with (capital “S”) Science, also. In fact, its safe to say that whenever some more or less abstract idea is capitalised, we are dealing with an egregore — a semi-autonomous energetic entity. We do the same with Capital and Labour, which we treat of as singular dynamic and even autonomous entities, just as much as “Technology”.
In other words, these capitalised nouns are not just words, they are names. They are the names of our gods. And you know you are in the presence of a god or an egregore when they are described in capital letters. And, in those terms, we are actually surrounded by such egregores. They are intentional entities we sustain by our “sacrifices”, “devotions”, prayerful petitions, or even our fears and hates. They are not in the least “occult” or “hidden”. In fact, to a certain degree we function simply as cells or organs within the manifest body of these egregores. Even when we treat cities as having their own personalities, we are dealing with egregores, which you sense, at some level, when you speak of different cities having different “energies”.
“The spirit made flesh” is the description of what we are calling intentional entities, or what we insist is the rule: consciousness creates form, and not vice versa. The notion that what we call “mind” or “consciousness” begins as a blank slate (tabula rasa) upon which society, parents, peers can impress themselves and their own forms and meanings is almost total hooey and malarkey. To put it a little crudely or simplistically, what they do is expropriate this inherent intentionality or native creativity of consciousness to sustain and reproduce their egregores, which is referred to as “the social construction of reality“. In fact, the egregores often take the form of being compelling fates, and when you feel like you are little more than like a dry leaf being blown about by strong winds, it’s often because you are in the grips of an egregore as a seemingly compelling fate. But their power and authority dissolve once you gain insight into them. Understanding freezes action. Science, Church, State, University, Corporation…. these are simply put, golems and egregores that have become too autonomous and too powerful — “too big to fail”, as it were.
There are certain implications of this insight for the meaning of “total freedom” (or emancipation or liberation). It’s also called “withdrawl of the projections”. But, that must await another day. Nihilism and the “deconstruction” are not always merely and only negative and destructive, but also the Dance of Shiva and the dissolution of the bonds of narcissistic fascination.
It is actually a dramatic relief to read someone looking at social institutions from an inner view (in other words, from a sane vs insane view!)
Man, that was quick! I didn’t even finish proof-reading the post before your comment arrived.
Dean Radin conducted a study with the Umbamba mediums in Brazil many years ago. Subjects in Nevada focused on pictures on a computer – I don’t even recall what they were trying to do, but results were put in a locked drawer. Some time later, the mediums in Brazil were asked to focus on pictures of the subjects – but with the intention of focusing on the subjects IN THE PAST. Radin then unlocked the drawer and found that the test results were changed. I think he calls that retrocognition (or maybe retro-psychokinesis??)
your blog entry looks perfectly proofed, so perhaps my comment affected your proofing before you proofed it but after I sent my comment in.
I’m taking a procrastination break from writing an extremely unpleasant disability evaluation for a very right wing judge who thinks that even if you’ve been in 2 automobile accidents (one in which the claimant was thrown from the back seat of a car and THREW the windshield) and failed 8th grade 3 times (IQ under 70), as long as you have a heart beat and can breathe, you don’t deserve government support (after all, that will be filled in by churches and private charities).
I have no idea if I reported the Radin study correctly – it was something like that. Sorry I’m rushing and REALLY should be working….
Well, I should get back to work, I’ll leave you with this early Ayn Rand love poem allegedly unearthed by Stephen Colbert:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Finish the poem yourself
You dependent parasite
Love it! It reminds me, when I was a small child, I wrote a poem for Mother’s Day that ran:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
You are my mother
Boo-hoo, boo-hoo, boo-hoo.
I have no idea why I wrote it that way except that I think my limited vocabulary at the time left me scraping for words rhyming with “blue”. Or, maybe I was really peaved about something, like existence itself. I’m not sure I was just innocently ignorant. I don’t think it was at all personal, but my mother still recalls it with some pain.
Anyway, just to add something to the above post, the “Titans” of ancient lore were also egregores. The name “gregory” contains something of the meaning of egregore — as “watchful” or “alert” or “vigilant”. A watchman, in other words, like a “guardian angel” or one of the Guardians of the Four Directions. They would correspond also to the tribal “Genius” — the tutelary spirit of the tribe or totem.
