The spirit world is the home of spirits and archetypes, little gods, ancestors, totems, elementals, angels and demons, embodied allegories and symbolical mindscape. It can get quite crowded if All Myths Are True, but fear not, the setting metaphysics will be usually more restrained than that. Sometimes characters can reach it when they have an out-of-body experience, when they enter in a trance (with or without drugs) or when they use shamanistic magic or Psychic Powers to project themselves into the astral plane. They can go there to meet their Spirit Advisor, increase their power, go on a spirit quest, learn invaluable information and get cryptic advice. Any show of the spirit world is sure to feature some level of Mind Screw and Rule of Symbolism, run high on Motifs and be under the sign of Absurdity Ascendant. Compare with the Dream Land and Journey to the Center of the Mind. Not to be confused with Dark World. See also Magical Underpinnings of Reality.
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Anime and Manga
- Death Note; The shinigami realm is similar to this, except that no human character ever enters it and it's darker than most examples of this.
- Kamichu! has one of these. It looks like an Edo-period city, and is populated by various Shinto critters. Under certain circumstances, similar critters can be found operating the underpinnings of our perceived world as well.
- Berserk features five different planes, whereof one is the classic spiritual plane. This picture explains it better then I can.
- Spirited Away has a protagonist who gets trapped in such a setting.
- The oft-referenced "C's World" from Code Geass; when Lelouch is sent there by C.C. in the second season, he finds himself inside her memories, represented as a gallery full of floating paintings and overseen by a spirit guide version of herself in black clothes.
- Nayug, the spirit world of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit seems very alien but magnificent to cast and viewers.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! and its sequel series feature worlds where Duel Monsters are real. GX reveals that there's a grand total of twelve separate dimensions populated by real Duel Monsters.
- In Bleach the plot is dominated by the two warring spirit worlds: Soul Society, home of the Soul Reapers and the Heuco Mundo, stronghold of the Hollows. There exist three other spirit worlds of differing importance. One is the Palace Dimension of the Spirit King, ruler of Soul Society, that only Squad Zero and the Captain-Commander can access. The second is Hell, the destination of any spirit that has committed heinous acts before their death. The third is the Schatten Bereich, the hidden dimension where the Vandenreich resides.
- Dragon Ball (and Z and GT) has what is usually translated as "the Other World." It includes Heaven, Hell, and the places in between where all sorts of spirits, gods, and otherworldly bureaucrats spend their time. The spirit world even has a spirit world of its own, the Kaioshin Realm, a place too holy even for residents of the spirit world. There's also a demon realm somewhere.
- Amatsuki, although it's ambiguous as to whether it's all an illusion. Or perhaps even an illusion within a dream.
- Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit: Nayug (seen, here, at 4:47-6:28) is the companion of Sagu, which is the mortal realm. At times, the two overlap while, at others, they can be light years apart. The only way to see it, or physically enter it, is by drinking the sap of a Sig Salua blossom.
- The astral plane is the spirit world in Astral Dawn.
- The Nevernever from The Dresden Files, suspiciously similar to the Umbra. It contains Faerie, the realms of various demons and Eldritch Abominations, Hades, and possibly heaven and hell to boot, at least as the places that angels and demons come from. In terms of size, it doesn't have a 1:1 relationship with Earth. In size, it is to Australia what Earth is to the Rhode islandnote . In fact, opening a portal on Earth at a different time of the day can change the location one ends up in.
- In the Nasuverse, this is just another layer on top of the "physical" world — the only things that humans can interact with would be those with enough power to physical manifest (eg. True Ancestors). Humans with supernatural perception can see a bit more than the Muggles.
- Dunmanifestin in Discworld acts as a Spirit World in that the gods all live there.
- The gods of Nehwon (home of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) live in a Spirit World.
- The Other Place in The Bartimaeus Trilogy, which we finally get to see in book three, Ptolemy's Gate.
- In American Gods it's known as "backstage".
- The Seventh Tower has the spirit world of Aenir.
- Shadesmar, the realm of living ideas, in The Stormlight Archive.
- According to Book 1 of MARZENA, the surface of the brain, Cortex Land, can be understood as some kind of dreamworld where one can navigate through either a world of pure context (right hemisphere) or pure content (left hemisphere). Both worlds are inhabited by "biological holograms" the biological equivalent of digital holograms (those pictures of people in your head) which can considered as spirits. Sometimes a spirit goes into the deeper levels of Cortex Land to become a Thalamic Wizard, and then the spirit becomes a self-aware consciousness.
