As an amateur philosopher and a hardcore magcian, I’ve always been curious about what magical beings really are. This is a difficult question to think about. When philosophers work on a difficult question, they will often decompose it into simpler questions. In this case, I’m going to look at the issue using the four causes of Aristotle. These are matter, agent, form, and purpose.
Using the first category of causation, one could ask “what are spirits made out of?” But that doesn’t necessarily make sense because the very concept of substance doesn’t apply to that level of reality. You could empty the second type of cause, agency, by asking “who or what causes a spirit to come into being?” But that doesn’t necessarily help because spirits inhabit seem to inhabit a dimension in which ordinary concepts of temporality don’t apply.
The only two causal categories that apply to this issue are form and purpose. I am using the word form here in a more abstract sense than everyday language. I don’t mean “shape” per se, but a relationship between different properties and potentials. Purpose makes sense, because spirits are sentient and autonomous, they have goals and desires.
But the thoughts that can be derived from that line of thinking are unsatisfactory becasue human cognition is designed to conceptualize phenomena in terms of space and time, or distance and duration. By stating that spirits have a structure and a purpose, but not unpacking the other two causes, we have achieved a definition of spirits that isn’t logically distinct from the definition of a fictional character.
Answers along the lines of “spirits are energy” or “spirits are consciousness” aren’t satisfying to me because we don’t really know what energy or consciousness are. Approaching the question that way only trades one unknown term for another unknown.
Personally, I am somewhat inspired by the idea in mainstream science that reality might be made of information. Memes are said to be units of information in the same way that genes are units of biologial sequenceing. Of course, I don’t mean internet memes. I am using the work the way evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins originally used it. So, if reality is made of information, and memes are units of information, then in a sense spirits are made of memes. This is a counterintuitive way of thinking about it, but in a way it actually makes sense. We relate to entities like Satolas, Azazel, Ant’harratu, and Belial through a set of concepts and images. For that matter, we compose our personal identities out of a set of concepts and images.
There is a thought experiment that I think is critical to grappling with this issue. Consider what happens when two people simultaneously evoke the same entity and ask it the same without communicating with each other. They will get different answers, answers commensurate with the structure and content of their personal psyche. Those answers will allude to the answer from different directions, emphasizing aspects of the question that pertain to the underlying needs of each magician. So here’s the question: how do you explain this? I think it’s fair to say that all of the metaphysical theorizing that has taken place in the occult community about the nature of nonphysical beings hinges on how you explain this thought experiement. A related issue that factors into the interpretation of this issue is, “why can spirits only communicate using the information that exists in your psyche?” Spirits never tell you specific things like addresses and dates. They offer a mosiac made out of the substance of your own thoughts.
As far as I can tell, the answer to the nature of spiritual entities probably has a lot to do with how you respond to these thought experiments. I’m curious what you folks think since you work with these entities on a regular basis. You don’t have to phrase your thoughts about the subject in terms of the questions I posed or in terms of my speculations. I’m very interested to see what kind of percepetions you all have.