The spirit is often used metaphysically to refer to consciousness or personality. A spirit is a supernatural being, often, but not exclusively, a non-physical entity; such as a ghost, fairy, or angel. The concepts of a person’s spirit and soul, often also overlap, as both are either contrasted with or given ontological priority over the body and both are believed to survive bodily death in some religions, and “spirit” can also have the sense of “ghost“, i.e. a manifestation of the spirit of a deceased person. In English Bibles, “the Spirit” (with a capital “S”), specifically denotes the Holy Spirit.
In folk belief, the spirit is the vital principle or animating essence within all living things. As recently as 1628 and 1633 respectively, both William Harvey and René Descartes still speculated that somewhere within the body, in a special locality, there was a “vital spirit” or “vital force”, which animated the whole bodily frame, just as the engine in a factory moves the machinery in it.
Historically, it was also used to refer to a “subtle” as opposed to “gross” material substance, as in the famous last paragraph of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.
The English word “spirit” comes from the Latin spirits, but also “spirit, soul, courage, vigor”, ultimately from a Proto-Indo-European (s)peis. It is distinguished from Latin anima, “soul” (which nonetheless also derives from an Indo-European root meaning “to breathe”. In Greek, this distinction exists between pneuma (πνεῦμα), “breath, motile air, spirit,” and psykhē (ψυχή), “soul” (even though the latter term, ψῡχή = psykhē/psūkhē, is also from an Indo-European root meaning “to breathe”: bhes-, zero grade bhs- devoicing in proto-Greek to phs-, resulting in historical-period Greek ps- in psūkhein, “to breathe”, whence psūkhē, “spirit”, “soul”).
The word “spirit” came into Middle English via Old French. The distinction between soul and spirit also developed in the Abrahamic religions: Arabic nafs (نفس) opposite rūħ (روح); Hebrew neshama (נְשָׁמָה nəšâmâh) or nephesh נֶ֫פֶשׁ nép̄eš (in Hebrew neshamacomes from the root NŠM or “breath”) opposite ruach (רוּחַ rúaħ). (Note, however, that in Semitic just as in Indo-European, this dichotomy has not always been as neat historically as it has come to be taken over a long period of development: Both נֶ֫פֶשׁ (root נפשׁ) and רוּחַ (root רוח), as well as cognate words in various Semitic languages, including Arabic, also preserve meanings involving misc. air phenomena: “breath”, “wind”, and even “odour”).
Spiritual and metaphysical usage
- An incorporeal but ubiquitous, non-quantifiable substance or energy is present individually in all living things. Unlike the concept of souls (often regarded as eternal and sometimes believed to pre-exist the body) a spirit develops and grows as an integral aspect of a living being.
- A daemon, sprite, or ghost. People usually conceive of a ghost as a wandering spirit from a being no longer living, having survived the death of the body yet maintaining at least vestiges of mind and consciousness.
- In religion and spirituality, the respiration of a human has for obvious reasons become seen as strongly linked with the very occurrence of life. Spirit, in this sense, means the thing that separates a living body from a corpse—and usually implies intelligence, consciousness, and sentience.
- Latter-day Saint prophet Joseph Smith Jr. taught that the concept of spirit as incorporeal or without substance was incorrect: “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes.”
- Various forms of animism, such as Japan’s Shinto and African traditional religion, focus on invisible beings that represent or connect with plants, animals, or landforms (kami): translators usually employ the English word “spirit” when trying to express the idea of such entities.
- Individual spirits envisaged as interconnected with all other spirits and with “The Spirit” (singular and capitalized). This concept relates to theories of a unified spirituality, to universal consciousness and to some concepts of Deity. In this scenario all separate “spirits”, when connected, form a greater unity, the Spirit, which has an identity separate from its elements plus a consciousness and intellect greater than its elements; an ultimate, unified, non-dual awareness or force of life combining or transcending all individual units of consciousness. The experience of such a connection can become a primary basis for spiritual belief. The term spirit occurs in this sense in (to name but a few) Anthroposophy, Aurobindo, A Course In Miracles, Hegel, Ken Wilber, and Meher Baba (though in his teachings, “spirits” are only apparently separate from each other and from “The Spirit.”) In this use, the term seems conceptually identical to Plotinus’s “The One” and Friedrich Schelling’s “Absolute”. Similarly, according to the panentheistic/pantheistic view, Spirit equates to essence that can manifest itself as mind/soul through any level in pantheistic hierarchy/holarchy, such as through a mind/soul of a single cell (with very primitive, elemental consciousness), or through a human or animal mind/soul (with consciousness on a level of organic synergy of an individual human/animal), or through a (superior) mind/soul with synergetically extremely complex/sophisticated consciousness of whole galaxies involving all sub-levels, all emanating (since the superior mind/soul operates non-dimensionally, or trans-dimensionally) from the one Spirit.
- Christian spiritual theology can use the term “Spirit” to describe God, or aspects of God — as in the “Holy Spirit”, referring to a Triune God (Trinity) (cf. Gospel of Matthew 28:19).
- Pneumatology is the study of spiritual beings and phenomena, especially the spiritual aspect of human beings and the interactions between humans and God.
- Christian Science uses “Spirit” as one of seven synonyms for God, as in: “Principle; Mind; Soul; Spirit; Life; Truth; Love”
- According to C. G. Jung (in a lecture delivered to the literary Society of Augsburg, 20 October 1926, on the theme of “Nature and Spirit”):
The connection between spirit and life is one of those problems involving factors of such complexity that we have to be on our guard lest we ourselves get caught in the net of words in which we seek to ensnare these great enigmas. For how can we bring into the orbit of our thought those limitless complexities of life which we call “Spirit” or “Life” unless we clothe them in verbal concepts, themselves mere counters of the intellect? The mistrust of verbal concepts, inconvenient as it is, nevertheless seems to me to be very much in place in speaking of fundamentals. “Spirit” and “Life” are familiar enough words to us, very old acquaintances in fact, pawns that for thousands of years have been pushed back and forth on the thinker’s chessboard. The problem must have begun in the grey dawn of time, when someone made the bewildering discovery that the living breath which left the body of the dying man in the last death-rattle meant more than just air in motion. It can scarcely be an accident onomatopoeic words like ruach (Hebrew), ruch (Arabic), roho (Swahili) mean ‘spirit’ no less clearly than πνεύμα (pneuma, Greek) and spiritus (Latin).
- Psychical research, “In all the publications of the Society for Psychical Research the term ‘spirit’ stands for the personal stream of consciousness whatever else it may ultimately be proved to imply or require” (James H. Hyslop, 1919).
- In mysticism: existence in unity with Godhead. Soul may also equate with spirit, but the soul involves a certain individual human consciousness, while spirit comes from beyond that. Compare the psychological teaching of Al-Ghazali.
Similar concepts in other languages include Greek pneuma and Sanskrit akasha / atman (see also prana). Some languages use a word for spirit often closely related (if not synonymous) to mind. Examples include the German Geist (related to the English word ghost) or the French l’esprit. English versions of the Bible most commonly translate the Hebrew word ruach (רוח; wind) as “the spirit”, whose essence is divine.
Alternatively, Hebrew texts commonly use the word nephesh. Kabbalists regard nephesh as one of the five parts of the Jewish soul, where nephesh (animal) refers to the physical being and its animal instincts. Similarly, Scandinavian, Baltic, and Slavic languages, as well as Chinese (气 qi), use the words for breath to express concepts similar to “the spirit“.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia