Does “Egrigore” = “System”?

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Egrigore is an idea. System is a category in the world. That’s why they’re different.

Andrew writes:

What is the relationship between egrigores and systems?

With all this Chaos Magick discussion, this seems like a good time to bridge concepts.

Disclaimer: I don’t do Chaos Magick, so my understanding of egrigores comes from friends, blogs and wikipedia. Sorry if I get some details wrong.

The Short Answer

If you mentally substitute “egrigore” for “system,” you will be 90% correct. They are similar concepts, probably inspired by the same initial observation (that mages often channel outside forces). If I’d been familiar with “egrigore” when I coined the term “system,” I might have called it an “embodied egrigore” or something similar.

The Technical Answer

“Egrigore” = a collective concept (I think). “System” = a magickal force you can channel. Some systems are egrigores, and some egrigores are systems. But many are not.

“America,” “freedom” and “censorship is bad” are egrigores, but not systems. There’s no force to channel.

I’ve created systems that aren’t concepts. A system that shields the wearer of a piece of jewelry, for example. I think of it as performing a task rather than embodying a concept.

Within the egrigore of “psychic intuition sources,” there are many different systems, specializing in different types of questions and events.

A single system might represents a pantheon of gods (each one an egrigore), using the different associations to help you communicate your instructions.

And for any given pantheon, there are multiple systems that represent those gods, possibly in different ways.

System and egrigore both start from the same observation: Mages channel things, and we need a name for that. But neither is broader than the other. They are simply different.

The Reason Why

I think that whoever coined “egrigore,” in the modern magickal usage, started with an expectation (“Magick is driven by belief”), followed it to its natural conclusion (“Ideas that lots of people believe in are powerful”), and then used that expectation as the definition.

That’s a bad way of understanding how the world works. Sure, you always start with an idea, but it’s better to start with a description of how the phenomena behaves (“There are these forces we channel to do magick”), then explore more details of that behavior (“They read your thoughts; you get better results by aligning to the system’s signature; they respond to commands, and provide instructions if you ask for them”). It helps if you use a neutral name, like “system,” instead of a name suggesting “what it really is,” like “egrigore.”

That’s why the concept of “egrigore” is similar to “system,” but not the same: Both started with the same basic idea (“Mages channel forces”), but one jumped to an (incorrect) reason why (“These forces exist because lots of people believe in them”), whereas I proceeded more slowly, focusing on observation and behavior, rather than grand theories.

Sorry, I hate patting myself on the back. But this is one way that mages often go wrong: We jump to grand theories, rather than working through observations and behaviors first. Which probably deserves its own post.

Egrigores correspond to an expectation in your mind. Systems correspond to a category in the world. That’s why they’re different.

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7 Responses to “Does “Egrigore” = “System”?”

  1. Werekat says:

    That’s interesting take! But I’d like to clarify the difference between definitions.

    Mages from post-Soviet territory call the collective mind of a group – any group – an egregore. This is what comes into existence when a group becomes more than the sum of its parts, when a system reaches a new level of complexity, and seems to gain a consciousness of its own. The construct that allows this unity between separate people is the egregore. A group that works well together has an egregore. A nation has an egregore. A profession has an egregore.

    Might this be a better working definition, based in observation?

  2. Thanks Kat, glad to have someone who actually uses egrigores to keep me honest.

    “Collective” is an interesting term. There’s a mage I used to work with that developed his models before we met, and “collective” was his term for my “systems.” So I think you’re on to something. One of the most useful features of systems is letting people collaborate, either on rituals, or just acting like a phone network, to look people up by their signature.

    Here’s where I split from that view: Just getting a group of mages working together doesn’t give you a system. Someone has to make them. (I know, because I have). So it’s a tool used by a group, but someone needs to make it first. (Often, this is a spirit group the mages work with).

    But there’s another possibility: That I’ve missed some part of magick that you’ve found. Which would be really cool. So let me explain one thing, then ask a question:

    When I work with systems, they’re not some hypothetical thing that I say “this must be out there.” They’re forces that I connect to, give instructions to, read messages from, and otherwise directly work with every day. So I know they’re there through direct observation.

