Following my previous post on the mechanics of using Prime, Avatar, and Quintessence (available on these web pages as 'The Sphere of Prime'), I hereby present, with the much appreciated help and general mental catalysis provided by Arthur-Trevor D.M. Lasher, the results of yet more metaphilosophical research into matters of Avatar, Mind, Soul, and Spirit. This treatise attempts to explain the existence of Wraiths, and also the mechanism by which the Avatar is recycled. It also attempts to explain the metaphysics of the Shadowlands. In fact, Wraith Storytellers may be particularly interested in what is presented here. Unfortunately, it can only suggest reasons for the HOWs of these matters, and not the WHYs of their existence. Nevertheless, it is a start down the long road to enlightenment.... ;-)
I feel this kind of thing is vital to the more serious players of Mage (and Wraith, in this case) to provide some kind of explanation to fill in the gaps of the general metaphysickal background of the genre. Hopefully, this Treatise does just that. Of course, you may not agree with every/anything described here - but I hope this at least provides a few ideas.
In my previous post (presented on these web pages as 'The Sphere of Prime'), I proposed the theory that the Avatar is nothing less than a representation of the flow of raw Quintessence through a living Pattern. The Souls of Sleepers are identical, if somewhat less powerful, to the Avatars of Mages, and herein any generic reference to 'Avatar' applies to Souls as well (and vice versa). What allows the Mage to cast magicks is the magnitude of the Raw Quintessence Flow (henceforth referred to as 'the Flow') through his Pattern.
THE AVATAR PATTERN
Let us now focus on exactly WHAT the Avatar is, and how it ties in with the Flow. The Avatar/Flow system can be visualised best as an open pipe (the Avatar) carrying water (the Raw Quintessence Flow) - note however that this is a highly simplified analogy, and is elaborated on later. Water enters the pipe at one end (the 'In' hole), passes through the pipe, and leaves through the 'Out' hole. Note that in this analogy the water flowing into the pipe is NOT the same water that is leaving the pipe - a continuous stream of Raw Quintessence always flows through the living Pattern, and none of the Flow itself is recycled. Each 'pipe' (ie. Avatar/Soul) has a Unique Configuration, a 'fingerprint' if you will, which defines and controls the way the water (ie. Raw Quintessence) flows through it. This can be pictured as grooves or indentations in the pipe that affect the current flowing through it. This Unique Configuration is by implication different for each individual, and represents the Avatar/Soul itself - every Soul and Avatar on the planet at a given time is unique. In effect, the way the Raw Quint flows through the Living (physical) Pattern is itself determined by another, unique, 'Avatar Pattern'. The Avatar can therefore itself be considered a Pattern, but at a far higher level to any of the mere physical Patterns of Life, Forces, or Matter. Only the Oracles of Prime would be able even to perceive the Avatar Pattern itself, let alone affect it directly. However, Masters of Prime may be able to affect the Flow of Raw Quintessence through the Avatar and Living Patterns.
At the same time, as the Raw Quintessence flows through the Living Pattern, a 'Residue' is deposited in the Avatar Pattern. It is important to note that this Residue is NOT deposited by the Flow itself - rather, it originates from the Living Pattern through which the Flow passes, and which the Flow sustains. This is not readily illustrated by our pipe and water analogy, but can be thought of as solids coming out of solution from the flow and being deposited in the pipe. This Residue represents that incarnation's true uniqueness - its memories and personal experiences, and no two Residues are EVER the same. It is a Residue formed on the Avatar by the Living Pattern itself, and it accumulates over the various incarnations of the Avatar. It is important to note that this is NOT the Avatar itself - it is more akin to the 'consciousness' of the individual. This Residue is very important, and we shall return to this later. The combination of Avatar Pattern and Residue is referred to herein as the 'Avatar Package'.
Ideally, when Living Patterns die the Flow of Raw Quintessence through them stops and the Avatar AND its associated Residue should both be recycled into a new incarnation - a new Flow of Raw Quintessence is set up through the Avatar Pattern.
In days of old, when the global birth rate was much lower, Avatars could spend a longer interval between incarnations, during what is referred to here as 'Downtime'. During this interval, the Residue collected on the Avatar Pattern during the previous incarnation could 'crystallise' outside of the Flow. Upon re-entry into the Cycle, this manifested to the new incarnation as memories of the previous life. Over many incarnations, the Residue of each could crystallise, so future incarnations had access to Past Lives.
