- No, spirits cannot be considered as magic because their qualities/features/attributes are completely different. While magic deals with the unrealistic manipulation of matter, spirit deals with existence in another dimention or on another plane (in my interpretation).
My interpretation of magic is that it's supernatural causation, rather than manipulation of matter, which is compatible with encompassing ghosts and spirits etc . It's not a perfect definition since it's possible we live in a dualist universe, in which case we have supernatural causation (by our current understanding) in reality, but it's consistent with most definitions I've come across (until now :P ).
I think magic has mostly been used with the intent of encompassing spirits etc in this thread, but I'd be happy to use the word supernatural instead of magic if you'd prefer it.
It just has to include some theme or element that cuts it off from the world as we know it...
It's this part here that I think is most significant in identifying fantasy. Traditionally it is done using supernatural themes, but I don't think the absence of them automatically places a story into a different genre.
I had a go and describing the difference between sci fi and fantasy in my last post, but I don't think I did a very good job. I've been thinking about it since then and I think I can do a better job. Sci fi is oriented whilst fantasy is not.
In Sci-Fi, the world is described to the reader in a way that is contextual with our reality. In Sci-Fi, when you're taken to another universe, it's an alternate dimension and there are probably an infinite number of other universes varying by tiny amounts like shades of grey. In fantasy, when you turn up in a different universe, it's completely unique and self contained, there's no gradient and any relation to other universes has a special meaning, it's not just statistical (eg; Chronicles of Narnia, The Magician's Apprentice).
In Sci-Fi, if you make up a species, it's oriented within an eco-system that fits with reality. In fantasy, it may have it's own eco-system, but the eco-system doesn't fit reality. Ie; if you wrote a story where Homo floresiensis survived to interact with modern humanity, that would be sci fi. If you wrote a story which is otherwise normal but contains hobbits, that would be fantasy.
In Sci-Fi, if you're on another planet, you're looking at it from the perspective of someone from Earth (or Terra if the author feels like being non specific). In fantasy the author simply describes a new landscape from scratch, with no orientation at all to this world whatsoever. There may be elements from this universe, but it's not oriented. For example, the world of Tortall is an entirely new landscape that has some similarities to medieval Europe, but it is disoriented. You can't bring it back to reality without tearing it to pieces.
So basically, I think that a story is fantasy if the world it's set in can't be brought back to reality without destroying it. It's true for Alanna and Ranger's Apprentice sans the magic and supernatural elements and it's true for that story I was talking about.
I think that the supernatural is the simplest and most common way to do this, but it can also be done by creating band new landscapes, cultures or species so long as these differences are not oriented with respect to our current reality.
Side note: Rereading my last post, I can really understand Sionnains comment that my story sounds sci-fi. I've been trying to figure out why it sounds sci-fi now when it didn't before and I think it's because since starting my geology course, I now can't help but look at the landscapes scientifically. So now when I think 'islands in a shallow sea' I think 'drowned continent', but at the time of writing it I just wanted a lot of islands. So the me that wrote it couldn't have brought it back to Earth without tearing it a part, even though current me can, so the summary comes across as sci-fi while the actual story come across as fantasy because the person describing it is different to the person writing it. Does that make any sense?
Side note 2: Ranger's apprentice is actually a really interesting example, because now that I've actually thought about it, I remember that the characters in that book don't all believe in magic, even though they're familiar with some phenomena that would be considered supernatural and/or magical in our world.