I can understand why people might be quite skeptical of the semi-autonomous existence of such “intentional entities”, but there is a reason for their existence — a very good reason. But like the golem of Jewish legend and lore, while they are supposed to be helpmates and servants of Man, they have, instead, become the masters or idols. Blake’s Zoas and their emanations and avatars are also egregores — intentional (and functional) entities. Especially the tyranny of Urizen.
It’s somewhat akin to the issue of number or mathematics, and the question which bedevils mathematicians. Are numbers real? They have an uncanny correspondence with reality, so that they are both real and irreal at the same time. You can’t find a number or an equation in Nature and yet number and equation so uncannily represents Nature. It’s Nature’s language. Number is an intentional entity, having both autonomous existence and yet, at the same time, is a product of our consciousness.
In similar terms, egregores are the living forms of “values”, and we could call them “value-forms” as much as “thoughtforms”. They are the form of value realisation or value objectification and projection. By means of them, humankind learns about itself and of the proper handling of “intent” or “intentionality”. And as energetic (functional) entities they are the semi-autonomous realisations of psychic energies. I suppose you could also refer to the egregores as “libidinal entities” in that sense.
The theosophists used to talk about “group souls”, and Aurobindo uses the phrase “nation soul” frequently in “The Human Cycle.”
If you accept the results of the parapsychologists, thrown in a little Sheldrakean “morphic resonance” and stir in some epigenetics, it seems likely (at least to me) that purposeful evolution made use of some kind of species-field consciousness to effect evolutionary change.
I realize that was a mouthful (!!) but don’t have time to work out the details.
Anyway, great stuff as usual.
I think that, in some ways, there’s the beginnings of an awareness of the egregores. The Buddhist sociologist, David Loy, speaks of the “Wego”, in much the same sense. You might be aware of his work. If not his essay “The Suffering System” is a very good place to begin.
Thanks Scott, yes I like Loy’s work, but I think there is a much more “occult” understanding of a communal or universal awareness, but not sure how controversial that might be here…..?
Controversy ‘R Us. Let us have it… with both barrels.
My goodness, didn’t expect such a welcome response. Not sure I can do justice to it at the moment:<)
maybe a few passages from our book wouldn't be totally inappropriate?
(from the chapter on the evolution of consciousness throughout human history)
The experience of our early ancestors, before the flowering of civilization, may seem dull and impoverished compared to our own. Yet, cultural historian Jean Gebser tells us that early human beings lived in a state of consciousness in some ways far richer than that of modern humanity. According to social scientist and futurist Duane Elgin, they lived in an astonishing world, one wild with wonder and beauty:
"[Their] world was experienced as… a magical place filled with unknown and uncontrollable forces, unexpected miracles and strange happenings. Nature was known as a living field, an animated and vital presence without clear edges or boundaries between the natural and the supernatural. Where contemporary humans see a world filled with separate and lifeless things, the awakening hunter-gatherer saw a world of living and interconnected beings."
From the perspective of yoga psychology, the richness of the experiential world of ancient humans derived from their openness to what Sri Aurobindo calls the “subliminal” or “inner” consciousness – what we’ve been referring to as the “dreaming” consciousness of the Infinite Knower. The forces and energies of this realm are the immense conscious-forces which pervade the universe: a far greater physical consciousness than we ordinarily experience, a far vaster and more complex world of vital energies, and a still vaster world of mental energies. They are of such magnitude that even the most powerful forces we know of in the physical universe – from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, to the explosion of a supernova, to the fury of a hurricane – are only small reflections of the much greater forces of the inner realm.
In humanity’s distant past, before the thinking mind had come to dominate the physical and vital consciousness, it did not block access to the inner worlds to the extent it does today. Because the world experienced by our ancestors was not so clearly defined by thought, they did not perceive it to be so neatly delineated and carved up into separate, distinct objects. Similarly, because their self-sense was more fluid than ours, they felt deeply interconnected with the world around them. From the yogic perspective, this greater transparency between the inner and outer realms of consciousness is what gave such richness, depth and magic to their experience.
