Egregores, Principalities and the General Theory of Tensions
We find ourselves in a very interesting cultural moment. We see, for example, a possibility emerging to talk about angels and egregores — among many other subjects that were previously neglected and seen as mere superstition by the Western intelligentsia — in phenomenological and scientific terms. Something big is happening in this “little corner of the internet”, definitely. While the world falls apart, we all see some distant rays of light shining on the horizon, but it’s not clear exactly what that light means or how we should respond to it.
Following some conversations between Jonathan Pageau and John Vervaeke, I became fascinated by the possibility of putting them in a dialogue with Mário Ferreira dos Santos, the greatest Brazilian philosopher. Unfortunately, this dialogue couldn’t happen in person (Mário passed away in 1968), but could still be done by means of his writings. I think he offers some good conceptual keys for this whole conversation about angels, egregores, collective agency and so on. I’ll start by showing some of his core ideas, then I’ll show how these ideas can lead us to a better understanding of the subjects just mentioned.
A Brief Introduction to Mário’s Thought
Mário, the Philosophus Brasiliensis, was a Pythagorean-Scholastic Roman Catholic Anarchist (I can’t find a better way to describe his intriguing character). His philosophical project began with an endeavor to revive the Pythagorean doctrine using the conceptual tools offered by Aristotle and the Scholastics. He managed to do this, and it is presented in his Pitágoras e o Tema do Número (1960), as well as in other works. But while he was undertaking this project, he discovered the basis of what he called Filosofia Concreta (concrete philosophy). The Filosofia Concreta is actually a metaphilosophy — or the “metamathematization of philosophy”, to use his own words1 — and we can understand it as an “incarnation” of the promised Mathesis Megiste of the Pythagoreans, as well as the harmonization of all the valid contributions of the greatest philosophers throughout history. This might sound like another manifestation of what Vervaeke calls “propositional tyranny”, but, although his Filosofia Concreta (1956) is composed by a set of propositions followed by rigorous demonstrations (in a very Euclidean manner), it is not actually founded on the propositional level. Mário expressed in propositions the content of what he called apophantic illumination: the act by which reality spontaneously discloses itself to us. So, he was not trying to demonstrate anything, but rather using the words in order to provoke in his readers the same intuitions he had. That’s why he said the foundation of his philosophy could not be demonstrated, but only shown.
The first and fundamental thesis of his Filosofia Concreta may be translated as “something is there, and the absolute nothingness is not.” 2 It could not be demonstrated, because every demonstration would presuppose “something being there”; at the same time, it could not be placed in doubt, because the very doubt makes manifest its truth.3 It is, thus, evident per se: the fact that something is there denies the total absence of being; it is Reality’s denial of Nothingness. An absolute nothingness would imply the absence of all being in all times. It follows that an absolute nothingness which is not repelled by the fact that “something is there”, at least in a second, is not actually an absolute nothingness. Therefore, it is a relative absence, and some mode or aspect of being. And if Nothingness is a metaphysical impossibility, Being is, in some sense, absolute and necessary.4 Once one comprehends this thesis, one sees its evidence. And the act by which it is seen is the act by which Reality illuminates itself and manifests the glory of Being — so, it is not only an epistemological act, but also an ontological one.5 The Filosofia Concreta is a rigorous development of this fundamental insight expressed in logical discourse.
Mário’s philosophy has many aspects, and the most relevant for us now is his General Theory of Tensions. He promised a whole volume on this topic, but, unfortunately, he passed away before he could start writing it. He only left some indications of it in many of his books, and a manuscript with some notes on the subjects that would constitute the volume. I’ve read that manuscript myself, and it’s very rich, though incomplete and chaotic. Thus, the General Theory of Tensions was only incompletely sketched by Mário. Here I’ll try to present its foundations based on his published work and on the manuscript he left.
Mário’s Tensional Conception
The first thing to clarify is the use of the word “tension”. It is a translation of the Greek word τόνος, and Mário thought of it in a kind of musical sense. The τόνος is that which guarantees the unity of a chord and the tuning of its notes. The tension of a being, according to Mário, is the coherence, the cohesion of its unity. That cohesion is not given by the mere disposition of its parts, but by a real intrinsic effort that sustains the totality as such. As he says:
The form is not just the proportionate disposition of the thing. In all beings that reveal a tensionality, a degree of coherence, a degree of cohesion, there is an immanent effort to maintain unity. In this effort, all parts, which are opposed, are analogous and function obediently to the interest of a totality. And that constitutes harmony, properly speaking. In these cases, there must be an intrinsic logos, which immanently governs this being, which exercises a certain empire over it. This problem must be faced. It is useless to try to hide it, as has been done for millennia. This is what we will have to do when we dedicate ourselves to the study of tensions, which is a subject subordinate to Mathesis.6
Every finite being has some unity, and, in that unity, we will also find some opposition (that between its parts, for instance). Since all the opposing poles of a unity are not absolutely separated from each other, they are somewhat in a real relation. Also, we find reciprocal interactions between opposed parts of a being, and all these interactions are regulated by the nomos of the totality, otherwise the interactions of my cells, for example, would be chaotic and my organism would collapse. It is my organism, taken as a whole (a gestalt), that regulates the measure of the activities of its parts. A cell could grow more than what is necessary for the maintenance of my organism, and it would be a threat to it. So, it is necessary for the health of the organism that the growth of the cells follow some measure. This measure is given by the form (in the Aristotelian sense) of the organism. The form, thus, imposes a functional relation between the totality and the parts of a being. The parts function as subordinates to the totality, and the unity of the being is guaranteed by this subordination. This functional relation between parts and whole is what Mário called harmony.7 Harmony, to exist, needs some force that holds the parts together in service of the whole. When this force is weak, the parts start acting in a way that is destructive to the whole.
