The notion that people have but one soul – one invisible part – is a comparatively modern one. The notions of undead, of spirits, and of similar things go back a great deal further.
To use such story elements well – to give them the depth that has led to stories of revenge, or dark spirits, and of hauntings to be retold across the centuries – it’s worth examining some of the beliefs that such tales originally grew out of. Ergo, for today, it’s a look at the many Parts of the Soul:
The Shadow is the base aspect of the soul – the evil, selfish, and animalistic side that’s usually regulated to the unconscious and expresses itself in malevolent impulses. It is the wellspring of destruction, the urge that sends the limbs of the dead to throttle the living, the darkness which haunts the tomb, the voice of malediction which torments the victim of possession. The power of the shadow can grant malignant animation to what should be dead and enrage those it possesses, multiplying their brute strength. It is the nature of the shadow to lurk in hiding, to re-emerge, and to survive.
In games and fiction the Shadow can be seen as the power animating “mindless” – but malevolent – undead, as the force in tombs and fallen cities that drives intruders into homicidal madness, and as the motivating force behind many insanities. Why are so many undead spirits inherently evil, graveyards so often seen as places of ill omen, and people who visit such places without taking special precautions so often driven mad? It’s because the Shadow haunts it’s old body, selfishly and mindlessly seeking the rest of the soul – and often has nowhere else to go, save to lose what individuality it has in some tempest of malevolent force in the depths of the underworld.
The Breath is the raw life force – the emotional and magical potential of a being, the strength that drives roots through rock, the urge to survive, the essence which drives arcane abilities. It grants power to the words of the dying, as some portion of the divine breath passes out from them. It flows through the blood and flesh of every living thing. It is a craving for the Breath of Life and the vital force it carries which drives vampires to drink blood, ghouls to devour flesh, and liches and wights to drain the life force of others. The spirits of the dead steal breath to renew their power, to once more experience life, and to fill the endless void of their hollow existence. Sometimes some portion of an individuals Breath can be passed on – granting some portion of the master’s potential to a favored pupil or imbuing those present with renewed strength. At other times it hangs around as a poltergeist – or parts of it can even escape in such a fashion while the character yet lives.
In games and fiction, this is the factor that grants renewed strength and inspiration to the rest of a group when a member of it falls, that powers dying curses and blessings, that drives sacrifice-powered magic and feeds gods and spirits that require living sacrifices, that explains why visions of the dead are generally powerless to either directly aid or harm the living, and that explains why a character who returns from the dead is weakened for a time – his or her Breath has not yet fully returned to his or her corporeal form. Indeed, a character who’s vital force has been truly snuffed out cannot return unless some mighty power provides a new Breath of Life.
The Name is both a meaningless reflection and the essence of the spirit itself. Fragments of the name may be caught and preserved in words, upon monuments, and in the lessons passed on to others. In the name lies memory and thought, albeit with only the faint echoes of purpose or emotion. Here are the listless spirits of the dead, the inhabitants of the dry lands, and the whisper of dust. Existence without purpose, save to remember and be remembered. Those dry shades raised to converse and advise, the whispering presence of dead scholars, and the traces of vision left upon the writings and tools of the dead are the traces of the Name. Alone, the Name has knowledge without power, intellect without will. The name is easily banished – and as easily recalled.
In games and fiction, the Name is what answers itself; when you pronounce the name carved into the coffin, when you read the writings of a sage long passed away, and when you recall the deeds of a hero, memory stirs. Psychomancy, stirring tales, memes, and urban legends are all aspects of the Name. When characters wish to recall the past and speak with the dead, it is the name they want to talk to – and they had best hope that no other aspect of the soul still clings to the world, to come forth with the Name they invoke. Intelligent undead usually possess their Name and their Shadow, and either steal Breath from the living or replace it with some talismanic source of magic and power.
The Heart may remember little, it may not know it’s name, and it may have little force but to inspire others – but it is the seat of the personality, of wisdom and awareness, of the ten thousand social bonds which tie men together. The presence that comforts, the whisper that warns, and the anger which haunts, all spring from the Heart. It appears in dreams, to those who mourn, and to those who hate. No power but time unbinds the Heart, it endures despite all that can be turned against it.
In games and fiction, the Heart most often appears as a cryptic guide, a spirit with a final task, or in fulfillment of unrealized bonds. It may be longing to be free or it may crave a reunion – but it inspires without revealing, since the Heart feels – but does not know. How can a Heart spirit reveal what it lacks itself?
Undead usually lack the Heart, whether it has passed on to some sort of judgement or afterlife or whether it lingers and can be called back to them – at least temporarily – by invoking some powerful tie to briefly recall to them what they once were.
