Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Dark Egregore Saga

As the One Girl in All the World class finishes Promethea, begins looking at political and theoretical feminism, and looks toward The Hunger Games, I thought I'd throw out a little discourse on the word "egregore."

First, I'm borrowing this word for academic purposes from the world of the occult, which is only fitting considering the trajectory of Alan Moore's Promethea. So here's a bit of linguistic history:

"The" egregore might have been the father of the nephilim--the product of angelic and human sexual relations in the antediluvian world of the Judeo-Christian Bible. The word is translated as "watchers" which makes sense here. Up until the 19th century, the word more or less is used this way, though only in obscure texts. For instance, Eliphas Lévi, famous French occultist of the 19th century, thinks the egregore are "terrible beings" who don't even recognize that we exist (Le Grande Arcane ).

At the same time, other occult groups based on masonic organizations begin developing the concept of the egregore as a thoughtform, specifically a thoughtform created accidentally and through the unity of a group, especially one joined by ideas. This is the definition that most concerns us now. In this usage, each occult group would have its own egregore, a mystical entity that arises through the group's shared beliefs and rituals.

That's fine, but makes sense only if you start multiplying invisible entities (chipping Occam's razor, so to speak). The problem is that the concept was created because these thoughtforms, once created, have a life of their own, a will of their own, and can influence both the original group and the outside world.

Think of it like mass hysteria (or because that term has an unfortunate gender bias, mass paranoia, or mass nuttiness). Think of it like a meme--an idea that replicates itself the way genes do, traveling and accruing strength as each new thought adds to the aggregate thought avalanche.

So bringing this back to Promethea and feminism, we can see how the concept of Promethea is sort of an egregore birthed from our collective imagining of what an ultimate woman warrior might be. But so is, we argued, Wonder Woman. And as you continue reading, you'll see that even with the liberating beauty of being the Promethea incarnation, there are dire, fatal consequences that happen in the world of flesh and rock (I'm thinking the fate of Bill, here). And so I'd like to open the discussion onto the benefits and dangers of egregores, whether you think this is a useful way to describe the way things work, and whether (and how) we can actively manipulate egregores for equal rights or good, smart narratives. Use examples from Promethea and political history.

One of the reasons I'm interested in egregores--besides the fact that I think it's a useful concept for Promethea--is the sudden increase in public misogyny in light of the renewed debates about women's reproductive health insurance (also click here for more outrageous behavior). And also, as you research political feminism, you will find that ideology doesn't stay fixed for very long and that certain feminist ideas seem to have a life of their own that have interesting trajectories in light of how they were first introduced.


  1. How interesting... As i understand it, all occult groups, by their mere existence & common ideals, unintentionally give birth to egregores. Though these thought-creatures initially mirror those ideals from which they're formed, over time they absorb other pertinent ideas and adapt to the times. The existence of these fluid egregores influences people in the material world, regardless of what we consider good and evil. How interesting...

    I think it's obvious that no such creatures exist, though I can neither prove nor disprove them. However, this could be a very intriguing metaphor that personifies ideas. Ideas, like egregores, are initially founded, then adapt and change as others mull over them. Ideas can impact the lives of those connected to them and the lives of those completely unaware. And like otherworldly beings with incomprehensible agendas, ideas influence lives for better or for worse, without concern for humans' well-being. 

    Take religion, for example. Lets say, for sake of simplicity, that religions were initially created in order to provide happiness, structure and organization to the family, friends, and neighbors of the creators. Then, many years later, these same religions (ideas) bred hatred, war, chaos and death. These egregores adapted to new ideas (other, different religions), and conflicts arose.

    As far as actively manipulating egregores... Collective ideas... Mass concepts... I guess we'll have to wait until "Inception II: Egregores" comes out in theatres to find out!

    But I'd say yes. Hitler clearly manipulated the heck out of Germany's collective consciousness. Its egregore, if u will. Regardless of whether he created or altered that agregore, it definitely served his purposes. I do not believe egregores to be evil, though; like Phoenix, they're simply raw power. 

  2. Prior to your post, I had never heard of this word "egregore". I think it defines such an interesting concept that being the conscious collaboration of minds for a common purpose. What a powerful phenomenon.

    In Alan Moore's Promethea, the land deemed Immateria is a product of the coming together of imaginations as is the figure of Promethea. In class, we have examined how Promethea is illustrated as an attractive, strong and desirable woman. She is an egregore of the characters in the comic book, however, in reality she is not an egregore but merely a product of one man's imagination, Alan Moore.