- In Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! cycle of books, particularly Masks of the Illuminati, the idea of a seperate realm outside normal space-time is frequently referred to. An Irish fisherman blacking out under torture experiences the "crazy-space". A man near death sees his parents and others; an imaginative rich man being initiated into ritual magic experiences it as the Astral Plane. Wilson dismisses it as the Realm of Thud And Strange Imaginings, ruled over by Maya, Lord of Illusion, who bestows vivid but meaningless dreams to prevent men from walking up to Reality. Yesod (see below) is referenced.
Folklore, Mythology, Occultism, Religion
- In the Bible, St Paul writes about a man taken out of his body and unto the Third Heaven, wherein he saw things inexpressible in everyday comprehension and of which it may be forbidden to speak. (Second Corinthians 12:2-5) Scholarly opinion is divided as to whether the saint genuinely was talking about another guy, or about himself, using the third person.
- In the Jewish mystical system, the Kabballah, Yesod is the sphere of being governed by the Moon, and is the plane of existence immediately above the material Malkuth plane of Earth which is where we abide. Yesod is the plane of insubstantiality, deception, wild imaginings and distracting visions - this is where dreams and nightmares happen. The task for the explorer is to become aware this is the plane of illusion and to move beyond it to the higher planes, where genuine insight and wisdom may be gleaned from visions.
- The Umbra of the Old World of Darkness was a big example of the anything goes version.
- The Hisil (Shadow Realm) in the New Worldof Darkness is a more restrained and horror-focused version of the Umbra.
- The Temenos (collective subconscious) and Anima Mundi (the dreaming earth / soul of the world) in the Mage: The Awakening supplement to World of Darkness are likewise examples of this, housing Archtypes, gods and demons, more-real-than-real flora and fauna and representations of magic itself.
- Shadowrun magicians can project themselves to the Astral Plane.
- Earthdawn: the most powerful mages can project themselves to the Astral Plane. It is much more dangerous than Shadowrun, due in large part to the Horrors that make the place their home.
- The Warp of Warhammer 40,000, one-third Spirit World, one-third Hyperspace Is a Scary Place, one-third Cosmic Horror.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, primal classes can call spirits from the spirit world, which is described as a usually invisible layer on the natural world.
- RuneQuest has shamans whose powers depend upon entering the Spirit World and battling/binding spirits. In Glorantha, the other main schools of magic (Divine and Sorcery/Wizardry) have their own equivalent otherworlds (God Plane and Essence Plane). Gloranthan characters enter Hero Quests on the God Plane and take on roles in myths to gain insights or magical power.
- In Bayonetta, the world is divided in a "trinity of realities", which includes the realms of light (Paradiso), dark Inferno) and chaos (our world). The neutral ground between these is Purgatorio, basically our world but through a spiritual lenses: whoever is here can't be seen by normal people (though they can affect the normal world just the same), and it is here that the witches and sages interact with the demons and angels, respectively. With it being possibly also the only way to normally access the other realms, it is basically the hub of everything supernatural in the games.
- Prey uses this as a plot element. After protagonist Tommy's grandfather dies, and Tommy himself has a near-death experience, he's pulled into the Spirit World to meet his grandfather again and learn how to spirit-walk.
- Dragon Age has The Fade, where demons and other spirits rule. The spirits of earthly humans and elves go there in dreams. Mages can also enter The Fade using special rituals, but must be wary against demonic possession. While souls can be trapped in The Fade beyond death by particularly powerful spirits or demons, the dead do not generally go there. Not even the spirits know what lies beyond, though many, perhaps because their kind subsides on the positive (or in the case of demons negative) thoughts and emotions of mortals, believe in the god(s) of mortal religions. The Chantry teaches the Maker made his home in the Fade in the Golden City which acted as a Heaven for the faithful, and that the creation of the Darkspawn was the result of corrupt mages trying to literally storm heaven and turning the Golden City into the Black City. This is what the Chantry believes, anyway. In the Legacy DLC for Dragon Age II Hawke meets one of the original Magisters who committed the deed and became one of the first Darkspawn. He mentions trying to steal the power of "the gods" on the advice/orders of the dragon he served and implies that the City was already tainted when he entered it.
- Jade Empire has multiple heavens and other spirit realms.
- Magical Diary has The Other World, home to all manner of supernatural beings.
