I’m going to speak from my experience as a magician. It’s impossible to speak for all Polytheists and still make meaningful statements. However, sharing the things we perceive and trying to dialogue about them is a useful.
There is more than one kind of non-physical being. I’m using the words I’m using, and you might not use the same words to mean the same things, and that’s ok. Consequently, I’m including descriptions. Hopefully that will help you to understand who and what I’m talking about.
Deities are allies to a community or culture and convey blessings upon those who work with them. They are immortal, and their immortality is devoted to a central theme, idea, or related set of skills. Even if on first glance a deity may seem to stand for a host of unrelated things, contemplation will generally reveal the interrelation of those things. What do wine and theater have in common? What is the connection between the marketplace and a flock of sheep? What do weaving and strategy have in common?
Hebrew angels are in the same category. The word for them in Hebrew is Aylim, which literally means “gods.” The fact that the Talmud had to come out and say things like, “I said don’t worship the Archangel Mikhael, damnit” indicates that the practice was widespread enough to be worthy of comment. The Zohar and Jewish liturgy acknowledge that angels and deities are only different because of their beliefs and practices, and are not separate types of beings from one another.
Place in the universe: Deities are greater than you are.
Worship: By worshipping them, you help to reaffirm their ties to your community, and at the same time, you also affirm your own ties to that same community.
Magic: Deities may or may not actually know anything about magic. Hekate, Dionysos, Hermes and even Apollon do, but Athena? Maybe not so much. To call any deity in your working is to call them in the capacity of supervisor. This is useful because it reduces the likelihood that you will do something foolish.
Energy signature: Deities are effusively radiant. Their energy washes away everything that is not itself or another deity. It calls the consciousness upward toward the bornless self.
Powers are, well, powerful. They are not necessarily wise, or kind — although they can be! Rather than being dedicated to a theme or set of principles in the way a deity might be, a power is being with a much smaller area of specialty.
They are not the allies of a specific group of people and tend to take on mercenary work for individual mortal magicians. They are, therefore, found in loads of grimoires.
In my experience, certain spells in old grimoires need new powers because the old names call to beings that no longer answer. Conclusion: powers are not immortal. They can die.
Place in the universe: These beings have long careers, and have acquired a very particular set of skills. They are, however, not greater than humans. Treat them with the same respect you would treat a doctor, lawyer, or dentist.
Worship: Some people choose to worship powers, but there is no particular advantage in doing so. They’ll work for pay. As long as your worship comes with the payment they requested, they’ll tolerate your worship… right up until you actually start looking to them for spiritual guidance. Then they’ll get huffy and irritable: “You’re annoying. I’m not your dad.”
Magic: Yes, yes, and yes! Powers are very useful in magic both because of their technical expertise and because of their ability to control specific types of energy.
Energy: Powers have energy that is physical and vibrant. That feeling like the room is ten degrees hotter, the hairs on your arms are standing straight up like lightning is about to hit you, your pulse races, your head swims a little, and every physical object is full of more color than it was a moment earlier? That’s what powers feel like.
Heroes are elevated dead whom people venerate. This category comes to include certain Catholic saints (the ones that aren’t deities wearing funny hats), ancient Greek heroes like Achilles, and modern day deceased famous people who represent something important to their communities, like Ada Lovelace, Spacemom (Carrie Fisher), or David Bowie. It can also come to include ancestors of tradition or family ancestors who have been elevated, depending upon tradition.
To me, a person really needs to have become more after their death than they were when they were alive to be worthy of this distinction. They need to come to represent something very strongly, so much so that their image evokes that idea.
Place in the universe: These beings were humans. What they mean to us may be greater than we are, but they, themselves, are not.
Worship: Hero worship or ancestor worship can be a reasonable thing to do, provided that the person in question consents to it. If people don’t want to be hounded by their adoring fans in the afterlife, you should respect that. If you have no way to ascertaining consent, you shouldn’t worship them. However, I believe that if such a thing has been going on for a long time, we may rely on tradition. Like an emblem of the Buddha, however, the objective is to put into your head the idea of what they stand for.
Magic: Maybe? My father was pretty successful with Saint-related spells. IDK. But again, consent is key. If you have no way of ascertaining whether or not a being is ok with being called for spells, don’t call them.
Energy: Heroes have an energy which is subtle, soft, gentle, peaceful, and happy.
Dead are non-physical beings that were recently living humans. They’re not elevated. They may be hanging around for any number of reasons. They may not know that they are dead. They may be bored. They might be watching over a child, or waiting for their still-living spouse to die.
Place in the universe: These beings are humans. I can’t even really say “were.” They’re just humans without a body.
Worship: Would you worship some random dude on the street?
Magic: The dead are very powerfully connected to the physical plane, and they can get some shit done, let me tell you. However, unlike powers, they need lots of instructions. And don’t be surprised if they get bored and wander off mid-operation.
