Egregore (also egregor) is a collection of thoughts put forth from a group mind. That is a simplistic explanation of a complex concept – at least to me. Psychologically speaking, an egregore is that “atmosphere” or “personality” that develops among groups independent of any of its members. It is the feeling or impression you get when walking into a restaurant, store, or neighborhood that something feels… different. It’s not wrong or odd, just… different. Whatever that feeling is, it is the entity’s “egregore.”
“The word “egregore” derives from the Greek word egrégoroi meaning “watchers.” The word appears in the Septuagint translation of the Book of Lamentations, as well as the Book of Jubilees and the Book of Enoch. Gaetan Delaforge, in Gnosis Magazine in 1987, defines an egregore as a kind of “group mind which is created when people consciously come together for a common purpose.” Think of groups coming together to build something, like Habitat for Humanity, or like the feeling of a synagogue that prays together for a common cause. Even those examples might not be quite right. It’s more of the feeling that comes from doing the work in a group of like-minded people; it is being in the midst of the common mind working for a specific purpose, which provides a powerful feeling. Transformative, even. Egregore implies, by its definition, spending time and energy to create something.
This word, egregore, came up recently in a conversation with a fellow Mason, and I wondered at its true meaning. It isn’t a word in my everyday vocabulary and not one I had heard or used more than maybe once. It was time to brush up. I found an astounding number of occult meanings and, to be frank, made up ones as well. The word was first used by Victor Hugo, and the root is noted above. But, the idea of egregore is, I think, difficult to put into exact words. It’s kind of like other concepts of “good” and “bad” – you may not have the adequate words but you know it when you see it. Egregore is similar: We might “know” what it means and we have seen it, and felt it, in action. Yet, saying the meaning of the word, as a feeling, feels, frankly, a little “woo-woo.” A little fluffy, new-agey, and weird. Yet, all of us knows that it does exist.
There are some who feel that an egregore is an entity unto itself; the being is a collection of spiritual, emotional, and mental energies put forth by a group of people with a single purpose in mind. We don’t know that it has a consciousness of its own; rather, it could be that it ebbs and flows as the group “moves” through its work. In well-done ritual, the egregore can be felt moving among the members of whatever group is working toward the goal.
In Freemasonry, we might think of egregore, as the pinnacle of a Freemasonic ritual: all members working together to achieve the goal of promoting the best welfare of humanity, combating ignorance and hate, and striving to bring beauty and wisdom into the light. Think of any ritual, religious or otherwise, that felt incredible and think of what made it feel that way – THAT is egregore. I think that Leadbeater alluded to it in “The Science of the Sacraments” in his discussions about censing the Church space.
A Masonic blogger, E.C. Ballard, wrote the following, “So, what does any of this have to do with Freemasonry? The symbols, rituals and meetings of a group, when repeated over time, develop an egregore or group mind which binds the members together, harmonizes, motivates and stimulates them to realize the aims of the group, and enables the individual members to make more spiritual progress than if they worked alone.” This is why, perhaps, all symbols have meaning – more than the one we discern from their location or use in Lodge, church, or temple. We smell the ritual incense and this brings our hippocampus to a place of Order and Structure – the temple or church room. It’s the shivers we all get up our spines during any initiatory ceremony, when certain names or elements or musical sounds are invoked. The Freemason’s ritual, by its very nature, followed correctly creates this egregore.
This is really what I mean about being able to identify a Masonic egregore. I once wrote, in a personal essay, “I don’t know exactly how Freemasonry works, but it does work. I am a far better person today than I was before, by applying Masonic principles and being open to learning. Had those two things not come together, Freemasonry would not have worked.” So, for me, egregore is the “work” achieved by a group mind, coupled with the willingness to receive that work. Sounds remotely like discipline, doesn’t it?
Interestingly enough, both group mind and willingness are addressed by the structure of Freemasonry. First, the willingness to work, well, that’s a given. Members come to the group of their own free will, and they can leave of their own free will. Freedom of choice is the purest example of a willingness to work. If we don’t want to do the work, learn the lessons, or put in time, why do we stay? We shouldn’t. Freemasonry doesn’t or shouldn’t bend to our will. It’s not about us. It’s about us conforming to the rules and regulations and more than that, being willing to be honest with ourselves about being there. If we’re not willing to submit to Masonic discipline, why the heck are we there? Why spend the money, time, and effort to attend? It’s far better for the individual and the group if the person chooses one way or the other and then just does it.
The second item suggesting egregore, creating the group mind, is far more difficult to qualify. In contemporary articles on leadership, there is a concept called emotional intelligence. “Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) is the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and to manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt environments or achieve one’s goal(s).” The term has been thrown around psychologists for fifty years but it has only recently (1990s) been the subject of business and leadership roles. The basic premise is this: in order to build effective teams, everyone must be working at their highest level of emotional intelligence, which develops trust, and eventually creates a team that is able to do anything towards which they put their minds and efforts.
Emotional intelligence develops “corporate culture”, which is like Masonic egregore. The ritual brings a physical demand in our lives; study and philosophical discussions bring mental stimulation. Many forget the emotional component to Freemasonry and that is emotional intelligence – how we dispense justice, how we reprehend, our voices when speaking with people – things the ritual instructs us in on how to live. By combining the first two, physical discipline with study and mental exertion, with the third, well-regulated emotions, we get Freemasonic egregore. At least, it appears that way. Maybe the concept of the “Lodge” or maybe even “Freemasonry” is itself an egregore.
I think we have to test this Masonic egregore theory for ourselves. How does Lodge make us feel? How does well-rehearsed ritual sound and express itself? Do we feel satisfied when the pieces work well together? How do we feel when they don’t? How does it feel to stand in a Lodge room alone? What about with other members? What happens when there are three people attending a meeting versus fifteen? What happens to the Lodge when one or two members are not “hooked in” and trusting the Lodge, the Master, or the Order?
With Freemasonry, it feels as if one needs to be “all in” in order to even start to build a true Masonic Lodge: a curated collection of people coming together in a thriving and growing group that finds, eventually, its own brilliant egregore. Perhaps that is what we are searching for and why Freemasonry appeals to us human beings. The mystical experience that some members hope to find is really this egregore that, in some ways, we are all hoping to find. We all want to make a place in the world – leave our mark or our legacy. As Freemasons, that is a better humanity. Masons seem to be searching for that community that brings us hope, trust, and peace. Finding it takes a lot of work, it seems. Touching the egregore for a moment provides perhaps a brief insight into what the Divine really is like.