In my universe:
The Celts (Irish) have a legend about the fall of Satan from Heaven. They say when God created the universe, he created three groups of angelic beings. Satan and his angels were charged with testing creation. Michael and his were to defend, support or uphold creation. Gabriel and his were the heralds, to announce the goodness of creation to all.
When Satan rebelled and was cast from Heaven, he took his third of the heavenly host with him. As they passed through the realm of the earth, however, some of Satan’s followers had a thought, perhaps their first independent thought. “Why should we blindly follow Lucifer into Hell?”
Those spirits stopped where they were, no longer fit for heaven, but not fully rebellious. They were stuck, but by the grace of God, they were allowed to take on form. Why? Because a spirit has neither eyes nor ears nor any other apparatus to apprehend this universe. By itself, a spirit is little more than the blind force as it is often understood to be. By taking on form, these spirits could perceive the world and know what they were doing. And why was that important? Because they still had a job to do: to test and try creation.
Though there is a continuum of spiritual beings from the greatest to the least, it is possible to crudely divide these earth-bound spirits into four types which initially would include the Titans, the greater spirits, the lesser spirits and the little spirits.
The Titans were nature spirits in the largest sense of the word. It was the children of the Titans who became the Gods of old that were turned in their task from testing creation to testing and trying men’s souls.
The greater and lesser spirits were rarely found in human form, though the cold north wind might be found by sailors as a giant with an evil eye. The Djinn, the various types of which run the scale from greater to lesser spirits, sometimes took on humanish (or ghoulish) form. The spirits of purity were generally seen in the guise of the unicorn. Greater Spirits in China often wore the form of the dragon. The howling spirits of war and blood lust did appear in Celtic lands as women, but then, they had a touch of the blood of the Gods in them.
The little spirits or sprites are too numerous in their kinds to name. There were once sprites in the air, the waters, the fire and the earth, but the sprites of the earth are the ones that are best known to most people. In describing these, I often simplify matters by using the descriptions given in the Eddas: There are dark elves, including goblins and trolls, and light elves, including fairies and brownies, and there are dwarfs in between, including ogres, imps and the like. Curiously, these little ones are not immortal like their bigger, “cousins.” Though very long lived, they nevertheless die after a time and await judgment even as mortals do.
In my universe, these little spirits often need help themselves to focus and concentrate their own spiritual power. Thus we see wands and fairy dust and such depicted in many “fairy tales.”
Most greater and lesser spirits need no such helps, and for the most part they are immortal, though many can be killed; but then many of these spirits are nature spirits and in their area of watch they need only a word of command like “let there be light” to affect this world.
The Gods, of course, are also limited, but it is a limit in their authority, not in their power. As the saying goes in my time travel fantasy, “there is almost nothing the Gods cannot do.” They can bend, shrink or expand space and time and change the course of the world simply by deciding how it must be. To be able to do almost anything, though, does not mean they are so authorized or that it would be wise. For one, competing Gods cancel each other out and that makes them vulnerable, even like Baldur, to die. For two, these spirits also wish to regain Heaven (and who can blame them). Most want to do their job well. Some…
Exactly what wickedness in magic is will be covered two posts from now. For the next post, I will say something about how magic came into the human race.