Are Egregores People?

April 29, 2010 by  
Filed under featured, magick

Are Egregores People?

In the recent case of Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission, the United States Supreme Court narrowly ruled the First Amendment protection for freedom of speech extends to organizations and corporations who wish to fund political advertisements. By way of disclaimer, I deeply disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision upon this controversial point, and by the conclusion of this essay I’m sure the attentive reader should be able to tease out my reasons for opposing the supposed (emphasis on “supposed”) expansion of First Amendment rights. Still, my main interest here concerns the occult implications of this decision, and especially how our culture views certain egregores, or group-empowered spirits.

First, let’s review how we arrived here. United States law has long regarded corporations as “persons” for purposes of whether someone can bring suit against a corporation. The limited liability corporation constitutes an entity distinct from its investors, complete with its own assets and liabilities. Consequently, individual shareholders cannot be individually held liable for the actions of the corporation. The United States government, along with most contemporary capitalist nations, allows this arrangement of convenience ultimately because it fosters economic growth. After all, investors are more likely to pour money into joint enterprises if their potential losses remain a known quantity.

Now here’s the rub: For the better part of our history, the personhood of the corporation has constituted a legal fiction — a convenient fiction, indeed, and yet fiction nonetheless. Corporations can and often do function as interested parties in tort actions, though otherwise their powers and limitations are quite different from those of living and breathing human beings. Corporations aren’t bound by the biological limitations and emotional ties which govern human choices. And generally speaking, individual human beings possess neither the financial resources nor the sheer wherewithal necessary to maintain nuclear power plants, or to distribute life-saving pharmaceuticals, or to manufacture the complex and deadly weapons of modern warfare. Human beings are people. Corporations play by an entirely different collection of rules. By this line of reasoning, the fact that corporations can be held liable for their actions, without thereby jeopardizing the assets of individual shareholders, constitutes the necessary – if deeply uneasy – compromise between the public good and the capitalist impulse. And yet. . .

By quite another line of reasoning, one widely supported across occult circles, corporations really are people. To understand why this is so, we must consider the nature of spirits and thoughtforms, and especially the class of thoughtforms known as egregores. In its simplest incarnation, an egregore constitutes a spirit supported by collective belief. Every mask which Deity wears, every goddess and god of antiquity and modernity, may be considered an egregore. Hecate Trevia is an egregore. Lilith of Eden is an egregore, as is Jesus of Nazareth. Still, egregores aren’t limited to traditional theological and mythological incarnations. Any idea, any collective entity around which people gather in belief, can adopt the mantle of egregore. Democracy is an egregore, as is Marxism. Santa Claus is an egregore. And tellingly, corporate entities — like Exxon-Mobil and McDonald’s — constitute egregores.

In his modern fantasy classic American Gods, author Neil Gaiman presents a world where the incarnate spirits of antiquity, beings like Woden and Ostara, find themselves besieged by the personified idols of modernity, things like Television and Media. In the surreal realm Gaiman creates, the various gods — both ancient and contemporary — really are people, with hopes and fears and dreams all their own. Still, setting aside those not-insignificant sects who believe in reincarnated savior or teacher figures, our “real world” religions generally adopt comparatively abstract — or at the very least more distant — conceptions of Deity. In any event, our “real world” typically doesn’t manifest things like energy conglomerates and restaurant franchises as flesh and blood human beings.

This restriction, however, doesn’t make the underlying spirits any less real, and it doesn’t make them any less influential. You may freely inquire of any parent steeped in the holiday traditions of the West whether the fact Santa Claus lacks material existence diminishes his influence over the Yuletide season, and find but few who would deny the power behind the idea of Santa Claus. And I can nearly guarantee you those few who ostensibly doubt the power of Santa Claus are much too busy with their Christmas shopping to give your inquiry a genuinely reflective answer!

An egregore who embodies human generosity and childlike wonder might not be such a bad thing, yet there exist other egregores — especially corporate spirits — whose agency is seldom bound by things like human morality and compassion. Absent government regulation, many — if not most — corporations would sacrifice both human health and our shared environment upon the bloodstained altar of Mammon. (For some deliciously dark humor along this vein, I refer the reader to the opening sequence of the 1999 movie Fight Club, wherein Edward Norton’s character explains to his fellow airline passenger how auto manufacturers decide whether to recall vehicles with known safety flaws: “Take the number of vehicles in the field ‘A’, multiply by the probable rate of failure ‘B’, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement ‘C’. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one.” And for which auto manufacturer does he work? “A major one.”) To give these dangerous thoughtforms not only some voice, but indeed the capacity to drown out competing points of view upon the airwaves, seems at best reckless beyond all imagination.

I’m sure some readers will disagree with my admittedly negative portrayal of the corporate world. Well and good — We can agree to disagree, and moving forward we can debate such points as we please. Speaking for myself, I identify with Locke’s philosophy enough to regard freedom of speech as an essentially natural right, so barring immediate threats against human life — the proverbial “shouting fire” inside a crowded theatre — I’m loath to restrict free speech upon the basis of possible outcomes. If we hold with natural rights, then however we might choose to characterize the moral capacity of the corporation, we must nevertheless confront the a priori question of whether or not the corporation is “person” enough to merit First Amendment protections. If we should answer in the affirmative, logical consistency demands we extend freedom of speech to corporate egregores. If we should answer in the negative, intellectual honesty demands we give an account why.