In recent days however, as the population growth rate skyrockets, many Avatars and Souls are spending very little 'time' (if time passes at all) out of the Cycle in Downtime - as a result, the Avatars are getting recycled immediately. Because of this, the Residue of the previous incarnation (not having the opportunity to crystallise into a 'Past Life' during Downtime) is often (though by no means always) swept away by the new Raw Quintessence Flow and lost to future incarnations. This explains why Past Lives are becoming rarer and rarer as time goes on.
ON THE EXISTENCE OF WRAITHS
The preceding paragraph describes the likely course of events for a normal person who lives and dies as a mortal Sleeper. While alive, the Raw Quint Flow passes through a Living Pattern via a Avatar Pattern - the Avatar. As it does so, the Pattern 'taints' the Avatar and leaves behind a Residue on the Avatar. The Residue represents the uniqueness of the individual - the living Pattern's memories and experiences.
However, this does not explain the existence of Wraiths. Ordinarily, the Residue is recycled along with the Avatar (ideally with some Downtime in between, to crystallise into a Past Life) - however, if the dying incarnation has a strong will to continue its individual existence AFTER its death, it can remain as a Wraith.
In effect, the Residue - the memories, and sum of that incarnation's experiences - is not willing to re-enter the Cycle. However, Reality NEEDS the Avatars or Souls back in the Cycle, regardless of the needs of the individual. When this conflict of interest arises, Reality recycles the Avatar, but 'dumps' the Residue out into another Realm - the Shadowlands. Here, the Residue's (ie. individual's) will to exist can be satisfied, though probably not in quite the way expected...
This 'dumping' has several interesting consequences and implications. First, ALL the Residue is dumped from the Avatar - even those of previous (crystallised) incarnations. This means the Avatar is re-used 'clean' - ie. the new incarnation cannot access its Past Lives, since all the Residue that comprises these is now existing in Shadowlands as a Wraith.
The existence of Wraiths is maintained by pure force of will. Wraiths are not (and have no) Patterns, Avatars, Souls, or Spirits - they are just pure 'Psyche'. As a result, the excess dumped Residue - the previous Past Lives of the Wraith that has been dumped back into the Shadowlands with it - are a lot more noticeable. Many manifest as Shadows to the Wraith, while some are benevolent in nature - these may manifest as the Wraith's Eidolon.
A more detailed alternative can be used if the Wraith Players Guide is at hand - the 'Past Life' and 'Throwback' Merit and Flaw can be used. In the paradigm presented here, a 'Past Life' Merit alone would be rather rare. In practice, most past lives would have attendent with them at least a one point 'Throwback' Flaw owing to the purely mental nature of the Wraith. Without distractions of the Flesh, the clamouring Past Lives become that much more noticeable.
It is also possible that the Past Lives can take a collective Will of their own. While outside a Flow (ie. in a Wraith), perhaps they can realise that their natural place in back in the Cycle as part of the 'Avatar package'. As such, if they are noticeable enough it is possible that they can conspire against the Wraith itself (either by forcing it into encounters with Oblivion, or by persuading it to aim for Transcendence) in an attempt to re-enter the Cycle.
ON TRANSCENDENCE AND OBLIVION
Recall that Reality is forced (by the individual's continuing will to exist) to separate the Residue from the Avatar. This is not a stable situation, and Reality craves the reunion of the two. Ideally, future incarnations should be able to access the Wraith's life and previous Past Lives. With this separation, this becomes impossible as long as the Residue remains in the Shadowlands. We now see that the Wraith's 'will to exist' is actually selfish in the extreme - it forces the Avatar to 'dump' the Residue into another Realm - the Shadowlands - and denies future generations the chance to access that Wraith's life. Instead, the Wraith spends all its time trying to uphold the reason for its continuing existence - be it lost love, revenge, or any other Passion.
