Metabeings and Individuals: Aids and Obstacles to Growth

An article by Deb Bodeau, 1999


We all participate in collective consciousnesses – groups, organizations, societies, cultures. For the individual seeking psychological or spiritual development, participation in such metabeings offers both help and hindrance. We can apply the teachings of Western science in conjunction with the teachings of the Western Esoteric Tradition to become conscious of and take responsibility for our participation in metabeings, to recognize dysfunctional relationships and heal them, and to redefine our relationships with metabeings in ways that facilitate our development.


  • Introduction
  • Background
    •  Models from the Social and Psychological Disciplines
      •  Descriptive Models of Consciousness
      •  Developmental Models of Consciousness
      •  Descriptive Models of Metabeings
      •  Developmental Models of Metabeings
      •  Evolution of Consciousness
    •  Insights from the Western Esoteric Tradition
      •  A Sampling of the Literature
      •  Individual Development in the Western Esoteric Tradition
      •  Metabeing Formation and Development: A Tree-of-Life Perspective
      •  A Respectful Critique
  • Exploration
    •  Mechanisms for Influence
      • Mutual Influence
      • Refinements of Cognitive and Motivational Structures
      • Memes, Motifs, and Moods
      • The Ping-Pong Ball Metaphor
    •  Potential Benefits to Individual Development
    •  Potential Dangers to Individual Development
      •  Developmental Mismatches
      •  Channeling and Playing Roles
      •  Other People
      •  Differences in Scale
  • Application to Everyday Life
    • Self-Assessment
    • Diagnostics
    • Healing
    • Redefining Modes of Participation
      • Modern Consciousness and Metabeings
      • Postmodern Consciousness and Metabeings
  • Conclusion

1. Introduction

We all participate in collective consciousnesses – groups, organizations, societies, cultures. For the individual seeking psychological or spiritual development, participation in such metabeings offers both help and hindrance. We can apply the teachings of Western science in conjunction with the teachings of the Western Esoteric Tradition (the Tradition, for brevity;  [1] ) to this observation. By doing so, we can become conscious of and take responsibility for our participation in metabeings. We can recognize dysfunctional relationships and heal them. We can redefine our relationships with metabeings in ways that facilitate our development.

In this document, I raise questions about the relationship between individuals and metabeings. I present some preliminary responses, based on teachings from the Tradition (as found in the open literature), concepts from various social and psychological disciplines, and personal experiences. My goal is to start discussion rather than to present a complete system. The questions I will consider are:

  • What insights does the Tradition provide on how metabeings function and develop?
  • How closely do the theories and observations of social and psychological disciplines track these insights? (Note the observation of Erik Davis in Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, + Mysticism in the Age of Information that magic is the unconscious of science. We might expect to find parallel concepts, terms, and explanations.) How can insights, models, and techniques from these disciplines be fed back into the Tradition to improve our understanding and spiritual development practices?
  • How can participating in a metabeing further or hinder an individual’s development? In order to understand “how” better, we must also ask: What are the mechanisms or processes by which a metabeing influences an individual, and vice versa?
  • Can we identify any diagnostics to detect when participation in a metabeing is helpful vice harmful to an individual’s development?
  • Can we identify any healing techniques for situations in which participation has harmed an individual?
  • What types of relationships between individual and metabeing become possible as the individual develops?

I use the term “metabeing” rather than one of the various alternatives for several reasons. First, it emphasizes that my perspective is different from that of the social sciences. (This also enables the use of the term “group” more consistently with the social sciences.) Second, unlike the terms “group-mind”, “group-soul”, and “race” which appear in some Western esoteric writings, it avoids the baggage now associated with “race consciousness” terminology. Third, it is pronounceable and evocative, unlike the term “egregor” (also spelled egregore) used in some Western esoteric writings. Finally and most importantly, it emphasizes that while such a being is a “composite consciousness” (conscious only through the consciousnesses of the individuals who participate in it), it exists on a different scale. Certainly it is “larger”, encompassing the energies and consciousnesses of the individuals who participate in it. It also exists on a different time scale. Some metabeings have shorter life-spans than the individuals that compose them. Other metabeings have much longer life-spans, so that participation in them gives a sense of immortality.

In reading this document, keep the following examples of metabeings in mind: cultures, nation-states, markets, organizations, family systems, and religious, intellectual, political, or social movements, as well as esoteric orders and lodges. By an individual “participating in a metabeing” is meant identifying with the metabeing or with its perceivable forms (e.g., an institution, an event), investing psychic energy in its activities, and contributing time, effort, or resources to those activities.

The working hypothesis is that a metabeing can be viewed as a character, with a psyche, motives, moods, a personal mythology, and a self-description. In addition, the hypothesis is that descriptive and developmental models of the individual psyche can be interpreted for metabeings in a way that improves our understanding and increases our power.

2. Background

A comprehensive background would be unmanageably large. The material is intended to provide context and pointers to references. I currently neglect Western philosophy (which largely relies on the models of psychology and social science, but explores relationships between individuals and metabeings from a normative as well as descriptive perspective). I also currently neglect Eastern philosophies, psychologies, and cosmologies.

2.1 Models from the Western Social and Psychological Disciplines

A number of disciplines have developed approaches to describing and studying individuals, groups, their developmental processes, and their interdependencies. These include psychiatry, psychology, social psychology, group psychology, group dynamics, organizational behavior, sociology, anthropology, and ethnography, as well as some branches of philosophy. Interdisciplinary studies of the evolution of consciousness provide additional useful perspectives.

2.1.1 Descriptive Models of Consciousness

Psychology offers multiple models of individual consciousness. Each model has implications for how an individual might interact with a metabeing. In addition, each model of individual consciousness can be translated into a model of metabeing consciousness; the attempt to make this translation highlights ways in which individuals and metabeings are similar or different.

I’d like to highlight the following concepts from psychological models of consciousness:

  • Freud’s decomposition of the psyche into ego, id, and superego.
  • Jung’s concepts of the collective unconscious, populated by archetypal images; and of the four psychological functions or modes of construing the world (commonly referred to as thinking, feeling, intuition, and sensation).
  • Assagioli’s psychosynthesis model, which includes the lower unconscious, the middle unconscious; the field of consciousness, the conscious self or “I”; the superconscious, and the Higher Self; all grounded in the collective unconscious.
  • The model of the psyche as a community of distinct, subpersonal characters. This model arises both in psychosynthesis and in Jungian psychology; in the latter, subpersonal characters are manifestations of archetypes from the collective unconscious. See Gretchen Sliker, Multiple Mind: Healing the Split in Psyche and the World for an account that combines concepts from Jungian psychology and psychosynthesis

2.1.2 Developmental Models of Consciousness

Psychology offers a variety of developmental models of individual consciousness. Most models focus on development from birth to adulthood. I’d like to highlight two models of adult development, for which clear parallels between individual and metabeing consciousness can be seen:

  • Robert Kegan’s model of progression through five orders of consciousness: initial, durable categories,  traditional, modern, and postmodern . (See Robert Kegan, In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life, 1994, Harvard University Press.) Kegan presents a developmental model of human consciousness that extends into adulthood, that is, beyond entry into and mastery of traditional consciousness. In the context of this model, he sets forth a dilemma he sees as increasingly common in Western culture: everyday life demands a higher order of consciousness than the one society, via the primary and secondary educational systems, prepares us for. He concludes that support for development throughout adulthood is needed and that this as a significant challenge to educators.
  • Ken Wilber’s model of progression through the physical, image-based or magical, and mythological stages (which he correlates with Piaget’s levels of cognitive development), to the rational (or narrative or modern) stage (the highest stage commonly recognized by psychology), through the transpersonal  vision-logic, psychic, subtle, causal, and nondual stages. (For a concise summary of Wilber’s model, see Donald Rothberg’s essay in Ken Wilber in Dialogue, edited by Donald Rothberg and Sean Kelly, Quest Books, 1998. Wilber’s most accessible work to date is A Brief History of Everything, 1996, Shambhala.)

