Our Spirits Are Different

"Now the spirits come!! Come, spirits of power, come spirits of sight! Show to me the awful things occurring here tonight!"
—Madame Clairvoya, Luigi's Mansion

Ah, spirits. Perhaps no other fantastic beings in all of fictiondom can be as vague as to what they are than them.

There are several questions you have to ask, though, if you wish to have them in your story:

Are they immaterial/incorporeal, and if so, to what degree?
  • Most are immaterial, but they can take material form if they choose to.

Can they possess humans or other corporeal beings? Alternatively, can they form permanent bonds with them (a la Spirit Advisor)?
  • Possession is possible for most spirits, but it's usually reserved for those with an evil inclination.

Where do they live/come from?

Are they mortal/ageless/invulnerable/killable?
  • The majority of them are killable, usually through one of their specific weaknesses. You may only be Fighting a Shadow, however.
  • Almost all of them are Immortal, barring a few exceptions.

Are they capable of evolution/change?
  • They're usually bound to their forms, and are often stuck in a Medieval Stasis as well.

Can they be consumed/deformed by other beings?

What powers do they have?
  • Some type of magic is almost mandatory for all of them.

What weaknesses do they have?
  • They're often able to be sent back to wherever they came from.
  • Magical items (and magic in general) are usually the only things that can hurt them.

What is their relation to...

Are they good? Bad? Whatever?
  • Their morality is mostly based on what type of spirit they are.

Are they alcoholic?

Miscellaneous

Needless to say, they're almost guaranteed to be Made of Magic. Their Sci-Fi equivalent can be found in Energy Beings.

Super Trope of Nature Spirit.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Bleach, ordinary human spirits are called "Pluses," usually created when someone dies with Unfinished Business. Pluses tend to stick near places or people that were important to them in life (tethered to the location by a long chain), and sometimes might even realize that they're dead. However, since they're Invisible to Normals, they slowly grow resentful and insane through isolation and/or neglect. When this begins, they turn into spirits called "demi-Hollows", which are still normal Pluses with a hole slowly growing on the spot where their chain is connected, symbolizing their decaying connection to their humanity. When the chain has eroded all the way (or when external factors prompt a change), they become full Hollow with an unquenchable thirst for souls. If a shinigami sends the soul off to Soul Society (the afterlife), they'll be safe from transforming into a hollow, but will now begin a second life living in a poor, destitute city based roughly on feudal Japan. The lucky few qualify to become shinigami themselves (although, given the average life expectancy of a shinigami, how "lucky" this is can be disputed). The shinigami and Hollow also have their own hierarchy and ranking, and despite being the "good guys", the shinigami are essentially nobility and treat normal Pluses at best with indifference and at worst with contempt.
  • Date A Live's Spirits are beings which are occasionally sucked into this world, causing "spacequakes" (a phenomenon that destroys everything within a spherical area of effect) in the process. And they happen to be top class Bishojo as well. To stop them from wreaking havoc on this world by accident, without killing them? The main character Shido has to date them. The real kicker? It's revealed later in the light novels that all Spirits used to be normal humans until they were transformed via the Sephira crystal.

    Comic Books 
  • The Passengers of Revival are explicitly the souls of revivers. They are persistently visible to humans and cameras, can move like a gas, cannot cross salt, can be physically restrained, and can be killed by drowning.

    Fanfiction 
  • In Grim Grinning Ghosts when Harry is killed at seven he "splits" into a spirit and a zombie, with the ability for the former to possess the latter, giving an illusion of life.

