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(February 2002) [Printed in "Reality Module No.26."]
Egregors, Memes, and Transformation - An Exercise in Speculation
You won't find the word 'egregor' in your dictionary. It is an obscure word which you would only have come across if you have studied magical philosophy.
To define it will take a bit of effort, but let us begin.
Magical philosophy states that there are two realms - one is the world we know & experience with our senses, the other realm is the astral plane (sometimes called the 'astral light' to emphasise that this realm is not delimited by time and space as our physical plane is).
The astral plane is said to contain a variety of beings - gods, devils, angels, spirits, the souls of the deceased, and old archetypal beings without names.
The physical and astral realms are said to be closely entwined. Whatever happens in one realm is reflected by happenings in the other - "as above so below." Everything we do in physical reality has ripple effects in the astral reality, and whatever shifting balances or actions occur there have their echoes here.
It may be that these realms represent two sides of one coin - and are eternally indivisible.
Ritual magic is based on the belief that we here can influence the astral plane & can persuade beings there to carry out actions on our behalf. (A ritual magician will ask an agency in the other realm to carry out actions for them. Often - since Western ritual magic arose from the Christian and Jewish religious traditions - these agencies will be angels or archangels.1)
1. I have seen books containing classifications of the heavenly hosts - and the names of thousands on thousands of angels.
This brings us a bit closer to our definition.
Ritual magicians believe in a kind of 'practice effect.' Astral beings are said to be impressed by rituals (as we ourselves often are), and the more often a particular ritual is performed the better it works. Conceptually it is like the ritual is gradually wearing a path through the astral plan & making it easier to reach the destination & recipient. (Alternatively - the better you know a ritual the less you have to concentrate on remembering the words & actions, and the more energy you can devote to generating the appropriate mindstate.)
Astral space is a dimension of mind. (Magicians are inevitably dualists so that mind is always seen as a separate thing from brain.) Astral space is altered by thought, intent, imagination and belief. With our minds we can, it is said, alter the stuff of astral space - and this includes the stuff with nascent awareness!
We have reached the final furlongs. We can theoretically animate astral stuff - give it life and consciousness - all that is required is imagination and belief. If we believe in a 'god' (notice the small 'g') - our power will animate the stuff of astral space to bring this 'god' into being. This god will take on (in some measure) whatever powers we believe it to have.
Even imagined gods have real power!
This is what egregors are! They are the beings animated and given awareness through the thoughts of human beings over thousands and thousands of years.
(Why I have discussed egregors will become clearer later.)
I last mentioned memes in my "Philosophy of History" essay in "RM18" (Oct. 2000) where they were defined as: "a sort of 'cultural virus' which spreads an idea, behaviour, style or usage through a culture." [p.3.]
Sure we know how memes are spread - through word- of-mouth and the actions of the media, but where do they come from?
Memes are a sort of 'infectious idea' and like all ideas they arise in someone's brain.
Where do ideas come from? They come from the playful manipulations of conscious thought - they come from the creative process.
Genuine creativity requires conscious exploration and manipulation of our "working model of the world."This working model was described in "RM9" [April 1999] in my essay "Is There Meaning in Dreams?" The model has these elements:
It is generally believed that we have a conscious mind (the stuff we are actively working with & our surface thoughts) and an unconscious mind2.
2. There are some schools of psychology which deny the existence of an unconscious.
I wrote many moons ago:
Jungian psychology is very simplistic. In reality our mindspace contains
many 'selves' - the ego, agents such as shadow and anima (you can think
of them as being analogous to "software agents"), semi-automated
personas (you can think of them as "robots" - inactive most
of the time, but which we can operate when we need to), partially deconstructed
former-selves (including the child you once were), constructs (psychological
inventions, characters), and outsiders (which includes, dare-I-use-the-term,
our resident "demons".)
In classical Jungian psychology all our individual unconscious minds merge at the bottom into one shared entity called the collective unconscious.
If mind & brain were identical then this collective unconscious would be an inherited assembly of brain structures (a basic template), but if the mind is separate from the brain (albeit connected) - the collective unconscious could be much more!
The collective unconscious would be a separate mindspace which we can influence by thought alone.
I am not proclaiming that the astral plane & the collective unconscious are the same3, but they have an uncanny set of properties in common:
3. How would I prove it?
[We normally think of the collective unconscious as something we'd enter by going into a deep deep sleep, and which lies deep in our minds. We normally think of the astral plane as some separate spiritual reality out there somewhere! (But we are dealing with things not bound by conventional dimensionality - up, down, out there, in here, are all meaningless. It is possible for the "other realm" to be both cosmic in scale and out there, and simultaneously tiny and inside our own brain-space.)]
Now we know that stuff can rise from the collective unconscious into our personal unconscious, and then make a journey to conscious awareness as an idea, be acted upon and recorded, and then be sent out into the world as a 'meme.'
This could be in a sense the ' inner world' pushing through into the outer world. Astral space acting on physical space.