Other models of individual development can also be translated into models of metabeing development, notably Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

A key point in both Kegan and Wilber is that a (stable) society or culture is optimized for a specific order or stage of consciousness. That is, the language, worldview, social processes and structures, and systems of intangible goods (incentives, disincentives, and ways of providing these to individuals) all work together to maximize the number of individuals who reach the target order or stage of consciousness.

Wilber notes that a stable society or culture will obstruct the development of individuals beyond the target stage. Wilber’s model enables us to observe that, while a society or culture may have one target stage of consciousness, a spiritual tradition embedded in that culture may be optimized to bring its members to a higher stage. It becomes the role of the tradition to mediate between the individual and the larger society or culture. The tradition acts as a buffer so that society does not impede the individual’s development, and the individual’s development does not destabilize society.

2.1.3 Descriptive Models of Metabeings

Metabeings can be characterized in terms general attributes such as size, life-span, membership criteria, methods for sharing information, and organizational structure.  Disciplines typically home in on specific forms of metabeings, such as societies, cultures, tribes, organizations, and teams. That is, a given discipline assumes constraints on the general attributes, and then focuses on defining discipline-specific attributes and using those attributes to describe the forms of metabeings the discipline considers. For example, attributes considered in the field of organizational behavior include division of labor or degree of specialization; distribution of power, status, responsibility, and leadership; processes for decision-making; processes for setting and achieving goals; and relationship to individuals and other metabeings (e.g., public/private interface).

Thus, there are many discipline-specific models that can be used to characterize or describe specific types of metabeings. However, I have not found a unifying model in the social sciences, i.e., a model that focuses on how metabeings are all alike. Such a model would correspond to the Tradition’s insight that a culture, tribe, species, or organization might all be manifestations or “incarnations” of the same kind of impulse, that each such metabeing has a Higher Self.

I’d like to highlight a couple of ideas about groups, organizations, movements, etc.

  • There is a size break-point, based on the number of people an individual can relate to at a given time. Thus, there’s a significant difference between metabeings that consist of fewer than 150 people, and those that consist of more.
  • One interesting aspect of groups is the “group project” – a loosely coordinated effort to accomplish something, which provides a context and background narrative for individual efforts. Some group projects span centuries; for example, attempts to prove or disprove Fermat’s Last Theorem constituted a group project of the mathematical community.
  • Metabeings can relate to one another in many different ways. Structurally, one metabeing can be part of or subsumed by another. There can be an entire hierarchy (or, more accurately, holarchy) of metabeings, each containing some and being contained by another. Metabeings can overlap (in membership, in mission). Metabeings can rely on a common infrastructure (e.g., language) provided by another metabeing. Dynamic relationships and interactions between metabeings are best understood metaphorically.

Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organizations offers a metaphorical perspective on organizations that extends easily to metabeings in general. Morgan describes several common metaphors for describing and modeling organizations: organizations as machines, as organisms, as populations in ecological systems, as brains, as cultures, and as political systems. He then discusses organizations as psychic prisons, as instruments of domination, and (on a more hopeful note) as flux and transformation.

It is possible to explore the relationship between individuals and metabeings by extending Morgan’s set of metaphors. If the metabeing is a machine, the individual can be a component – a simple cog or a complex subsystem;  redundant and easily replaceable or crucial. If the metabeing is an organism, the individual can be a cell, or a limb or an organ (as in Hobbes’ Leviathan). If the metabeing is a population, the individual can be an organism or a subpopulation (e.g., a herd or family group).

The question of how to describe the relationship between individuals and metabeings has several aspects which are implicitly addressed in these metaphors:

  • How necessary or important is the individual to the metabeing?
  • How unique is the individual in the context of the metabeing?
  • How much freedom does the individual have within the metabeing to change the relationship? For example, can the subsystem be reconfigured to do a new job? Can the cell move around, or change its behavior?
  • To what extent is the individual dependent on or limited by the immediate environment within the metabeing? Is the individual cog locked in place by the surrounding parts?
  • How similar are the individual and the metabeing – to what extent is the individual a model of the metabeing? There are two ways of approaching this question. In the Tradition, the conceptual identification of the microcosm with the macrocosm enables the individual to seek to become Adam Kadmon, the personification of the cosmos. The more an individual succeeds in this quest, the more the decisions and goals of the individual become those of the cosmos, and the more the world manifests what the individual wants it to manifest.

2.1.4 Developmental Models of Metabeings

As with descriptive models, developmental models tend to be discipline-specific. For many disciplines, the early phases of metabeing development are not addressed; the focus is on how the metabeing changes in response to internal (e.g., population growth) or external change (e.g., new technologies).

I’d like to highlight

  • The Tuckman model of team development: the four phases of forming, storming, norming, and performing; to which some authors add a fifth phase (redeploying).
  • The application of Kegan’s and Wilber’s models to metabeings.
  • The four-generation cycle presented by William Strauss and Neil Howe in Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069. In contrast with linear models of development, this is a cyclic model. Strauss and Howe identify a cycle of four generational types (a dominant, inner-fixated idealist generation; a recessive and generally ill-fortuned reactive generation; a dominant, outer-fixated civic generation; and a recessive but competent adaptive generation).

2.1.5 Evolution of Consciousness

I’ll draw from the account in Stephen Mithen’s A Prehistory of the Mind of general intelligence, multiple specialized intelligences, and cognitive fluidity. We will use two specialized intelligences in examining our topic: technical intelligence (which uses such concepts as structures, substructures, and operations on substructures) and social intelligence (which models beings as characters, with motives, emotions, and awareness of self and others). For example, the descriptive models of individual consciousness arise from applying technical intelligence to the psyche: substructures of the psyche are identified, their interrelations examined, and therapeutic strategies are defined that exploit dependencies among substructures. For purely explanatory purposes, and for some therapeutic approaches, social intelligence is also applied in some descriptive models: the “parts” are personified, and perceptions, emotions, and motives are attributed to them. Exploring the idea of a metabeing involves applying social intelligence to groups, organizations, movements, and other forms of collective behavior.

Note that social consciousness can provide useful models of activity even when (under closer examination) the “perceptions”, “emotions”, and “motives” have no literal basis. For example, hunter-gatherer cultures attribute anthropomorphic patterns of thought to animals who (under scientific scrutiny) appear to think very differently from humans. Nonetheless, the hunter-gatherers use their anthropomorphic models to predict animal behavior with great success.

Related to Mithen’s account, two additional areas for further reflection and speculation can be highlighted. First, what are the generic constructs or data structures that underly each specialized intelligence, and how have these constructs been conditioned, elaborated, or particularized by cultures, traditions, and disciplines? Consideration of this question will aid individuals’ development of a more mature relationship not only with those metabeings in which they participate, but also with individuals who participate in different metabeings. Second, is there a specialized “mystical intelligence”, and if so, what are its constructs and data structures?

2.2 Insights from the Western Esoteric Tradition

In this section, I provide a sampling observations about metabeings from the open literature. I also provide an initial exploration of how the “incarnation” of a metabeing can be understood in terms of the Tree of Life. (For an introduction to the Tree of Life, see Doug’s essay.)  I briefly summarize descriptive and developmental models of the individual psyche. Finally, I give a brief critique of the fatalism I perceive in many traditional teachings on group process and development.

