One problem I’ve been struggling with since when I started working on the Old World setting is creating a clear concept of what spirits are and how they behave. Since shamans and animistic religion are a major focus of the setting, this issue is a pretty big deal. I’ve been doing a lot of shuffling around and recategorizing of my creatures over the years but never really got to a satisfying conclusion. The last set of categories I had been using was people, beasts, undead, and everything else was a spirit. They are all inhabitants of the Spiritworld after all.
But looking back, this only seems to have caused more confusion than clarity. And I now think this is because there are two fundamentally different types of beings that are all said to live in the lands of spirits, at least in the way we think about these beings today. The fey people of celtic myth, or at least their modern interpretation in the British-Irish tradition are not animistic beings. They are people. They are generally human in shape, talk in human languages, dress in human clothing, live in human dwellings, cook their food, and are apparently born and age. But they are the people of a parallel world that obeys diferent rules, which makes their behavior seem very strange and gives them powers that are for all intends and purposes magic. This is not unique to the British Isles, though. You find many similar creatures in India and Japan as well.
But the spirits of nature are fundamentally different beings. They can appear in human form, but that’s not their real form. They are not born and do not age, they do not need to eat and you can not kill them with a blade. They do not live in a river or in a tree. They are the river and the tree.
When you lool at original descriptions of supernatural mystical beings, I don’t think this distinction holds really up and doubt people actually saw them this way. But when creating stories for modern audiences, I think it’s a quite important distinction that we take for granted, even if we never really think about that.
Taking these things into consideration, I don’t think my shie, naga, raksha, and giants really qualify as spirits anymore. They have supernatural powers and they are native to the spiritworld, but they are all people who were once born and who can be killed with a blade. While I think the execution of creature types in the RPGs Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder is a total mess, I think it is the right idea. There needs to be a category of creatures that are magical instead of mundane mortal, but also clearly different from immortal spirits of the land, angels, and demons. So I will be expanding the categories in my creature document from four to five and add the Magical Creatures group. Hopefully this will help me get a better grip on the supernatural in the Old World.