26 July 2007

Of egregores and angels

In the New Religious Movements discussion forum a couple of weeks ago Matt Stone introduced me to the concept of an egregore. Well, not so much the concept as the term, since the concept was already familiar to me.

It came up in a discussion about the cults of fictional deities, such as Yog Sothoth and Cthulhu, from the horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Matt suggested that these might be examples of egregors or egregores, which have been described here as:
...a kind of group mind which is created when people consciously come together for a common purpose. Each of us belong to several of these groups. The process is unconscious. There also are drawbacks, some disturbing psychic influences in many cases, and a restriction of freedom. It is impossible to free oneself from certain egregores, for example the egregores of the country you live in. However we should free ourselves from non-essential egregores. If this process is continued for a long time, the egregore will take on a life of it's own, even if all the members should pass through transition, it would continue to exist on the inner dimensions and can be contacted even for centuries later by a group of people prepared to live the lives of the original founders, particularly if they are willing to provide the initial input of energy to get it going again. These thought-forms are created reality by an individual or a group. They exist in the exoteric and esoteric realms. They are created by groups such as societies or cultures, professions and trades, or any group. They can be accessed by all members of that group. They change as the group contacting them changes. The egregore is prone to change, either to evolve or degenerate as members of that group change. The group then reflects the changing "egregore". This contact of group members to their "egregore" is automatic in most cases, when the member actually feels that he/she is a member of that group. Most members are unconscious of this process. There are also instances where some groups deliberately use the egregore for the spiritual development and well being of their members. This is true of various mystical organizations.

Now this takes me back to when I was a student at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, taking Theology II and New Testament II and the lecturer talked about "principalities and powers". I'd not given these much thought up till then, but when he started expounding a theory of the atonement in which Jesus defeated the "principalities and powers", I asked what on earth he was talking about. In my mind, "principalities" were places like Monaco, and the "powers" were the USA and USSR (back then engaged in the Cold War).

The lecturer, Vic Bredenkamp, referred me to a book by G.B. Caird, called, unsurprisingly, Principalities and powers. From reading this I gathered that behind the nations like the USSR and the USA were spiritual powers -- national spirits, if you like -- and that the ancient Romans actually worshipped this spiritual power of the nation in the form of the genius of the Emperor, and it was their refusal to participate in that cult that got some of the early Christians into trouble with some of the Emperors.

Now in the description of an "egregore" quoted above, we are told that It is impossible to free oneself from certain egregores, for example the egregores of the country you live in. This links up with Deuteronomy 32:8-9: When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. For the Lord's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. "Sons of God" in this case (Hebrew "bene elohim", literally "sons of gods") means gods as in Psalm 82 (81 in the LXX numbering), which is is sung boisterously with much stamping of feet and banging on benches in Orthodox Churches in the Holy Saturday Liturgy while the priest scatters bay leaves all over the place, with the oft-repeated chorus "Arise O God, judge the earth, for to Thee belong all nations". Jesus announced the fulfilment of that prayer when he said (John 12:31-32) "Now is the judgment of this world (judge the earth), now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth (Arise O God), will draw all men to myself" (for to Thee belong all nations).

There is an ikon of the scattering of the nations at the tower of Babel that often goes with the ikon of Pentecost (I have not been able to find an example, otherwise I would have put it here) that shows the nations with their angels leaving in different directions. And the Septuagint version of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 says that the Most High set the bounds of the nations "according to the number of the angels of God" (kata arithmon angellon Theou). All nations were given their gods, or angels, except Israel, which had a hot line to the Most High, and did not have to go through angelic intermediaries. According to Psalm 81/82 the gods messed up and ruled unjustly, and with the death and resurrection of Jesus all nations became eligible for the hot line (John 12:31f).

These gods/angels are not simply of the nations. Individuals have their guardian angels. Families and communities have theirs. In Reveleation St John saw the angels of the churches. Business firms may have them too, and even ideas and ideologies can have them. In other words, the characteristics of "egregors" may also be the characteristics of angels, and they may be good or evil. As they become evil, they more and more resemble the characteristics of fallen angels, or demons.

Charles Williams, in his novel The place of the lion describes what happens when the powers get loose, and when men worship them independently of the power of God. C.S. Lewis sees them as belonging not just to human groups within the earth, but to the planets themselves, the principalities, archontes, princes he calls oyeresu, and each planet has its oyarsa, or planetary ruler, and this was the basis of astrology.

There is one theological problem in all this. As Charles Stewart says in his book Demons and the devil
"The main doctrinal point is simple: NO DUALISM. Satan is not to be regarded as a power equal to God. He is God's creation and operates subject to divine will." Other points:
  1. Satan is immaterial; this no excessive concern with his form or geographical associations;
  2. as he has no real power, there is no reason to appeal to him. All rites, sorcery, black magic, astrology and the like that appeal to demons or the devil are fruitless;
  3. Satan's field of operations is narrow, and the harm he can provoke is limited;
  4. Satan is strictly and intrinsically evil. The Church does not accept the existence of intermediate or ambiguous fairy-like creatures such as neraides, gorgones and kallikantzaroi;
  5. Satan is singular. He is the leader of demons who are fallen
    angels of the same order as himself. There is no real concern
    for the names of demons
    (Stewart 1991:148).

This seems to exclude the idea of spiritual powers, such as angels of the nationas that may turn from evil to good and back again, for example when South Africa abandoned apartheid in 1994.
If you found this interesting, there's more here: Angels and demons and egregores (book review) | Khanya


HilbertAstronaut said...

The anonymous author of "Meditations on the Tarot" has quite a bit to say about egregores, mostly on the negative side. According to that work, for example, things like ghosts (in haunted houses) are egregores of the passed-away person: not the real soul, but the "residual energy" left behind.

Anonymous said...

There is no God but God. I think the heresy of dualism is ripe in egregore belief. It may seem to some that evil egregores are moving to take over the U.S., my country. But this kind of thing seems so unproductive, if not heretical. Why bother to do anything- the egregores are responsible! Charles Williams postulated such in a book of _fiction_. Makes one think, but it's not a 'theology' to live by.
I'd be interested in what others think about this.

Steve Hayes said...


But in what I've read about egregors, the residual energy is left in the minds and memories of living people.


As I understand the concept of egregors (which may or may not be an accurate understanding, I'm still trying to work out what it means), they don't "move in", to "take over", they are already there.

I don't see how it is dualistic, but that may depend on what you mean by "dualistic" -- spirit/matter dualism, good/evil dualism, or something else?

And, if I understand the concept correctly, the responsibility goes both ways -- we are responsible for the egregors as much as they can be said to be "responsible: for anything.

Yvonne said...

It sounds as if, in a way, egregores are like regions of the collective unconscious - therefore they must be full of archetypes and symbols pertaining to the culture they correspond to. If a bad symbol or archetype gets hold of them (say the demonising of a particular group), then they turn bad.

But they're not individual people. Personifying them as angels may be helpful in one way - and there may even be an angel seeking to transform them into good egregores, and maybe some rebellious spirits trying to drag them the other way - but it may be unhelpful in another way.

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