2.2.1 A Sampling of Observations about Metabeings

The Tradition includes perspectives on egregors, group-minds, group-souls, orders, races, and guides that can be applied to metabeings in general. The focus tends to be on teachings specific to esoteric orders, fraternities, and lodges. John Michael Greer’s Inside a Magical Lodge: Group Ritual in the Western Tradition provides a particularly lucid and thoughtful description of how a lodge’s egregor is constructed and maintained, and of how the ethics of participants affects the egregor. The works of Butler and Fortune cited below also provide more insight on how esoteric orders, fraternities, and lodges develop and use group-minds.

The following is a sampling of ideas that can be applied to metabeings in general. A caveat on terminology is required. Terms such as “race” and “racial consciousness” are commonly used in the esoteric literature. This language reflects social theories in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The abuse of those theories by the Third Reich, as well as by bigotted social theorists discredited in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, has caused this terminology to fall into disrepute or disuse. See Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline in Western History for more on the history of racial theories.

From W.E. Butler, Lords of Light: The Path of Initiation in the Western Mysteries, Destiny Books, Rochester, VT, 1990:

  • “A group can either be free, working on its own, an ordinary study group, or it can be ritually, ceremonially, or otherwise linked up with another group on the inner planes. Then it becomes a contacted group.” Butler notes that even a noncontacted group can have a group-mind: “all of the members’ minds grouped together. You sit in a group and the subconscious part of your mind links up with the subconscious part of the next person’s and so on until your group is one subconscious mind, and that group mind can be very powerful.” Butler also notes that a group-mind can arise spontaneously and exist for a very short period of time. (p. 36)

From Dion Fortune, Esoteric Orders and Their Work, The Aquarian Press, London, U.K., 1987:

  • [In prior species of humanity], “consciousness had not become individualized, but humanity was overshadowed by its group-soul in the same way that the lower types of animals are overshadowed to this day. The esoteric psychology of the group-soul affords a vast field of study and is too involved to enter into in the present pages; it must suffice to say that the operations of such a group-soul may be recognized in the intelligence of the ant and the bee and in the migrations of the birds.” (p. 20)
  • Speaking of the next stage of human evolution, and the need for the seeds of the new race to withdraw into segregated communities while Western civilization reaches its zenith, decays, and thus enables its members to reincarnate as members of the new species of humanity, Fortune says: “… for the group-soul, like the group-body, or social organization, is finite and mortal, and must die before it can be reincarnated … Social organizations are as separate as individuals, and their group-souls, or devas, will not let them coalesce, though they may form brotherhoods upon the plane of group consciousness.” (p. 41)
  • Speaking of the training and work of the Initiate, Fortune says: ” … each organized unit of evolution, or group-soul of a species, is is overshadowed by a great angelic consciousness that acts as individuality to the slowly evolving group-mind. When individualization takes place within the group consciousness, each unit thus created becomes its own master and learns by bitter experience the right use of its powers, generating much karma in the process, and the group-soul of the whole, metaphorically speaking, throws its weight so as to counterbalance the composite karma thus generated, thus maintaining the racial poise; should the over-balance proceed beyond the power of righting, the group angel, or higher soul, withdraws, and the death of the group takes place as does the death of any other body from which the soul is withdrawn.”
  • “Should the individual consciousness, thus developed, perceive the brooding spirit that overshadows the whole of which it is a part and transmits to it the Divine forces, should it conceive the idea of co-operating with the Divine Life rather than experimenting with its own personal life, then it comes out from under the dominion of the group-soul and into the jurisdiction of the Lodge of the Masters concerned with that group.” (p. 45)
  • Speaking of the role of the Adept in the chain of inspiration between higher consciousness and the popular mind, Fortune says: “Once .. the Archetypal Ideal [has been] injected into the group mind of the race by being realized and lived by a consciousness forming part of that group-mind, it is caught up by the race and forms part of its subconsciousness, gradually permeating it, destroying ideas that are antagonistic to it and coalescing with ideas which are sympathetic; thereby changing the whole tone of the group-mind of the race. We say race advisedly, for the whole scheme is racial, being worked out by group-minds, and the racial factor cannot be ignored in any matter of occult work or initiation.” (pp. 47-48)
  • Speaking of the role of the Lodge and its officers, Fortune says: “The united action of all the officers builds a group-mind which is capable of transmitting and focussing potencies of a much more massive or cosmic type than could be transmitted through the channel of a single consciousness.” (p. 64)

From William G. Gray, Inner Traditions of Magic, Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, 1970, 1984:

  • “All humans radiate force-patterns which are recognizable and classifiable by observing Intelligences from other than human states of being. … General categories of humans are more or less mass-guided by what are sometimes called ‘Group-Angels’, or Intelligences associated with racial and ethnical or religious circles of humanity.”

From Gareth Knight, A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism, Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, ME, 1965, 1993:

  • “Certain Angels work especially with Group Souls of animals, others with Group Souls of nations, that is, under the presidency of the National Angel of the country.” (p. I-46, pgr. 32)
  • In speaking of the function of the magician, Knight says: “The real ritual is a twentyfour hours a day process of living out life according to spiritual principles so that, by this talismanic action, patterns of right living are formed in the unconscious mind of the race so that this right way of living becomes easier for those who follow after.” (pp. I-144-145, pgr. 22)
  • “It can be seen that the general trend in human affairs is towards a final unification of the races now on Earth. The earlier tribal and feudal ideas of relationship out of which grew the family system is well on into the phases of disappearance. Even the racial barriers of blood are being broken down more and more with the increasing ease of intercommunication and travel and also the increasing occurrence of intermarriage.

2.2.2 Metabeing Formation and Development: A Tree-of-Life Perspective

In the excerpts given above, the terms “group-mind” and “group-soul” are overloaded. The term “group-mind” can be roughly identified with consciousness at Hod, Netzach, and Yesod on the path of return, i.e., as it seeks to understand and affect the world. The term “group-soul” can likewise be identified with consciousness at those three Sephiroth, but in the sense that that consciousness is an expression or manifestation of an impulse from higher on the Tree, mediated by the metabeing’s Higher Self (or guardian angel, higher soul, or individuality). For clarity, I propose the following conventions: “group-mind” refers to Hod, collective unconscious to Yesod, and collective motivations to Netzach, while “group-soul” (or “metabeing psyche”) refers to consciousness at those three Sephiroth. Thus, the metabeing psyche includes a worldview, systems for describing or modeling aspects of the world, patterns of thought or reasoning; archetypes, cultural stereotypes, images, stereotyped patterns of behavior; identification of emotions, frames of mind, moods; and values.

The lightning-flash of manifestation on the Tree of Life provides a model of how a metabeing comes into existence. The path of return provides a developmental model for metabeing as well as individual consciousness. (In discussing both individual and metabeing consciousness, we use the Yetziratic Tree.) The impulse-to-manifest, expressed as an Individuality at Tiphareth, constructs a metabeing to embody itself by using available materials – the Individualities manifested as human personalities it can recruit, and the ideas, motivational structures, and images constructed by previously-manifested metabeings. The metabeing’s Higher Self (like the Higher Self of an individual human) may be more or less experienced or sophisticated about incarnation.

