According to the dominant magickal paradigm in modern times, the guidance, insight, and power the mage receives stems from an entity known as the Avatar and usually identified with the soul or a vital part thereof, which reincarnates over the years. While this is convenient in many paradigms, for others (especially the Technocratic one) it creates various problems--the most notable that not every possible magickal paradigm validates reincarnation. Fortunately, the Avatar-Soul Equivalent Theory is not the only one that explains most or all of the phenomena attributed to the Avatar.
Spirit Guide Theory
According to spirit guide theory, Avatars are not a part of the mage as such, though they may be closely linked to the mage's personality. Rather, the Avatar is a separate being, or a part of such a being, that has taken an interest in the mage and bestowed power on her. This theory was more popular in the Late Mythic Age, when the Avatar was referred to as a "Daemon", but it persists in two major forms today.
Spirit Helper Variant
According to many Dreamspeakers, some Choristers, and certain Verbena, as well as many Dreamspeaker-related Crafts, the Avatar is a spiritual being who comes down from higher planes to assist the mage and bestows power on him. The Avatar preserves the mage's consciousness and usually carries it on to the afterlife, while keeping its own record of the mage's experiences to pass on to its next "assignment".
Surprisingly, in recent times some Progenitors and Void Engineers have taken up spirit guide theory in a radical new form: the Avatar is a symbiotic alien lifeform that shares its insights on reality with the mage and lends her the memory of its previous hosts, taking on her memory when she dies for future reference. This idea has passed into popular culture via Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the Trills, but also in a darker form, suggesting that Avatars are malevolent parasites who use humanity for their own ends.
Selective Collective Unconsciousness Theory
According to the concept of the collective unconsciousness, all minds are linked at a fundamental level below conscious awareness. This theory became briefly unpopular when it was claimed that it could not explain the "line of succession" that seems to be present among Avatars, but revised variants soon appeared that explained the partial division of the unconsciousness in widely diverging terms. These theories usually maintain that the divisions are superficial and that at a still deeper level, all supposedly individual Avatars merge; this _could_ be considered to coincide with Ascension. SCU theory is actually _better_ at explaining phenomena such as twin souls than standard Avatar theory, though some have questioned why there should not be more of them on these terms.
According to Jungian Etherites, some Hermetics including House Thig, and a few Progenitors and NWO Operatives, the CU is divided by archetypal elements to which Avatar lines of succession correspond. Individuals who match the archetype receive the memories coalesced around it more easily than those who do not.
Social Role Construct Variant
Many NWO Operatives and Syndicateers maintain that the collective unconsciousness is the workings of society itself. Individuals who fall into particular social roles are subject to absorbing the knowledge pertaining to those roles unconsciously, via body language, tone, and unconscious aspects of speech. This knowledge then trickles up to the conscious mind, often via dreams and daydreams.
Genetic Memory Variant
A significant number of Progenitors and Sons of Ether, and according to rumor some Virtual Adepts and Iterators, believe that the distilled memory of one's ancestors is contained within one's genetic code. As a result, this alternate sort of collective unconsciousness is divided up according to family lineage, and for the most part reoccurs within the line, though on occasion outcrossing and dormant genes will reappear.
Selective Collective Consciousness Theory
This most recent variation on the Avatar concept implies that the phenomenon itself is a construct of some kind, inasmuch as ordinary Sleepers almost never consciously experience direct mental contact. The addition of an individual to the mental network, or activation within a normally dormant network, corresponds to Awakening.
Computer Interlink Variant
According to this concept encouraged among Iterators and popular among the Virtual Adepts, linkage to a computer network or core transfers information stored within it to the individual mind, which, being weak, may sometimes personify the source of this information. What information is transferred depends on the role of the individual in the linkage and what sources he is connected to.
Temporal Interchange Variant
Not necessarily strictly a collective consciousness theory, this unusual variation suggested by some Ecstatics and off-the-wall Void Engineers and Etherites teaches that the Avatar is in fact a series of temporal projections from both past _and_ future. Many Ecstatics claim to have met their future selves as their Avatars. More scientific believers in this theory often claim their "Avatar" is the visitation of various personalities from both past and present. What the Avatar is like depends on who it is that the individual is communicating with. A variant is communication with other versions of oneself from alternate histories.
Role in History Variant
Similar but not identical to the Social Role Construct Theory, this concept not well represented among any Tradition but accepted by some highly cohesive Crafts implies that the Awakening involves an acceptance of a particular purpose in life, which may or may not be predetermined for each individual. The mage is then linked to her colleagues across time and space by some semi-mystical means, generally to those with whose roles her role shares many similarities.