We can now explain the two fundamental opposite poles of the Wraith's existence. Transcendence is the act of willingly 'letting go' of all the things that bind a Wraith to the Shadowlands. In doing this, the Wraith acknowledges that he can continue onto the next life... Now, we see what happens AFTER the brilliant light at the end of the tunnel that is Transcendence - at this juncture, the 'Residue' that comprises the Wraith is 'scooped up' and placed in another (residue-less) Avatar just re-entering the Cycle, and lives once more! Certainly, the Wraith is not conscious of his continuing living existence - it's not even a Wraith anymore. It's merely a Residue of previous incarnations - a Past Life - that the now-living Pattern that hosts it can potentially access.
This also explains what Oblivion is. Reality abhors imbalance, and the Wraith's existence does tip a very powerful balance - for in denying future incarnations of the Avatar the knowledge of the Wraith's own and previous lives, the Wraith also sets itself up as a unique entity that shouldn't technically exist. The Wraith is an imbalance in the scales of nature. It shouldn't be holding on to its former existence at the expense of the future. So, Reality itself creates a way of taking back the Wraith. It wants the Residue back in the Cycle as quickly as possible - it cannot afford to wait for the Wraith to realise that everything will be fine afterwards and Transcend on its own - it wants that Residue back now. Otherwise, future existences become blank incarnations that have lost centuries of previous knowledge.
So it creates Oblivion to literally drag the Wraith screaming back into the Cycle. In effect, Oblivion and Transcendence are the same thing. Both ultimately send the Wraith back into the Cycle, and to forget its individual existence as part of the Residue of generations before. The difference is in the way its done - Oblivion drags the Wraith kicking and screaming into a yawning black void (no Wraith wishes to willingly suffer the loss of identity and uniqueness that this 'quick' way of reclamation involves), while Transcendence is Reality's way of rewarding the Wraith for returning to the Cycle willingly and is consequently a blissful, peaceful, and beautiful experience - Reality's reward, if you will, for returning to the fold.
This also explains the rising tide of Oblivion in the Shadowlands. The population of the Dark Umbra is increasing daily at an alarming rate, and so more and more Residue is leaving the Cycle. Reality does not like this one bit, so it tries to destroy the tangible Shadowlands completely and replace it all with Oblivion (being much easier to do than to Transcend everyone, because almost none of them want to come back (via Oblivion) willingly) and just send everyone screaming back into the Cycle. This is what Spectres are - the corrective force of this reality, come to forcibly return the Wraiths to the Cycle.
Also, this implies that Oblivion does not DESTROY the Wraith (ie. the Residue) - that would be self-defeating for Reality, as it wants the Residue back in the Cycle intact. In the case of Oblivion, the reclamation process is necessarily quick, and with 'no frills attached'. As a result, the effects on the Wraith are extremely painful as his Passions and Fetters - the reasons for its continuing (and errant) existence - are torn from the core of its being. However, after succumbing to Oblivion, the Residue is reclaimed intact and placed into another residue-less Avatar re-entering the Cycle, unscarred and whole. Since the Wraith's existence occurs outside the Cycle of Life and Death, none of the events that occur in the Shadowlands are recorded in the Residue, so the Past Life that corresponds to that Wraith remembers only its mortal existence.
It should be noted that the Avatar Pattern itself is always recycled, regardless of whether or not the Residue of former existences is within it, so Avatars aren't disappearing from the Cycle - just the Residue.
ON THE NATURE OF THE SHADOW
The most obvious way to persuade a Wraith to re-enter the Cycle of Life and Death is through the use of its Shadow. By equating the dark side's needs with Reality's needs, a rather elegant solution is formulated in which Reality itself doesn't really need to do much work. The Shadow, when it gains control, can easily guide the Wraith to the waiting arms of Oblivion. In the paradigm presented here, Shadows are malevolent past lives who have themselves been through the Shadowlands on previous incarnations and who now know their place here in this incarnation is unnatural. They themselves know what Oblivion really is, and they serve their purpose - to return the Wraith to Oblivion and therefore to the Cycle of Life and Death - well.
When Oblivion first appeared on the scene, there were no Malfeans or Spectres - these appeared AFTER the first Wraiths were sucked into its gaping maw and recycled. Of course, the Residues that made up those first Wraiths re-entered the Cycle whole and intact. However, in order to help 'encourage' Wraiths to give up their individuality, Reality created 'recordings' of the Shadows of those that passed through Oblivion and used these to create Spectres. Spectres are NOT made up of Residue - in effect, all they are is an imprint on reality, and as such they should have no real existence outside the Shadowlands. However, the truth is more complicated in practice...