    I believe that an egregore can be a very strong tool in the formation of advancements for the good of mankind. For example, scientists come together to work on finding solutions for environmental problems. Government figures put their minds together to solve many of the current issues that our nation faces. On the other hand, if one mind is to take control of and manipulate the thoughts of the group then the egregore is demolished. This is the detriment of the egregore because one mind is doing the thinking while the rest are not thinking rather they are only following the thoughts of the individual.

    The manipulation of an egregore does not always produce negative results. For example, the movement for a healthier nation and encouragement of people collectively thinking about nutrition and exercise. Although, there are many prominent instances in history that an individual highjacked the egregore and catastrophic events followed such as Hitler and the Holocaust.

  3. While egregores may be partially beneficial (as in the case of religion) due to its power to bring people together, I believe that egregores can also be very detrimental to society. Everything we know is a result of society’s collective ideas. Social norms, colloquialisms, and many other standards in life cause people to change what they actually think or do to what society tells them to think or do.

    The other day in class, we talked about how the characteristics of a typical superheroine (especially her looks) are a result of society’s collective ideals. Alan Moore’s Promethea is a beautiful, thin, fit woman. Seeing a heftier, less beautiful superheroine causes one to think she is less powerful than she really is. In a rich country like the USA, people idealize thin figures while in a poorer country, they may idealize a fuller woman. These instances prove how egregores can negatively affect society. Do we really think that this is what a woman is supposed to look like, or do the powerful egregores of society infringe upon our true thoughts?

    Egregores are made up of the ideas of society as a collective unit. However, they also cause us to change our own thoughts to fit their ideas. In this way, they hold a lot of potential danger.

  4. The concept of egregores definitely applies to Promethea. Promethea is an embodiment of knowledge and imagination. In most Prometheas, she is presented as an archetype of what an idealized superheroine should look and act like. She is tall and has a statuesque body. She bears gold body armor plates and holds a snake caduceus. This representation strongly resembles that of Wonderwoman’s costume, which also suggests that she is presented as an idealized version of a superheroine.

    Unlike traditional superheroes and superheroines, whose powers are physical such as super strength or laser beams, Promethea's power is the boundless mind. A Promethea arises from the mind's creativity. The vessel needs only to imagine Promethea and Immateria in order to manifest Promethea. As a result, Promethea is merely an imagined entity, rather than a physical being, contrary to other superheroes.

    One benefit of egregores is that they are eternal. When Promethea's father created her through magic, the identity of Promethea survived ever since, through its manifestations of various vessels. Different vessels have different appearances and personalities; therefore each Promethea is slightly different as well. Through these vessels, Promethea is able to live on and the identity of Promethea is able to transcend the material world.

    Another benefit of an egregore is that it can be a channel between both the physical and metaphysical world, in this case, Immateria and the material world. The Prometheas who are either dead or do not have a vessel reside in Immateria. Because Sophie Bang’s Promethea is able to traverse back and forth between the two realms, she is able to transcend physicality and delve into her imagination, which is value to be the truth and beauty.

    However, one danger of egregores is that because they are abstract, an external force can prevent it from coming alive. In the case of Promethea, Benny Solomon and the Temple are the opposing forces, seeking every chance to kill Promethea. They believe that Promethea is going to end the world and that they are saving it. However, Promethea only seeks to expose the world of Immateria to others and to better the material world.

  5. Im just a watcher of the word. So Google Alerts dropped me here. Wonderful background btw.

    Egregore is additionally a hivemind AI project that will be released during the Transit of Venus this summer. Any additional discussion you'd like to pursue would be superb!

    I have not read Promethea, so i'll get through that and then re-address this post.
    Thank you for the insight.
    -T Ɖ

  6. The concept of egregores is quite interesting, having never heard of them before. Egregores definitely apply to Promethea, especially where the Immateria is involved and the evil part of Immateria. It reminds me of how an idea, once created is almost impossible to forget. Once our mind takes hold of a concept or an image we associate other things and the world around us with those thoughts. I think this can be both beneficial and dangerous because this is how we learn and exchange ideas with one another, but at the same time this is how wars and destruction start. Once a society has the idea that there is an enemy attack, it will do everything it can to save itself, even if it is a false threat or a manipulated idea.

    There is definitely a sense of chaos with egregores because they are so hard to control. However this is part of the beauty of how an idea can last for centuries and can be improved upon and made into something new. For instance the idea of indoor plumbing, or democracy or even human interactions through language. I think the only real way to manipulate an egregore would be to slowly improve upon it, or create such a new and striking idea that the old one is quickly forgotten, but this is a hard and tedious process.

