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Okay, correct me if I’m wrong:

In the Pathfinder Universe, souls travel along the River of Souls after death, then hang around Pharasmas Boneyard for a while, get judged and then get send to whichever Outer Sphere plane matches their alignment. There, they become so-called petitioners, suffer/enjoy themselves for a while and with sufficient piety/malice/effort, eventually turn into a plane-appropriate outsider.

Now, has is ever been stated how long this process roughly takes? Years, decades, centuries, millennia? The only reference to time I found was about hammer archons:

Those archons who continually proves themselves in battle, either by striking down hordes of demons or by holding back a single pit fiend long enough for reinforcements to arrive, may get promoted to the rank of hammer archon. This process can take centuries, even millennia, but the lawful-aligned outsiders would brook no shortcuts. Many hound archons and shield archons with martial inclinations ceaselessly endeavor to rise to the heights of power that being a hammer archon represents.

But this is more about “rising in the ranks”, so to speak. And “brook no shortcuts” implied that shortcuts are apparently a thing(?).

(Honestly, the most interesting question to me is – would it be feasible for someone’s wise old mentor figure to return as an archon or for a former BBEG to reappear as a devil? I know they don’t really keep any proper memories of their old selves, but it would still be cool!)

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No, its left vague

The published campaign setting books have not specified a time period necessary for a petitioner to become a full outsider. As you pointed out, it could take a hundred years or more. However, keep in mind that time doesn't necessarily flows at the same speed on all planes, and there may be planes where millennia may happen during a weekend.

As for your specific examples, we know that new archons are born fairly quick (The Great Beyond, p.37):

All the archons that have ever been began their existences as mortals. After their deaths and subsequent arrival before the judges, souls are asked, “Does our judgment suit you?” Many souls nod in agreement—such is the judges’ ability to read the nature and needs of their charges—but souls destined to become archons pause, look up to the summit of the mountain, and shake their heads. Each judge knows the meaning of that response, even if the soul in question might not. The confused spirit is released from the archons’ queue and allowed to wander invariably toward the mountain’s soaring heights. When the spirit returns, descending from the mysterious summit, it does so no longer as a petitioner, but as an archon.

It is also known that demons have specific rituals that transforms a willing mortal into a full-fledged demon.

One way to learn such a ritual from a demon is to use planar ally or planar binding to conjure the demon in question and offer it a payment in return for the secrets of the transformation ritual—this could even be a four-step process requiring a new conjuration for each step of the ritual. Not every demon knows this information, of course, so researching the name of a specific demon can add an additional level of research required before the process can begin. A character might even receive the methods by which to transform into a demon via a series of dreams or visions (typically granted to him from a demonic patron in reward for service), although this route is best left for NPCs that are strictly under the GM’s control.

Finally, some devils are rumored to be spontaneously created from the soul of particularly evil mortals, or even granted their new form by a powerful Archdevil:

While fiendish lords wield transformation into greater or lesser forms as both prize and punishment, some devils spontaneously rise from particularly evil souls long trapped upon an infernal layer.

So, yes. It's perfectly fine to have a BBEG/patron return as an outsider.

Not all outsiders lose their memories

I know they don’t really keep any proper memories of their old selves

This isn't actually true for Golarion. We know that the following planes will wipe a petitioner's memory:

  • Abbadon, by crossing the River Styx (and may be found stored in a place called The Whirlpool, guarded by Charon);
  • Nirvana, as a side effect of joining the plane, the memories of all mortals are wiped clean by the gods;
  • First World has memory-eating fogs, but those can be avoided;

But other than that, there is nothing about losing their memories in the afterlife or by crossing Pharasma's Boneyard. From The Great Beyond (p.6):

In the process of their migration through the Astral, the dross of mortality is shed, leaving behind only their core self, their memories, and the refined character of their prior life.

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  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Wow. Wish I could upvote more than once. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Sep 5 '18 at 13:15

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