So what exactly ARE the footsoldiers of Oblivion? To the Wraiths themselves, it would appear that a Wraith has been sucked screaming into Oblivion, and a twisted, corrupted, Spectre has re-emerged in the form of a Shade or Doppleganger. This is true to a degree - however, the creature that is expelled from Oblivion's maw is NOT comprised of the Residue that entered it.
What actually happens is that both Wraith and Shadow are merged back into one entity and the Residue that comprises them is replaced into a 'blank' (ie. Residue-less) Avatar that is re-entering the Cycle - thus, the balance is restored and the Residue becomes part of a Living Pattern.
What comes out of Oblivion on the Shadowland side is a 'copy' of the reclaimed Wraith's Shadow, changed by Oblivion into something that can 'encourage' other Wraiths to enter Oblivion and be reclaimed. While it is true that its motivations are based on the Shadow, it is important to note once again that a Spectre is NOT a Shadow in itself - ie. the Residue that makes up a Wraith has not been split further and separated into Eidolon and Shadow. What returns to the Shadowlands is merely a 'recording' of the Shadow.
Of course, some recordings are better than others. It is not known how or why Reality makes them, but Dopplegangers do exist. Once again, these are still 'recordings' - they are just ones that have personalities, motivations, and the ability to enter the Shadowlands. In this paradigm, they cannot retain the same Fetters as the Wraiths they were created from as described on pg. 45 in the 'Sea Of Shadows' (SoS) book - these are all lost as the Wraith is consumed by Oblivion. What happens instead is that they have Fetters that correspond to the more unpleasant side of the Wraith from which they formed - the stick used to beat up the wife, the gun used to murder someone and so on. The Wraith (while it existed) may not have had these as Fetters, but the Doppleganger (being a more sentient copy of the Shadow) can remember these and use them as Fetters. This raises interesting possibilities - a Wraith can be recycled, but the Doppleganger that forms as a result can still plague (through some Arcanoi) the living Fetters of the ex-Wraith! This can happen because (once again) the Doppleganger is just a dark COPY of the Wraith, and not the Wraith itself that has been returned to the Shadowlands in a more twisted form.
Note that the paradigm presented here is still compatible with the 'Dark Reflections: Spectres' (DR:S) book, because the copies of the Wraiths that pass through Oblivion are not wholly perfect. Since the Wraith did not enter willingly and still ultimately went down screaming to continue its existence, a faint vestige of its character is imprinted in the Spectre produced as a result of its passing. This vestige is known as the 'Psyche', and is described in detail on pages 55 - 61 of DR:S. Again however, it is important to note that the Psyche has no real existence outside the Shadowlands - it is merely a defect in the copy of the Residue that is a Spectre. However, the Psyche can dominate the Spectre in certain circumstances, and if sufficiently powerful the Spectre can be 'Redeemed' and vanishes from existence completely.
Spectres can be thought of in a similar way as 'artificial intelligences', and it is entirely possible (and indeed is most often the case) that they are unaware that they are copies and think they are 'real'. Spectres can suffer just as easily as Wraiths from emotional torment, guilt, and so on because they themselves believe that they are real entities and that the memories and feelings they experience are their own - it is somewhat akin to convicing a fictional character that he is not real. The memories of good times that their Psyche uses to harrow them are no less real to them just because they are copies of the Wraith that originally experienced them.
When a Spectre is 'redeemed' - i.e. the Composure trait of his Psyche reaches a value of 10 - the copy effectively 'short-circuits'. What happens here is that the defect in the Spectre becomes so extensive within it that the copy becomes non-viable and the whole thing simply collapses. The Spectre does not Transcend since it cannot do so in the first place, neither is it consumed by Oblivion (since it already has been) - it just ceases to exist. Similarly, when Spectres suffer enough damage to 'kill' them, their existence ends in the same way. Ultimately, they simply cease to exist.
Malfeans on the other hand are more unusual. Plotters (SoS, pg. 48) are simply Spectres that have gained much power over the years. Reality itself holds nothing against Dopplegangers and Spectres - they are not composed of Residue, so Reality can let them exist forever with no worries. Usually, Plotters evolve from powerful Dopplegangers.