Like “real people” made of flesh and blood, corporations exhibit an instinct for self-preservation. Likewise, corporations make choices and exhibit agency, often with greater range than any individual human being could practice. Unless we arbitrarily limit our definition of personhood to animate beings who display literal breath and pulse, then corporate egregores demonstrate relevant signs of personhood. Still, these signs are nothing more or less than other egregores and spirits possess. The mythological figures of antiquity, by inspiring their followers, everyday exert real changes across our shared cultural space. Such otherwise powerful godforms are partially bound from exerting too direct an influence upon the political course of the United States, insofar as the institutional mechanisms cannot rally behind individual candidates for office without thereby jeopardizing the tax-exempt status enjoyed by churches. And there exist other egregores who are much too “unofficial” — and often too far removed from the notion of money — to really flood the airwaves with their unique messages.

I should point out there are numerous lobbyist groups which also function as egregores, for whom money becomes merely the means towards an end. Groups like Planned Parenthood and the National Rifle Association focus upon public policy, rather than profit margins, and consequently — ironically — their coffers generally can’t compete with the largest among the corporate interests. (Notably, given the substance of the case at hand, the Supreme Court could have restricted the scope of Citizens United decision to non-profit groups only. Inexplicably, the Court opted for the broader interpretation.) These non-profit groups, as well, may now spend as they please to help or harm individual campaigns, as they see fit, because — according to the Court’s decision — these organizations enjoy the same First Amendment protections which other “people” enjoy.

Did you catch that? Corporations are now people. Egregores — or at least those egregores with institutional avatars registered with the Internal Revenue Service — are now people. Now I consider myself an ardent supporter of First Amendment rights. And I’m an occultist who maintains regular discourse with certain denizens of the astral realms, which only makes sense when I acknowledge such spirits as persons. Why am I less than thrilled?

Earlier I observed if corporations are people, then logical consistency demands we extend First Amendment protections to such beings. And it’s true the First Amendment merely guarantees freedom of speech, and not particular platforms or podiums from which we might wish to speak. Herein the problem follows: Exceptionally deep coffers make for exceptionally high podiums. More to the point, they make for exceptionally loud megaphones. I’ve remarked before that the free marketplace of ideas allows truth to bubble up and falsity to sink under its own weight. I stand by this fundamental assertion, yet all around our little planet money buys airtime, and lots of money buys lots of airtime. We may question — and I do — whether a world in which corporate interests can and mostly likely will run wall-to-wall political advertisements constitutes a free marketplace of ideas. Natural rights come with the important caveat the rights of one being end where the rights of another begin. The First Amendment is no different. I genuinely fear by unleashing the loudest megaphones, we are thereby silencing both flesh and blood human beings and the egregores who don’t serve Mammon. A plutocracy which pays mere lip service unto the free marketplace of ideas isn’t really free at all.

Looking back, I’m not entirely sure my article has maintained the political neutrality for which I had hoped. And yet mayhap as an example, my reasoning herein might inspire others to measure their own cultural views by the standard of their chosen paths. Our magical paradigms — reflectively held — must continue to apply when we leave the unseen realms. And sometimes, as with the Citizens United decision, those unseen realms come crashing into our material existence. Are spirits people? Are egregores? If we answer yes, then what rights and duties might such spirits thereby inherit? I’ve expressed my feelings upon the subject; your mileage may vary. I would challenge you, my dear readers, to reflect upon how your magical paradigms shape your cultural perspectives. By introspection we grow as Magicians and as people — whether flesh and blood or otherwise.

Blessed Be!

©2010 by Grey Glamer.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

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One Response to “Are Egregores People?”

  1. Ambrose Hawk says:

    Grey Galmer writes in “Are Egregores People?”
    “… in its simplest incarnation, an egregore constitutes a spirit supported by collective belief. Every mask which Deity wears, every goddess and god of antiquity and modernity, may be considered an egregore. Hecate Trevia is an egregore. Lilith of Eden is an egregore, as is Jesus of Nazareth ….”

    While I share Galmer’s concern with impact of an unleashed “corporate” entity using its resources to dominate our public discourse (though I feel that the Supreme Court’s decision was a political necessity … another topic entirely), I have some quibbles concerning his application or possibly even his definition of the concept of eggregore (which obviously includes a variant spelling of the term … and since I can’t find adequate citations myself of the origins of the term, I’ll stick with what I know and sincerely hope to receive abundant correction!).
    I do agree that eggregores do not require any specific visual form … though some of the more prominent do, as in the Crucifix, Santa Claus, or the Magen David. However, when Yeats was speaking of the competing eggregores within the Golden Dawn, I sincerely doubt that he had such an imaginary figure. I also agree that all eggregore have integral agendas which influence the behavior of the individuals who participate in them.

