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.
Spirit is often used metaphysically to refer to the consciousness or
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.
2 Spiritual and metaphysical usage
3 Related concepts
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
The English word "spirit" comes from the
Latin spiritus, meaning
"breath", but also "spirit, soul, courage, vigor", ultimately from a
Proto-Indo-European *(s)peis. It is distinguished from
"soul" (which nonetheless also derives from an Indo-European root
meaning "to breathe", earliest form *h2enh1-). 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",
The word "spirit" came into
Middle English via Old French. The
distinction between soul and spirit also developed in the Abrahamic
Arabic nafs (نفس) opposite rūħ (روح); Hebrew
neshama (נְשָׁמָה nəšâmâh) or nephesh נֶ֫פֶשׁ
Hebrew neshama comes 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
In spiritual and metaphysical terms, "spirit" has acquired a number of
An incorporeal but ubiquitous, non-quantifiable substance or energy
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
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.
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" at 300am (singular and capitalized).[citation
needed] 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
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
Christian spiritual theology can use the term "Spirit" to describe
God, or aspects of
God — as in the "Holy Spirit", referring to a
God (Trinity) (cf
Gospel of Matthew
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 the seven synonyms for God,
as in: "Principle; Mind; Soul; Spirit; Life; Truth; Love"
C. G. Jung
C. G. Jung (in a lecture delivered to the literary
Society of Augsburg, October 20, 1926, on the theme of “Nature and
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, ruch, roho (Hebrew, Arabic, Swahili)
mean ‘spirit’ no less clearly than the Greek πνεύμα and the
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," wrote James H. Hyslop, secretary-treasurer of the American
Society for Psychical Research in 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
Hebrew word "ruach" (רוח; "wind") as "the spirit",
whose essence is divine (see
Holy Spirit and ruach hakodesh).
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".
Great Spirit or
Wakan Tanka is a term for the Supreme Being.
Philosophy of religion
^ a b c d François 2009, p.187-197.
^ OED "spirit 2.a.: The soul of a person, as commended to God, or
passing out of the body, in the moment of death."
^ Burtt, Edwin A. (2003). Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical
Science. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
p. 275. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ anə-, from *ə2enə1-. Watkins, Calvert. 2000. The American
Heritage® Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, second edition. Boston:
Houghton-Mifflin Co., p.4. Also available online. (NB: Watkins uses
ə1, ə2, ə3 as fully equivalent variants for h1, h2, h3,
respectively, for the notation of Proto-Indo-European laryngeal
^ bhes-2. Watkins, Calvert. 2000. The American Heritage® Dictionary
of Indo-European Roots, second edition. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co.,
2000, p.11. Also available online
^ Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J.
J. (1999). The
Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament
(electronic ed.) (711). Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill.
^ Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (2000). Enhanced
Hebrew and English Lexicon (electronic ed.) (659).
Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems. (N.B. Corresponds closely to
^ Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (2000). Enhanced
Hebrew and English Lexicon (electronic ed.)
(924ff.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems. (N.B. Corresponds
closely to printed editions.)
^ "Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence".
Doctrine and Covenants
Doctrine and Covenants 131:7
^ Kalchuri, Bhau: Meher Prabhu: Lord Meher, Volume Eighteen,
Manifestation, Inc., 1986, p. 5937.
^ Eddy, Mary Baker (1875). "Glossary". Science and Health With Key to
the Scriptures (TXT)format= requires url= (help). p. 587.
Retrieved 2009-03-11. GOD. The great I AM; the all-knowing,
all-seeing, all-acting, all-wise, all-loving, and eternal; Principle;
Mind; Soul; Spirit; Life; Truth; Love; all substance;
intelligence. — "Glossary" entry for "GOD".
^ Hull, R. F. C. (1960). The Collected Works of
C. G. Jung
C. G. Jung Vol 8
Spirit and Life". New York, New York: Pantheon Books for
Bollinger Series XX. pp. 319, 320. access-date= requires
^ Hyslop, James Hervey (1919). Contact With The Other World (First
ed.). New York: The Century Co. p. 11. access-date=
requires url= (help)
Spirit or Wind or ??? at BiblicalHeritage.org
François, Alexandre (2008), "Semantic maps and the typology of
colexification: Intertwining polysemous networks across languages", in
Vanhove, Martine, From Polysemy to Semantic change: Towards a Typology
of Lexical Semantic Associations, Studies in Language Companion
Series, 106, Amsterdam, New York: Benjamins, pp. 163–215
Baba, Meher (1967). Discourses. San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented.
The dictionary definition of spirit at Wiktionary
Quotations related to S