A spirit is a natural inhabitant of the Fade.
Nature of spirits
According to the Chantry, the spirits of the Fade are the first children of the Maker. He turned his back on them because they lacked a soul – they could twist the Fade to their liking, but lacked the ability to imagine and create, and thus emulate their creator. The Maker created a new realm, separated from the Fade by the Veil, and this realm would be one that his new children could not alter at will. These new children had the spark of the divine within them, and the Maker was pleased. Supposedly, ever since the Maker created His new children, the spirits from the Fade have watched humanity with curiosity and, in the case of the more malicious spirits, envy and desire.
The malicious ones among the Maker's first children were jealous. They called out to the mortals, drawing their sleeping minds across the Veil and saw the land that the Maker had created for them in their dreams. They coveted the spark within them, but did not understand it. They shape the Fade to create the land that they see in the minds of men, and seek to draw the spark from them without truly understanding where it might actually come from.
All the denizens of the realm beyond the Veil are spirits. Their very bodies are formed from the ether. Spirits are not physical entities and are therefore not restricted to recognizable forms (or even having a form at all), one can never tell for certain what is alive and what is merely part of the scenery. (It is therefore advisable for the inexperienced researcher to greet all objects he encounters.) They are intelligent creatures capable of speech.
It is said that spirits lack imagination and creativity; everything they make is based off something made by mortals. Whether benevolent or malevolent, most spirits cannot help but mine a Fade visitor's mind for their thoughts and memories. They then mimic the pieces of life they see by shaping the Fade into various realms that cater to the unconscious desires of the living, providing experiences to the sleeping that become their "dreams." Because of this lack of creativity, and the fact that spirits don't really understand the things they create, their creations tend to feel wrong to observers from the mortal world: One man describes it as translating a passage into a different language, then getting drunk and trying to translate it back. Spirits range in power from those who rule the dream realms to minor spirits that have little influence over the ether.
A spirit cannot comprehend a world that is static and immutable and is not familiar with the concept of time. It cannot comprehend what it means to be within a body of flesh yet for some unknown reason, some spirits crave to join the living. Some spirits cross the Veil because they desire to experience life, either to indulge in an aspect of psyche or to fulfill a purpose they embody. Usually spirits or demons can only cross over the Fade by attaching themselves to something in the mortal world. This is known as possession. Some spirits, however, may be drawn to the mortal world and made manifest against their will. They will be driven mad by shock or even be made terrified by the waking world, resulting in them becoming unintentionally violent or turned into demons once they have crossed the Veil. Spirits deliberately crossing the Veil without coercion had to develop the will and personality to do so, allowing them to maintain their form and nature. In areas where the Veil is thin, spirits engrossed by a particular event may endeavor to preserve the "feeling" of the area by preserving some or all of the area itself. This close presence of spirits scare away the vermin and plants that would erode such an area.
Spirits are not complex in the sense that they seize upon a single facet of human experience, and this one idea becomes their identity. They are formed as a reflection of the real world and its passions. A spirit embodies and latches onto a specific purpose and will do all in its power to fulfill that purpose. For instance, a hunger demon will attempt to feed on anything it crosses, and a spirit of justice will stop at nothing to uphold its name. Spirits however, don't remember much − a side effect of their ability to make themselves forget or "wash clean" unsettling facts which they cannot reconcile with their nature. While this routine keeps them pure, it also keeps them from learning, from growing. So all their acts to uphold their idea are mostly done in the simplest ways. Nevertheless, it is not unheard of for spirits to evolve and become more "human" by coming to terms with grief, heal from being emotionally hurt, and thus be able to learn from what they endured. By coming to terms with grief, a spirit is able to grow as a person and not "wash clean" like a spirit. Despite the world exerting an influence on spirits, spirits have the free will to choose its own character. Should the spirit grow enough, it is also possible for a spirit to become indistinguishable from a real person.
Relevance is paramount to a spirit. Spirits whose realms are flocked with visitors rise to rule great portions of the Fade, while memories and concepts forgotten in the real world slowly drift away back into the ether, the spirits who ruled them losing all potency. A spirit won't even recall the feeling it embodies once the latter was forgotten in the waking world. As Rhys puts it in a dialogue with Cole, "being important makes you real".
When a spirit dies its energy returns to the Fade. If the idea giving the spirit form is strong, or if its memory has shaped other spirits, something similar may reform one day, but it might have a different personality with no memory of the past.
