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On Group Minds
Copyright 1993 by Khaled Quicksilver.
Originally appeared in The Blade & Chalice, Issue 3, Spring
Given the way some Pagans seem to think of the Gods as little more than a convenient set of communal images built up over time, I thought I'd share a bit of my line's teaching on the nature and principle uses of group minds (also known as egregores) -- those collective personalities which accrue when magically trained individuals habitually practice the Art together.
First, a bit of magical theory. It is generally taught within occult circles that thoughts are things, and further, that emotionally charged thoughts tend to be sticky things (i.e. they attach themselves to nearby people or objects as they are created). When any group of like-minded people get together and share emotionally charged words and/or images, whether in a riot or in a debating society, the pattern and energy of the underlying thoughts tends to flow together into a common pool, which we call a group mind.
A magical lodge or coven, being consciously aware of the process, can easily enhance this tendency through formal ritual. Most go one step further and deliberately activate the group mind so that it becomes more than just the sum of its parts; so that it comes alive on the astral. Such magically enhanced group minds do more than simply feed on the emotions of those who created it in order to reinforce the commonality of thought which brought it into being; they can also act with a fair degree of independence for the good of the group, as defined by the core oaths and symbology around which it has been built. This, by the way, is what we're naming when we name a coven and why we tend to give it both an inner and an outer name, just as we ourselves generally use two names. Since an egregore's name is a way of contacting the power and lore stored within it, its inner name and "keying" symbols ("sigils") aren't normally given to outsiders.
In the same way that a coven's group mind builds on the shared experience of the membership, prior and current, who make it up, another, deeper, egregore also grows out of the collective experience of all the covens making up a given tradition. Because they can operate differently for reasons I'm about to touch on, and to save confusion as to which I'm referring to in any given context, it's been my habit to use "group mind" when speaking of covens, and "egregore" when speaking of the deeper trad mind, although the two terms are actually synonymous.
Just as the energy flow is a two-way street within a coven's group mind, growing every time we get our juices going in a really "hot" ritual, yet readily tappable by any covener who needs to top up his/her energy levels, so, too, is the trad egregore both enhanced by, and accessible to, those of its Initiates who know how to Connect to it. And not surprisingly, the exact keys for doing so are among those "Secrets of the Art" that the Oathbound are sworn to protect.
But there's more than just juice to a Wiccan egregore, more even than the lore and thoughts and understanding of all of the people who've built it up over the decades. There's also the pattern of expectations and customary interactions which we've built up over that same period of time with the Gods themselves (this will also be true of an established coven's group mind, of course).
Because the Gods are pure archetypes, the forms they wear when interacting with the embodied are open to negotiation according to our particular needs and their own divine natures. A trad's egregore has already set up a series of preferences, and learned the preferences of the godforms that trad most commonly works with. So, when we link to Themselves, we and They have a set of protocols already in place, and our interactions with one another will tend to follow those protocols unless we make a special effort to change or modify them.
Older trads have a force of habit built up behind them which makes it far easier to connect with the various forces, lore and Mysteries the trad has incorporated into its egregore, and also makes it harder not to make those connections in the same old way. It can be done, of course, and a vital trad will be constantly adding new connections and reassessing old ones, but it's a whole lot easier to go with the flow than in making new links to fight your way across the existing current.
Newer trads, including the ones only just now coming together, have neither this strength nor weakness (yet), unless they've hived from an older Trad and hold the keys to that trad's egregore. Even so, they've hived for a reason and are sure to drop some of the old keys in favour of new ones -- keys more in keeping with the philosophical differences which presumably sparked the hive. And so a new trad, and a new egregore, will be born, either by division and new growth, or from scratch.
Yet the Gods go on forever....
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