- Link can visit them in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. They are known as "Silent Realms" and are pretty dang creepy areas where pretty much everything is hostile (this isn't to say the Zeldaverse spirits are an inherently hostile bunch, these particular spirits are testing Link). It's probable that the Silent Realms are parts of the Sacred Realm, the original resting place of the Triforce, because the place the Triforce is found looks and behaves exactly the same, except for the psychotic guardians. The Sacred Realm appears in many Zelda games, but it's usually a Dark World due to Ganon's influence.
- In MARDEK, dead spirits go to an afterlife similar to the Dreamrealm, but this time they're in control of the dream. As such, there are a number of "necropolises" there, composed of the collective expectations of various religions, etc. Also, guilty souls get to spend some time in the Anti-life until they come to terms with themselves, and virtuous souls have the option of becoming one with ARIENDEEN, the god of light.
- The Shrine of Farewell from Hellsinker is an unusual take on this trope. The best way to describe is as an spiritual dump where heroes considered unworthy of preservation and generally stuff no-one wants anything to do with end up.
- In Kult: Heretic Kingdoms, the protagonist (and other mages) can transition at will between the normal world and the Dreamworld, which is full of spirits and other weird things. Typically, mages can only stay there for a limited amount of time, although an optional Attunement exists which changes this. The landscape of each world is much the same, but many impermanent things (including most characters and enemies) exist only in one of the two worlds, and you can walk right past things by being in the wrong world to see them — as such, the game advises players to check the Dreamworld from time to time. (You may, for example, stumble on werewolf spies lurking in Corwenth's war camp, invisible to all the soldiers).
- The spiritual plane is where ancient spirits come from and generally reside in Circumstances Of The Revenant Braves when they aren't in a pact with a human. However, no human characters have journeyed there . . . yet.
- Gunnerkrigg Court has The Aether or The Etherium, which seems to be the same thing. Magic-using individuals can see there, with non-etheric objects becoming grey and powerful beings and objects remaining or becoming colourful and bright. In the Foley house (Gillitie Wood emigrants in mostly human bodies) the lesson appears to be the whole class rapid-typing the equations of orbital mechanics — for a mundane sight. But then Annie realizes if these students are this diligent for longer than ten seconds, there's something wrong and takes a look... and the ether-class looks like a merry out-of-body playground, and they all waited for her to figure it out and join.
- In Sluggy Freelance the Main Characters go to one of these in the Story Arc "A Time for Hair-Raising."
- The astral plane of Concession has been compared to the internet, locations within it seem to be created by the spiritually aware. And considering that most of the time it's shown so that the Villain Protagonist can Mind Rape someone.
- In El Goonish Shive, the spiritual plane is an ephemeral plane of existence parallel to the main universe. The beings known as Immortals live in it and normally it, everybody and everything on it is invisible and intangible to denizens of the physical plane. However, those on the spiritual plane can see and hear the physical plane and interact with those on it magically such as through their emotions. What the spiritual plane is not is a place for the dead; neither heaven nor hell nor the spirits of dead characters have been seen there.
- The Veil, Spirit Space or the Astral Plane in Phaeton is a plane inhabited by astrans, reapers, spirits and ghosts. Some DP Is can access it on their own others have to die. Everyone passes through it as somepoint and can't leave until they are resurrected or reaped, unless they make it there via powers in which case it is generally easy to get out.
- The Spirit World in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra is a classic example. It is a physical world unto itself, though it's generally far stranger than the material world, and has some downright Eldritch and trippy locations where distances are variable and laws such as gravity don't quite apply. The spirits themselves show up in various animal or even plant forms, but are clearly intelligent and varied individuals. Strangely, several of these spirits take the form of regular animals like pandas with the occasional Talking Animal in the mix while the "real" world mostly has Mix-and-Match Critters.
- Occasionally, spirits will cross over to the material world, and a few have even made it their permanent home. Humans, in turn, can enter the spirit world via Astral Projection through meditation. (For example, if you know where you're going, you can literally stand still and have the world move until your destination arrives.) The Avatar can do this to speak with their past lives. Bending the elements while in spirit form is impossible, however, and no human has been able to physically cross over for 10,000 years: The portals at the north and south poles were sealed by the first Avatar in order to prevent war between humans and spirits, and to keep Big Bad Vaatu from escaping his prison. In Book Two, Korra's uncle forces her to open them, but after his defeat, she allows them to remain open, heralding a new age for humans and spirits. A third spirit portal is created by the explosion of a massive spirit weapon in Republic City in the series finale, making a new spirit age more likely..