I’ve always found magic within the Dragon Age universe to be an interesting topic—perhaps strangely so, because the magic itself isn’t groundbreaking and neither is the treatment of the universe’s mages. In the end it’s another universe where a seasoned mage can influence anything and many non-magical people, in turn, fear these mages. These fears are then exacerbated by the religious institution the Chantry with their twisting of the prophetess Andraste’s words. What I can point out as being particularly interesting, however, are the magical beings that loom ominously beside both mages and non-mages alike, only separated by a thin metaphysical wall called The Veil. In general, these beings are called spirits, but there are two specific types that are spoken about most commonly: spirits that aren’t hostile towards mortals (denoted henceforth as Spirits, with a capital S) and Demons. Though the Chantry places Demons squarely in the “evil” category, can the omission of Spirits be taken as an implication that they’re “good”? It could, but such an assumption would also be incorrect; despite their objective differences, Spirits and Demons don’t fit so squarely in human morality and roughly have the same function as all spirits.
These two seemingly opposing types of magical beings live beside each other in a realm called the Fade: a place where the spirits of humans and elves go when they separate from their physical bodies, such as when they dream or when they die. Both entities—Demons and Spirits—were created at the same time, and while their powers stem from the vices and virtues respectively, both classes seem capable of roughly the same amount of magic. However, much more is known about Demons for reasons that you can probably assume. Much like the demons oft made infamous through whatever possession movie is coming out this month, Demons in DA are well known for their interactions with humans, mostly in terms of majorly boning them over. Where the Veil is weakest, Demons can seep through and look for hosts to possess or even remain in their true form and tempt humans with what they most desire (money, power, and so forth). However, this magic isn’t inherently evil, nor are the Demons’ reasons for doing so. What Demons seem to want most—more than power at times—is to feel.
Their motivations for reaching out to living creatures is to experience that which they cannot experience in the Fade: love, fear, even basic sensory reactions. Demons covet the lives of living creatures, and use their magic to experience the things that said living creatures may find mundane. In Dragon Age: Origins, when attempting to rescue the mages of the Chantry-ordained Circle Tower, a Demon of lust tries to convince the player to leave them with their victim. Though most folks will most likely not let them do as they will on basic principle, it’s interesting that this Demon seems content to live out its life pretending to be their victim’s spouse. The Demon is, of course, also feeding off of their victim’s desires, which will eventually lead the human to becoming a husk of what they used to be, yet it also seems to be enjoying the opportunity to see what love is, even if it’s a perversion of what it is in actuality.
While Demons are closer to the hearts of living beings than the people outside the Fade would like to admit, Spirits remain elusive to all but a few mages who have interacted with them. Though they represent the virtues and are often said to be helpful, I don’t believe Spirits or their magic should be called “good”. In Dragon Age there isn’t an easy dividing line between “Holy” and “evil” as there is in many religious texts. When the spirits of living creatures end up in the Fade, these Spirits are said to comfort them, but Spirits for the most part don’t really seem to care about much of anything. They don’t typically seek out any sort of other purpose, nor do they use their magic to put considerable effort toward stopping the Demons from seeking out prey. However, to exist outside the Fade, they must possess people as much as any Demon would, and indeed, have. Wynne from Dragon Age: Origins has been possessed by a Spirit of faith, which has kept her physical form alive despite being technically dead. Though the Spirit does no outward harm, it does make Wynne weaker the more she calls upon it, indicating that perhaps the Spirit is feeding on what’s left of Wynne as much as any Demon would.
Another tale of Spirit-human interaction occurs in Dragon Age: Origins—Awakening, when
the player party runs across a Spirit of Justice who ends up getting stuck in the mortal world after possessing the body of a recently deceased solider. While outside the Fade, the Spirit begins coveting the mortal world and finding more reasons to stay on that side of the Veil. This continues in Dragon Age 2 where he has possessed another person, but a willing person. Yet, due to the turmoil in that person’s heart, the Spirit has changed from the more easily palatable Justice to a harsher, less forgiving Vengeance. Despite all this, though, the Spirit is not considered a Demon, though it is as destructive as one.
Though the Chantry would paint the difference between Spirits and Demons as black and white, perhaps Merill, a Dalish elf and a mage, put it best when she commented that there was no such thing as a good spirit. Mages stuck under the teachings of the Chantry are taught to be wary of all spirits, but the emphasis placed on the evils of Demons leaves them at a loss when they come across a Spirit, and non-mages are the same. Even Spirits that represent a specific virtue can end up using mortals for their own purposes—they can covet just as much as any Demon can. Though in the Dragon Age universe it may continue to be taught that there are these moral differences, the fact remains that all spirits—Demons and the benevolent Spirits—of the Fade were born without a soul, and both are looking for ways to fill that void, no matter how peaceful or destructive those methods are. Fireballs and entropy are all good and well, but when given the choice between that and gray spaces in magical morality, the latter and their repercussions will interest me more every time.
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I think there’s something kind of troubling at how easily we imagine that supernatural beings are evil. Our stories of demons are rarely matched with Angels (most literally in Buffy, where the closest things was a vampire/demon NAMED Angel).
Not just demons, either – aliens, fey folk, vampires, etc. The only exception are for childlike figures (ET).
If we’re imagining a power outside our own, it seeks to dominate us. There are exceptions, but it seems to be the first hitch.