Energy: Dead have an energy which is melancholy, draining, grey and exhausting. Being around them depletes your life force. Prolonged exposure will make you ill. If someone claims that they are working with “elevated” dead, and their space feels grey, dim, exanimate, and more devoid of divine energy than a high school bathroom, they have failed in their mission to elevate those dead.
Constructs are shared thought forms. It’s hard to explain this area of practice, but I will try. I’ll use an extreme, absurd example (which I can’t promise I won’t try later).
Let’s say that I’m crafting a ritual of physical teleportation. I understand about how to use sigils for very precise targeting, I have an opening which notifies the spirit world and my unconscious mind that I am not looking for astral results. But I’m really fuzzy on the mechanism. Like… does space fold and then I pop across? Am I going with the theory that since time passes at a different rate between the faerie plane and the human worlds that the same is true of time, so I’m building a shielded, discrete trod through the otherworld?
What I really need is the equivalent of a whole army of spirits dedicated to this task in particular. What I need is a whole goddamn teleportation-related egregore. I need a something to take point on researching the specific science of it and translating that into symbolic terms useful in magic. I need a faerie-trod specialist. I need a teleportation-protection specialist, and the list goes on.
I have no way to tell if a spirit or power knows what I need them to. This is going to have to be a sustained, focused effort, so I need something I can bark orders at which will be at my beck and call. Anything sentient is right out.
So what I do is create a filing cabinet for the various areas of magic that teleportation breaks down to. I give each a color, a symbol, a number… and I create a construct for each one. This looks very much like an “intelligence” or “spirit” with some name in a barbarous tongue, but really, these are things that I have created.
If you’re about to tell me that you tried that and it didn’t do anything, of course it didn’t. Constructs are powerless until you get other people to sign on. So what I do is I shop around my little filing cabinet and the spirits, and I start getting people to do rituals of travel with me, using this set of symbols and names, giving full disclosure that I created these things and that they can only be empowered through use. And that my goal is physical teleportation.
We, not I, instruct these constructs to go research things for us, tap into natural sources of power and channel them in certain ways, and we program them to respond in certain ways by using them in lesser rituals. This process is a part of their construction, like running current through the hardware, booting up the device, and then putting in your code.
Place in the universe: These beings are created by humans. They are not sentient. They have the same status as your SmartPhone.
Worship: Makes about as much sense as worshipping your remote control.
Magic: Literally their entire purpose.
Energy: Constructs feel shiny, clean, and sparkly. Think about the feeling you have when entering the Apple store, what with all the brand new tech, bright simple colors, polished chrome and glass. It feels very similar.
Servitors are things that an individual can make for themselves. They are a partition of a practitioner’s will, consecrated to a force, usually under the guidance of a deity, set to a very specific one-off purpose.
Place in the universe: These beings are fragments of humans. They are less than a human by virtue of being the subset of a human.
Worship: Like worshipping somebody’s elbow. Maybe your own.
Magic: While creating a servitor is, itself, a magical act, servitors have only limited utility in larger magical workings. They can store energy for later, direct and color energy, true, but they are really much better put to research tasks and organizing mundane coincidences.
Energy: A servitor feels like a little wisp of elemental of planetary energy. Tiny, slightly luminescent, zig-zagging all over the place.
People can unintentionally create thought forms.
Place in the universe: These beings are fragments of humans.
Magic: An obstacle, usually.
Energy: An unintentional feels gooey and sticky. It can be light or dark, and can have a variety of elemental, planetary, or emotional energies associated with it, but it is always sticky. It adheres easily to an aura, and can be really annoying to get off. Vinegar is a pretty good solvent.
A good taxonomical guide!
For my own clarification, I’d be interested in knowing where you’d place nature spirits/land spirits/etc. (in Powers, maybe?) and if egregores are either a category of construct, or are in some mid-point between constructs and servitors?
(Sorry…as a systematizer and a classifier, I like to parse out these types of distinction! Even if I don’t entirely agree with your classifications, though I’m in broad agreement with what you’ve laid out above, I’d love to know better how the details of your system work!)
So, yes, both an egregore and it’s automsated denizens are constructs, but the denizen is a being you might encounter on the astral, whereas the egregore tend to function more like a place.
The egregore would probably be in a taxonomy of planes or types of locales in the non-physical world. Somewhere between a being and a place is a narrative — I don’t know exactly how to articulate it, but stories are alive and can generate, consume, and store magical power. They are niether a being nor a place.
I don’t know about a midpoint between contrusted beings and servitors. The main distinction I see between the two is that one is created by a group and the other is created by an individual.
I have yet to encounter something that is a mid-point between those two things.
That’s an intriguing set of further clarifications!
While it’s not entirely relevant, I’m reminded of the character of Fiddler’s Green in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics…
Very helpful post, I like it.
I’ve heard tell of other non-physical entities, and met some that don’t necessarily fall nearly into these categories, but I think this is a great classification so far.