Egregores have become a big topic of conversation for figures not too far away from the Symbolic World, such as Jordan Hall and Rebel Wisdom guest BJ Campbell.1 Paul Vanderklay has touched on the subject a number of times.2
Jonathan Pageau however has simply dismissed the concept:
What are egregores and what does Pageau know that allows him to dismiss them? This would be a sensible idea for an article. This subject however is so difficult and contentious that a handful of Symbolic World contributors formed a workgroup, and have been discussing the subject area for a few weeks.3 As such, we will be able to go one step further, and after exploring some initial questions in this essay, introduce a number of critical observations and further thoughts in a second essay.
Egregores are a part of a larger conversation about higher beings or entities—things ‘bigger than’ or ‘above’ humans. The word began to be used in occult or magical circles in the 19th century;4 to begin with, it referred to an ‘entity’ or ‘angel’ brought into being by occult groups as a servant and/or as a manifestation of their will. ‘Egregore’ comes from the Greek for ‘wakeful’, and refers to the ‘Watchers’ of the Book of Enoch—it was introduced into occult usage after a translation of the Book of Enoch was made available to Western Europeans in the 18th century.
But the occultist movements had already seen a history of two centuries by that time. ‘Enochian’ magic had been established by Englishmen John Dee and Edward Kelley in the late 16th century; these men sought the Book of Enoch, which was believed to be lost. They communed with ‘angels’ in order to gain knowledge of this and other matters, and in fact were promised the text of the book of Enoch by one of the angels.5 These entities were seen by Dee and Kelley as ‘good angels’ sent by God to help mankind; this is especially ironic, considering the texts of Enoch 1 and Genesis.
These ‘angels’ sent Dee and Kelley a technical magical system, but the practice of communing with ‘angels’, for the purpose of gaining knowledge or accomplishing tasks, would itself become a part of western occult tradition. Thus instead of finding a foundation in the Book of Enoch upon its introduction to the West, it appears that occultists merged their existing practices with some of the words and ideas from Enoch 1, leading to the meaning described above.
After the establishment of the word in the 19th century, it developed again, and in the last few years the word has come to be used outside the occultist/esotericist traditions. We’ll briefly describe each of the ways it’s being used—first the two main ‘occult’ positions, then look briefly at the ways that two people fairly close to the Symbolic World use the word—these individuals (BJ Campbell and Jordan Hall) don’t have much, or any, occult history.
We’ll be non-judgementally describing the use of the word from particular perspectives, even if it may not be an accurate description of what is ‘really’ happening.
Two Occult Definitions:
As a Psychic Servant
The first use of ‘egregore’, often equated with the Tibetan Buddhist word ‘tulpa’, refers to a ‘created’ spirit.6 A person ‘wills’ or ‘imagines’ a kind of servant-entity-demon into existence, also described as a ‘thought-form’, either for spiritual practice (e.g. for the Tibetan Buddhists, in order to then destroy it, teaching a lesson about reality & illusion, etc.) or more commonly in the West, as a servant. Note that this ‘creation’ hides an ambiguity about whether the entity existed beforehand.
As the meaning of ‘egregore’ became associated indelibly with collective phenomena, it began to refer solely instead to the purposeful creation of an entity by Western occult groups, again as a servant. So western occult groups might refer to ‘their Egregore’ or ‘angel’ as a semi-independent manifestation of their collective will, that they ‘use’ to accomplish certain things.7
As an Entity That ‘Emerges’ from a Group
The above occult usage appears to have become, in the 20th century, applied to other group phenomena. Esotericists or occultists compared the reality, and creation, of their group’s ‘angel’ or Egregore, to group phenomena that were happening at the time: nationalism and the fragmentation of spiritual and religious belief, but more dramatically Nazism and Communism. Thus ‘egregore’ began to be used to refer to aspects of these powerful collective forces.8 Whereas previously it had referred to an entity that was purposefully created, this usage began to refer more to an accidental, but inevitable, entity that ‘emerges’ from collective behaviour.
Two Different Uses from Outside Occultism:
BJ Campbell, who brought the word into some focus in recent months due to an appearance on Rebel Wisdom,9 was struck by the way that on internet social networks, morality is outsourced away from the individual and onto the network. But there is no code of morality here—the moral codes seem to constantly, arbitrarily change. We could say that here we have a situation in which neither individual humans nor an organised group of humans are making decisions about what the group morality should be. But neither is it an algorithm, or any other known entity or intelligence. Thus Campbell, although he doesn’t appear to have any occult background, happened upon the word ‘egregore’ to refer to a semi-agentic ‘emergent’ group entity which could be said to ‘hold’ real power, in this case some control over the morals of individuals.