In my experience, metabeings (like impersonal forces seeking manifestation) aren’t usually malevolent. Their adverse effects on the individuals who participate in them can usually be attributed to cluelessness, indifference (related to operating on a different scale), or failure to foresee consequences. With regard to cluelessness, I believe that as we evolve, we have a responsibility to “report back up the Tree”, to seek actively to improve the understanding of the Individualities-manifest-as-metabeings and the impersonal forces seeking manifestation, of how the manifest-so-far world works. (See Angels in America for an illustration of reporting.) With regard to failure to foresee consequences, the destructive impact of a metabeing may come from the opening up of paths for destructive energies, rather than from any destructive intent on the part of the metabeing. The corporate intranet can be a vector for computer viruses, even though its designers had no such intentions.

I see three major ways in which a metabeings can be malevolent. First, it can be attached to or invested in its cluelessness or indifference, despite the best efforts of its participants to correct its errors. As with individuals, this behavior is usually due to an unwillingness to reallocate energy and attention, which in turn is often due to a fear that not enough energy will be available to accomplish valued goals. Second, it can be angry at the inability of its participants to manifest its impulses. The frustration of an impulse-to-manifest becomes pain and suffering; an unevolved or inexperienced metabeing, like its human counterpart, will tend to pass the suffering on. Third, the metabeing can define itself negatively; the “Other” then becomes a target.

2.2.3 Individual Development in the Western Esoteric Tradition

The Tradition presents three major models of individual development: the path of return on the Tree of Life, the Major Arcana of the Tarot, and alchemy. [2] As background for later discussion, I need to provide a little information on the first.

The Tree of Life cosmology presents a developmental model of human consciousness, which involves ascending back up the Tree in Yetzirah. While some part of the individual’s consciousness is present at each of the spheres in the Tree, awareness is initially at Malkuth and Yesod. The individual’s development as a social being involves developing awareness at Hod and Netzach, and mastering the relationships among these four spheres (i.e., mastering the paths between them, developing the ability to move the center of conscious awareness from one sphere to another). The individual’s development as a spiritual being builds on mastery of the lower four spheres, and involves developing awareness at Tiphareth. This is the sphere of the Higher Self, which is believed to reincarnate as different personalities (i.e., different configurations within the lower four spheres). The spheres above Tiphareth are essentially impersonal.

The visual icon for manifestation is the lightning flash descending the Tree. While it shows an alternation and interplay between the three pillars of the Tree, it is perceived as linear (or easily linearizable). The visual icon for ascent (or return) is a serpent, wrapping itself around the Tree so as to touch each of the paths between the spheres. While linearizable, the serpent’s route is organic and indirect, sometimes descending slightly before re-ascending, and visiting some paths twice.

The Tradition also presents several descriptive models of individual consciousness, notably the Tree of Life and astrology. In general, these models are not applied to metabeings. In some cases, a horoscope is cast for a metabeing; difficulties arise in identifying its moment and site of birth.

2.2.4 A Respectful Critique

In surveying the literature, I found an unfortunately fatalistic approach to group process in esoteric orders, fraternities, and groups within them. Schisms (and the infighting that precede them) are viewed as inevitable. Explanations can be constructed in terms of withdrawal of inner-plane contacts, personality problems on the part of members, the inability of key members to channel the necessary energies [3] , and the decision by the group-mind that some individuals just don’t fit. I have no doubt that each such explanation is true some of the time, and I believe that metabeings (like anything else that manifests in time) have limited life-spans. However, I’m suspicious of any argument that assumes a tragic flaw that dooms each metabeing. The neo-Pagan community has begun to apply ideas and techniques from the social sciences (see, for example, Amber K’s Covencraft: Witchcraft for Three or More or Judy Harrows’s Wicca Covens: How to Start and Organize Your Own). I believe that orders, fraternities, and groups in the Western Esoteric Tradition could benefit from that example.

There is also a risk in metabeings that claim Divine or higher-plane guidance that the participants will defer responsibility for the well-being of one another and the metabeing to their guides. This risk increases when the metabeing’s norms include secrecy — or just a strong reluctance to share information about internal processes with “outsiders” (no matter what expertise the “outsiders” have). Karen Armstrong’s Through the Narrow Gate provides a case study of this risk in the setting of a Christian religious order.

Greer provides a good exposition of the problems of magical elitism (i.e., elitism based on advancement in magical skill and expertise) which apply equally well in the setting of any spiritual tradition with a fixed developmental hierarchy. He observes,

“Spiritual insight and magical power don’t guarantee competence in the art of governing any more than they guarantee competence in the craft of plumbing.”

There is a strong resistance in all religious organizations when anyone tries to treat sacred things in terms of their resemblances to profane things. This resistance arises, for example, when someone treats sacred texts as texts, sacred stories as stories, sacred rituals as rituals. Thus, I expect a similar resistance to treating sacred groups as groups. In Varieites of Religious Experience, William James says,

“It is true that we instinctively recoil from seeing an object to which our emotions and affections are committed handled by the intellect as any other object is handled. The first thing the intellect does with an object is to class it along with something else. But any object that is infinitely important to us and awakens our devotion feels to us also as if it must be sui generis and unique. Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thus dispose of it. ‘I am no such thing,’ it would say; ‘I am MYSELF, MYSELF alone.’ ” (p. 17)

And yet he concludes:

“Who does not see that we are likely to ascertain the distinctive significance of religious melancholy and happiness, or of religious trances, far better by comparing them conscientiously as we can with other varieties of melancholy, happiness, and trance, than by refusing to consider their place in any more general series, and treating them as if they were outside of nature’s order altogether?” (p. 30)

3. Exploration

In this section, I look at how metabeings and individuals influence each other, the benefits that participation in metabeings offers to an individual’s development, and the possible ways that participation can damage the individual’s psyche or hamper development.

3.1 Mechanisms for Influence

An individual influences a metabeing by participating in its group projects. (An individual can also influence a metabeing by withholding energy from selected projects; if individuals withhold energy from all the projects the metabeing supports, they cannot be said to participate in that metabeing.) In this section, my concern is for how a metabeing influences an individual. I’ll start with a few observations about mutual influence, then focus on mechanisms by which a metabeing, with its group-mind, collective unconscious, collective motivations, and group-soul, influences the individual. These mechanisms include refinements of cognitive and motivational structures, memes, behavioral motifs, and moods. The metaphor of the ping-pong ball is intended in part to illustrate how multiple influences on the individual shape their experience.

3.1.1 Mutual Influence

Mutual influence can be described in two ways: feedback and the planting of seeds in the unconscious. (For more on the latter description, see Paul Foster Case’s The Tarot.) The feedback metaphor emphasizes nonlinearity, unpredictability, and the possibility of descent into chaos; the gardening metaphor emphasizes the need for ongoing nurturing and weeding. Art is a major mechanism for mutual influence between individuals and metabeings. The individual, by creating a work of art, plants a seed in the collective unconscious. On the other hand, individuals incubate seeds planted via works of art they experience.

3.1.2 Refinements of Cognitive and Motivational Structures

A metabeing specializes or tailors the generic constructs and data structures of general and specific intelligences to its environment. That is, it defines a shared worldview; it names emotions and responses; it provides models by which its individual participants can understand themselves and their world. In so doing, the metabeing performs a function too large and complex to be done by an individual in a single incarnation. However, the worldview provided by the metabeing can overconstrain the evolving individual.

A metabeing specializes or tailors generic motivational mechanisms, and constructs images to raise and channel motivation. For example, all cultures have some notion of error, or of activity that is worthy of condemnation or punishment. These notions are tied experientially to feelings of shame or guilt that seem to be part of the hardwiring of human beings. The Christian notion of “sin”, however, is not universal, and is modified and conditioned by many aspects of the overall Christian worldview.