    Literature 
  • The high spirits of Adam R. Brown's Astral Dawn series are very different from the average spook found haunting houses. The high spirits were once mortal humans before they died and ascended to Averya (Heaven) or Nazyra (Hell). They evolved to become so powerful, they gained total dominion over their created worlds and even revisited Earth to become the gods and legends of ancient mythologies.
  • The souls of the dead in The Divine Comedy are referred to as "shades" because while they may appear to have bodies, they cannot interact with physical people like Dante or project shadows. The shades only appear to have bodies that feel pain and pleasure so they can experience some of what eternal life will be like while not having to wait until the Last Judgement.
  • In The Dresden Files, Humans are made of three things: Body, Spirit, and Soul. Ghosts and some creatures from the Nevernever are made of only Spirits and other creatures from the Nevernever (such as Fae) are made of both Body and Spirit. Finally, some very special kinds of ghosts can have both Spirit and Soul.
    • Beings from the Nevernever can be summoned or cross over on their own. For those without bodies they can create material bodies for themselves made of ectoplasm, which dissipates without a trace if they are killed or leave (or no longer have enough magic to maintain the body).
    • Certain kinds of spirits (ghosts, demons) can possess humans and animals (e.g. cats) but not all of them, apparently. Permanent bonds are possible via mutual pledges of loyalty.
    • All spirits seem ageless, but they're not invulnerable.
    • Spirits always stay the way they are.
    • They can be consumed/deformed by other beings, usually by bigger and meaner spirits, though mortal wizards can feed on them, too.
    • Since spirits are incapable of evolution, their True Names never change, and whoever knows it can force them to do their bidding.
  • Henrik Wergeland developed an entire spirit lore, which surfaced in his own mythology pretty early. Essentially, he imagined a kind of "elementary spirits" roaming the heavens (like swans swimming on the "Milky way river"). Those spirits could "lay eggs" in the human souls. Now that is one way to explain it. Furthermore, one spirit could actually split in two, to harbor more than one soul (or more). In this way he explained his sense of companionship with his muse, Stella (actually a quite physical girl he was madly in love with). Only from time to time would a spirit enter a single soul without splitting up. The result would be a person with great historical impact, like, for instance, William Shakespeare...
  • In Lord of the Rings and the rest of Tolkien's verse (The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Children of Húrin), there are basically two kinds of spirits. The first, Ainur (Valar and Maiar) are the local version of angels and demons (ie. Valar and Maiar begin as angels, but can become corrupted and turn into demons); they exist simulataneously in two worlds (wraith-world and the real world), can change shape and become immaterial at will (unless they are in Mode Lock like Gandalf and Sauron), are immortal and happy about it, come from Valinor and are the source of most Functional Magic in the verse. The second type (Nazgûl, Wraiths, ghosts etc) are spirits who were once souls of Men (or Elves), they live mostly in the wraith-world and have problems interacting with the real world, are usually immaterial, immortal but remarkably not happy about their condition and have less powerful magical abilities; they are also likely to be evil, because souls of good people obediently go to the halls of Mandos to reach the afterlife (though the Nazgûl, at least, are actually victims of The Corruption).
  • Masquerades in Akata Witch, which are not to be confused with The Masquerade or Masquerade Ball. They are spirit creatures, and they will hurt you.
  • The Stormlight Archive has the spren, which are associated with various phenomena. Whether they're drawn to said phenomena, created by them, or cause them is unknown both in and out of universe. These phenomenon include wind, rain and fire, natural processes like rot, emotions like fear and passion, and even more esoteric things like music, creation, and honour. Some spren can move small objects, and they appear to be heavily connected with various forms of magical powers.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Religion... as in all of them. Trinitarian Christianity has the Holy Ghost, Buddhism has Hungry Ghosts (although they're more like ghouls than conventional spirits), various religions and mythologies have regular ghosts and fairies/Nature Spirits/Little People, and of course Shinto and Animism have everyone. And everything.
    • Suffice it to say, just about everything in mythology that wasn't human or a corporeal undead was either a spirit or descended from one.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Book of Spirits is the New World of Darkness book dealing with rules for spirits. They're generally the domain of werewolves and mages with the spirit arcana, but they can be dealt with by vampires and mortals as well.
    • More specifically, nWoD spirits are incorporeal beings associated with concepts, Anthropomorphic Personification but usually without the anthropomorphic part. They sustain themselves by hanging around places associated with their concept; river spirits with rivers, grief spirits with funeral parlors, spirits of mugging with back alleys, etc. They can also try to encourage or nurture the concept that feeds them, which is bad news when dealing with a spirit of murder or something similar.
    • Both Worlds of Darkness also give spirits a hierarchical structure, organizing them into courts with various ranks, but with different twists. In nWoD, each spirit is technically an independent actor that shares a Choir with like types - for instance, each dove spirit gets along with other dove spirits and is a member of the Choir of Birds. In cWoD, each spirit is effectively a "representative" of a greater totem, which may itself fall in with the brood of a totem more powerful than itself - for instance, each dove spirit is actually an aspect/representative of Dove, who is herself allied with the brood of Unicorn, and so forth.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, Spirits are a creature type, essentially representing all disembodied creatures — from ghosts to nature spirits to some pretty weird things — that are't claimed by another creature type already, such as Elementals, Demons, Angels and Gods. With some exceptions, they aren't generally associated with any one color of mana. Their exact nature and importance varies from plane to plane:
    • In Kamigawa (which is based on Japanese Mythology), they are known as Kami, and warred against the mortal races. They are for all intents and purposes gods, and some are pretty unusual looking.
    • In Ravnica, they're primarily ghosts, due to the plane being trapped in its own little bubble in The Multiverse and not allowing the spirits of the dead to escape, forcing them to manifest on the physical plane. They are heavily associated with the Orzhov Syndicate, which uses them as guards and enforcers and is ruled by a ghost council, the Obzedat. That said, some spirits are known to be part of other guilds.
    • In the Gothic Horror-inspired Innistrad, geists — the spirits of the dead — form one of the set's five gameplay tribes (alongside humans, werewolves, vampires and corporeal undead) and are chiefly associated with White and Blue mana — Black, Red and Green geists also occur, but aren’t common. White geists are traditional ghosts returned to watch over their families or fulfill duties or obligations; Blue geists are poltergeists born from compulsive behaviors, cause mental afflictions in people they torment and are attracted to water, fog and storms; Black geists return as predatory haunts and are very dangerous; Red geists are obsessed with revenge and failures from their mortal lives and are the most aggressive spirits; and Green geists are especially attracted to nature, often becoming the spirits of landforms, copses and so on.
    • In the Classical Mythology-inspired Theros, the eidolon seperate from their bodies upon death. While the corpses become the memory-less, shade-like zombies known as nostron, the eidolon also forget their past lives and wander around aimlessly, often drawn to the magic of the nymphs. They are generally represented by enchantment creature cards.

