Metabeings and Individuals: Aids and Obstacles to Growth
by Deb Bodeau
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.
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; 
) 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:
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.
What insights does the Tradition provide on how metabeings function and
How closely do the theories and observations of social and psychological
disciplines track these insights? (Note the observation of Erik Davis in
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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:
Other models of individual development can also be translated into models
of metabeing development, notably Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
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,
Wilber describes a three-phase process of moving from one stage of
consciousness to the next: undifferentiated, differentiated, and transcendent/integrated.
Wilber uses the term "holarchy" to refer to a hierarchy in which the higher
entity includes the lower. Thus, his model (like Kegan's) can be described
as a developmental holarchy.
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
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.,
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,
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.
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
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.
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
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.
On the other hand, consider Gurdjieff's image of the everyday person's
psyche as a collection of automata. Behavior that the individual claims
as conscious and deliberate is simply the effect of one of the automata
reacting to stimuli as programmed. The individual justifies this automatic
behavior after the fact to preserve a flattering self-description of free
will. In this image, the individual is one of the metabeing's automata.
2.1.4 Developmental Models
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
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
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?
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
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:
From Dion Fortune, Esoteric Orders and Their Work, The Aquarian
Press, London, U.K., 1987:
"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)
Butler's quote about subconscious minds linking together should ring
bells for people who do family systems theory. In particular, it points
up the potential for dysfunctional elements of one person's subconscious
mind to link up with dysfunctional parts of another person's subconscious
mind to create patterns that no one would have consciously chosen. Hence
heightened importance of group etiquette and healthy group process
rules when a metabeing is constructed deliberately. Greer discusses this
in more detail.
[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)
Behavior is learned, but the question is who learned it and where
the learned information is stored. To the extent that the learning happened
through evolution (by the relative success and failure of many individuals)
and is stored in common repositories like DNA or the archetypes or the
culture or social institutions, that learning belongs to the group, and
the individual's behavior comes from the group soul.
From William G. Gray, Inner Traditions of Magic, Samuel Weiser,
Inc., York Beach, 1970, 1984:
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)
Note the idea that a metabeing can reincarnate. Note also the idea that
metabeings can form communities of interest and work together. Thus, the
idea (common to many beliefs about reincarnation) that individual souls
can choose to incarnate at roughly the same time to work out some problem
or play out some scenario can be extended to metabeings.
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."
This observation is related to the metaphor of the ping-pong ball and
the warped floor, described below. The ordinary
individual participates in the bounces of the ball, while the initiate
begins to perceive the floor, and to tries to influence which low spot
the ball winds up in.
"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."
From Gareth Knight, A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism, Samuel
Weiser, Inc., York Beach, ME, 1965, 1993:
"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."
"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)
This idea is presented dramatically in Tony Kushner's Angels in America.
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.
Knight's idea of talismanic action corresponds to the idea of morphogenetic
fields, as described in Rupert Sheldrake's A New Science of Life.
"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.
"The latter factor still provides many bones of contention, for the
keeping of the blood of a race pure is a very ancient instinct which arose
in the early days, when the authority of certain tribes, families, and
races was building up, and its aim then was to forward evolution. From
an esoteric standpoint, the blood was kept pure to increase the strength
of its contact with the Oversoul of the race." (p. I-154, pgr. 13-14)
This purity-of-blood comment evokes the Wilber/Kegan point of a society
or culture being optimized for a specific order of consciousness. Purity
of blood was an important concept of one developmental phase but is a hindrance
to higher development.
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
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.
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.  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
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  , 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)
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
In terms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we can observe that the very
existence of the higher-order needs, which can only be satisfied by the
intangible goods of a metabeing (belonging, for example), constitutes species-level
programming of individuals to form and join metabeings.
The intangible goods offered by a metabeing intended to facilitate
individual development can help the individual sustain motivation in the
absence of evidence of progress. The individual may not be able, at their
current stage, to perceive that they're making progress; the intangible
goods provide a stand-in. Grades provide an example of intangible goods
sustaining continued effort: An engineering student who completes his first
term has no more bridge-designing abilities than he had when he entered
school, but the A he got in calculus sustains his self-esteem.
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
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
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.
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
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"
3.3.2 Channeling and Playing
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
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
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).
One way to describe metabeing depression is in terms of flow (see Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience). The
metabeing, like the individual, has optimized its psyche for a certain
set of environmental conditions, which can be described as ranges of challenge
and support. When the environment does not fall in those ranges, the energy
flows are disrupted, and one manifestation of disrupted energy flow is
depression. The metabeing can remedy this situation by returning to an
environment in its optimal ranges or by adapting, i.e., developing new
Two problems can easily be seen for individuals participating in a
depressed metabeing. First, the depression can be transmitted to individuals.
The disruption in the metabeing's psychic energy flow can impair the metabeing's
ability to create and deliver intangible goods, and to maintain an ongoing
story. To the extent that the individual relies on the system of intangible
goods for personal motivation and on the metabeing's story for a sense
of purpose, the individual's psychic energy flow will be disrupted.
The second problem can arise from the metabeing breaking out of its
depression. An individual can break out of a depressed state (at least
temporarily) if a crisis occurs. Anger and fear redirect energy into different
channels, so that more energy seems available. A metabeing can use a similar
strategy, manufacturing (or not preventing) a crisis. The crisis raises
energy, in individual participants and in the metabeing; it frees energy
from sinks or low spots in the metabeing psyche. The crisis justifies and
thus enables the destruction of old psychic structures or habits, and the
development of new ones. Unfortunately, the metabeing, in allowing and
responding to the crisis, can destroy or disrupt the lives of many individuals,
whether or not they participate in it. As noted earlier, I don't believe
we need to attribute this to malice; it's more likely indifference or selfishness
on the metabeing's part. It is interesting to consider the four-generation
pattern (adaptive, idealist, reactive, civic) identified by Strauss and
Howe in Generations in light of this description.
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
The harm to the lives of the participants is unintentional and frequently
regretted by the metabeing. I view this situation as analogous to the destruction
of my bone marrow by high-dose chemotherapy: There was nothing wrong with
those cells; their destruction was an unfortunate side-effect of a treatment
intended to wipe out cancer from my body.
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.
It can be illuminating (and sometimes overwhelming) to take a census of
the metabeings in which one participates. Here are some questions to get
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.
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
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.
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
You can also characterize your relationship to the metabeing in terms of
the form and level of your participation:
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
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
Do you provide the metabeing with a human face? Are you a spokesperson
or representative for it?
Do you channel energies or
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?
I'll use the following general model of healing the psyche:
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.
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
manifestation of that redefined self-in-relation.
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.
Redefinition also involves forgiveness: of the impulses or Higher Self
manifested by the metabeing for the flaws or harmful aspects of their manifestation,
and of oneself for having been "taken in". This is at odds with one's needs
to self-justify, to defend one's personal narrative.
4.4 Redefining Modes of
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
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.
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
"(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
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.
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.
Symbiosis. The individual's participation in a metabeing can be
mutually beneficial, even if the individual does not identify with the
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
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".
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
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.
 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.
Return to text.
 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
 "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
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
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
The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.)
Channeling energies or informamation 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.
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