By tailoring these generic motivational structures, a metabeing creates intangible goods (e.g., respect, honor) and maintains delivery systems for those goods (e.g., social status). The fact that the metabeing operates on a wider scale than the individual enables it to create and deliver intangible goods. Money provides a clear example: An economic system manages to produce a range of goods that no individual could produce for himself/herself. There’s no way to figure out which specific products are produced by any particular individual, so each individual is given an intangible “right” to some portion of the total output. The intangible good has properties (nonspecificity, divisibility) that the individual products do not. In general, intangible goods are needed to translate down to the individual scale the outputs of processes that do not themselves exist on the individual scale.

3.1.3 Memes, Motifs, and Moods

In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins coins the term “meme” for “a unit of cultural transmission” analogous to a gene. Memes propagate from one mind to another, and are subject to an evolutionary process akin to that of genes. An evolutionarily fit meme share with a fit gene the characteristics of longevity, fecundity, and copy-fidelity. Examples of effective ways to transmit an idea by packaging it as a meme include expressing it as a sound bite, associating it with a musical phrase, and linking it with a visual icon.

A behavioral motif or template is a loosely scripted set of actions one can take in a given social situation. When one enacts a behavioral motif, one’s actions are understood and accepted as at least normal, at best evidence of savoir-faire. Examples include ordering at a restaurant, going on a date, having an argument, and being rude to a social inferior. Motifs reflect the behavioral norms of a social group, including norms for how one behaves badly. Different social subgroups construct local variations or elaborations of behavioral motifs. Television and film provide a rich transmission medium for behavioral motifs. I’ve never smoked, but I know how to hold a cigarette, inhale, and exhale in ways that communicate a wide variety of attitudes and moods. Marshall McLuhan and Wilfred Watson explore the flow between popular culture, behavioral motifs and memes (though they do not use those terms), and the deep structures of the collective unconscious in From Cliche to Archetype.

The idea that a metabeing has moods and emotions is intuitively clear – we know what it means for a crowd to be in an ugly mood, or for a nation to be euphoric after some achievement. The mechanisms by which the metabeing “feels” an emotion require some reflection, given contemporary neuropsychology’s identification of moods with brain chemistry. It can feel through the emotions of its participants. It can express its feelings through spokespersons, the arts, and the mass media (e.g., the screaming heads on Crossfire). Only some of the participants need to be in a given state of mind for that state to be attributable to the metabeing. Thus, a metabeing can maintain a mood longer and with greater constancy than any individual, so long as it can trigger that mood in some portion of its participants. Metabeing expressions of emotion serve as triggers, creating a self-sustaining mood.

3.1.4 The Ping-Pong Ball Metaphor

Consider the following metaphor. My attention is like a ping-pong ball, bouncing around in a box. The box is my field of perception. (Thus, I assume there are things in the world which I am incapable of perceiving.) The floor of the box is where my attention might come to rest. The floor has low spots; these are the places my attention is most likely to wind up in. From time to time, the box is shaken or jolted (by an event in the world, by a higher force seeking to manifest, by my own psychic energies). My attention then bounces or rolls around, until it again comes to rest. It may come to rest in a different low spot, but its location will still be determined by the shape of the floor.

The floor (in fact, all the sides) of the box is provided by some of the metabeings in which I participate: human culture as a whole provides rough-hewn floorboards; Western culture adds another, more finished layer of boards; and various metabeings add layers over different regions of the floor. Finally, I put a layer of linoleum over it all: based on my experiences, I develop a worldview that shapes where my attention is likely to go. But each layer is affected by the layers beneath it: my low spots or likely foci of attention are largely determined by the low spots defined by my culture.

Psychological and spiritual development then can be conceived as developing certain skills and performing certain tasks: recognizing when the ping-pong ball of attention has gotten stuck in a low spot, giving the box a jolt to get it unstuck, moving the ball in a controlled manner rather than having it bounce all over the place, expanding the box, evening out the floor.

3.2 Potential Benefits to Individual Development

The potential benefits of participating in a metabeing to an individual’s development depend on the type of metabeing. Some developmental benefits of participating in large, long-lived metabeings such as tribes, societies, or nations include:

  • Survival. The metabeing provides a support structure that enables the individual to meet survival needs (as well as many needs higher in Maslow’s hierarchy) without exhausting all their time and energy. Thus, the individual has resources to apply to further development.
  • Energy. A metabeing can raise and sustain a greater and more predictable level of energy, and apply it over a longer time to manifest some goal, than an individual.
  • Intangible goods. A metabeing can give a sense of meaning and purpose to the individual’s acts; devoid of the context provided by the metabeing, those acts can feel pointless and dull, and the individual can become depressed. A depressed or nihilistic individual won’t develop much or well.
  • Leverage in the world. This is what class action suits are all about. The individual can use participation in a metabeing to modify their environment, making it more conducive to personal development. The experience of leverage also reduces the individual’s sense of powerlessness, which can be an obstacle to development.
  • Vicarious experience. The individual can have vicarious experiences on a scale unachievable in a human life. For example, by identifying with a metabeing with an unlimited life-span, an individual can attain a sense of immortality.
  • Sanity checks. A metabeing can, by defining a group project, provide direction for individual efforts, helping the individual to avoid wasting energy on illusory goals.

The potential benefits of participating in esoteric orders or groups are well-documented (see, for example, the works of Greer, Butler, or Fortune cited above) and will not be repeated here.

3.3 Potential Dangers to Individual Development

In this section, I give a sampling of ways that participation in a metabeing can hinder an individual’s development, or harm the individual outright. As I look at this collection, I’m reminded of cautionary nutrition articles – after reading a few of them, I need to remind myself that, while anything in the wrong form or quantities can cause health problems, I can’t  avoid the risks by not eating.

For ease of presentation, I organize potential dangers into four clusters: developmental mismatches, channeling and filling roles, other people, and scale differences. This is not intended to be a taxonomy; the clusters intersect, and a problem in one area can lead to a problem in another.

3.3.1 Developmental Mismatches

Some dangers to individual development arise from the individual being at, or moving into, a different developmental phase than the metabeing:

  • Attachment to limitations. The individual can feel strongly attached to, or identified with, aspects of the metabeing’s worldview, intangible economy, or patterns of perception and response. Such attachments can retard or distort the individual’s development beyond the metabeing’s current developmental phase.
  • Obstacles. A metabeing erects obstacles to individual growth, when that growth endangers the metabeing’s well-being or homeostasis. Typical mechanisms are withdrawal of intangible goods (for example, the individual loses status or respect), exacting costs in terms of intangible goods (e.g., via ridicule), and misdirection of the individual’s attention or energy.
  • Inappropriate precociousness. Kegan discusses the educational problem of trying to educate people at too high a level. The university attempts to teach postmodern consciousness to people who haven’t mastered modern consciousness, and at lower levels we sometimes try to teach modern consciousness to people who haven’t mastered traditional. In these situations education can undermine development rather than promote it. This ties into the idea, described above, about the target order of consciousness.
  • Interference. There can be a mismatch between the individual’s developmental direction and process, and the directions and processes the metabeing provides. The individual’s energies are dissipated in the attempt to channel them according to the metabeing’s directions. Typically, this is invisible to the metabeing, which doesn’t know there are other ways to construe the world. In some cases, the mismatch is visible to the metabeing, but it is indifferent to the effects on the individual. Reasons for this indifference can be the vastly larger scale on which the metabeing operates, or a belief that the metabeing’s worldview and processes are superior and that the individual’s difficulties provide evidence of that superiority (the “few-are-chosen” phenomenon).