    Video Games 
  • In the Dragon Age series, spirits and demons are the same thing. They inhabit the Dream Land called the Fade but can be summoned into the material world (or enter it on their own in certain locations). They seem to be ageless but can be killed, whether in the material world or in the Fade. Both demons and benevolent spirits can possess humans, though the former tend to turn them into Humanoid Abominations. Each demon is associated with one of five sins (corresponding to the negative emotion it feeds upon); benevolent spirits seem to be associated with virtues but because encounters with them are so rare, no established classification exists.
    • It also implies that spirits become demons by the perceptions of people. Or by a mage using blood magic to bind them. Or by being pulled out of the Fade through tears in reality. It's also establishes that they have a different way of viewing things and they're just as freaked out by the mortal world as mortals are freaked out by the Fade.
    • Some spirits might even be able to "become somebody else", which is never really elaborated on too heavily. Cole and possibly Leliana possibly (based on the player's choices in previous games) are two such examples.
  • The Legend of Zelda has numerous ghost-like spirits. The most famous ones are the Poes, who haunt graveyards and abandoned buildings and carry lanterns which hold their souls, which can broken open to collect the Poe's soul in certain games. Other spirits exist, such as the cyclopean Ghinis, which can turn invisible, and the Hyu, similar to Poes but not as aggressive, and likelier to be found haunting ghost towns and deep forests.
    • In Twilight Princess, humans trapped in the Twilight are turned into spirits, appearing as floating, greenish flames unless Wolf Link uses his enhanced senses, at which point they show as ghostly apparitions.
  • In Shining the Holy Ark three good spirits are in charge of magical floating spaceship, the titular Ark. However the Ark gets destroyed so they escape in a pod, crash onto our heroes and possess them. This heals our three main heroes (as they were squashed by the escape pod) and makes sure they can never die, gives them additional powers and allows themselves to heal up while they inhabit their bodies. Meanwhile an evil spirit possesses the King and his advisers in an attempt to revive the 1000 year kingdom and bring fourth an age of darkness.

