For reasons that initially had very little to do with school education, I’m reading John Michael Greer‘s Inside a Magical Lodge. Greer’s book is published by Llewellyn Books, which usually publishes things about Tarot, Hermetic magic, Wicca, Druidism and other texts that most public schools would likely regard with some suspicion if they turned up in a student bookbag or locker, much less in a teacher’s bag or desk. Greer himself is an archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America.
One of the concepts Greer introduced me to was the concept of the egregor (or egregore), which is the essential spirit of a lodge or magical working group. Greer likens these spirits or geniuses (or muses) to the sudden emotional change that can sweep through a crowd that turns them into a mob. In fraternal organizations like the Freemasons and The Oddfellows and the Grange, the egregor is made up of the thoughts, actions, and individual patterns and habits of behavior of the members — but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
What does this have to do with education? Well, in Ira Socol’s piece at Change.org today, he argues (rather successfully) that the structure of modern schools was deliberately designed to separate an elite group from the lower-paid masses. The goal was to provide every advantage for the children of the existing elites (through private schools), to find the best candidates from the vast majority of students who will be good-quality intermediate and high-level managers, and the ‘unwashed masses’. He argues that the system is what needs to be changed, not the people in it.
And Greer’s point about Egregors suddenly comes into sudden relief. Greer argues that when you connect an initiate of a fraternal lodge with the lodge symbology, you’re bringing them into direct contact with the subtle, spiritual energy of the lodge’s guiding spirit. But there’s a risk when you’re forming a new magical organization — because the old spirits are out there, and they want to have a group of people to connect with magically on this side of “the veil” that separates their world from ours. If your magical group connects with a spirit that does bad things, or at least doesn’t connect well with your your group’s intent… well, Greer says, you have to stop using the symbols that call that spirit, and probably even formally banish that spirit from being involved in your group.
Thanks to Harry Potter, we can sort of imagine what Greer is talking about even if we have no idea how magic is supposed to work.
But let’s consider our schools as magical organizations for a moment. The state or national education department is perhaps the Grand Lodge, that maintains standards and hands out warrants to the individual schools. The local superintendant or principal or head of school is the Master of the local lodge, and the teachers and students are members at various levels or degrees of initiation.
But all the schools are using the same symbols. They’re all using the same symbol-set, and so they’re all seeking and using energy from the same symbolic framework — and they’re all charging the same energetic group of spirits/geniuses/muses. For my part, I can see that the egregor of a group like WildFire, where I learned to firespin, or the egregor of the Live Free or Die Tattoo Convention that left this hotel yesterday, are much different from the egregor of my own school, and both are different from the egregor of my college or both of my graduate schools.
So let me ask…. if we were to anthropomorphize our school system, and describe it as a spirit or a god or goddess or an angel or something like the overarching Force from Star Wars, what characteristics would we assign to it? What virtues, powers, and capabilities would it possess? What symbolic tools invoke its presence? What would be its character flaws?
And is it something that we want running our lives, and the lives of our children? And if not… how do we banish it?