3.3.2 Channeling and Playing Roles

Some dangers relate to the role(s) an individual plays in or in relation to the metabeing, or to channeling the metabeing or its energies:

  • Burnout. A common role of an individual in a metabeing is as a channel for some force or impulse the metabeing seeks to manifest, or as a channel for energies within the metabeing. When those energies are too strong for the individual to handle, the individual can crash and burn.
  • Karooshi. This is a Japanese word that means death-by-overwork, used here for the metabeing equivalent of repetitive stress: the metabeing doesn’t moderate its demands on the individual, and so wears the individual out.
  • Starvation in the midst of plenty. The individual can seek an intangible good that the metabeing cannot produce. Or the way the individual is able to receive an intangible good can be incompatible with how the metabeing delivers such goods. If the metabeing produces something close to what the individual seeks, or if the delivery system works intermittently, then the individual can feel locked in, unable to leave, but chronically dissatisfied. For example, a secret organization can never provide fame or public honor. Consider the James Bond phenomenon: someone who really became a world-famous spy could no longer be a spy at all.
  • Toxicity. Not every force in a metabeing’s psyche is healthy. For example, the desire for revenge (“I’ve been injured – someone must pay”) can arise in a metabeing as well as in an individual. When this happens, and a force in the psyche of an individual in the metabeing aligns with the force in the metabeing’s psyche, that individual can become a channel for true nastiness. Afterwards, the individual can be perplexed (“I don’t know what came over me”), feel the need for self-justification, or have some other kind of karmic hangover.
  • Ego confusion. The individual’s sense of self can be disrupted in a variety of ways:
    • Ego inflation. The individual can over-identify with the metabeing: “L’etat, c’est moi.”Ego deflation. The individual can feel inconsequential to or eclipsed by the metabeing.
    • Ego contraction. The individual can over-identify with the role(s) they play in the metabeing, devaluing and ceasing to develop other parts of their psyche.
  • Inappropriate modeling. In some cases, the individual is a microcosm of the metabeing, and the individual’s behavior constitutes a model for how the metabeing can act. More often, the microcosm/macrocosm relationship doesn’t hold. If so, the individual can get stuck in a pattern of trying to show the metabeing how to behave.

3.3.3 Other People

Some dangers arise because other people participate in or relate to the metabeing:

  • Targeting. The individual can be identified by others (within or outside of the metabeing) with the metabeing as a whole. This is particularly common when the individual holds a spokesperson or leadership role, but can happen to anyone. When another person has problems with the metabeing, they frequently ascribe those problems to the individual. (This allows that person to ignore the differences in scale between themself and the metabeing, and to put a human face on the target of negative emotions.) Being cast as someone else’s stand-in for a metabeing can be painful and disruptive, particularly when this is coupled with ego confusion or toxicity.
  • Triggering. Recally Gurdjieff’s idea of internal automata. The metabeing may activate an individual’s internal automata directly, skipping over the individual’s self-consciousness. The individual may experience this as an out-of-control episode — mob behavior, for example — or may retroactively imagine a personal motivation to explain the behavior. Frequently, the trigger is an action by another participant in the metabeing, or by a non-participant toward the metabeing.
  • Chain reactions. Recall Butler’s notion of how the unconscious minds of participants link up. Dysfunctional elements of one person’s subconscious mind can link up with dysfunctional parts of another person’s subconscious mind to create patterns that no one would have consciously chosen.

3.3.4 Differences in Scale

Some dangers arise simply because the metabeing exists on a different scale than the individual:

  • Depression. There is a phenomenon in a metabeing’s psyche that corresponds closely to depression in the individual psyche. (The correspondence is incomplete; individual depression often has physiological causes that can be treated with medication.) In Tree-of-Life terms, the metabeing’s group-soul is cut off from its higher sources of energy or grace, or the flow of energy into or within the group-soul is disrupted. This can be due to an internal change (for example, change in the number of participants), or to a change in the environment (for example, war or other social disturbances can disrupt individuals’ participation in the metabeing; moving or adding on to a house can disrupt a family system).
  • Collateral damage. To accomplish some goal, to manifest some impulse, or simply to change state, a metabeing can take actions that damage, even destroy, some of its participants. A metabeing creating a war to break out of a depression is one example. Another is the creation of stress or anxiety to raise energy. One way to read the “red scare” of the late 40s/early 50s (and the corresponding “white scare” in the Soviet Union) is as an adjustment to the strange phenomenon of cold war. Somehow wartime levels of sacrifice had to be maintained in the absence of any perceivable destruction. The invention of internal enemies enabled the Cold War adversaries to maintain those levels.

4. Application to Everyday Life

In this section, I sketch some initial ideas on how to tell whether your relationship with a metabeing is doing you harm, and what you might do to heal from that harm.

4.1 Self-Assessment

It can be illuminating (and sometimes overwhelming) to take a census of the metabeings in which one participates. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What organizations or institutions do you belong or contribute to? Types to consider include workplace, labor or professional organizations, religious institutions, community organizations, benevolent societies, and hobby- or avocation-focused groups. Look at where you spend your time or contribute your money.
  • What markets do you participate in? What types of enterprises might be tracking your purchases demographically?
  • What intellectual movements do you engage in? Look at your bookshelves, magazine rack, bookmarks or favorites menu.
  • Who claims you? What mailing lists are you on?
  • What cultural movements do you engage in? Look at which arts or cultural artifacts claim your attention. Don’t be embarassed to admit how much time you spend on mass or popular culture. Some very large metabeings are depending on you to provide feedback on which issues to consider, and which approaches to those issues are most viable. When I choose Brimstone or La Femme Nikita over Touched by an Angel, I’m providing that feedback.

Also consider your negative participation in metabeings (the “I-am-not-a-jock” or “I-hate-rap” phenomenon). Some people who dis-identify with a group spend more time and energy on it than the people who identify with it.

Once you recognize that you participate in a metabeing, you can characterize it in a variety of ways which help understand how and why dysfunctions can happen:

  • Scale: size, timeframe.
  • Dynamism of membership: what’s the turnover, how easy is it to start participating, how easy is it to stop participating?
  • Relevant descriptive and developmental models: Which of the models of the individual psyche are most applicable to the metabeing?
    • For a descriptive model: How are the different parts of the metabeing’s psyche constructed? What role(s) can an individual play in this model? What role(s) do you play?
    • For a developmental model: At what developmental stage is the metabeing? What does this imply about the kinds of relationships the metabeing can accommodate with individuals and with other metabeings?
    • Relevant metaphors: Which of Morgan’s metaphors are most applicable? What do these metaphors imply about your relationship with the metabeing?
  • Services the metabeing provides to you:
    • What concepts and ways of thinking does the metabeing give you, to enable you to understand the world?
    • What intangible goods does the metabeing produce, and how does it deliver them? How important are those intangible goods to you?  Do you have a clear idea of how to obtain those goods, and how reliable is the metabeing’s delivery?
  • How does the metabeing relate to other metabeings? Does it complement them or undermine them? For example, a subculture can emphasize some of the values of the dominant culture and ignore others, or it can denigrate them.
  • Manifestation: What impulses or goals does the metabeing seek to bring into being? Does it have a mission statement? If not, can you infer its mission(s) from its behavior? How well does it progress toward achieving its mission(s)? What kinds of energies must the metabeing direct in order to manifest?