The unity of a being is destroyed when the subversive tendencies of the parts are liberated.8 When, in a marriage, for example, the husband starts acting in a manner that is not proper to the integrity of the marital relationship (sleeping with other people and beating his wife, let’s say), the unity of the marriage is destroyed. The force that holds together the parts of a marriage is love. Love makes them serve the relationship, sacrificing some possibilities of action that are not compatible with it — in other words, sacrificing some of their autonomy. In Mário’s terminology we would say that love is the tension of marriage’s unity.
The unity of a being is not only its formal structure, taken as a static scheme, but also the force that holds together the parts in a functional (and dynamic) relation to the whole. In short, every complex unity is tensional. As he says: “The tension of a unit is proportional to the harmonic functioning of the elements regulated by its form.” 9
Mário developed a method based on the relations between different tensions. It is called pentadialect, and consists in considering things in five different scales, each one corresponding to a different tension.10
Every being can be studied at the following levels:
- Unity: at this level the entity is studied in itself, in its internal processes;
- Part of a totality: at this level the entity is studied as an element of a whole, and in its relations to that whole;
- Part of a series: at this level the entity is studied as a part of a totality, inasmuch as this totality participates in a series of similar totalities;
- Part of a system: at this level the entity is studied as a part of a structure of series which forms a tensional scheme;
- Part of a universe: at this level the entity is studied as a part of a system which pertains to a tensional universe.
A neuromuscular cell, for instance, can be studied in itself, as a unity. It is also an element of a nervous tissue, the totality in which it participates. As a series, it participates in the innervation of an organ and it also participates in the nervous system. Finally, its universe, i.e. the tensional structure which contains different systems, is the living individual. We can also scale up from that and study the human individual in itself as unity; in its family as part of a totality; in its social community as part of a series; in its cultural cycle as part of a system; and in humanity, so to speak, as part of a universe.
The consideration of a being at these five levels gives us a better grasp of its concreteness. To be concrete is to be installed in a hierarchy of tensions. So, pentadialectic is a “concretional” method of study, and its foundation is the very presupposition of a hierarchically ordered cosmos full of tensions.11
A given tensional unity is also a part of a higher tensional unity, which is itself a part of a more comprehensive tension, and so on. Since we cannot repeat this move indefinitely without dissolving the unity of the cosmos, it is necessary to affirm the existence of a supreme cosmic tension. That is expressed in law 169 of Mário’s Mathesis. It can be formulated as follows: “Cosmic universality is the subordinate coordination of unitary harmonies.” 12
Seeing Egregores Through Mário’s Glasses
We must be careful with the words here, to avoid an undesired equivocity in the use of the term egregore. Let’s hear what Mark Stavish says on this topic:
The most commonly used definition [of egregore] (taken from Wiktionary.org) is as follows: ‘(occult) autonomous psychic entity composed of and influencing the thoughts of a group of people.’ However, there is a second definition, an older, more significant, and perhaps frightening one. Here, an egregore is more than an ‘autonomous entity composed of and influencing the thoughts of a group of people’; it is also the home or conduit for a specific psychic intelligence of a nonhuman nature connecting the invisible dimensions with the material world in which we live. This, in fact, is the true source of power of the ancient cults and their religious-magical practices.13
Here, I’ll use the term egregore in its second definition, for reasons that will be clear — I hope — during my exposition. So, I’m not using it to refer only to an invisible entity, or particularly to a parasitic process, but rather to everything that serves as a home or conduit for the manifestation, let’s say, of a non-human being (whatever it may be).14
If we use Mário’s lens to investigate the problem of egregores, the first thing we’ll have to postulate is that, since the egregore forms a kind of unity, it is a tensional being. So, it is a whole with subordinated parts, and the subordination of its parts is guaranteed by the empire of some ruler (an immanent logos which regulates the functioning of the parts in relation to the whole). It seems to me that it’s fair to call this ruler, i.e. the principle which coordinates and holds together the parts of an egregore, a principality. The question about the nature of that principality is another problem, and we can investigate it later. However, it would be premature to jump to that before we frame the phenomenon with sufficient adequacy.
We have this for now: the egregore is a tensional unity; it has parts serving a whole according to some measure given by a ruling principle; some of the possibilities of the parts are sacrificed (or “virtualized”, as Mário prefers) in order to sustain the coherence of the whole; and the harmony of the whole is destroyed when some of these possibilities are liberated (be that liberation caused by intrinsic factors or by extrinsic ones).