Jordan Hall has a less defined, more free-flowing use of the word. He notes that if the word can be used to refer to what Campbell highlights, it would be applicable to many different entities and processes throughout human history. He uses the word to refer to any and all ancient Gods, and imagines that egregores ‘fill’ space that is created by social affordances, like money and power.10
So what should we make of these ‘egregores’? The first thing that we should notice about the above different meanings of the word is that often, they focus on human action—upon the human creation of a higher entity, either consciously or through emergence. This ‘bottom-up’ approach is, of course, equated with materialism, and is what Pageau is referring to in his tweet above. More specifically from Pageau:
Thus just as humans are more than just things that emerge from collections of cells and ultimately atoms, so higher entities cannot be explained by an ‘emergence’ from humans.
In order to understand Pageau’s position more fully, it will first be helpful to lay out a brief overview of his perspective on higher beings, which seems neither to require egregores (in any of the above-listed varieties) nor to really allow the possibility of their existence.
Pageau on Higher Beings
Pageau makes frequent reference to higher beings in his videos and discusses them in two slightly different ways. In the first way, he references the non-corporeal beings of Christian tradition, the catch-all phrase for which is angels but who form a hierarchy of different ranks including principalities, thrones, dominions, etc.11 In the second way, he speaks of principles which unify parts into wholes. These are something like the spiritual identities of composite earthly phenomena.
From the manner in which Pageau weaves these two ways of conceptualising higher beings together, one gets the impression that he doesn’t draw a hard distinction between the two, if any at all. Rather, they for him appear to be two different ways of describing the same thing. For example, he’ll say something like:
“I always use the word ‘manifesting’ in the sense that it’s not an arbitrary representation, but it’s a condensation of something which is beyond what it’s condensating. It’s actually manifesting this principle, but the principle or the intelligent part of it is beyond what is being shown to you, let’s say.” 12
Then, several minutes later in the same video, Pageau reminds us, lest we be tempted to attribute too Platonic an interpretation to the principles under discussion:
“[T]he real traditional way of understanding it is that, no, there’s a hierarchy of beings. The world manifests itself through beings, and that even things in the world, let’s say sectors of reality, have principalities that are beings that are managing those things.” 13
And whether he’s speaking in terms of angels or principles, these things manifest in the world through humanity, whose action “provides body” for them.14 In this way the pattern of the being above receives concrete expression in the potential below. Top-down emanation meets with bottom-up emergence. In Pageau’s model, this bidirectional flow seems to be necessary in all cases. Every higher-order system is the meeting of a spiritual principle with the substantial constituents of its body. “There has to be […] work coming down from above and from below.”15 Following this assertion, there is no room for pure emergence. Hence Pageau’s stance on the egregore concept as a materialistic attempt to explain the identity of higher-order systems by emergence alone, without the principles which draw them into organisation.
If these higher order systems don’t simply bubble up de novo from the collective interactions of humans but rather require a teleological principle, where then do these principles come from? In order to answer this, we’ll detour first quickly through a closer examination of Pageau’s notion of “providing body” to higher beings.
In Pageau’s model, the bodies of higher beings seem to be highly variable in terms of character, size, and makeup. Sports teams, corporations, remote-control robots, cities—all of these disparate types of entities have at various times been characterised by Pageau as higher beings. Despite their vast differences, the bodies of these “beings” do all share the common feature of being assemblages of humans and manmade objects (what Symbolic World readers will know as ‘garments of skin’). The various human and material components come together in synchrony, united under the common identity that is the principle of their organisation. The structure of these autonomous systems is hierarchical, often with one individual “at the head” issuing orders to the levels below, so that the entire being may act as a unit, to carry out one will:
“We have a mayor, we have a president, we have a general, we have these characters that are acting as principalities on larger constituents, you could say.” 16
“Those people are bound by the rules of the city. They’re not acting just as Joe and Jane, […] they’re supposed to embody the will of the city.” 17
Pageau often compares this type of embodiment to Christ’s ecclesial body.18 Those baptised in Christ are said to be the members of his body and participate in the carrying out of the one divine Will. This divine Will is focused fully in Christ who, as Logos, is considered both the source of all things and the highest principle under which all other identities are subsumed. Every being then—ostensibly including the “higher beings” we have been speaking of (following Pageau’s line of thought)—is the expression of a principle cut originally from the ontological cloth, as it were, of the Logos. What this would mean, again, is that there are no truly emergent entities. All emergence is simultaneously the emanation of a principle ultimately rooted in and subordinated to Christ.