You can also characterize your relationship to the metabeing in terms of the form and level of your participation:
Do you provide the metabeing with a human face? Are you a spokesperson or representative for it?
Do you channel energies or

4.2 Diagnostics

Here are some initial questions to help diagnose mismatches, dysfunctions, and injuries in the relationship between the individual and a metabeing:

  • Observe your reactions when you say “I am a ___” or “I am a member of ___” or “I am part of ___.” Do you feel proud, glad, enthusiastic? Do you feel indifferent or unenthusiastic (“Well, everybody has to be something” or “Yeah, yeah, so what else is new?”)? Do you feel wary of others’ judgment, unhappy, angry, cynical, trapped?
  • Do you find that obstacles frequently prevent you from participating (or participating as fully as you had expected) in metabeing activities? For example, do you miss meetings or arrive late? Do you not get around to reading the literature or exposing yourself to the art by which the metabeing’s thoughts and motives are transmitted? (In Lords of Light, Butler cites such behaviors with respect to an esoteric group as an indicator that the group-mind is trying to ease the individual out.)
  • What mechanisms does the metabeing use to raise group energy? (I find that outrage or anger directed at “The Other” is common and pernicious.) How do those mechanisms affect your personal energy? How do you feel after participating in a metabeing activity? Do you feel energized? or do you feel drained, disspirited or inadequate, depressed, or angry?
  • Do you feel stalled in your relationship with the metabeing – do you see no way to advance or grow?
  • Which organizational metaphor best describes the metabeing? What is your role in that metaphor? How comfortable are you in that role, and participating in the metabeing in light of that description?
  • Does the role the metabeing offers you appeal only to a part of your self? Will it be satisfied with that part, or will it demand that you suppress other parts of yourself?
  • To what extent can you influence the metabeing’s behavior? How comfortable are you with your level of influence? Do you frequently feel frustrated by the metabeing’s behavior, and uncomfortable that its actions can be attributed to you?

4.3 Healing

I’ll use the following general model of healing the psyche:

  • acknowledgement of injury;
  • activation of the intention to heal;
  • cessation or removal of the source of harm;
  • (re)connection with Higher Self, sources of grace, or a Higher Power;
  • acceptance of and saturation with grace;
  • redefinition of self-in-relation to the world, a metabeing, or another individual; and
  • manifestation of that redefined self-in-relation.

Healing can be blocked in any of these stages. A stage can be instantaneous or take a long period of time. In the case of injury due to participation in a metabeing, the “cease to do harm” stage usually involves a temporary withdrawal from participation. Depending on the circumstances, the withdrawal can be overt, or can take the form of apparent participation coupled with withdrawal of energy and identification.

What problems can arise when an individual seeks to heal an injury due to participation in a metabeing? Here are a few examples:

  • Withdrawal from participation in the metabeing entails “withdrawal” from addictions to the intangible goods the metabeing supplies.
  • Withdrawal in the form of apparent participation coupled with withdrawal of energy and identification is risky. It’s easy to fool oneself about one’s true level of participation. Partial withdrawl of energy usually carries with it the taking on of a failure role within the group.
  • Redefinition of one’s relationship to a metabeing entails acceptance of the metabeing (and the world) as they are, rather than as one wishes they were. Acceptance is an even bigger part of healing a relationship with a metabeing than with an individual. One can hope to change an individual through dialog, but dialog with a metabeing is often an illusion; the metabeing is simply off the scale of the individual. It’s important to be wary of another dysfunctional pattern: identifying the metabeing with an individual in the metabeing, in order to deny the scale problem.

4.4 Redefining Modes of Participation

Most of the literature, whether esoteric or in psychology, philosophy, or the social sciences, focuses on how an individual at the traditional order of consciousness relates to (specific kinds of) metabeings. The esoteric literature also explores the relationships between an individual, in the process of achieving modern (or, to a lesser extent, postmodern) consciousness, and esoteric orders or groups. In this section, I sketch some ideas on how an individual at the modern and postmodern orders of consciousness might relate to metabeings. In either case, the kind of identification with a metabeing that an individual at the traditional order of consciousness has, remains an option. However, it is an option that the individual exercises consciously and can drop when circumstances merit.

4.4.1 Modern Consciousness and Metabeings

In Kegan’s model, an individual at the modern order of consciousness assumes narrative authority over the story of their life. The individual mediates among the demands and desires of the various metabeings in which they participate, such as family, profession, workgroup, society, and culture. In narrative terms, the individual defines their role in various organizations or institutions, e.g., employer, division or department if the employer is large enough to be so organized, professional organization, ad-hoc teams related to the profession (e.g., the organizing committee for a conference), church, political organizations, and voluntary organizations related to the arts.

Another way of saying this is that the individual chooses the form and modulates the degree of participation in each metabeing. The individual “chooses” rather than “constructs”, since the form of participation must be one that the metabeing can recognize and use. For example, while I might participate in and identify with my country, I can  choose to limit the forms of my emotional participation: I will be proud when the nation works toward or achieves goals I share, I will be ashamed when it takes actions I view as discreditable, but I will not be outraged when someone says something negative about it. The individual “modulates” the degree of participation, within limits inherent in the form. For example, I can modulate the number of hours I work each week, but if I consistently work 0 hours, I cease to participate in my workplace.

The individual’s narrative authority over their life in the context of a metabeing is similar to that of a writer in a shared universe: constrained by conventions and history, able to use those conventions and history as background for their narrative, but with considerable creative freedom. Thus, the modern individual becomes a co-author, with the metabeing and with the other individuals who participate in the metabeing, of both the stories of the metabeing and of the individual-as-participant. Note that conflicts can arise between the modern individual and traditional participants in the metabeing, who typically perceive the modern individual’s sense of responsibility – for his/her personal narrative and for his/her contributions to the metabeing’s narrative – as an attempt to seize power or as an attempt to “be as gods”. The modern individual appears to lack the humility that is seen as proper in a human.

The modern individual, by sharing their energies among metabeings with similar goals (e.g., professional field, employer), provides a channel for communications and synergy among those metabeings. Thus, for example, the employer benefits from the individual’s participation in a professional organization. Metabeings at the modern order of consciousness both appreciate and expect the individual to act as a conduit; metabeings at the traditional order typically both resent and accept the benefits of the individual’s participation in multiple metabeings.

4.4.2 Postmodern Consciousness and Metabeings

Kegan’s characterization of postmodern (or fifth-order) consciousness is less detailed than of earlier orders of consciousness. He distinguishes between reactive postmodernism (the “differentiate” phase in Wilber’s three-phase model of growth) and constructive postmodernism (the “transcend and include” phase in Wilber). In this section, I ignore the reactive phase and use the term postmodernism to mean constructive postmodernism.

(I do not mean to downplay the reactive phase. By entering into it, the individual risks becoming cynical about the intangible goods which are the most obvious service metabeings provide. At a minimum, the individual will disrupt their relationships with metabeings. However, I believe the most important task in the reactive phase is to get through it. Thus, I do not want to dwell on possible relationships between metabeings and reactive-postmodern individuals. I view those relationships as inherently unstable and the stabilizing of the reactive phase as undesirable.)

The postmodern conception of self includes trans-ideological or post-ideological cognitive constructs: Rather than seeking to construct the “one true story” that encompasses all relevant facts, the postmodern mind maintains multiple stories and selects among them based on utility and beauty. The postmodern conception of self-in-relationship includes a recognition that the self, like the other, is a complex system, and that interactions can occur between subsystems as well, between the two systems, or within a larger system that includes self and other as subsystems. Kegan identifies some questions to help distinguish between how modern and postmodern consciousness construe relationships:

“(1) Do we see the self-as-system as complete and whole or do we see the self-as-system as incomplete, only a partial construction of all that the self is? (2) Do we identify with the self-as-form (which self then interacts with other selves-as-forms) or do we identify with the process of form creation (which brings forms into being and subtends their relationship? Another way of putting this second question is: Do we take as prior the elements of a relationship (which then enter into the relationship) or the relationship itself (which creates its elements)?”