    These collectives, how do you work with them? Can you directly observe them? When you say that a group that works well together has an egrigore, is that by definition (“If you see a group that works well together, that means they have an egrigore”), or is that by observation (“I know how to recognize egrigores, and when I go out looking for them, it turns out that groups that work well together tend to have one, and groups that don’t work well together tend to not have one”)?

    By the way, these are the same questions I ask of myself all the time. It’s how I keep myself honest.

  3. Werekat says:

    Had to think for a while on those questions. :)

    If I had to define an egregore, I would define it as follows: the mechanism that allows a group to be more than the sum of its parts – the attunement between members. Any group that survives more than a couple of months has one.

    The observation that I work with goes as follows: after a time of working together, whether in a magical or in a mundane group, a sort of collective consciousness begins to form. As people begin to recognize themselves as part of a certain group, links form that allow you to know what is going on within your group. You get spontaneous telepathic flashes: I really like your “phone system” analogy. As more and more of them form, they begin influencing your thought. Just being part of a group informs the way you think. I’ve noticed marked differences in my own thought depending on whether I was part of a group or had just left it. This is the sign of a well-formed egregore.

    The good stuff on how these consciousnesses behave is actually in academic works on the psychology of the micro group (this is the stuff I’ve studied most – I haven’t really worked with larger groups: they seem to behave differently, though). I know Russian works on the subject; unfortunately, I don’t know any in English. I do know that they have a life cycle that can be manipulated: group minds are born and die within 3-5 years without interference. There either needs to be a “hiving” (Wiccans and witches have this key part to the survival of a group pat) – or it dies.

    I believe that you’d need to do magical work on it to make it actually useful magically. As it forms on its own, it’s kind of like a web between organisms. It can be made into a sentient spirit, however, but I’ve not experimented with that sort of thing.

  4. Thanks Kat, that definition helps.

    What it sounds like is the phenomena of “egregore-ness” would be caused both by psychological (non-magickal) means, and possibly by magickal means driven by a system. To take the psychic flashes, those could either be from knowing the person really well so you know what they would be likely to say, or by getting actual psychic intuitions from a system. Or most likely, both.

    That’s neat about the Wiccan hiving. I’d talked with folks about it but didn’t know there was a standard lifecycle for groups, and research on it and all. Shame I don’t read Russian, I’d love to dig more into these group cycles. Let me know if you come across any good resources in English.

  5. Dark Arckana says:

    Ahhh!! I see what you mean now! I refer to “systems” as “conscious forces of nature” that are apart of a subtle ecosystem. Each force of nature has a “harmonic”, which specifies how it can be used. The interactions that occur between these forces and the Magik User are the result of the Magikal Apparatus, namely the Magikal Body. This is equivalent to humans using natural resources to make clothing etc. Just as life comes from life, so to can a Magikal body give life to another Magikal body. This is what I have observed as the phenomenon behind egregores. They become self aware because as they grow collectively, new harmonics enter their composition. All of these observations are a combination visual and kinesthetic. I cannot say how and why they work the way they do, only relate them to other phenomenon in nature to illustrate what I’m trying to communicate.

  6. Dark Arckana says:

    Just like other ecosystems, there are organisms. These organisms are what I have observed to be Spirits. I have found that they range from varying levels of intelligence. There is a difference between them and egregores or servitors. They’re more organic. Just curious, what’s your take on these things? I always like bouncing ideas off of other Magik Users doing the same types of work. I feel that it helps us both grow in tandem.

    • Hi Dark, I don’t exactly follow you. My take on egrigores is that they don’t actually exist, that they are a mis-explanation of ethereal software, based on a preconception of how magick ought to work, rather than observation of how magick actually does work. Though that, in turn, may be my mistaken preconception, since I don’t work much with egrigores.

      But it seems like this post got you thinking and working on new stuff, which is exciting. Rock on.

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