However, Grotesques (such as Gorool) and Wyrds (pg. 41, SoS), are more interesting creatures...
GROTESQUES AND THE DARKNESS: Here, I make a digression that will eventually become relevant to the Grotesques. There are some elements of the Nephandi who seek to destroy all realities and all creatures of Pattern, and not to pervert, warp, or corrupt them. It can be argued that the natural state of the universe is non-existence - these beings seek to return everything to this natural state and can therefore be perceived as the corrective forces of the Metaverse - this opinion is held particularly by The Continuum, a Tradition I have written for Mage: The Ascension.
One can obviously draw analogies here between the Nephandi described above and the forces of Oblivion. After all, it seems that Spectres are the corrective forces of reality as well, trying to return Wraiths to the Cycle. However, the key difference is that Spectres (and the Plotter Malfeans) are rather specialised 'corrective forces', existing in the Shadowlands of THIS Reality (ie. Gaia) only. The Nephandi described above on the other hand are much more generalised, having originated from outside Gaia and the Shadowlands. These entities seek to correct the greater Reality (ie. not just Gaia, but ALL the other Realms in the Deep Umbra as well) by infiltrating them and destroying them from within.
The reptilian Grotesques (eg. Gorool) are a specific race of Nephandi that have taken up residence in the Shadowlands - there are many more like Gorool lurking in the Labyrinth somewhere. In effect, they are Spirit entities that have taken plasmic form, as opposed to Wraiths that are composed of pure Mind. Other Nephandi have also entered the Shadowlands, but these appear in a different manner to the reptilian horrors such as Gorool, and are often also classed as Grotesques or even (mistakenly) as Wyrds - regardless, they have the same motivations as their reptilian-looking cousins.
In all cases, the Residues of Wraiths devoured by these Nephandi-creatures do NOT reappear in the Cycle of Life and Death - they are truly destroyed and are lost to Reality forever. The Grotesques are neither agents of Oblivion nor of Transcendence - rather, they seek to destroy the Shadowlands and all within completely. Even Oblivion represents something, and the Grotesques seek to destroy even this and leave total nothingness behind. Their aim is to erase the Shadowlands from existence, and in doing so weaken the rest of the Gaia Realm so that it collapses from within and all is destroyed. They may even liaise with those Nephandi that lay siege to the other spiritual realms of Gaia in its Near Umbra, co-ordinating their attacks with their brethren outside and striking when Gaia is under concerted attack - this may explain the existence of the Maelstroms in which the Grotesques appear. The Spectres that serve these beings most probably do not realise their masters' true goals, and will certainly not be spared should they succeed in the destruction of the Shadowlands.
WYRDS AND LEGENDARIES
The Wyrds and Legendaries (and possibly even Deliriums) pg 40-41, SoS) are other beings from the Deep Umbra - most are from other Realms beyond Gaia. They are NOT Nephandi though - all Nephandi are classed as Grotesques, and seek to destroy Reality via the destruction of the Shadowlands. Although they are not Nephandi, they do have very alien motivations which sometimes manifest destructively. The Residues of Wraiths lost to Wyrds and Legendaries are not destroyed completely like those lost to Grotesques - rather they can re-enter the Cycle as normal.
ANGELICS AND DEMONICS
Angelics and Demonics are always derived from the passage of religious Wraiths (most often Heretics) through Transcendence or Oblivion. The Heretic's beliefs are so strong that they can change the recording that Reality makes as they re-enter the Cycle of Life and Death into something that fits their belief system more closely. Thus, religious Wraiths who Transcend 'into the light' may have such strong beliefs that Reality records them in the Shadowlands as angelic beings. Similarly, those who are consume by Oblivion may believe that they are entering Hell, and so their 'recording' in the Shadowlands appears demonic. Fanatical believers are more likely to be recorded as Archangelics or Archdemonics. Remember though that the Residues of those Wraiths lost to any Angelics or Demonics (arch- or otherwise) are still reclaimed by Reality, and re-enter the Cycle of Life and Death as normal.