  7. In the other comments, there was an idea bounced around about how these egregores, these abstract thoughts of a group, have the potential to change mindset of other individuals. I want to take it a step further in saying it is the nature of ergregores to work to convince others of their idea or even project the mindset onto individuals outside of the occult with the thought. Thoughts or ideas originate from individual actors. By being a group consensus of belief, an egregore inherently must be spread and then accepted by others. This may be accomplished through active persuasion or manipulating through subtle messages. A goal of changing a mind is not a necessarily good or bad thing; it depends on the idea travelling and the society where this is taking place.

    I believe an application of the principle of egregore is in social taboos. Here, the occult of “society” makes a decision on some grounds, usually moral actions. Then they project these feelings on all others creating the taboo against some action. This affects more than those of society with the idea – sometimes the majority or sometimes simply the loudest people –, and has consequences for those who do not share the thought and commit the tabooed act. There could be criminal punishment or at very least a stigma against the non-conforming individual.

    This ties with another point already brought up, though one I disagree with. It was said that a benefit of egregores is that they are eternal. Firstly, I do not agree that it would be a benefit if they were. If so, social mindsets of the past, such as sexism or racism which were past thoughts uniting societies, would still be stigmatized instead of challenged and changed. Luckily, social norms and, therefore egregores, are not static and are able to adapt with the times. Adaptation and personal influence is even shown in the various reincarnations of Promethea. Each is different to reflect not only the unique aspects of the host person, but also they conform to what is needed in society at the time.

    I think social norms, expectations, and taboos are all examples of modern uses of egregores. They change and adapt with the times in an attempt to change society with it. They are not inherently good or bad, but it is how they are used or applied that makes the difference.

  8. In the spirit of feminism, it might be useful to talk about how egregore's from the same political movement can counteract one another and create tension that can ultimate hinder the movement. In the case of feminism, there is a clash between white feminism and black feminist thought. Although both parties believe in the abolition of sexism, black feminists are strongly critical of white feminists because of their sheltered view points. Author and black feminist Patricia Collins argued in her book, "Black Feminist Thought" that white women control the realm of feminism, and are disinterested in sharing power. Collins criticizes the white feminist movement for deterring solidarity by ignoring black feminist aid in ending the black nationalism's sexist behavior and sentiments, and for their racial privileges. Black women belong to the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid in terms of treatment and status (according to Collins and others) and are treated unjustly by white feminists regardless of intention.
    This attack of white feminism by the black feminist movement is a clear example of how egregore's in the same movement can counteract one another. The collective conscious of the black feminist movement is in opposition to the white feminist movement, and essentially works against the white movement in search of freedom and justice. While these two groups have similar goals, their collective consciouses are clearly butting heads, which not only keeps both groups from progressing, but delegitimizes the movement by showing disorganization.
    In this case, egregores can have negative consequences. Collective consciouses can clash, which can lead to immobility in thought and action. A collective conscious can be dangerous if the groups intentions are ill minded, and can influence even larger egregores if the public perception of that conscious changes (That is not suggesting the black feminist movement is dangerous or negative, but more so that collective conscious can influence paradigms and discourse).

  9. The word “egregore” has an interesting connection to Promethea. The idea of a Promethea can be an egregore in itself, as it is something that a group collectively imagines and brings into being. Promethea is an idealized idea thought of as a collective group. However, as can be seen by one of the character Barbara in the comic, this can lead to someone being to subjected to the role without their consent. In this case, the Promethea had to live through the vision of the group.

    Promethea also deals with the historical examples of egregores, particularly in the pages with the Nazi symbols and drawings of war. Ideas such as those held by Hitler or entire countries during the Cold War grow as they are spread throughout society. In this way, egregores can be dangerous and make the individual matter less than the ideas of the group. When in the wrong hands they can really just be a means to spread propaganda.

    I also see the connection between Rush Limbaugh’s comments and the dangers that accompany egregores. If Limbaugh’s supporters listen to everything he has to say about birth control, his idea can be spread throughout that part of society, whether or not it is true. This is one of the dangers of an egregore, as it can lead to the manipulation of something true into a belief or idea that is far from it.

  10. I would say that Promethea not only involves egregore, but is entirely a commentary on egregore. The portrayal of Promethea is the stereotypically strong, beautiful superheroine stemming from our collective minds, just as Immateria is everyone's aggregate imagination. Perhaps the creators meant to bring our attention to the fact that everything we think of - the way we perceive things and the ideas we have - are not original at all, but a product of the thoughts of those that came before us, as well as those of the the people around us.

