Spirits don’t have to be ghosts, that is, dead people. Spirits don’t have to be human. Spirits don’t even have to have once been alive.
They can be thoughtforms.
At the turn of the last century, a number of important treatises were published describing how thoughts can take form in a way that is visible to sensitive people. For the theosophists, thought forms were always being created, mostly unconsciously. They can appear as abstract shapes, colored according to the emotional state the person was in when they were created (red for anger, etc.) and exist only as long as the emotion remains. Then they fade.
However, for the magical adept there were a variety of methods to deliberately create thoughtforms to have a specific appearance and to perform a particular task. This is achieved by use of visualization or directed imagination. The shape of the thoughtform is seen in the mind’s eye in as much detail as possible for as long as possible. This is the first step, of course, in the production of a work of art -- painting, writing, music, dance, sculpture, etc. The work exists fully formed in the artist’s mind before it is given physical form through the skill of the artist’s craft.
In magic, thoughtforms are called artificial elementals. An artificial elemental is made up of emotional energy which is evoked by the magician. It is given form in the magician’s imagination much like a work of art, but in this case it is an actual entity having a kind of rudimentary intelligence and will. The form it takes can vary, but often it will be given the form of an actual creature, such as an animal, in order for the magician to be able to visualize it more clearly.
Some of these thoughtforms are harmless and may be benevolent. Alexandra David-Neel during her travels in Tibet in the 1920s, discovered that the Tibetan magicians made thoughtforms called tulpas to perform particular and helpful tasks. Intrigued, she set about making a tulpa in the shape of a jolly fat monk who became her companion and followed her around wherever she went.
Soon, however, her tulpa became so real that it began to unnerve her. It began to appear less jolly and more malignant, and began to do things that she hadn’t commanded it to do. Soon, other people began to see it, taking it for a real monk. She decided to dissolve it, but it proved to be quite tenacious of life and resisted her efforts for a long time. Eventually, she was able to get rid of it, but it took several months of work and proved to be very exhausting.
For some less well-intentioned magicians, a thoughtform such as this could be conjured up using the emotions of anger and destruction, given a horrifying form such as a predatory animal or a demonic figure and sent to an enemy to exact some kind of vengeance. This thoughtform, although not physically able to harm its victims, could frighten them to death or cause them to have some kind of fatal accident.
Many people seek help from various questionable practitioners to get rid of such malevolent visitor, often for a hefty fee. This might involve an elaborate ceremony of some sort, which might make them feel better for a time. However, if there really is a malignant thoughtform attached to them and their problems are not a result of their own dysfunctional life choices, such a ceremony will have little lasting value and will have to repeated for the same fee – which is often the point.
It is a magical axiom that the only person who can dissolve the thoughtform is the person who made it in the first place. This is because the thoughtform is generally made up of the substance of the magician’s own psyche and requires the magician to ‘re-absorb’ the psychic substance in order to dissolve it. If the thoughtform is a fat, jolly Tibetan monk, this might not be so bad.
If it’s a malignant thoughtform fashioned of anger and murderous desires, maybe not so much.