But what about human collective structures which work against the divine Will, and thus ‘higher entities’ which serve their own purposes contrary to Christ’s mission on Earth? How can the principles which organise them be said to be rooted in Christ? If evil is metaphysically vapid, the privation of the Good, then aren’t principles which move away from Christ ultimately fabrications—gnomic creations of man in his fallen tropos? In other words, are these beings not egregores of a sort? Pageau indirectly points to an answer to these questions in his recent discussion of the fallen angels in the book of Enoch. A certain number of the angels, we are told, rebelled against God. Some among them “interbred” with humans and taught us the ways of techne (ever more elaborate garments of skin), thus giving body to giants.19 This, according to Pageau, is essentially the typology most appropriate for framing the ‘giants’ of our contemporary world20—that is, many of the collective systems we spawn, like corporations, cities, armies, even the internet. To the extent that the principles around which these systems form work at cross purposes to the divine Will, body is given to rebel angels. These angels, originally created good by God, pre-exist the systems which emerge to give them body. Here we have a possible answer to our question above regarding where the principles of apparent egregores come from: the rebel angels, fragmented heavenly beings of the fallen world traversing the woeful valley between Creation and the Age to Come.
With the full panoply of angels and fallen angels in place, we seem to exhaust the domain of principles that humans can give body to, thus obviating the possibility of purely emergent beings. Pre-existent beings manifest through man as he acts and creates.
Egregores as Watchers
What we have covered so far shows why the concept of egregores as a phenomenon that is ‘emergent’ from human collectives is problematic: it simply cannot hold its own against the truth that phenomena are both ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’—an idea that even the scientific establishment is coming to realise, as JP Marceau has pointed out.21 More significantly, the rich cosmology and theology of the Christian tradition provides answers that are more powerful and more complete. In this tradition, we get a parsimonious explanation of the world that traces all phenomena back to principles, some which shine through in their original splendour, and others in a fallen state.
But all this talk of fallen angels leads us to the elephant in the room. The word ‘egregore’, as we heard at the beginning of this essay, was originally derived from the ‘Watchers’ of the Book of Enoch, which are of course exactly the same as the fallen angels we have just discussed. But haven’t we seen that the occultists changed it into a different concept? It’s true that the idea of the ‘egregore’, over the years, consistently moved towards human action, and for many lost the association with pre-existing higher beings. As it has emerged into more mainstream discussion, for instance in the content of BJ Campbell, this usage has become concrete.
And yet, as we shall see, occultist understanding of ‘egregores’ at the highest level makes it clear that the concept is actually exactly the same as that in the Book of Enoch. This is quite a claim, and on the face of it, we are making it based on a single book.
Before we discuss this claim and the book, we have to deal with the other elephant in the room—the occult. We are not trying in this essay to give credibility to ‘the occult’ in general—but neither do we take the position that occultists are automatically evil and wrong, etc. The essence of magic (the realm of the occult) is to align reality according to your will. To a Christian perspective, this is of course immediately an ‘incorrect’ position, as our duty and destiny as humans is to align our will to God’s. But one observation is that the ‘tools’ of magic, the tools that align reality to an individual’s will, are not necessarily different from other tools that we use for exactly the same purpose. Thus magic can also be considered a ‘techne’, something that has had negative associations—with the line of Cain and with the fallen angels—but which can be redeemed, or perhaps practised ‘neutrally’.