    On the other hand, the quote which I cited implies that Galmer does not distinguish between the original phenomena and the consequent eggregores arising from it. Because I’ve been professionally involved with it, not because I believe the behavior is unique, I’ll put this in terms of “Jesus Christ”. Most esotericists have been forcibly acquainted with the fact that there are mutually exclusive and hostile denominations and congregations who all claim to be disciples of Jesus. Most people involved in that arena are painfully aware that the odds of their modern congregations recognizing Jesus, should he come in a manner similar to his prior appearance, are dangerously low!
    If I may stray from the topic … I have come to believe that the choices, attitudes, and cultural situation of all congregations gives rise to an eggregore which shares the same appearance but supplants the original with its own agenda and perceptions. As the eggregore grows, its influence and drive for self preservation increase. Ironically, this very fact impels the being to deliberately introduce unique variations. This can be observed even while the original is still vital. HMO’s, for instance, began as a very productive patient – physician alliance model and grew into the penny pinching monsters as loathed as the corporate insurance companies. Small, local HMO’s still exist, though, which function wonderfully on the original model.
    Even so, I feel that productive scholarship requires one to distinguish in some way between the Ur event or person and the subsequent plethora of eggregores which arise from it. Jesus of Nazareth, who became known as Jesus the Messiah, is entirely distinct from the eggregore of all of the denominations which take his name in vanity. The eggregore of Wal Mart is often diametrically opposed to the values and actions of its founder. Similar things happen in all groups.

    Furthermore, I feel that the dynamics of choice BY an eggregore are distinct from the dynamics of choice by INDIVIDUALS who operate within and upon the eggregore. Nor do I think that such choices by a corporate entity are “amoral”. To take this last assertion first, either one must posit an external, transcendent, and real moral structure or accept the peculiar ethos of a given entity. Most eggregore preserve certain assumptions which drive primary behavior and reactions by their members. “Christian Charity” is hardly unique to Christianity, but the existance of such a label means that the greater mass of such eggregore accept the stricture as a valid ethic. The primary ethic of a commercial corporation would seem to be profit. Hence the most abominable actions are “moral” within the peculiar construct of such an eggregore. I’m fond of the line that man is rationalizing, not rational. Again, in the narrow sense of the Christian cluster for instance, the gripe that Scripture can be misquoted and twisted to prove anything is clear example of this behavior.
    This may generate a tool to enable an analysis to see if a given choice is driven by the eggregore or by individuals within the eggregore. It seems to me that the choices of eggregore are usually more nebulous and operate almost automatically within it. Most people who ask, “have you been saved?” are almost unaware of the tremendous number of assumptions and cultural elements which must be shared before the question has affective meaning. At some point, many of these assumptions, however, were carefully constructed and promulgated by individuals. Consider the history of the early development and the later transformations of the Mormons. Consider the furor raised after Vatican II over the institution of the Novo Ordo Mass to replace the equally (in its day) revisionary Tridentine Mass. The Mass, in fact, is a clear example. The core Eucharistic rituals from the early centuries can still be recovered to a remarkable degree, and the development of the structure, components, and rubrics of subsequent liturgies are often a matter of historical record. Yet the Tridentine Mass was such a foundational part of the eggergore for so many believers that the radical revision of elements of the liturgy resulted in serious disruption of Roman Catholic solidarity. The “liturgical reformers” were individuals acting within and upon the larger eggregore … driven by their own particular, special eggregore. Yet, both they and the traditionalist did not, nor could not, the primary decision that the Eucharistic liturgy was a core essential of “Roman Catholic”. The choice of the Mass as such a keystone is clearly a function of the eggregore itself. The manipulation of the details of the Mass to fit an extraneous agenda would seem to arise either from individual processes or from an external, if subsidiary, eggregore.

    Thus, one can have a very nice and likeable person who in a public arena, driven by his/her prominent eggregore makes some very frightening and disgusting choices. Or you can have an individual who deliberately violates the prior policies and practices of the eggregore to establish a new model within it. Understanding which process is operating can be vital in developing a response. Lumber companies can have quite sound conservation agendas which attempt to manipulate the environment to stabilize it in a productive state. Other people, with a different environmental sensitivity may resist this as unwarranted intervention in nature. A classic example can be found in the many debates raging over the Forestry Service … whose policy of fighting fires at one point was actually destroying the forest that they wished to preserve!

    Why are these quibbles at all important? For a non-Christian example, there is a pond in the forest near my house which we have consecrated. Our farm as a whole, however, has a very productive understanding with a hunting club composed mostly of our cousins. Most of these cousins are devout “Christians”. Though they would be horrified at my own esoteric practice, I too am a “Christian”. So, how do I handle the hunting stand they’ve built to overlook the Lady’s Pond? I’ll give a hint, I don’t tell them that it disturbs the essential consecration of a ritual ground for the evocation of wood spirits and sky beings! On the other hand, when I say we use it as an outdoor chapel for meditation and personal prayer, they apologized sweetly and took it down within a week. By respecting their eggregore, I managed to phrase the problem in such a way which permitted them as individuals to behave in a manner harmonious with mine.

    Be Blest,
    Ambrose Hawk

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