Part Eight: Egregores
We think that we're pushing that Like button, but really, that Like button is pushing us... — Jamie Wheal
Have you heard anyone use the word 'egregore' recently? I encountered it in the context of social media polarising people into opposing groups. The word comes from the Western occult or magical tradition, and refers to a conscious entity born out of a fusion of minds. It's as if the group were itself acting as a being rather than as a collection of individuals, each with their own will. This being seems to become an attractor; it has a charisma, a gravity to it.
We often feel as if we are influenced by forces larger than ourselves... mobs, moral panics, trends. Could these forces be examples of egregores?
Albert Amao’s book Healing Without Medicine explains that an egregore is formed whenever people come together to do something, or hold a shared idea. An egregore is a group thought-form. So if this is true, then evidently egregores are being birthed all the time without us knowing it.
'Egregore' is also often used to mean an intentionally-created being in the mental or psychic realm. Another word for this would be ‘tulpa’, from the Tibetan tantric lineage.
Also consider that thoughts could be attracted or repelled by an existing narrative or cluster of opinions: a Memeplex, which is a term for a set of memes or ideas that reinforce each other; egregore implies some sort of sentience or conscious intent; it is a being, rather than an impersonal complex of ideas.
When unformed potential crystallises via intention into thoughtforms, either individual or collective, these egregores or memeplexes act as ‘strange attractors’.
Definition of strange attractor
Unlike the randomness generated by a system with many variables, chaos has its own pattern, a peculiar kind of order. This pattern is known whimsically as a strange attractor, because the chaotic system seems to be strangely attracted to an ideal behavior.— Gary Taubes, Discover, May 1989
So let's try to make this clearer: imagine that the psyche as a whole is outer space, and the stars and planets are the egregores; each has a ‘gravity’ which pulls thoughtforms with lower ‘mass’ towards them. The more people who are attracted to an egregore, the more power it has. One is also more drawn to the egregore which fits with one's proclivities or temperament.
So as an example, someone like Jordan Peterson back in 2018 tries to be politically even-handed. But it turns out he feels slightly closer to the ‘angry right-winger’ egregore than any other (from his perspective, its name is 'righteous truth-teller'), and its gravity ends up attracting him more and more until by 2022 he ends up being drawn into its orbit. In the same way, two sides of any given argument on social media often polarise into hateful name-calling and ad hominem attacks. Nobody listens to anyone on ‘the other side’.
It seem to be similar to how the gravity of a heavenly body attracts other smaller bodies: a growing egregore in the human psyche seems to pull people towards it who hold similar ideas, whether consciously or unconsciously.
The more powerful attractors tend to flatten the complexity present in the smaller ones they subsume. This means that as an idea gains critical mass, it becomes more and more simplified. At a personal level, we see someone abandoning a nuanced version of a belief in favour of a flattened one. Someone goes from believing that there are a number of ways that Covid19 might have come into being, to the firm conviction (probably without any real evidence) that the CIA or the CCP released it (not saying that either of those didn't happen, mind you).
Another example might be that in the 1990s, the USA was gripped by the notion that children were being abducted and subjected to satanic rituals. The perpetrators were supposedly guided, in part, by hidden messages in heavy metal albums, played backwards. This idea of out-of-control satanic child abuse has resurfaced in more recent times, minus the musical element, via QAnon and Teal Swan, among others. This is clearly an echo of previous 'satanic panics' such as the Salem Witch Trials, and of mass hysteria in general. Once an idea takes hold in the collective mind-space, it draws energy towards itself. This creates a feedback loop where people believe ostensibly absurd things because other people believe them. Eventually these moral panics tend to pop like bubbles, but not before they have caused a great deal of harm.
We can see that an egregore, once it has attracted sufficient belief in itself, becomes strong enough in many cases to overpower an individual's rational consciousness and influence them to do things they would never normally be open to doing. We can all think of historical examples of mob behaviour.
I am coming to the conclusion that all of the Dark Forces I have mentioned so far in the series are egregores, or at least the downstream effects of them.
How much can we really know about egregores? Speculation may be all we can ever have. Does a bacterium in someone's stomach know it is part of a conscious being? The true nature of an egregore might be beyond anything we can imagine.
However, the Aleister Crowley quote which I used in Here Be Dragons is maybe salient here:
“Why should you study and practise Magick? Because you can’t help doing it, and you had better do it well than badly.”
This implies that whenever we humans come together to do anything around an idea, we are metaphorically creating the equivalent of a star or planet in the psyche, with its own gravity to attract similar ideas, whether we intend to or not. We might call it ‘team spirit’ or ‘group mind’.
The formula seems to be:
Emotion + Belief + Number of Believers = Mass of Egregore
It seems that those egregores that inspire more emotional investment and belief have more 'mass' and therefore more 'gravity'. Something which is emotionally flat and uninteresting has little 'gravity'. Also things which are way ahead of their time have trouble attracting understanding, and so belief.
If the idea around which we congregate has less ‘mass’, it may eventually be attracted to the nearest egregore — 'nearest' in this analogy means in terms of subject matter and emotional content or tone.
If it has more 'mass' it will start to attract other thoughtforms to itself. We can say that the larger group thoughtform has 'captured' the smaller. If we are personally very identified with an idea, the larger egregore has effectively captured our entire mind and we think 'as it'.
An angry incel is not going to be attracted to a feminist egregore, in fact he will probably be violently repelled by it. (This is where the analogy with heavenly bodies breaks down, because it appears that egregores can repel as well as attract.) But if he's guided, for example, by the YouTube algorithm to watch progressively more hardcore alt-right propaganda, he might find himself moving from the space of the 'manosphere' egregore to the 'neo-Nazi' one.
I believe the conversation around egregores has such currency right now because social media has made these dynamics more visible. The design of the 'maximise user time on site' algorithms has ended up optimising for the most extreme version of every opinion, simply because conflict increases engagement.
This results in the production of egregores on an industrial scale (in terms of numbers of minds captured). They are more defined - because they gain power by acting in opposition to another; and more filled with emotion, thus literally more attractive.
These very powerful and defined egregores attract and subsume similar, but more nuanced, versions of themselves into the main 'body' of the egregore. This flattens and simplifies the narrative. When two opposing powerful thoughtforms inevitably clash, the captured minds 'inside' them are put to work negating the story held by the other polarity. The 'never Trump' Republicans attack the 'MAGA' crowd, and vice versa. The neoliberal 'leftists' attack the 'radicals', and so on.
This is also why something like a 'mob mentality' takes over the previously benign individual. They become absorbed into the body of the egregore and start to serve its goals. These goals are often completely at odds with what will benefit them as individual humans. There is an apparent short term upside, which I will go into more next time.
None of this is new, of course. Go back as far as you want in history and you will see these dynamics. But rarely has it been made so obvious as now, in our age of 'big data', transparency, and keyboard warriors.
In the next instalment I will examine the role of belief in the creation of these thoughtforms, and how it is often used against us.