Djinn are formed in a similar way to the Angelics and Demonics (and are related to the latter), and are those 'recordings' made by Reality of Wraiths who are claimed by Oblivion as a result of extremely powerful emotions of greed and avarice. These 'recordings' seek to draw other Wraiths into Oblivion via these same emotions. It is likely that other emotions (such as lust) can manifest in 'recordings', creating Succubi and Incubi.
It should be noted that some True Demons (as described in the 'Book of Madness' (BoM) for Mage) do exist in the Shadowlands. These Demons are related to the Nephandi, and so are different to the 'False' Demonics and Archdemonics indigenous to the Shadowlands. In practice, their motives appear similar (ie. both True and False Demons seek to tempt Wraiths) but a Wraith who is lost to a True Demon is claimed by the Demon and so does not re-enter the Cycle of Life and Death (at least not directly). Such a Wraith is of limited value to a True Demon, since it is not a complete Soul. Ideally, Demons want the combined Avatar package - ie. both Avatar and Residue - rather than the Residue alone. Still, the hapless Wraith can continue to exist in the Deep Umbral Hell Realm that the Demon resides in. It is usually bound in servitude to the Demon, or used as a helpless plaything in its games of torture and pain. Note though that the Residue that comprises the Wraith is still not destroyed, and as such can be 'rescued' somehow and returned to the Shadowlands.
True Demons and Shadows/Spectres are surprisingly rather exclusive to eachother - they are rarely seen together. A True Demon has little use for a Shadow, as anything the Shadow can do the Demon itself can do in a much more effective manner, against even living targets. The 'corruption' of a Spectre is fairly subjective - Wraiths just THINK a Spectre is corrupt because they believe it is a sentient entity that willingly serves Oblivion, born of a Wraith that has been 'destroyed' by Oblivion. Of course, this is a slightly misguided view, but the Wraiths are completely unaware of the true purpose of Oblivion. However, the corruption of a True Demon is much more objective - Demons are corrupters regardless of the opinions of those who see and interact with them! The webs of deceit and corruption that a Spectre may weave to ensnare a Wraith in Oblivion pales into insignificance compared to the plots and machinations of a True Demon - as a result, a True Demon has very little use for a Spectre. In addition, Wraiths captured by True Demons are not converted into Shadows - while the temptations and tortures inflicted by the Demon can encourage the Wraith's Shadow, the Demon often deliberately restrains the Shadow and prevents it from taking control. This is partly for the reasons of incompatibility described above, but largely because it is much more enjoyable for the Demon to prolong the torment on a Wraith than it is to torture a Shadow who will probably enjoy the suffering anyway. There are however some Demons who actively encourage the Shadow to appear and provide bodies for these Shadows, effectively making them into minor Demons themselves. However, it should be remembered that all these are really are Residues clothed in physical bodies created by Demonic Magick. As such, these Residues can be freed from their demonic bodies if they are slain and if returned to the Shadowlands they can be re-cycled via Oblivion as normal.
In practice, few True Demons are found in the Shadowlands, prefering the more fertile Souls (and complete 'Avatar packages') of the living worlds. However, some frequent or even make their home in the Shadowlands, having a particular taste for the mental suffering and torture they can inflict on a Wraith.
In summary, the inhabitants of the Shadowlands are many and varied. Wraiths themselves form as a result of the division of the complete 'Avatar package' of Soul and Residue into separate entities - the Residue is dumped in the Shadowlands and forms the Wraith.
Spectres, Angelics and Demonics are effectively the 'ghosts of Wraiths', left behind in the Shadowlands after the Wraith itself has been recycled via Oblivion or Transcendence. They are not comprised of Residue like the Wraiths, but are rather a 'recording' made by Reality as they passed through Transcendence or Oblivion.
Grotesques, Wyrds, Legendaries, Deliriums and True Demons are outsiders to the Shadowlands, and are not Wraiths at all - they are Spirits that in most cases have adopted plasmic form. The Grotesques are all Nephandi, who seek to destroy the Shadowlands and even Oblivion itself. Wyrds, Legendaries, and Deliriums are visitors to the Shadowlands from other Realms in the Deep Umbra, and are not Nephandi. True Demons (as opposed to the Demonics that are indigenous to the Shadowlands) originate from other Hell Realms in the Deep Umbra, and sometimes take Wraiths back to their Hells to be their thralls or lackeys.
Originally published: Thu, 24 Aug 1995, updated 22/2/97