This particular knowledge, in Mark Stavish’s recent book Egregores, simply informs us of some of the history of the subject. Now, western occultist/esotericist accounts of egregores often equate the concept with the solid historical example of Tibetan Buddhist ‘tulpas’. In the influential mid-20th century Christian esotericist work Meditations on the Tarot the author conceived of egregores as ‘human-created’. As part of his illustration of what they are, he quotes the Western traveller (and initiate into Tibetan Buddhism) Alexandra David-Neel on tulpas:
I had the opportunity of talking with a gomchen of Ga (Eastern Tibet) called Kushog Wanchen about sudden deaths which occurred while calling up demons. This lama did not appear inclined towards superstition and I thought he would agree with my opinion on this matter. “Those who died were killed by fear. Their visions were the creations of their own imagination. He who does not believe in demons would never be killed by them.” I was much astonished when the anchorites replied in a peculiar tone of voice: “According to that it must also follow that a man who does not believe in the existence of tigers may feel confident that none of them would ever hurt him even if he were confronted by such a beast.”. . . and he continued: “Visualising mental formations, either voluntarily or not, is a most mysterious process. What becomes of these creations? May it not be that like children born of our flesh, these children of our mind separate their lives from ours, escape our control, and play parts of their own? Must we not also consider that we are not the only ones capable of creating such formations? And if such entities (tulpas, magical creatures) exist in the world, are we not liable to come into touch with them, either by the will of their maker or from some other cause? Could one of these causes not be that, through our mind or through our material deeds, we bring about the conditions in which these entities are capable of manifesting some kind of activity?. . .One must know how to protect oneself against the tigers to which one has given birth, as well as against those that have been begotten by others.”22
Mark Stavish provides us with the following extension of this quote, which the above author omits:
“…we bring about the conditions in which these entities are capable of manifesting some kind of activity? I will give you an illustration: . . . If you are living on a dry spot of ground at some distance from the banks of a river, fishes will never approach you. But cut a channel between the river and your dwelling-place and dig a pond in the dry spot of ground. Then, as the water runs in it, fishes will come from the river and you will see them moving before your eyes. It is only prudent to beware of opening channels without due consideration. Few, indeed, suspect what the great store-house of the world which they tap unconsciously contains.” (Stavish then continues the quote as above.)23
The clear idea that this omitted paragraph contains is that the practitioner ‘gives body’ to pre-existent beings. He or she ‘digs a channel’ into which ‘fish can swim’. Furthermore, Stavish makes it clear through his own words that the Tibetan or Hindu idea of humans ‘creating’ Gods or demons is more a matter of ‘feeding’ them—and moreover that in fact the entities are pre-existent:
The beings evoked by the dubpapo are not imaginary creations of any kind, they are always well-known personalities in the world of gods or demons, who have been revered or propitiated for centuries by millions of believers. Tibetan occultists say that these beings have acquired a sort of real existence due to the countless thoughts that have been concentrated on them.
Similar theories are expressed in the Sacred Scriptures of India. In the Brihad Aranyakopanishad, 1, 4, 10, which is regarded as prior to Buddhism, we find these words: “Whosoever worships a deity with the thought in his mind: ‘He is another, another am I,’ does not know; like a beast, he is used by the gods. As verily many beasts maintain a man, so every man maintains the gods.” How do men do this? By feeding the subjective personalities of their gods on the worship they pay them, a Hindu ascetic told me.24
Now, we can see through these quotes that Tibetan Occultists might in fact insist that the Gods and Demons were originally created by humans. Rather than simply immediately disagreeing, the Christian Enochian might rather agree that the ‘descent’ (even personification?) of the watchers had to do with both ‘higher’ action on the part of the angels and ‘lower’ action on the part of humans, although ultimately assert that the higher entities were pre-existent.
Stavish makes it clear in the rest of his book that the idea of egregores as pre-existent ‘astral’ beings and the idea of them as ‘human-created entities’ each have their separate existence in Western occultism. Although the traditions began with the former position (i.e. Dee and Kelley in the 16th century calling upon God’s ‘angels’), one would expect the latter position to attain supremacy over time, especially in movements which deny the Christian scriptures; these groups would otherwise have to establish some sort of cosmology as to what these pre-existent beings are. The cosmology which did eventually win out was of course the one which argued that they were our own creations.
These revelations regarding the history of the word ‘egregore’ certainly suggest a change in how we should react to the use of the term. But this change could be an opportunity rather than a complete reining-in; instead of just dismissing egregores out of hand, we might admit the existence of these beings while pointing to what appears to be their true nature. The information is furthermore powerful supporting evidence for the angel-and-demon centred work of modern Christians (such as the Lord of Spirits podcast25 ), who are continually trying to remind people of the work of these beings in our world.
Over the course of this exploration, we seem to have come to at least a tentative conclusion about egregores. This is a term which throughout its occult history has been used to emphasise the participatory aspect of humans in the manifestation of higher beings. The term is perhaps still useful in this regard, in representing a specific aspect of the relationship between humans and higher beings, particularly in their fallen mode. However, we saw how an original ambiguity in the ontological status of egregores led to the magnification of the participatory aspect, and this magnification has largely given way to a purely emergentist interpretation. And as we have argued, emergence without emanation simply doesn’t seem to hold. In light of all this, we might say that while egregores could be said to exist, the points made in this article indicate that Pageau was right to be sceptical.
The apparent triumph of Pageau’s perspective conceals a number of remaining problems, however. This essay therefore lays the groundwork for a more in-depth analysis that we will undertake in a second piece, in which we’ll uncover and unpack some of the issues that may be hidden in the nuances of Pageau’s framework.
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