    I agree with Maggie that all of these things change and adapt with the times, but this doesn't mean that any ideas ever get lost. Once an idea exists, every consecutive idea on the topic, while it doesn't have to be similar at all, is at least still compared to the original. We discussed this in class with Wonder Woman being the first superheroine, and the one that all subsequent superheroines are compared to, whether purposely or subconsciously.

    This subject is exemplified in political history, with women specifically, in the way that the public perception of women is so constantly changing. Preconceived notions exist about women, and whether or not anyone endorses them, the fact that they still exist proves the strength and power of egregore. For example, in the article on the recent birth control debate, one of the quotations read,

    ' "What do you expect from a woman driver?" You know you're hearing a throwback back to another era when a complaint about those darn women drivers assaults your ears. '

    Yes, there is no doubt that this is quite a misogynistic thing to say. However, I am only 18, and I have definitely heard the sentiment before. And while the author of this commentary thinks that they are helping dispel these ideas, she is in fact doing just the opposite. By continuing to recognize these stereotypes and ideas, whether or not one agrees or disagrees with them, we perpetuate these egregores. In this way, egregore is an extremely powerful force, because both proponents and opponents continue to keep them alive, to such an extent that as long as they are being debated, they can never be forgotten, and thus are extremely hard to change or manipulate to one's advantage.

  11. I find the notion of egregores fascinating and reminds me of the novel Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. It follows an "old" god who manifests himself on Earth to his prophet, but appears as merely a tortoise because his "prophet" is the only person that still believes in him. In that world, the power of gods is directly proportional to the amount of faith people have in them. This idea is also explored in the PC game Black and White, in which you take the role of the god of a small civilization and you gain in power and influence as your tribe conquers others and converts them.

    These are all branches of the same idea about how ideas are shaped and how people interact with them. This reflects my thoughts towards modern religions: they are extended cases of collective imagination that result in brainwashing and only have power due to the sheer number of people who insist that this nonsense is true. As George Bernard Shaw said, “God created man in His image and then man returned the favor.” These ideas perpetuate themselves as people who believe in them reinforce each other's convictions and covert others or reproduce, continuing the indoctrination. Like Promethea, our gods live in our imaginations and can only influence the real world if we give them the power to.

  12. Like many mentioned above, I think that egregores could also be used to describe political thought in general. The ideas that one politician of a declared party presents tend to be representative of the party as a whole. In turn, these ideas are then many times adopted by those of the same party, simply because since people associate themselves with the group, they associate themselves with the group’s ideas. By creating an egregore of political thought, the results can be quite immense as it creates a sphere of thought that is no longer representative of individual thought, but of the group as a whole.

    This group sharing of ideas can be a very powerful force among politicians. Although it may be beneficial to politicians to spread political thought among followers, it can also be detrimental to society. For example, Hitler’s publication of Mein Kampf spread an idea of political thought among his followers that was fatal to millions. This shows how egregores can get out of control when people lose their individuality and are caught up in the thoughts of everyone else, unable to clearly see for themselves when they are blinded by the powerful thoughts of the group as a whole.

    This same idea is quite apparent in Promethea, and especially in the Immateria. The Immateria is not created by one specific person, but instead represents the collective thoughts of everyone. It is quite apparent that these thoughts are influenced by specific people (say, the politicians in the paragraph above). However, overall, the thoughts of everyone create one collective domain where all thoughts come together to create an immaterial representation of society as a whole.

  13. Many of the comments above me have touched on very strong ideas. In response to Emily Tess's comment, I have to say that you bringing up the idea of a political platform as being an example of an egregore as a very strong argument. I completely agree with you. Each year the political party comes forth with their platform that they have decided on, this alone is an egregore, however, it evolves overtime to reflect the needs and specifications of that particular political party--especially if there are many major changes that occur within a given year. This platform would be changed and many ideas from different people will bee placed into it.

    Your other comment on seeing an egregore as a dangerous idea, such as within the Holocaust. This, too, is a strong statement for it can be seen as an egregore that went very wrong and had a huge impact on the world.

    Promethea is a perfect example of an egregore, well it is continuously changing and growing due to the Immateria and imagination of all people, this can be regarded as a positive aspect for it can create a magnificent idea for compiling all these thoughts will create the perfect superheroine. However, with all compilations there can also be downfalls, such as clashing ideas within the Immateria and too much conflict within this realm. Overall, egregores is a great thought to describe Promethea and the Immateria, and even so within our political world today, but there are many downfalls that could potentially occur.