Since spirits are beings of pure magic, they have supernatural abilities both inside and outside the Fade. In the Fade, they can take the guise of people from the dreamer's memory. Those who have the will to cross over to the physical realm and not rely on possession could also assume a solid form. Most likely it will choose a form that will aid them in fulfilling its purpose but it's also speculated a spirit may take the form of a deceased person (but altered in that it takes the ideal form that the deceased person wished for but could not become in life). Outside of the Fade, the form they take is indistinguishable from that it was imitated from. A spirit taking the form of a human body for example, is biologically indistinguishable from a human body born in Thedas.
Spirits have the ability to read other people's emotions and thoughts. These abilities draws them to certain people who need their help. Since spirits originate from a realm with a physicality derived from emotion, memory, and magic; so too do spirits have supernatural abilities to adapt in such a realm. For example, spirits have an innate expertise in certain fields such as combat or magic. Some spirits also have the ability to make people forget about them and not be noticed, as well as make themselves forget unsettling thoughts and feelings mortals had about them. According to Cole, this is a defense mechanism of spirits meant to protect all parties. Mortals wouldn't remember or see spirits and so would not attack them out of fear or anger, and spirits would not dwell on the opinions and feelings that mortals would have about them. This routine amnesia keeps the spirits pure but stifles any learning or growing as a person; and thus prevents any complex problem-solving.
In combat, spirits tend to be aggressive and unimaginative. Solas tells Blackwall that if a person focuses on defending themselves for about 30 seconds, they will probably see the entire range of attacks a spirit will use, and can easily find a way to defeat their tactics.
So long as the spirit remembers the Fade, spirits are able to retain some of their supernatural abilities even when they are in the world of Thedas. However, a spirit may lose or weaken its supernatural abilities (e.g., making people forget them) if it changes itself to become more of a "real person". For instance, a spirit that stops making itself forget unsettling facts and not "wash clean" becomes more real and thus is unable to make real people forget it. At best, a more real spirit can make people miss it for a few heartbeats and they will have to endure the distress of people's thoughts and opinions about it "sticking". On the other hand, those evolved understand more, can remember more things and thus learn about complex concepts or nuances. They may still sense the feelings of others − i.e., flashes of their minds, pain, hurts, ect. However, it's not as "loud" to them as before; and because a more real spirit is emitting new feelings as well, it may be less sensitive to the loudness of others unless it makes a conscious effort. The spirit's innate expertise remains since it comes from their mind and will remain as long as it remembers some of the Fade.
Spirits embodying virtues may be considered benevolent (or at least not malevolent). Such spirits characteristically do not wish to cross the Veil. They consider the waking world a "dismal place" and pity mortals who are trapped there, beyond their reach and beyond help. They may comfort visitors of the Fade by dreams that strengthen the soul, or visions that promote epiphanies.
There are five widely known types of benevolent spirits: Compassion, Valor, Justice, Faith and Hope., which range in power from the relatively weak spirits of compassion to the strongest spirits of faith and hope. Spirit healers maintain close relationships with spirits of compassion. Spirits of Hope rarely appear in the waking world since little there attracts them. Two more rarely encountered types of spirits are Wisdom and Purpose.
- Main article: Demon
Demon is one name for the malevolent spirits from the Fade that embody negative emotions like rage or fear. Demons envy the living, desire life and lust to cross the Veil. In the Fade, they draw sustenance from memories of the dreaming. Often destructive, they can abuse the minds of dreaming mortals, possess living or dead creatures (generally preferring living mages – see abomination), or even animate rubble or suits of armor.
According to Solas, a more accurate distinction is "aggressive" and "non-aggressive" spirits. The classification of "malevolent" versus "benevolent" oversimplifies or overlooks the role that the mortal has to play in the spirit's demeanor. Depending on whom the spirit encounters, Wisdom and Purpose can be easily twisted into manifestations of Pride and Desire, but if the mortal is free of corrupting influences, the spirits will be very friendly.
There are numerous ways for a spirit to become a demon:
- The spirit can already embody something mortals would perceive as a vice or an ambiguous concept. (Ex: Torpor, Choice)
- The spirit can reflect or imitate human perversions of a virtue, or possess a mortal with distorted values. (Ex: Allure, Vengeance)
- The spirit can oversimplify the application or fulfillment of its virtue. (Ex: Compassion)
- The spirit gains ego, ambition, longing, or a thirst for power. (Ex: Nightmare)
- The spirit can be driven insane by outside forces, particularly manifesting into the real world prematurely or against its will. (Ex: Rift demons)
- The spirit can be denied its original purpose, particularly through blood magic binding (Ex: Wisdom).