[A problem here, as you will have realised, is terminology. Physical reality we have no problem with, but the other realm is much more problematic. Every word used to describe it has its own associations and many of those associations are unhelpful. 'Astral plane' has unhelpful associations of spiritualism and heavy mysticism. 'Collective unconscious' is bound by the limits of psychological thought - rational brain science at one extreme and Jungian symbolism at the other. 'Mindspace' and 'inner space' make it seem too personal, and 'inner space' has the automatic implication that the realm is small and inside our heads - when this may not be the whole story. 'Other realm' holds the assumption that it is a separate place, when we know the two realms are entwined. I will work on the problem of terminology to find appropriate labels for these realms.]
Suffice to say - memes are born in mindspace and are brought into physical space - where they cause cultural and other changes.
One of my favourite fables (I have no idea of its origin) goes something like this:
The fable has a powerful message - the difference between heaven and hell is not physical, it is psychological.
Or as Gautama Buddha said: "With our thoughts we make the world."
The Buddha's words work on many levels.
There is the notion of 'optimism' and 'pessimism.' There can be two people in near identical situations - and one sees their life as promising light, while the other sees their life as leading into darkness.
This is why self-help gurus harp on about "the power of positive thinking", eliminating negative self-talk (e.g.. "I'm bloody helpless at this!"), transforming pessimism into optimism - and making use of the courage this gives you to change your life.
This change isn't easy - it takes continuing effort to break negative habits, but break them we can. "Assume a virtue if you have it not" - and in time the role-play will become the reality.
On another level Buddha's words also reflect the reality that the world around us has been shaped by the people in it. Every building you see was once an idea in someone's head. Cities, farms, parks, minefields, detention centres all came into being by people having ideas and putting them into practice.
(Ideas rarely stay put inside people's heads. They have a habit of getting out, influencing other people [for good or ill], and changing things.)
It may be that a 'meme' is simply an idea that has been let out of its brainbox!
Human beings live in a world of ideas as well as a world of stone.
The world we live in reflects uncannily the world that exists inside our minds. And it is a wounded world! The wounding reflects the dark fact that everyone of us has a troubled mind.
We all have our psychopathologies - we have all been wounded by the world and by the sundering of our dreams - and we all have our own ways of coping with the crap the world sometimes sends us.
Of course some of us are a lot sicker than others - but damn few of us are well.
Obviously if we want a healed world - a beautiful world, we will have to heal ourselves. (And it is of course harder to heal ourselves when so many people around us are mad and are spreading darkness into the world.)
So - why don't people want to get well?
There are many possible reasons. Here are a few:
There's a problem with Western Civilisation which I call "living on the surface." People can become obsessed with surface things like consumer items, brand-name products, prestigious jobs, the fame game, and the fattening of bank accounts. (If they cannot nail these things for themselves, they develop an unhealthy obsession with those people who can!)
Their obsession is with one dimension of the human experience - the struggle for status - to the exclusion of others. They rarely think outside this box - and do not explore other mental realms. They look for all their solutions in this box.
It is like living all your life in one well-furnished room and being unaware that the rest of the house is falling down.
These people never realise they are sick because they never travel far enough mentally to see the disease!
People do not get well because they have lost hope. The world seems dark and there seems to be nothing they can do about it. The best they can manage is a painful coping.
Evil has its own attraction, its own sultry glow - and our capacity to do evil grows with practice. It can seem an attractive option in a life too ordinary, but has its own terrible price. One can never be safe - there is no virtue in one's environment. Evil grows and corrupts around it (it is a disease which spreads) - and all you meet will be tainted by its touch. Your associates are not your friends - they'd as willingly use you as you'd use them - maybe even destroy you. It is the status game again - in a dark kingdom. Everything valuable on the inside is lost & you become a slave to the acting out of your own terrible pain.
So if the way to change the world is to change ourselves, how do we change ourselves?
The bad news is - only we can do it. (No one else can heal us - but they can give us guidance and loving support.)
The good news is virtue grows! If we make small changes in our character (more patience, kinder words) we will find it easier to make further changes. And it does not matter how small we start!
A second requirement is courage. We will have to enter the dark house because if we continue to hide from the monsters inside us - they will continue to have power over us. It is only by deliberately facing these monsters and taking a good look at them - that we can recognise them, fight or accept them, and have power over them. (Whose mind is it - yours, or the monsters within?)
We also need courage for the world outside of us - but this will come, we will be secure [we know about & can control what is in us] and confident in facing the world.
Sometimes the greatest courage, however, is the courage to begin; to set aside the familiar and face the unknown challenges of a new journey.
If we are able to break out of the cages described above (evil is the hardest - it drags you in deeper and deeper like quicksand) - we can become better and healthier people.
A good & loving person shines a light into the lives of everyone they meet. (I get smiles from pretty girls I don't even know because I am generally a happy friendly person.)
Good people can spread goodness to other people and change the world.
All the fantasy clichés are true.
So let's try & change some negative part of ourselves (however small) into something better! And try of course to be nicer to other people.
Let's get this transformation happening - let's mend ourselves and the world!
There are many places I can go from here. I have passed from the inner mysteries, through the cauldron of the mind, and out into the world around us.
There is only one great lesson: we need to make the journey from darkness to light, and we (and whatever powers we believe in) are the instruments of change.
For without change there is only inevitable death.
Memes are mentioned in The Philosophy of History.
The subconscious mind is discussed in some detail in the series beginning with Is There Meaning in Dreams?
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Copyright © 2002 by Michael F. Green. All rights reserved.
Last Updated: 11 June 2009