The Scarlet Letter
Volume VI, Number 1 | March 2001
By Paco Xander Nathan
Now what I find interesting, in the context of operative mageia, is the ability to engineer those dynamics. A little over a dozen years ago, I encountered a most intriguing and powerful Hermetic formalism in the notion of an “egregor.” 1
To contextualize using Thelemic terms, this word describes the process of developing a magickal link. In a Platonic sense, egregors are dynamic structures used for perpetuating belief systems. They provide intellectual frameworks for constructing and deconstructing the beliefs that arise from group dynamics, i.e., the autopoietic emergence of an additional “individual” to represent a group of individuals.2 In the spirit of Vitruvius, think of egregors as the allegorical buildings of the allegorical stonemasons of Western Esoteric Tradition.
What an amazing technology to study and practice! Unfortunately, the esoteric texts that one tends to find on bookstore shelves offer little in the way of footnotes or (oh, the horror!) primary sources. Apparently, that would transgress some secret law of occult writing. From what other writerly friends have rumored, clearly articulated references actually violate the editorial policy for at least one imprint, i.e., the one with the funny crescent satellite. In any case, when I wanted to delve further into the mysteries of how to build/grow/envision egregors, my quest lead mostly to a chain of vague paragraphs.
Now admittedly I am not much of a Crowley scholar, so for those who prefer a stricter Thelemic interpretation of a magickal link, please consider this as supplemental reading. Certainly, Thelema stands as a clear example of a particularly dynamic and well-considered egregor. That fact notwithstanding, my piqued interest in the philosophical technology for structuring belief systems desired foundations somewhat older than the Golden Dawn, Fraternitas Saterni, the alleged Secret Chiefs, the conspiratorial Secret Chief Execs, or whatever you wish to label Victorian-era esoteric phenomena. To wit, did the concept have any usage among Renaissance alchemists? If so, what were they thinking? Did they, in turn, inherit the concept from classical or ancient works? Also, what about the theory and praxis for developing egregors?
Searching online, the word egregor gets tossed about and defined reasonably well within the archives of Chaos Magic. Ostensibly, a practical and agile familiarity with servitors, sigils, egregors, etc., thrives at the very heart of Chaosist praxis. However, when pressed for details and citations, those wacky, octarine denizens of operation mindfuck inevitably reply with “Oh, I dunno... somebody probably just made shit up, probably somebody like Carroll or Spare.” Praxis is the key here, in any case, and one must give the Chaos crew their due. Phil Hine’s A5E site and the ChaosMatrix archives offer exceptionally delectable resources:
Delving further, I have encountered others researching the term egregor – in Israel, France, and elsewhere. For example, a schoolteacher in Israel named Liona Sara Bernstein wrote an excellent essay on the topic for the online journal Mystae in 1998:
Bernstein sorted through the flotsam of 20th century occultnik babble, finding the word used in conjunction with the euphemism “Watchers”. She traced that reference back to a related pre-Golden Dawn use by Eliphas Levi, eventually finding egeiro (translated: “to be awake”, “to watch”) in Greek-English lexicons which listed biblical origins for the term. That link, however, proved difficult to establish.
Fortunately, Bernstein enjoys a bit more facility with Hebrew and Greek than, say, most folks whom I see at dinner parties. Her research of Lamentations 4:14 and Daniel 4:10 led to an interesting conclusion that some minor transcription error may have occurred in biblical translations over the centuries, obscuring the term’s origins:
“Thus, the mystery is solved. An egregor is an angel, sometimes called watcher; in Hebrew the word is ir, and the concept appears in The Book of Enoch, edited by Charles (that would be 1 Enoch).”
Bernstein’s investigation picked up another thread in the text of Liber Loagaeth and the history of Dr. John Dee, pegging the early use of egregor in Western Esoteric Tradition via the ninth century Chronography of Syncellus. This work would be only a few centuries removed from the early Gnostics and the heyday of Alexandria. One assumes that the good doctor likely got his paws on a copy, perhaps while wandering about in Poland.
Overall, the Bernstein article provides a highly recommended reference and an entertaining read. That answers part of my question. As an aside, the term egregor also appears in 20th century Russian mysticism, notably within the beautifully intricate prose of The Rose Of The World by Daniil Andreev:
“These entities of a non-material nature emerge from the psychic essence of great collectives.”
His teachings resound with a decidedly Gnostic tone, depicting a multitude of layered, subjective realms populated by the idealized, daimonic projections of earthbound counterparts. I am especially drawn to the notion that the heroes of our popular fiction – according to Andreev’s cosmology – spring from the realm of Daimons. 3 From what little I have been able to read about his work, my impression is that Andreev may have drawn from Greek sources, and perhaps represents a parallel development of the term egregor. That seems like a fine area for subsequent study.