The postmodern conceptions of self and of self-in-relationship enable the individual to perceive metabeings as essentially similar to oneself. Each is an internally complex, incomplete, and open system. (I use the phrase “open system” here to evoke both physics and computer science. In physics, the open system receives energy from outside the system, and thus can evolve greater internal complexity; the closed system is subject to entropy. In computer science, an open system is one which can be modified or extended by anyone who understands its interfaces.) From a Tree-of-Life perspective, each is a manifestation of a Higher Self.

Postmodern consciousness allows the individual to make a conscious (and artful) choice of metaphors and descriptions. Thus, the postmodern individual can construe relationships with metabeings (as with other individuals) with more freedom and subtlety.

The postmodern individual has several new options for relating to metabeings.

  • Symbiosis. The individual’s participation in a metabeing can be mutually beneficial, even if the individual does not identify with the metabeing.
  • Opportunism. Consider the image of a little fish swimming near a whale. The individual is off the scale of the metabeing’s consciousness. But by being aware of the metabeing, the individual can take advantage of the metabeing’s behavior to get further, faster, and more safely. (For example, “I joined the Navy to learn electronics.”)
  • Outsourcing. We can all perceive problems on a larger scale than can be addressed on an individual’s scale. There are a number of common dysfunctional responses, including misdirection (declaring something tractable to be a major issue and pouring energy into it), nihilism, fatalistic resignation, and inept sympathetic magic. The postmodern individual, having accepted personal finiteness, can choose to assign the responsibility for working on a given problem to a metabeing. The individual can then choose how to participate in that metabeing so as to make its progress on the problem more likely, and its results closer to how the individual wants them to come out.
  • Collegiality. The individual can perceive some metabeings and other individuals as forming a community, drawn together by mutual interests. All are colleagues in that community; all share the group project and seek ways to contribute to it. That is, all serve the cause of manifesting some higher impulse. Clearly, some colleagues are more senior, bigger, more committed, or have been around longer than others. But behavioral motifs for collegiality (including behaviors that demonstrate mutual respect and concern for one another’s well-being) can be applied, even when some of the colleagues are metabeings rather than individuals.
  • Compassion. Collegiality is frequently impossible: many metabeings are not sufficiently well developed to accept individuals as colleagues. However, it is possible to observe a metabeing, deduce the kinds of higher impulses it seeks to manifest, and identify ways in which its nature – its current manifestation and the most likely ways it will develop – impedes or interferes with those goals. Insofar as its nature makes it an inadequate vehicle for manifestation, the metabeing is very much like the individual: our reach exceeds our grasp, we can imagine more (or better) than we can actually accomplish, we suffer from our inadequacy. By taking this perspective, the individual can experience compassion for metabeings, extending the Buddhist definition of “all sentient beings”.

In my experience, collegiality and compassion are the hardest but most spiritually rewarding relationships to bring off. Each relies on one’s awareness of and identification with one’s Higher Self. Collegiality also relies on accepting the role one’s Higher Self has assumed with respect to manifesting some higher impulse. Each requires acknowledging that one’s life, like the existence of one’s metabeing colleagues, is at the service of impersonal higher forces.

5. Conclusion

I’d like to close with three general observations:

  • To practicioners of the psychological and social sciences: The Western Esoteric Tradition provides a unifying perspective on metabeings that is lacking in psychology and the social sciences. We can use that perspective to develop a deeper understanding of what different kinds of metabeings have in common, how they differ, and how they relate to us as developing individuals.
  • To followers of the Western Esoteric Tradition: The Tradition has much to learn from the social sciences, particularly in terms of the creation and evolution of groups. Esoteric groups and organizations should investigate how well-developed techniques and models of organizational behavior and group dynamics can be adapted to serve the Tradition.
  • To the individual seeking psychological or spiritual development: Whether we frame our questions in the terminology of the Tradition or iof the social sciences, we must reflect on and redefine our relationships with metabeings as part of our developmental process.


[1] This document was originally prepared for presentation at a group studying the Western Esoteric Tradition. I assume that the reader has some understanding of the Tradition. If not, here’s a little background:

The Western Esoteric or Mystery Tradition is a body of esoteric teaching, thought, and practice. To the Tradition is often attributed the goal of facilitating the evolution of consciousness. The consciousness to be evolved can be that of an individual, a group, or the human race as a whole. The Tradition is embedded in Western culture, although some Eastern influences can be found. It is promulgated by many Western occult orders, most notably those that trace their history to the Order of the Golden Dawn. Until recently, little could be found in print, so the occult orders were the means by which the teachings were passed on. The Western Mystery Tradition is also known as the Hermetic tradition, or Hermeticism.

The teachings are presented via systems of symbols, each with an associated cosmology. The systems of symbols are mapped to one another. Differences in the interpretation of a given system, or in the way two systems are mapped, are common. The symbol systems that are commonly viewed as part of the Western Mystery Tradition are Qabalah, astrology, alchemy, and the Tarot. For purposes of this document, I assume familiarity with the model of consciousness and cosmology described by the Qabalistic Tree of Life.

For further information, see the works of Greer, Butler, Fortune, Gray, and Knight mentioned above, or:
Caitlin and John Matthews, The Western Way: A Practical Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition, Volume 2: The Hermetic Tradition.
Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn.
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[2] While the paths between spheres on the Tree of Life are mapped to the Major Arcana, the Tarot model of development is of the Fool’s Journey: The images of the Major Arcana are thus visited in reverse order from the serpent’s route; each is visited once; and the image of the Fool is both beginning and end, so that the Major Arcana form a cycle. Thus, it seems advisable to treat the Major Arcana and the ascent of the Tree as distinct models of spiritual development. For a presentation that integrates Tarot, the Tree of Life, and alchemy from a Jungian perspective, see Dr. Irene Gad, Tarot and Individualation: Correspondences with Cabala and Alchemy.
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[3] “Channeling” roughly means “acting as a communications or energy transmission medium for a disincarnate entity”. In terms of the Tree of Life, a disincarnate entity is one  that does not have a manifestation in Malkuth. It can be personifiable, in which case channeling means acting as a communications medium: an individual speaks, writes, or creates an artistic expression for the entity’s thoughts or emotions. See Jon Klimo’s Channeling: Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources for a detailed survey of this phenomenon. The disincarnate entity can be an impersonal force, in which case channeling means directing and transmitting energies. See Chip Brown’s Afterwards, You’re a Genius for descriptions of channeling healing energies.

Channeling is distinguished from acting on the entity’s behalf, in that the individual does not claim personal ownership for the ideas, emotions, or energies. Thus, we can speak of an individual channeling a metabeing, and distinguish this from the individual speaking on the metabeing’s behalf. In the case of channeling, the individual may actually disagree with the message. We can also speak of an individual serving as a channel for the metabeing’s energies.

Channeling energies, whether they are attributable to a metabeing, divinity, or an impersonal universe, typically induces changes in the individual. The most predictable change is habituation: the more one channels a given type of energy, the more likely it is one will be able to channel that energy in the future, and the easier the channeling will be. (This observation underlies the practice of metta meditation; see Sharon Salzberg’s Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.)

Channeling energies or information can cause the individual’s worldview to change to account for experiences related to channeling. Channeling can induce changes in the individual’s emotional state and psychological stability. The risks of ego inflation, mood swings, and psychological destabilization are well recognized.