In folk belief, spirit is the vital principle or animating force within all living things. As far back as 1628 and 1633 respectively, both William Harvey and René Descartes 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. Spirit has frequently been conceived of as a supernatural being, or non-physical entity; for example, a demon, ghost, fairy, or angel. In ancient Islamic terminology however, a ''spirit'' (''rūḥ''), applies only to pure spirits, but not to other invisible creatures, such as jinn, demons and angels. Historically, spirit has been used to refer to a "subtle" as opposed to "gross" material substance, as put forth in the notable last paragraph of Sir Isaac Newton's ''Principia Mathematica''. In English Bibles, "the Spirit" (with a capital "S"), specifically denotes the Holy Spirit. The concepts of spirit and soul often overlap, 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. Spirit is also often used to refer to the consciousness or personality.


The word ''spirit'' came into Middle English via Old French ''esperit''. Its source is Latin ''spīritus'', whose original meaning was “breath, breathing” and hence “spirit, soul, courage, vigor”; its ultimate origin is a Proto-Indo-European root '. In Latin, was distinct from Latin ''anima'', whose etymological meaning was also “breathing” (PIE root *''h₂enh₁-''), yet which had taken a slightly different meaning, namely “soul”. Classical Greek also had a similar distinction between “soul” and “spirit”, in each case involving again an etymological sense “breathing”: * (ψυχή), originally “cold air”, hence “breath of life” and “soul”See François 2009, pp. 187–97. (PIE root ' "to breathe"). * (πνεῦμα) “breath, motile air, spirit”, from verb (πνέω) “to breathe”. A distinction between soul and spirit also developed in the Abrahamic religions: Arabic (نفس) opposite (روح); Hebrew ''neshama'' ( ) or ''nephesh'' ( ) (in Hebrew comes from the root or "breath") opposite ( ). (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 (root ) and (root ), as well as cognate words in various Semitic languages, including Arabic, also preserve meanings involving miscellaneous air phenomena: "breath", "wind", and even "odour".)


"Spirit" has acquired a number of meanings: * Christian theology can use the term "Spirit" to describe the Holy Spirit. ** Christian Science uses "Spirit" as one of seven synonyms for God, as in: "Principle; Mind; Soul; Spirit; Life; Truth; Love" ** 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." Regarding the soul, Joseph Smith wrote "And the Gods formed man from the dust of the ground, and took his spirit (that is, the man’s spirit), and put it into him; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Thus, the soul is the combination of a spirit with a body (although most members use "soul" and "spirit" interchangeably). In Mormon scripture, spirits are sometimes referred to as "intelligences". But other Mormon scriptures teach that God organized the spirits out of a pre-existing substance called "intelligence" or "the light of truth". While this may seem confusing, it can be compared to how a programmer writes an algorithm by organizing lines of logical code. The logic always existed, independent of the programmer, but it is the creator who organizes it into a living spirit / intelligence / soul. * 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. * 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”): * 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). * Paranormal Spirits: usually a nickname for a ghost or other undead spirit.

Related concepts

Similar concepts in other languages include Greek ''pneuma'', Chinese ''Ling'' and ''hun'' (靈魂) 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." 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".

See also

* Brahman * Daemon (classical mythology) * Deva * Dokkaebi * Ekam * ''Geisteswissenschaft'' * Great Spirit or Wakan Tanka is a term for the Supreme Being. * Philosophy of religion * Pneumatology * Scientific skepticism * Shen (Chinese religion) * Soul dualism * Sprite (folklore) * Spiritualism * Spiritism * ''Spiritism'' * Spirit world (Latter Day Saints) * Spirit world (Spiritualism)


Further reading

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External links

* * {{Authority control Category:Deities and spirits Category:Ghosts Category:Religious philosophical concepts Category:Spirituality Category:Vitalism Category:Supernatural legends