I have written on this topic before (the challenge of creating and sustaining a supportive and bought-in audience) in the articles:
And today I want to take another look at this given the outcry on the Internet at where the big studios are taking some of the fans’ beloved franchises (or where some have already misstepped).
And it all comes down to the archaic concept of egregores.
What Are Egregores?
I was first introduced to this term in the book “Egregores: The Occult Entities That Watch Over Human Destiny” (details below) which outlines egregores as powerful, autonomous thoughtforms created by the collective beliefs and desires of a group of people.
About The Book
Egregores: The Occult Entities That Watch Over Human Destiny by Mark Stavish
The first book to explore the history and influence of egregores, powerful autonomous psychic entities created by a collective group mind: It examines the history of egregores from ancient times to the present day, including their role in Western Mystery traditions and popular culture and media; It reveals documented examples of egregores from ancient Greece and Rome, Tibetan Buddhism, Islam, modern esoteric orders, the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Grant, and the followers of Julius Evola and Aleister Crowley; and it provides instructions on how to identify egregores, free yourself from parasitic and destructive entities, and destroy an egregore, should the need arise.
One of the most important but little-known concepts of Western occultism is that of the egregore, an autonomous psychic entity created by a collective group mind. An egregore is sustained by belief, ritual, and sacrifice and relies upon the devotion of a group of people, from a small coven to an entire nation, for its existence. An egregore that receives enough sustenance can take on a life of its own, becoming an independent deity with powers its believers can use to further their spiritual advancement and material desires.
Presenting the first book devoted to the study of egregores, Mark Stavish examines the history of egregores from ancient times to the present day, with detailed and documented examples, and explores how they are created, sustained, directed, and destroyed. He explains how egregores were well known in the classical period of ancient Greece and Rome when they were consciously called into being to watch over city-states. He explores the egregore concept as it was understood in various Western Mystery traditions, including the Corpus Hermeticum, and offers further examples from Tibetan Buddhism, Islam, modern esoteric orders such as the Order of the Golden Dawn and Rosicrucianism, the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Grant, and the followers of Julius Evola and Aleister Crowley. The author discusses how, even as the fundamental principles of the egregore were forgotten, egregores continue to be formed, sometimes by accident.
Stavish provides instructions on how to identify egregores, free yourself from a parasitic and destructive collective entity, and destroy an egregore, should the need arise. Revealing how egregores form the foundation of nearly all human interactions, the author shows how egregores have moved into popular culture and media – underscoring the importance of intense selectivity in the information we accept and how we perceive the world and our place in it.
It’s an enlightening book and I would recommend reading it.
The Franchise Egregore
But the thread that resonated with me and this issue of the strength and sustainability of long-running franchises – or their fragility and demise on the flip side – is that of the franchise’s egregore.
When you think about it, anything that is long-running – such as Dr Who, the Marvel Universe, James Bond, DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, et al – has its own egregore. This mental thoughtform is created by the canon of material produced and, more specifically, the buy-in of the fans. This is the egregore and it is what some corporations create by design to sustain a brand over the long term.
I think there is also an element of ekstasis built into the equation here, and this is explored more in the book Stealing Fire, but this is the use of an emotional trigger to heighten the experience to allow the creation of the egregore more easily, though this is outside the scope of this article. You’d be surprised how deep down the psychology rabbit hole marketing can go!
The Irresistible Force Paradox Resolved
Imagine the egregore as an energetic sphere, a bit like a star in space, containing all the elements of the accepted franchise space. For years, a franchise can just keep going because it stays within this “sphere of influence.” Maybe it sometimes nudges at the edges or even occasionally strays outside the boundaries but, overall, everything is good and the corporate machine keeps getting the results it expects.
Then, along comes a separate egregore with a different agenda. One example of this is “the woke agenda” (the Internet’s term, not mine). Another might be the “exposés” that have surrounded some corporations/brands that suggest darker truths lie beneath their egregores.
The meeting of these two egregores reminds me of the irresistible force paradox.
The irresistible force paradox is a classic paradox formulated as “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” The immovable object and the unstoppable force are both implicitly assumed to be indestructible, or else the question would have a trivial resolution. Furthermore, it is assumed that they are two entities. The paradox arises because it rests on two incompatible premises—that there can exist simultaneously such things as unstoppable forces and immovable objects.
But this is what is happening when our two egregores meet – that of what is acceptable to the fan base who, ultimately, maintain the egregore of the franchise and that of what the “new guard” want to explore with their ideas. How long the battle ensues and how much collateral damage occurs depends on how immovable and indestructible the two egregores are.
As we have seen with Marvel, Star Trek, Dr Who, Star Wars and 007, the original egregore built and sustained by the fans ultimately wins out and the “new guard” egregore is left weakened.
Picard Season 3 was a return to the Trek the fans loved and wanted more of, yet Discovery was cancelled because it strayed too far afield. I liked the stories and writing in Discovery, but it did feel “outside” the realm of what we had come to expect from Trek.
Star Wars has come under criticism for going “too far” with certain ideas, and when we see a return to the original feel and form of the galaxy far far away, we get a return of the fans. The Mandalorian started well, though season 3 has been more meandering. Andor Season 1 was brilliant and felt like we were once again exploring this new world.
There has been an outcry over making 007 female. There’s no reason why a 007 agent can’t be female, but in the egregore of “James Bond 007,” this is outside the bubble. It’s more the concept for a different franchise and we’ve seen many movies and TV shows that explore female agents successfully.
Marvel Phase 4 strayed from the path and turned some characters into caricatures.
You get the idea. So what can we do?
Give the Fans What They Want?
Here’s the rub. The fans maintain the egregore, so the corporations entrusted with creating more stories within the universe to which it pertains will be successful if they keep within the realms of that egregore. They need to understand the fans.
When a comic explores these boundaries and doesn’t live up to the mark, it is quickly sidelined and the core egregore remains. However, when it comes to film and TV, the release frequency of material related to the egregore is much less frequent than in the comics world. The expectation and fervour (the emotional charge) among the audience are (is) much higher and, when the production fails to meet the expectations, the egregore can respond as if it’s a cobra in a corner being poked with a stick.
It doesn’t mean the shepherds (the corporations) can’t make changes and adapt to the times we live in, and it doesn’t mean they have to blindly follow the same old formulas. It still needs to feel fresh while still remaining grounded with the egregore. As the Dao suggests, we need to find the middle way and not swing too far left or right from the balance.
Or maybe we just need a return to good storytelling while remaining faithful to the backdrop of the universe we are in? More on that in Does the Modern Franchise Offer Panacea or Pain for the Moviegoer?
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.