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On the Aetiology of Spirits

Spirits go under many different titles: Angels, Demons, Elementals, Thought-Forms, Devas, Deities, Sprites, Familiars, Servitors, Tulpas, Dakinis, Elves, Spirit Guides, Channels, and Obsessions, to name but a few. Many of these beings are defined within their mythic belief-system or paradigm. What I would like to offer here are some general functional guidelines to defining Spirit entities.

General Remarks

I am myself, an adherent of the Interactionist Perspective on Spirits. The basic idea is that Spirits arise out of the interaction between a human agent and a dynamic system - this can range from programming Servitors whilst in a state of Gnosis, to encountering the Genius Loci of a forest whilst out backpacking. The core elements seem to be:

1. An Altered State of Consciousness

This can range from anything between a momentary suspension of thinking, to extreme stress, to the action of psychotropics.

2. Contextual Coherence

I use this term to examine the broad context within which the Human-Spirit interaction occurs. There does seem to be a link between the historical 'life' of a Spirit and the degree of seeming independence it manifests as possessing. We can, for example, identify short-life Spirits (such as Servitors) which are assembled from the identification of desire/purpose with a set of references such as a sigil, name, mantra and material base. Longer-life Spirits would be any entity identified within the context of a mythological belief system, or any entity associated with (either directly or tangentially) a particular locality or geographical feature. Deities who have been around for thousands of years often come across as 'old' compared with their operators, whilst the spirits of rock strata are truly ancient!

3. A Referential Framework for Interpretation

This relates to point 2, but focuses on the human ability to interpret an experience as one thing or another. The magician generally has a great advantage over mehums in that we have, through experience, evolved referential frameworks for interpreting Spirit interactions. Thus, when we deal with a Servitor for example, we 'know' what we are working with, and therefore contain the experience within a particular set of limitations. Expectations do play an important role in what we actually experience. A colleague of mine, when a UFO researcher, had several encounters with 'alien' phenomena. After shifting his frame of reference to encompass the "Earthlights" hypothesis, he reported that his experiences began to conform to that belief - he no longer saw 'aliens,' but instead, manifestations of Earth Lights.

What should also be considered in this regard is the anthromorphic tendency - an important factor in human-Spirit contacts is the degree of 'Personality' that spirits are allowed, or perceived, to have. Whilst some classes of Spirits are associated with a high degree of human personality traits - their own desire/will complex, for instance - others, like Servitors, may be construed to be no more than Articifial Intelligence systems - sentient, but not particularly intelligent. All Spirits can be said to have some degree of sentience, which at a basic level, may be no more than the 'desire' to maintain system coherence. Steven Hawkings has recently stated that selfpropogating computer viruses may be considered as 'living' systems.

Where does this Spirit persona arise from? In an earlier examination of this subject, I posited "the Neuromancer Effect," noting that an AI in William Gibson's "Neuromancer" needed to create human personalities for itself in order to 'talk' to humans. This, I feel, is apposite to Spirit-human interactions. The degree of interaction does seem to relate to our ability to regard the Spirit as a seperate personality. This factor may go some way towards accounting for the communications which Spirits make to us - particularly as there does seem to be an overlap, in many cases, between the human ego and the nature of the communication.

4. Intentionality

Magicians generally work with Spirits under will, as it were. However, it would be narrow thinking indeed to construct theories of Spirit interaction which do not cover unintentional encounters, which the vast majority of human-spirit interactions seem to be. I have attempted to get to grips with this latter situation in Condensed Chaos, but it would be interesting to find out how many other magicians have had unintentional encounters with spirits - for example, entities suddenly manifesting without any conscious urging from the magician. This could range from encounters with Ghosts, UFOnauts, wandering spirits, etc.

5. Affinity

The degree of affinity that one has with a Spirit is also important. One area where this can easily be discerned is in our relationship with Deities - which tends to be highly personal and often, difficult to explain to outsiders. Alternatively, we might only regard a Servitor as little more than a mobile AI or TSR-type computer program, and thus have little emotional investment in it. Affinity relates not only to Ego-attachment but also the unique experiences which we have in relation to a particular spirit. Whilst the desire to launch a demon may well stem from an ego-attachment, we do not usually feel an affinity for demons in the same way that we might regard a Spirit Guide or Familiar.