These are by no means the only methods that a spirit can transform into a demon, but are the methods which are confirmed or demonstrated within canon.
Imshael, one of the Forbidden Ones, insists on being called a "spirit of choice" and does seem to feed off mortals making difficult choices. However, Michel de Chevin identifies Imshael as an extremely powerful desire demon.
Wisps and wraiths
Not all spirits represent a distinct virtue or vice. The weakest spirits, wisps, are shimmering orbs of light too simple and impressionable to be good or evil. In some cases they appear to be benign, aiding mages who summon them in the mortal realm (by distracting foes or boosting spellpower) or in the Fade (as guides). Drawing wisps across the Veil is a practice of the Mortalitasi of Nevarra and other necromancers. Wisp wraiths, however, are known to attack anything in sight, and wraiths are scavengers of beings feeding on scraps of thought and unable to shape the Fade.
Some spirits retain the memories and personalities of those long gone. They substantiate the popular belief in ghosts as entities who became lost on their way to the Maker's side, even though it is against Chantry teachings. Known examples include Katriel, Claudio Valisti, Cole, Telana and Justinia V among others.
Spirits in other cultures
Dalish mages do not use any magic involving spirits, as they believe all spirits are dangerous. In party banter with Anders, Merrill states that the Dalish believe "there's no such thing as a good spirit". Spirits cannot be broken down into clear-cut categories and differ from each other, just as people do. Furthermore, according to Felassan the Dalish do not think of demons as evil, but as wild animals, dangerous if treated carelessly.
Conversely, the Avvar revere the spirits as "gods" and interact with them much more than the rest of cultures of Thedas, though only each hold's Augur has a direct link with the spirits. Avvar and spirits communicate regularly, through their Augurs, altars, offerings, and sometimes even direct contact. Spirits usually tend to assist Avvar in many tasks, such as providing counsel, assisting in battle, protecting holds from threats and dangerous people, and even helping train mages via voluntary, but temporary, possession.
Spirits may also respond to calls and offerings from non-mage Avvar., though this is not considered common. Likewise, many will become attracted to the clan's warriors during ritual combat and will provide them aid during combat, quicker reflexes, etc., not unlike Spirit Warriors or even the spirit friends of the clan's mages.
In the Tevinter Imperium, mages bind spirits and use them as servants. Tevinter mages popularized binding multiple spirits or demons to a single object. "Spellbinders," as they call themselves, bind many simple spirits, usually to books or other easily compartmentalized objects set with runes. Although the power contained in these objects is difficult to focus, the diffused magic can easily distribute energy across a broad area, augmenting the mage's allies. The spellbinders insist that no individual spirit is capable of breaking their bindings, and that the spirits cannot cooperate well enough to effect an escape together. Furthermore, they maintain that because the bindings are all tied to the spellbinder personally, there is no risk of these enchanted books falling into the wrong hands.
Nevarrans have a unique relationship with magic and death. They believe that when a dead soul crosses the Fade it displaces a Fade spirit. In order to provide safe hosts for such spirits, they mummify the corpses of their dead and place them in elaborate crypts in the Grand Necropolis for the spirits to possess. The Mortalitasi guide the spirits into possessing the corpses and handle these necromancy rituals.
Notable benevolent spirits
- Audric Felhausen – a Spirit of Curiosity
- Archivist – a Spirit of Knowledge
- Cole – a Spirit of Compassion
- The Hissing Wastes Chanter – possibly a Spirit of Hope
- The Horned Knight – possibly a Spirit of Purpose
- The Grand Oak – possibly a Spirit of Learning
- The Lady of the Forest – possibly a Spirit of Love
- Spirit of Command
- Spirit of Faith
- Spirit of Justice
- Spirit of Perseverance
- Spirit of Valor
- Spirit of Wisdom
- Codex entry: Beyond the Veil: Spirits and Demons
- Codex entry: The Maker's First Children
- Codex entry: Spirits and Demons
- Codex entry: Spirit of Wisdom
- Codex entry: Walking the Fade: Frozen Moments
- In Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening, Justice claimed that his lyrium ring, a gift from the Warden-Commander, has a beautiful song which he wishes his spirit brethren were able to hear. Justice's unique ability to equip the ring also implies that spirits are resistant to lyrium's toxic effects.