Egregores and Local Spirits, Part I: Theories
Many occultists (though, strangely, not many witches) speak of egregores rather often. The term was originally used to describe the self-created guiding spirit of a group such as a magical order or other occult-based organization. Though this may seem similar to concepts such as the Secret Chiefs, in actuality, an egregore is quite different. Whereas organizations with Secret Chief-like figures tend to posit that these entities existed prior to and independent of the group’s temporal incarnation, an egregore is, by definition, a creation of the group.
Egregores are formed from the sum total of purposeful interaction and intention involved in the formation of a group or organization. In occult contexts, a group egregore is often a willful creation, and members will put a great degree of effort into cultivating the egregore. This can take the form of collectively visualizing it as a physical entity or more overt methods of ritually contacting and managing it. Many groups will create or attempt to discover a sigil representing the entity, though in some cases the group’s symbol may suffice.
The reason for all this is simple: egregores are essentially two-way. They’re formed via the group’s purposeful interactions, but also influence individual members. In some cases, this communing with the egregore is done in a ritual context or via meditation/visualization, but even with those practices absent, an individual is influenced by the egregore of the organization.
This may sound a bit troubling or disturbing, but it isn’t as if (in the overwhelming majority of cases) an egregore would exert complete (or even any) kind of control over members. Far more likely would be a relationship between the individual and the egregore wherein the entity acts as a sort of mechanism to impart or teach the group’s mysteries and practices. With all this in mind, then, it is easy to see why many occult groups put much emphasis on cultivating a proper egregore.
I argue egregores exist outside of occult contexts, as well. Groups ranging from corporations to families and even football teams will have them. Humans, after all, have a natural propensity towards magick, and as I’ve noted before, often act on a magical level without referring to it as such. This may even happen subconsciously, and the way our society views groups and organizations tends to support the notion that egregores can occur organically without overt manipulation.
In the United States, for example, a corporation is legally considered a person. Some might argue that this is a mere political maneuver on the part of corporations, but the fact that it worked and became an accepted bit of the law suggests that personifying something of that sort to be quite natural. The existence of mascots also speak to the possibility of naturally-occurring egregores. I would not argue that all organizations will have a fully-formed and contactable egregore, but many certainly do.
An issue arises, though - how does one define an organization with regards to egregores? Since we see egregores created in casual settings, oaths or ritual commitments do not seem to be required. Nor, really, does a hierarchy or other byzantine structure. We are left wondering, then, which groupings of people have egregores and which do not, and also why. Really, I recommend intense experimentation and careful observation on the part of the witch. With practice and sensitivity, one can often sense the presence of egregores. This is typically easier for those who’ve got experience with spirits of any sort, naturally, but I’ve found that egregores and similar entities (more on this later) behave differently than beings such as godforms or Goetic spirits, are more accessible, and generally easier to contact.
Related Concepts (and Why They Might Just Be The Same Thing)
Spirits and entities are difficult to categorize, and egregores share many traits with related classes of entities. Notably, they are often said to operate like very overgrown thoughtforms. A thoughtform is a spirit that was, as the name implies, created via the power of human thought. They range in complexity from the simplest which have only a few functions (often called servitors) to capable and fleshed out beings with very definite attributes.
This can happen, again, intentionally or unintentionally. Many magicians and witches consciously create thoughtforms for various purposes using a variety of methods, ranging from sigil-based techniques to high ritual. Non-occultists, though, are prone to creating thoughtforms as well, especially authors who create characters. How many of us have (or know someone who has) a character who “takes on a life of their own?” These experiences may, at times, result from the unintentional creation of thoughtforms.
I think most would agree that egregores, thoughforms, and even servitors are very similar concepts, and though there are differences, one might even argue that they’re essentially different degrees of the same sort of spirit. There are, though, other categories of spirit that I think might function like egregores, despite popular lore suggesting otherwise.
Among them is the notion of place-based spirits, also known as genius loci. Conventional occult wisdom would argue that such spirits exist in and of themselves, independent of human intervention, and thus cannot be conflated with egregores. I am not so sure. The truth is, it would be impossible to verify whether any entity or spirit exists outside of human interaction insofar as we can only understand them via interacting with them.
There is no way to discern, for example whether the spirit of a stream was in existence prior to humans visiting and drawing water there. Such a spirit might claim that it was, but similarly, many thoughtforms claim great ages as well or impossible origins, by their very design. This isn’t a lie on the part of the spirit - it reflects the personal mythology developed around it by its creators.
My Personal Experiences
Having interacted with different entities of these sorts, I do argue that place-based spirits have much in common with egregores. Regardless of whether they exist prior to human interaction, they’re definitely shaped and cultivated by humans. Those documented in popular lore tend to have features clearly influenced by the cultures with which they interact and the sentiments of the time in which they were well-known. As such, yes, I’d call them very similar to egregores and I’ve had no trouble approaching them in much the same way. Whether they’re the same creatures or not is really immaterial.
My first ever experience with a spirit of this sort drives home this point, as I never did determine whether it loosely qualified as an egregore or a genuis loci. At age eighteen, I moved to Indiana to attend a small liberal arts college with a colorful history. At the time I was a few years into practicing magick, but still struggling. I was quite pleased to discover many other students were interested in the occult as well, though.
Many of them seemed to be of the opinion that there was a strong presence on campus, particularly at certain hours and in certain places. Interestingly, very few (if anyone) ever claimed to have seen it. It was more a matter of feeling that something or someone was nearby, unseen. It lacked the unsettling qualities usually seen with this kind of experience, and the overall consensus was that whatever it was, it wasn’t malevolent. Indeed, it seemed rather friendly.
To explain a bit of what it felt like (and realizing this verges into the territory of UPG), it was, again, a sense of someone being present but relatively uncommunicative, and unseen. If you’ve ever experienced sleep paralysis and the sense of “someone’s there” that comes with that, it was very similar, but lacked the element of terror you’d find in sleep paralysis. Instead of terror, there was a feeling of prankishness and wonderment.
College students can be prone to histrionics, and no doubt we were, but I’ll never shake the notion that there was, in fact, some reality in this experience. One reason I still think so: there were, in fact, physical aspects to the phenomenon, with objects (sometimes large and heavy and not easily misplaced) going missing in certain areas where it was strongly felt.
Ultimately I decided that the presence was probably the college itself, either and egregore of the student body and professors, or a genius loci, or possibly both. As time went on and I left that school, I got a little better at sensing such things and became aware that, even if not fully-formed, most places will have some sort of spirit associated with them. It does remain to be seen, though, whether the spirits are the creation of those visiting and living in the location, or something more primal that was discovered rather than created.
I was especially surprised when I moved to Pittsburgh to realize that cities (some of them) have very strong and personable spirits associated with them, be they egregores of those who live there or some kind of manifestation of the physical location without human intervention. It was during this period that I began to realize the usefulness of such spirits and how helpful they can be. For me, it takes a great deal of effort to get in touch with such an entity in a new place, and involves careful historical research as well as experimenting with different techniques of invocation and evocation, but it’s well-worth it.
Soon, I’ll be posting a continuation of this article where I’ll discuss techniques for communicating with these things and possible uses for said communication.