Throughout the Egyptian, Judaic, and Indo-European traditions, there exists a concept of a Word used for creation, and hence its letters represent the elements 4 for a magical operation of creation. Ostensibly, this concept would apply to the operation of creating belief systems, as well?
Jumping back to a time just prior to the Renaissance, the West regained a variety of texts from Hellenized Egypt, known collectively as the Corpus Hermeticum. These included a jewel called Tabula Smaragdina, also known as The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistis. The fourth through sixth statements in that writing describe an important process:
Pater eius est sol; mater eius est luna. Portavit illud ventus in ventre suo; nutrix eius terra est. Pater omnis telesmi totius mundi est hic.
Translated: “Its father is the Sun. Its mother is the Moon. The wind carried it in its belly. Its nurse is the Earth. This is the father of all works of wonder in the world.” Rawn Clark delivers an interesting Kabalistic analysis of the Emerald Tablet in the vast and treasureful Alchemy web site:
His analysis builds upon the rubric of YHVH – the Hebrew “Name Of God”, or tetragrammaton 5 – applied in a Hellenic 6 magical context. To paraphrase Clark concerning the fourth through sixth statements:
Note that YHVH is the most frequent god-name used throughout the Corpus Hermeticum, and is arguably used as a formula for ceremonial magic – especially in a Gnostic context, 7 considering the translated IAO – more than as an alleged deity. That cuts to the heart of what I would call an egregor.
Similarly, based on the ideographic forms of early Semitic, 8 the letters of the tetragrammaton translate to:
Note that the insertion of a shin (meaning “teeth”) into the formula is a process that becomes echoed throughout a variety of esoteric and religious texts. 9 This represents, accordingly, the “fifth essence” or “fifth element” of Spirit. 10
Also, the “hand of god” reaching through the clouds appears as a common theme in many of the Major Arcana. Not that I am reaching for straws here, nor attempting to construct a conspiracy theory; rather, the symbols associated with the theory of egregors resonate throughout the traditions and organizations which apply them, in quite a fitting and essential manner.
It strikes me that the figurative meaning of YHVH needs to be recontextualized circa the cultural milieu of Hellenized Egypt, that most likely the exodermic layers of Judeo-Christian “reverence” and literality obscure the tetragrammaton’s operative use and origins in earlier Egyptian praxis. In the very least, that commentary would provide an entertaining exercise in practical blasphemy. Unfortunately, my grasp of Arabic is poor, and I have no background in Hebrew whatsoever, but from my limited exposure to Semitic linguistics, I might venture the following interpretation for the tetragrammaton vis-à-vis egregors:
The construction of a god-form given by the hand of god reaching through a window into a lower world (the world of angels/daemons), giving teeth to (enlivening) the egregor, and thus providing a hook through a window into a lower world (the world of men).
The original text in which I encountered the term egregor was in The Tarot: A Contemporary Course Of The Quintessence Of Hermetic Occultism by Mouni Sadhu. His discussion is the most extensive I have ever found – providing that a reader can endure prose as flowery and overblown as the title, while scraping off sedimentary layers of Theosophy. 11
I visited the Theosophical Society in Melbourne in 1989 to inquire further, and learned about the author’s unfortunate self-immolation, allegedly in response to unrequited teen lust – at least according to the Society’s librarian on site; I sensed a hint of psychic war in the aethers. Mouni was one class-act weirdo, to be certain, but he wrote some amazing texts. May the seeker be lucky enough to locate them through a used bookstore.
Within the pages of The Tarot, Sadhu invokes a virtual spaghetti plate of Kabalistic analysis to elaborate on what he calls “Egregoric Principles: A Plan of Religious Current”. That essay 12 discusses “currents” and the “formation of a magick chain,” also called a collective tourbillon. 13 This representation calls back to theurgy as described by Plotinus,14 i.e., operations that depend on the “sympathy of enchained forces.”
Sadhu draws an intriguing set of correspondences between the steps in the process for creating an egregor and the letters in the tetragrammaton. Then he proceeds to apply his theory in the analysis of major world religions, along with a few obscure ones.
The interested reader may research Sadhu’s work (and profuse verbiage about the Radiant Macropozopos, etc.) directly. To excerpt Sadhu, the essential steps in the process for developing an egregor include:
I consider my question about the history and theory of egregors to be answered reasonably well. The term probably derived from Elizabethan era use of Greek syllabi, perhaps through Dr. Dee. 15
Magical theory circa Plotinus articulated a notion of “chaining” daimonic essences into a larger construct. Contemporary theory establishes the letters of the tetragrammaton as elements of the magical operation required to create and sustain an egregor. Through these elements, one may analyze the egregoric structural dynamics of existing belief systems. The shin element of the operation seems to be a particularly subtle aspect.