  14. I feel that the concept of egregores in Promethea is what make a larger comment on society than anything else in the book. While one's thoughts may not be very powerful, group-think can be very transformative. Promethea is remade over and over again because different people have different ideals of perfection that change over time. Immateria is the same way. People's thoughts grouped together pose real consequences for mankind.

    Feminism is one example of this sort of egregore making. It has changed very much from its incarnation. At it's incarnation, it was mostly about suffrage not only in the U.S, but around the world. Then it became about women moving out of traditional gender roles, as portrayed in the book "The Feminine Mystique" where Friedian writes about how "We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: "I want something more than my husband and my children and my home." Now it's about reproductive rights, especially in terms of contraception.As many know of this story by now, Rush Limbaugh slandered a law student just because she testified on paying for contraception. While it was awful that he said that, what could be worse is that many people out there feel the same way. Their group-think can pose real consequences in terms of policy. Feminism acts as a counterpoint to such thinking. Feminism is all of the points and movements that have come together as an ideal for women. It has affected society for better or for worse.

  15. The idea of egregores is interesting, not only because of its concept but also because of its universality – it can be seen in so many places in society today. I think egregores can be seen in two ways. First, this passing of knowledge through generations can be seen as positive. An idea is able to pass through generations is often the cause of many great movements through history. Even the very idea of liberty and freedom that our country stands on is an example of an egregore. Our founding fathers took John Locke’s ideas of liberty. After that, this idea, or should I say egregore, has always been present in America, and dictates the way we think about political, foreign, or domestic affairs. As time proceeded, this idea of liberty was not changed, per se, but the effects it brought changed depending on who sought after the idea, much like the spirit of Promethea. When African Americans after the idea, they started the Civil Rights Movement which then eventually granted them the same rights. When women went after the idea, the Feminist movement occurred and then they were granted those rights of “liberty”. In this sense, the egregore of liberty was passed down for so long that it has shaped how we view things in a positive manner. Though its effects have changed in ways, its meaning has remained consistent.
    However, egregores do not always end up having positive results. Because egregores are ancient (or well relatively) ideas being passed on, its meaning can easily be distorted to make people behave in ways opposite to what the original idea had meant. This can be seen in many events such as religious wars or terrorism. Fighting and killing other people to serve their gods of “peace” is, well, the exact opposite of peaceful. However, because this idea has become so all consuming, it becomes difficult to place things back in perspective.

  16. The evolution of the feminist movement can be seen as analogous to the evolution of the ideal female warrior in the illustration of Promethea. In both cases there was a single idea that then became the catalyst for a continuously changing embodiment of the original idea. Take the first wave of feminism for example. Here the idea of female-male equality had its focus in legal methods of bringing about change. Later movements of feminism then took the original idea of gender equality and pushed for equality in different arenas such as cultural and social barriers to equality as well as workplace discriminatory practices.

    The original collective idea, takes on new forms as the people with these ideologies change over time. This parallels easily with the comic Promethea when the reader notices that every embodiment of the statuesque warrior has slight alterations from one embodiment of the imagination to another. The artistry of each Promethea clearly shoes that no two embodiments of Promethea are exactly the same nor do they hold the exact same values and priorities of justice and knowledge; similar to the evolving priorities of the feminist movement.

  17. Although this post was the first time I have ever come across the word "egregore," I can absolutely see the correlation between this idea of a higher being created by "the people" and Promethea. After all, this woman warrior is made up of the ideas and imagination of the public that she protects. She is the embodiment of a perfect "superheroine" through the thoughts of her creator. However, one thing to note: Promethea changes slightly with each new imagination she comes from, but you would think there would be MORE of a change than there actually is. Why does she remain constant? Does she have an original form that manifests itself differently to other people?

    Back to the original topic now: I think the problems of egregores arise when not all of the people believe in the same "higher being." Many wars in our history have been started because of religious differences and not being willing to coexist with people who do not have the same beliefs. In Promethea, the conflicts arose when someone was not "on board" with the current status of the egregore. Bill's tragic story occurred for this reason; as did many of the other deaths.

    One idea that I remember from my last Freshman Writing Seminar was the belief that it is actually women who many times place ourselves into "stereotype boxes" and not the men. We have ideas of what is expected of us and pass down from generation to generation what women must be in order to be considered "normal." This is very similar to the idea of an egregore. The collective idea of the people (women) create a "higher being" (the ideal woman) that is being used as an oppression device. The negative effects of this example, however, are a lot greater than the positive.

    I also very much liked the example of the Holocaust and Hitler's controlling, godlike power over Europe during WWII. It's interesting how people can be brainwashed into believing anything when they think it will save them. We are selfish creatures...


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