Jason Miller, sorcerer, author, occult teacher recently posted to his StrategicSorcery.net blog addressing the topic – What Are Spirits? Here it is:
I go deep into this in my book, but for now lets just say that Gods and big important spirits tend to be consciousness organized around large cosmic or natural features. What we know of gods also runs through a lens of human understanding, which in turn effects the organization of the God or spirit in question. That doesn’t mean they don’t have life or existence without human input, it just means that what we know of them is clearly patterned by human language and culture and history. Our understanding in turn effects the being in question at a fundamental level. This is true of people too, and if spirits and gods are more subtle than we are, we should assume its equally true of them as well, if not moreso.
Other spirits might be consciousness organized around a stream or a cave, a particular culture, or, in our case, a body. These spirits are somewhat less subtle and more focused. They might be less impacted by culture and history, but more restricted in other ways.
I can’t get deep into orientation without boring you all with etheric/astral/symbol-space/mental/causal layers of reality, but suffice to say that when you call upon the Archangel Michael he responds no matter where you are on the globe. The spirit in the creek that runs through my back yard, not so much. This speaks to an orientation that is causal/noetic/higher astral vs physical/etheric/lower astral.
Add to this ways that gods and spirits and humans can deliberately change their orientation for short periods of timeand you start to see how invocation, evocation, mystical visions, and such work. Over time a spirit might change its natural orientation, especially after older organizing factors expire, be it a body or a broadly practiced religion.
This gets complicated by the fact that a spirit might be oriented in a way that makes them available anywhere, yet still somewhat MORE available in certain key places. Think about Fatima, the Asura cave, or carefully maintained shrines.
Complicating it even further is the possibility of what I call “Mall Santa’s”. These are spirits that are oriented locally and closer to physical, but who fill in for larger vast Spirits and Gods on occasion. Are they separate beings? Are they deceivers? Are they legions or spirits in the retinue? My answer: depends on the case.
All of this leads to a definition that is not at all neat and tidy. This is as it should be. Beyond any of what I have said, there are things we don’t know, and beyond that things we can’t know. At least not yet. Sadly there are not enough people who are willing to entertain complexity or the idea that they don’t know something.