This is not a word found in the dictionary, although I gather it has a history of use in the esoteric arts, dating back to the French occultist Eliphas Levi (about whom, as it happens, my brother has written a book).
Now, I'm not one for the esoteric arts, but the concept of the egregore seems to be a very useful one, applicable to all sorts of circumstances, including the equestrian world. An entry on Wikipedia gives a definition of egregore as "an autonomous psychic entity made up of, and influencing, the thoughts of a group of people."
An egregore has its own tropes, customs, accessories, language, costume, expectations, values, slogans, and so on. An egregore with which we are all familiar is the zeitgeist or spirit of the times, which gives each era its distinctive flavor and colouring - the Gay 90's, the Roaring 20's, the Sixties. Egregores should not be exactly equated with institutions or even traditions, although there are certainly overlaps. Institutions are more deliberately formed, and traditions are often passed from generation to generation with some thoughtfulness and care. Both can be modified by their adherents in response to changing circumstances or to better fulfill certain goals. The egregore, on the other hand, is characterized by the unconscious hold it exerts over its votaries and seems to possess a life of its own, growing and morphing according to some law of nature.
An individual taps into the egregore by adopting one of more of its characteristic traits; it is thought that by thus connecting to the egregore, a person will be swept up into and become part of the entity, even without their explicit intention or consent. You don a prison guard uniform and become tyrannical; you put on an apron and feel like you're in Ozzie and Harriet. Similarly one may begin to opt out of the egregore by rejecting even one of its attributes. It is hard to imagine a Nazi who refuses to use the "Heil Hitler" salute, or a hippy choosing to wear a twinset and pearls.
Clearly there are beneficial, and neutral egregores as well as malevolent ones; the myth of Santa Claus is a pleasant egregore. However, casting around for examples reveals that most instances of egregores are negative. I'm reminded of what Tolstoy said about families: "
Both Kris and Imke are emphatic that they cannot and will not provide any kind of formula for others to reproduce their approach. The only way along the path, they insist, is to follow the horse's lead and reject all preconceived rules, techniques, and instructions. Here is Kris clearly articulating an anti-egregore sentiment:
By studying the human experts, learning their formulas and methods, diligently imitating them -- we make ourselves blind and deaf in our interactions with horses. We forsake the reality of here and now and cling to the abstract -- someone else's words and gestures.The traditional horse world comes complete with sub-egregores - the English world, the Dressage World, the Western World, the Natural Horsemanship World, and so on. The world described by Kris, Imke, Lynne - a world which others of us aspire to inhabit also - is not so easily described. It's a challenge to tell people what we're up to - at least not without having a long conversation. We have to exchange real thoughts about real things in order to describe our activity - there is no shorthand: "Oh, I do Hunter Jumpers." The conversation we are forced to have requires us to refer to ourselves as individuals, with our own feet on our own spot of ground, searching for real answers - not just to "training" questions - but to questions concerning ultimate reality.
Imke Spilker's book, Empowered Horses, does contains one important piece of concrete advice, which was the only thing I had to hold on to as I tried to follow in her footsteps. She said that when you go to fetch your horse out of the pasture, you should put the halter on, with no leadrope, and invite the horse to follow you. If the horse declines, you find something else to do.
Nowadays that doesn't always work for me, as the mares are often intimidated by George if they're not attached to me by an umbilical leadrope; they're not actually free to follow along wearing only a halter. However, Imke's advice was very important because it was a first step in escaping the egregore, an all-important tenet of which is: You Don't Let Your Horse Go On Strike! Sure enough, "disobedience" in one strand of the egregore gradually leads to an unraveling of the whole thing.
A recent entry on this blog was inspired by Ephesians 5:13. Once again St. Paul comes to our aid in Ephesians 6:12, where he talks about what I believe to be egregores:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (New KJV)Horses are immune from egregores. The only "autonomous psychic entity" which they are plugged into is the mind of the Creator. We are certainly able to enslave them to the same powers and principalities which hold sway over us, by subjecting them to our behaviour under the influence of these rulers, but in themselves they are incapable of being subsumed into such alien collective thought-forms. Like members of a happy family, they are not so different one from another, every horse grounded in the one truth, each unique, but all connected. When we meet with our horses, we should come alone and unarmed - the posse and paraphernalia of the egregore should be left behind.