Because we in modern times are no longer in touch with the living forces and beings that characterize the inner realm, we tend to look at the “magical” rituals and symbolism of pre-modern cultures as primitive superstitions. But from the yogic view, the rituals and symbols of the early human being evoked something he felt to be intimately
"present behind himself and his life and his activities – the Divine, the Gods, the vast and deep un-nameable, a hidden, living and mysterious nature of things. All his religious and social institutions, all the moments and phases of his life [are] to him symbols in which he seeks to express what he knows or guesses of the mystic influences that are behind his life and shape and govern or at least intervene in its movements." (Sri Aurobindo)
From the perspective of the view from nowhere, the “Gods” are no more than naïve personifications of what we now take to be impersonal, purely physical forces of nature. Sri Krishna Prem, one of the great yoga psychologists of recent times, turns this perspective inside out with the following statement made from within the view from infinity:
"It is simply not true that Osiris is a vegetation, or Apollo a solar myth. Rather, if we must talk like this, we should say that vegetation is an Osiris myth and the sun a myth of Apollo, since Apollo and Osiris and all such names refer to facts of a higher order than those with which physical scientists deal." (From "Initiation Into Yoga")
From the perspective of yoga psychology, the inner “dreaming” consciousness, the world of larger-than-life conscious-forces, is the immediate source out of which all physical objects in the universe take form, now and in every moment. It is one of the major sources of our thoughts, feelings and sensations as well.
(end of first excerpt from "Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness")
And this excerpt may be relevant as well (this in particular, seems light years from Loy's admitted somewhat non dualist but mostly superficial, externalist view of society)
Transformation Seen from the Inner Consciousness
Living in a culture pervaded by the view from nowhere, it is difficult to avoid thinking that the only way to gauge the effect of spiritual practice on the outer world is in terms of changes we can see. Though scoffed at by modern rationalist thought, spiritual traditions the world over have known by means of direct perception that there are greater forces at play and greater changes taking place than those we can perceive with the outer mind and senses. We may think, for example, that wars are caused by disputes the occur over territory or oil, or by a hostile act one nation takes against another. But as Sri Krishna Prem writes:
"It is in the inner worlds of desire that wars originate, and from those inner worlds that they are maintained. What we see as wars upon this physical plane are but the shadows of those inner struggles, a ghastly phantom show, bodying forth events that have already taken place in the inner world, dead ash marking the destructive path of the forest fire, the troubled and unalterable wake of a ship whose prow is cleaving the waters far ahead. In war or peace we live in a world of shadows cast by events that we term ‘future’, because, unseen by us as they really happen, we only know them when we come across their wake upon this plane."
According to yoga psychology, the changes we see in the outer world are only a reflection of changes that have been set in motion in the vaster realm of the inner consciousness. A powerful transformative Force is already at work on the subtle planes. More powerful even than the collective aspiration of humanity is the Will of the Silent Knower working through every heart, dynamically active in every atom of the universe. By aligning our individual aspiration with the Divine Will, we can collaborate with this inner process of transformation. In the words of Sri Aurobindo,
"[When we] realise in our experience the truth of the [statement in the Isha Upanishad], ‘what bewilderment can he have or what grief, when in all things he sees their oneness?” the whole world then appears to us in a changed aspect, as an ocean of beauty, good, light, bliss, exultant movement on a basis of eternal strength and peace… We become one in soul with all beings… and, having steadfastly this experience, are able by contact, by oneness, by the reaching out of love, to communicate it to others, so that we become a center of the radiation of this divine state… throughout our world."
not sure if the purpose of the first excerpt was clear – I wanted to offer a colorful description of a way of seeing the world which feels to me utterly absent from most of Loy’s rather dry, academic writings;
Another gem from The Chrysalis lighthouse.
“But their power and authority dissolve once you gain insight into them. Understanding freezes action.”
Precisely! It seems to me that understanding eliminates the suffering that is associated with an egregore, as well.
In my experience, serious pain and suffering is associated with egregores – especially once an individual is transplanted into a new environment; a.k.a. culture shock. So, egregores can and often do clash with each other, particularly when times that are out of joint meet.
“what they [society, parents, peers] do is expropriate this inherent intentionality or native creativity of consciousness to sustain and reproduce their egregores.”
It is difficult to overemphasize that point and the damaging effect it can have on an individual. In fact, in the economically developing world, where parochial attitudes reign high, parents often do victimize their own children this way.
I was interpreting egregores as institutionalized foreign installations as I was reading your essay, but egregores as “living forms of values” is very meaningful and enlightening.
Thank you, Sir.