Generally, Servitors (both General-Purpose and Purpose-Specific) are created entities who are linked to the magician's individual or collective will. Their relationship with the magician is generally one-way, i.e. we use them to do things for us. They have little in the way of a Persona, and set limitations on the degree of independence which they have. Servitors can become uncontrolled, as for instance when the operator becomes 'obsessive' about their task, or overly dependent upon them. Hence the importance of self-assessment when creating a Servitor - surface desires may be driven by buried obsessions which the magician has not yet fully integrated within the psyche.


Demons are generally associated with the malevolent spirits of the Goetic systems. Anyone can work with a demon, provided they have access to the system for summoning and binding it. Demons are more "dynamic" than Servitors in that they appear to have an active 'desire' to manifest themselves and overcome the will of the operator. The warnings concerning working with demons should not be dismissed lightly! Demons also tend to have an innate conservatism about the range of tasks they will do. What distinguishes them from Servitors is that they have a character and persona of their own.


Elemental Spirits, such as Devas, or the beings attributed to the Platonic elements (Fire, Air, Water, Earth - what about nuclear radiation, petrochemicals or electricity?) are said to have a character which relates to their essence - be it water, or a specific plant. Under this heading, we might consider the Genius Loci - Spirit of place - the spirit of a particular location. Here we are looking at the dynamic interaction between a magician and the layers of a local ecosystem, be it an outdoor place or a 'haunted' house.

Externalised Obsessions

Into this category I would place all obsessional systems such as Personal Demons, which have been identified as separate to the magician's Will-complex for the purpose of understanding and integrating them into one's psyche. The main point concerning these entities is that they are generally not open for use by others, which is not to say that others cannot use them too. Indeed, an effective method of magical attack is to identify another individual's core obsessions and effectively feed it 'power,' to the point whereby the target is overcome by his own obsessions. Obsessions may be uncovered through observation or divination. Needless to say, few able magicians are willing to accept that they are becoming dominated by their own obsessions - but this danger is ever-present, particularly for the Adept.


The main point about deities is that they have a historical presence, and to a large extent, have distinct personalities, attributes, powers, etc. I would certainly not insult any of the deities I have worked closely with over the last 15 years or so by suggesting that they are less than 'real' - indeed, I would say that Gods & Goddesses are more real to me than most human beings, regardless of their nonmaterial basis. One might argue that a deities' presence in the historico-mythic mindscape is, in effect, it's material presence that for example, whenever we place ourselves at the mercy of the elements, we are entering the domain of Pan or the Great Old Ones.


The term 'Familiar' implies a close relationship between human and spirit. Historically, we find that Familiars are associated very much with domesticated household animals (cats, goats etc.) and can be seen to act in such a way as to extend the magician's awareness and control over his or her personal territory. Where the power of a magician is bound up with a locale, be it a village, heath, or inner-city area, the Familiar is an extension of their eyes, ears, and Will. The relationship between human and spirit is so close that if the familiar is attacked or bound, the human suffers a psychic shock.


Angels are historically derived from Qabalah and Judeo-Christian belief-systems, although their association is wider, due to the ravages of the New Age Movement and Spiritualism. Angels tend to be perceived as benevolent guardian spirits overwatching human behaviour. They are also associated with psychopomps, Clairvoyance & Premonitions, depending on the paradigm to which they are associated.

Spirit Guides

The term Spirit Guide actually covers a wide range of human-spirit interactions, from the "Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel" (in Thelemic & other Deistic-based approaches) to the contacts of Spiritualist Mediums and the "Inner-Plane Guardians of Western derivations of the Qabalah (SOL, etc). Again, the function and limitations of these entities is set up within the paradigm they operate within. They are often expected to have praeter-human intelligence and 'wisdom' which is beyond that of the individual who interacts with them. Channeled entities such as Ramala or Ramfa also fall into this category. Generally, they appear to act in such a way as to confirm the structure of the belief-system of those who interact with them, and confer a degree of 'higher authority' upon these beliefs - in short, they often tell people what they already expect to hear. What should also be taken into account is that these entities are also associated with forms of enchantment such as healing, where they seem to act as a facility to enable the medium to enter the appropriate state of Gnosis to manifest their talent.

Spirit Guides tend to be given a human, or extra-human personality often they are assumed to be surviving personalities from the 'spirit world' or discarnate Masters (i.e. Khoot Hoomi, Secret Chiefs, etc.). Again, user-expectations and belief plays an important role in defining the function & application of these entities.

Further Reading:
The Cyberzoo, by Dave Lee, Chaos International No.17
The Gods -Demons, Spirits, Guides & Fetishes, Templi Nigri Solis
The Physics of Evocation, by Phil Hine, Chaos International No.13