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. 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, living creatures capable of speech and mimicry yet stunted in creativity.
Spirits shape the Fade into various realms that cater to the unconscious desires of the living. Whether benevolent or malevolent, most spirits cannot help but mine a Fade visitor's mind for their thoughts and memories. They might then use these to shape the visitor's perceptions and trick them into thinking their dreams are reality.
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 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.
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 form of their choosing- most likely it will choose a form that will aid them in fulfilling its purpose. 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. 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.
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.
- “Spirits wish to join the living, and a demon is that wish gone wrong.” ―Solas
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.
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). The Mortalitasi of Nevarra draw wisps rather than intelligent spirits across the Veil. 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 memories and personalities of those long gone. They substantiate the popular belief in ghosts who became lost on their way to the Maker's side, even as it is against the Chantry teachings. Known examples include Katriel, Eleni Zinovia, Claudio Valisti, Cole, Telana and Justinia V among the 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.
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 cousel, assisting in battle, protecting holds from threats and dangerous people, and even helping train mages via voluntary, but temporary, possession.
Though this is not considered common, spirits may also respond to calls and offerings from non-mage Avvar. 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.
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 guides the spirits into possessing the corpses and handles these necromancy rituals. The Mortalitasi however, draw wisps rather than intelligent spirits across the Veil in order to possess their corpses.
Notable benevolent spirits
- Contrary to popular belief, David Gaider never said that spirits and demons are fundamentally different.
- 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.