The Companion is made up of the repressed portions of the self – the alternatives left behind, the discarded fancies, and the what-if’s. The Companion is self-awareness, a detached observer or second point of view that sees the “owner” from the “outside” (in the case of Shamans, and others who have learned to send forth their companions, this is quite literal). The Companion allows a creature to question itself, and its own motives, allowing for growth, change, and adaption. Thanks to their status as “the other”, most companions are of the “opposite sex” to the primary entity and the companions of sapient beings usually manifest as animals, while those of animals usually manifest as people, although their forms may or may not be fixed. When a Companion appears – whether in reality or vision – in the form of its “owner”, it is usually a sign that death is near, and other aspects of the Soul are joining themselves to the Companion rather than to the “owners” physical form.
In games and fiction, the Companion may be known as a fylgja, a daemon, a fetch, a spirit animal, a totem, or a familiar, but – regardless of the name – it provides insights. While the Companion may sometimes roam far from it’s “owner”, it will always return until the soul is set free – which is why so few Undead are given to questioning themselves or their motives. In most such cases, the Companion will join with the Heart, allowing the Heart to manifest itself in various forms – and sometimes wielding those small talents that a creature failed to develop in life. Thus are spirits sometimes completely the opposite of what would be expected by those who knew them in life.
The Wyrd, whether Destiny or Doom, is always within and about a given soul. It is the shining heights, or darkest depths, which a spirit may attain. Unlike many parts of the soul, the Wyrd may readily be passed on, or attach itself to a place or item. It is a blind urge to achieve – but does not distinguish by the worth of what is achieved. Everlasting glory, eternal fame, black infamy, and the greatest of treacheries all lie within the bounds of Wyrd, although a given Wyrd always tries to bear it’s possessor along a particular path. Occasionally a Wyrd – or the will to defy one – will drive a spirit after death, to complete a mission, to attain some mighty goal, or to truly descend into the ultimate depths, but more often such a Wyrd will be passed on or will attach itself to some token to await a new bearer.
In games and fiction, thus are family quests and oaths passed on and spirits bound to service beyond all hope. The fallen knight who attempts again and again to deliver his or her charge, the wizard obsessed with a particular piece of research, and the tragic figure doomed to attempt to fulfill some impossible oath all fall into this category. The Wyrd-bound will let nothing stand in their way; no questions of right and wrong, or justice or injustice, or of sanity, will sway them form their course. Undead driven by Wyrd make for relentless hunters, perpetual battles, and deadly mysteries. Until their purpose is accomplished, they will invariably return.
The Guardian is a creatures higher self – his or her sense of honor, nobility, and duty. If the Shadow is an individuals demonic nature, the Guardian is his or her angelic one. That does not make it a friendly aspect of the soul. Where the Shadow is dark and malevolent, the Guardian is as pure and terrible as the core of the sun. The Guardian demands purity and perfection, and is quite prepared to destroy that which does not fulfill it’s demands. Where the Shadow attacks, the Guardian defends.
In games and fiction, when the spirit of a fallen guardian reappears to stop some hideous entity, or to carry it into the arms of death with him or her, when a heroic sacrifice succeeds despite all odds, and when a character finds the strength to shatter some spell of control or paralysis, you can be sure that the Guardian is at work. The spirit teacher which trains mercilessly, the defender at the bridge, and the sentinel at the gate all express the nature of the Guardian. Of course, where the Guardian is untempered by the Heart and Name, you will find Judgement without mercy or sense of scale.
And now for the eighth aspect of the soul…
The Eidolon is both the image and the body, not as it is, but as it was – or perhaps as it ought to be. The perfected form is the goal of the Ka Statues of ancient egypt, it is the divine body – and it is the pattern for the physical body. Some believe that their Eidolon, “true”, or “inner”, form has little to do with their physical body. Others believe that it represents their divine body – and still more never really think about it.
Unlike the other parts of the Soul, the Eidolon can appear in many places at once, and can accompany the other parts of the soul or not. If all the aspects of the Eidolon can be gathered into one location, it can manifest corporally – creating a physical body to match itself. Less dramatically, where an image of an individual is, there is an aspect of their Eidolon, thus giving rise to prohibitions on the creation of images of human beings, of the idea that cameras steal souls, and to many odd beliefs about mirrors. An encounter with a character’s own Eidolon out by itself while said character yet lives is a sure sign of impending death; the soul has already begun to depart from the body.
In games and fiction, the Eidolon allows images to be used for communications, parts of the body to act as a link to the rest, and statues to act on behalf of those they resemble. An image is always a potential host for other portions of the soul – and a well-crafted portrayal of a place can draw a portion of your own Eidolon into itself, potentially entrapping a fragment of your soul inside a painting or mirror, to suffer whatever fate awaits there. Given that it can be in many places at once, and yet remains indivisible, the Eidolon is what links the scattered segments of a soul together – which is why they may scatter, unbound, when the physical aspect of the Eidolon goes the way of all flesh.
Why consider all this stuff? It’s to open up some possibilities and to add a little mythic depth to your world. Don’t settle for someone stealing souls when you could have someone stealing the Guardian aspects of souls, and thus turning lose quasi-living Shadow-driven monstrosities on the world.