Now let us consider the praxis of egregors, particularly through a common example. To that end, I would like to apply Sadhu’s analytic process to the creation of a class of organized belief systems that assert themselves quite poignantly in contemporary life: corporations. 16
Arguably, these entities enjoy an ephemeral and highly symbolic existence, often claiming characteristics not unlike god-forms. To generalize a bit, corporations almost personify a stereotypical contrast between Eastern and Western approaches to philosophy. Whereas many Eastern practices tend to consider some measure of immortality as endemic for a soul, many Western practices attempt to enforce material aspects of immortality via laws. 17
Corporations, as defined by the US Supreme Court, are legal or fictional individuals 18 that can operate on behalf of human individuals in perpetuo. They operate as the autopoietic constructs of several elemental, symbolic domains, with law being the most obvious example. 19
Given the representation of the corporate form as an egregor, i.e., as a kind of god-form or daimonic essence, what aspects of magical theory need to be applied to manifest and perpetuate a corporation? Here is one analysis:
Hermeticism tends to appreciate intentional obscurity. Stated in this context, the term “corporate veil” provides an interesting double-entendre. The means for launching an egregor into action, i.e. the way to give this tourbillon some spin, requires two additional components. First, there is a “point over the yod” which represents the “unselfish reason for creation” of the egregor. What goes here best? Perhaps the purpose of the servitor 20 itself? Perhaps the concept of the immortal sovereignty of the Crown who empowered corporations originally, or whatever usurps that Crown’s power?
Secondly, the shin must be inserted between the first hé and the vau. Since this represents a “decoy”, i.e., a kind of inversion of stated purpose, it would appear to serve as a reflex mechanism for self-preservation. That seems reminiscent of the dialectic of sublation, 21 particularly if the inversion concerns pumping stereotypical corporate spin into the media. Do advertising jingles like “People working together,” “Making the world a better place,” or “Brings good things to you” sound vaguely familiar? Can you imagine what would happen if corporate advertising ever abandoned the shin of its egregor, admitting openly that “this thing is not human, it consumes your will” instead?
Note that Sadhu also interjects 22 cautionary words about how an egregor might wither or die:
Stepping back into the corporate example, those faux pas might correspond to troubles at a shareholder’s meeting, at a marketing conference, or in the process of quarterly reporting, respectively. Guerrilla media enthusiasts, plaintiff attorneys, and grassroots political activists might do well to take careful notes about this Achilles’ heel of corporate endeavor.
To conclude on a “nuts and bolts” pragmatic note, I recommend Inside A Magical Lodge by Greer. That text offers a balanced treatment, albeit with only a slight tilt toward the Golden Dawn. It includes reasonably good templates for how to apply operative magic involving egregors, 23 along with caveats for practical lodge administration. Unfortunately, Greer’s meager bibliography mostly contains adverts for an aforementioned imprint with the funny crescent satellite. Fortunately, one can corroborate his references to Elizabethan esotericism in absentia within the highly recommended Cambridge work From Paracelsus To Newton by Webster.
So much for this subject... for the moment. I wish you well in the swirling realms of monads and gonads.
Andreev, Daniil: The Rose Of The World, Lindisfarne 1997 (1991), 416 pages.
Blavatsky, H. P.: “Tetragrammaton”, Theosophist, Nov 1887.
Clark, Rawn: “Commentary on the Emerald Tablet of Hermes”, Alchemy, 1996 http://www.levity.com/alchemy/rawn_cla.html
Crowley, Aleister: Magick In Theory And Practice, Castle circa 1960, 436 pages.
Bernstein, Liona Sara: “Egregor”, Mystae, 1998, http://www.fireplug.net/~rshand/streams/scripts/egregor.html
Flowers, Stephen Edred: Hermetic Magic: The Postmodern Magical Papyrus of Abaris, Weiser 1995, 291 pages.
Greer, John Michael: Inside A Magical Lodge: Group Ritual in the Western Tradition, Llewellyn 1998, 339 pages.
Hine, Phil: Fifth Aeon Egregore, http://www.phhine.ndirect.co.uk/
Teubner, Gunther: Law As An Autopoietic System, Blackwell 1993, 203 pages.
Sadhu, Mouni: The Tarot: A Contemporary Course Of The Quintessence Of Hermetic Occultism, Wilshire 1972 (1962), 494 pages.
Webster, Charles: From Paracelsus To Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science, Cambridge 1982, 107 pages.