    Visual Novel 
  • In Nasuverse, there are many types of spirits, but they all share common characteristics. Spirits are immaterial existences that "exist with a shape, but without physical properties". Their bodies are described as "Elementals" (Seirei, in the original Japenese), meaning they are conceptual and thus are able travel without physical interference (passing through walls and people, for example).
    • Spirits who came from Alaya (collective human unconscious). Mythical beings that exist in human imagination, called "Phantasmal Species". They lack the capability to interact with physical bodies (immaterial) and can't be perceived by humans unless enough people believe in them. If enough humans believe in them, Phantasmal Beasts can become "Divine Spirits", capable of taking material forms and influcencing the World around them with their Authority.
    • Spirits who came from Gaia (Ultimate One of the Earth). Nature Spirits that serve as Gaia's extension of will. These can influence physical bodies as they please, and usually packs enough power to wreck reality around them apart at will. The only known example of this are the "True Ancestors".
    • The Lower-Class Spirits, or better said, ghosts. Remnants of dead living beings (human, animal, or even plants) that remain attached to the world for some reason. These are immaterial, unstable, temporary existences that have to consume life-force from living beings to continue existing. They can, however, grow so powerful to the point of being able of materializing themselves.
    • Finally, there are the Heroic Spirits. Humans who manage to imprint themselves inside Alaya due to their fame as "heroes" in human history (either actual or made-up). Their souls are recorded in the so-called "Throne of Heroes", and their souls can be summoned as Heroic Spirits by Holy Grail, powerful artifact of True Magic capable of manipulating and materializing souls. Heroic Spirits can take material or immaterial form at will, but they need living being's life-force to exist in the world.

     Web Animation 
  • The spirits of Scourosi in No Evil are flesh-and-blood beings with the souls of fallen stars. They have both a human form and a naugal form and are partially composed of magic. Also, they are named for figures from Native American legends, post-colonial folklore, and/or Aztec gods.

    Webcomics 
  • In Champions of Faraus, spirits are immortal, and range from fire spirits,which are more like elementals of a sort that can fly, to Terrabnds, which are more animalistic and crawl around on the ground, to Ghosts.

    Western animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the spirits inhabit a Spirit World, but many of them have the ability to take form in the 'real' world, as well. In terms of vulnerability, it varies from spirit to spirit. On the whole, taking form in the real world leaves them vulnerable to attacks, and if they take on a permanent living body, such as the moon and ocean spirits, or the eponymous avatar, they can be permanently killed. Powers also vary: some are a Anthropomorphic Personifications and have abilities linked to that, while others are random assortments. As far as genies, fairies, souls and ghosts are concerned, its kept ambiguous or not really mentioned.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers features four of them: Gaia (the Spirit of Earth), the eponymous Captain Planet, and their Evil Counterparts Zarm (the Spirit of Destruction) and Captain Pollution, respectively. What they all have in common, is having human forms, and Immortality, at least when speaking of natural causesnote ; otherwise, they can be killed. Nobody ever tried to do this to Zarm, however.
  • Many of the entities call "ghosts" in The Real Ghostbusters and its sequel Extreme Ghostbusters are not exactly disembodied souls of the dead as the traditional depiction of ghosts, but Spirits; entities from another dimension that, as Egon puts it in one episode, "have always been ghosts". Some episodes even show these dimensions. And some of the most dangerous (and of the very few recurrent) villains like Samhain and the Boogie Man are Spirits. In general, Spirits in the Ghostbusters animated universe are basically some sort of normally evil chaotic creature made of ectoplasm and with certain magical powers.

Alternative Title(s): Spirits, Ethereal Being

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OurSpiritsAreDifferent