A group of people can function as a “body” of an egregore. It is necessary that this group be united by a common principle that regulates their actions and dispositions, putting them in a common service. It is, thus, necessary that they have a common telos. At the same time, that telos must be something attractive to them, otherwise they would not pay attention to it (it would not be relevant). That which is attractive to a being is also an actual mover for it. It is not a mover in a mechanistic sense, but in the sense of an Aristotelian final cause.15 The attractive mover really determines the beings it attracts, so it is a real active principle for them.16 We can say, therefore, that the principality acts over its “human body” as a final cause.17
Although the principality cannot be reduced to any part of the totality over which it rules, sometimes it seems to be more specifically represented by one of these parts (the nucleus of a cell is the representative of the principle that rules over it; the heart of a human organism is a representative of human essence; the king of a polis is the representative of its principality; the sun is the representative of our solar system’s principality; and so on).18
The central and representative part of a tensional unity may be called its immanent ruler, and the principle it represents, and for whose power it serves as vehicle, may be called the transcendent ruler of a tensional unity. So, the principality is the transcendent ruler of an egregore, and it can be represented by one of the elements of that egregore, which would be the corresponding immanent ruler.
A parasitic process can take place within a tensional unity, as Jonathan Pageau noted in some of the conversations he had with John Vervaeke. We can say that it happens when the parts start acting, in coordination, against the interests of the whole. It’s a kind of ontological anarchism, but the absence of a telos, in this case, is only apparent because, although the parts are really disobeying the telos of the whole while they liberate their corruptive powers within it, they are actually following a different telos. The relations between that parasitic process and the top-down activity of the whole over the parts are very complicated, and I will not dare to enter into these issues right now.
I think Mário’s works can help us a lot with these discussions. He is, in my estimation, the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, and made great contributions in many different areas, such as theology, sociology, psychology, economy, politics, physics, mathematics, comparative religions and symbolism (yes, he wrote a marvelous treatise on symbolism).19
Mário’s tensional conception will help us to fix many problems of the modern worldview, and maybe to recover the sense of participation in the cosmic liturgy.
“The tensional conception will one day have to be fully accepted, as it allows us to positively understand that the universal order is only one, and that there is cooperation of all cosmic sets.” 20
Leo Nunes is a musician, music teacher and philosophy student from Porto Alegre-RS, Brazil. He is a student of the Brazilian philosopher Olavo de Carvalho, and for many years he studied with Olavo's son, Luiz Gonzaga de Carvalho Neto, at the Cultural Institute Lux et Sapientia (ICLS, in Portuguese). Leo writes on Substack at Philomousia, and can be found on Twitter and Instagram.
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1. Mário Ferreira dos Santos, Pitágoras e o Tema do Número (Ibrasa, 2000), p. 210.
2. In Portuguese, “alguma coisa há, e o nada absoluto não há”.
3. Mário Ferreira dos Santos, Filosofia Concreta (É Realizações, 2009), p. 67.
4. See ibid., p. 135.
5. See ibid., pp. 98–99.
6. Mário Ferreira dos Santos, A Sabedoria dos Princípios (Editora Matese, 1967), p. 91.
7. Mário Ferreira dos Santos, A Sabedoria das Leis Eternas (É Realizações, 2001), pp. 68–69.
8. The subversive tendencies of the parts are the previous corruptive dispositions of the whole.
9. Ibid., p. 102.
10. See Mário Ferreira dos Santos, Lógica e Dialética (Editora Logos, 1957), pp. 248–49.
11. Mário uses the word “concrete” in its etymological sense. This word comes from the Latin cum-crescior (“to-grow-with”). Hence, the concretional approach consists in considering all things, not only as atomized entities, but in articulation with the complex texture that composes their ontic and ontological contextuality.
12. Ferreira dos Santos, A Sabedoria das Leis Eternas, p. 105.
13. Mark Stavish, Egregores: The Occult Entities That Watch Over Human Destiny (Inner Traditions, 2018), p. 21.
14. Sometimes that whole structure has autopoiesis (being a hyper-agent, in Vervaeke’s terminology); sometimes it doesn’t have it.
15. Aristotle’s Prime Mover is a final cause for all beings, inasmuch as it moves them by attraction, by love.
16. Being so, it is not fair to reduce the telos to a “psychological constructed phenomenon”. This form of psychologism ignores the real activity exerted by that entity over us. That’s why the Church Fathers considered many “psychological phenomena” as real agents (demons, angels etc.).
17. We can also use the Stoic and Neoplatonist concept of “paradigmatic cause” here. In Aristotle, the concept of final cause has some ambiguity: it can refer, for instance, either to the exemplar of beauty in the mind of the artist that moves him to create, or to the idiosyncratic purpose with which he produces a particular work.
18. This explains why the heart is, in many traditions, a symbol of the human spirit, and why it is so often associated with the sun (and also why the sun is frequently associated with the figure of the king).
19. See Mário Ferreira dos Santos, Tratado de Simbólica (Editora Logos, 1956).
20. Mário Ferreira dos Santos, Noologia Geral (Editora Logos, 1956), p. 103.