onsdag 7 februari 2018

SPIRITS Do they exist?

Some "believe in spirits" and some say that "spirits do not exist" but usually most people do not even try to figure out what it is that they are talking about. What is the meaning behind the word? What is it that we say does not exist? Usually we talk about our own fantasy about it, but we do not have the same fantasy so we can talk about different things without even noticing it. 

The word spirit and the word god are almost impossible to use as we don´t share any common interpretation of them. We have different ideas.

It is not possible to even think about shamanism without having to be confronted with all those spirits that the shamans and medicine men are calling in. It can be ancestors and power animals or the spirit of rain, the spirit of the river or especially the spirit of a hallucinogenic plant.
In ceremonies the various spirits have to be invoked, maybe on the different places on the medicine wheel or together with the medicine pipe.

Those people do of course not use the Latin word spirit. They have their own names for all those invisible friends and all those words are usually translated to spirits, so it can be of interest to know what the word means. The original meaning has to do with something invisible (of an airy nature) that you breathe in (and get an animating effect from). An earlier word for it was animus, which comes from the Proto-Indo-European root ane-. to breathe.

Illustration by Viveca Lammers


Inspiration, energy, vitality
The word spirit corresponds well to our Swedish word ande. It comes from the verb spirare, which is to breathe. Ande is from andas, which also means to breathe. A spirit is something that is in the wind, in the air and it is something that we can take in, breathe in. We can be filled with spirit, have high spirit or get inspiration. It is to be filled with life-force and vitality. L´esprit in French. When you get inspiration you also get energetic ideas about what to do. It comes from in + spir. It can be translated as taking in a spirit. The old root is (s)peis, to blow.

Angel, demon
From mid 14c spirit means an "invisible corporeal being of an airy nature", a supernatural transparent being like an angel or a demon. 
From late 14c it can be a ghost, a disembodied spirit of a dead person, walking around and scaring people.

Inner essence
From around 1500 it could mean the nature of something, the inner essence of it, the essential principle of it. We have the famous Spirit of St.Louis and we can also say the spirit of Paris, the spirit of the blues. Essential nature, essential quality.
In late 14c it is the volatile substance in alchemy and it also gets the meaning of alcohol around 1670. In Swedish alcohol is sprit. 
It is not strange that they have called alcohol spirit as alcohol  gives changes in the psyche, which was just another word with the same basic meaning as spirit, derived from the root bhes-, to blow, to breathe. 

How you think and feel
Also from mid-14c. as "character, disposition; way of thinking and feeling, state of mind and "source of human desire".

The Holy Ghost, divine mind
Late 14c.: "Divine substance, divine mind, God, Christ or His divine nature. Spiritus Sanctus, the Holy Spirit (Ghost) Divine power;  extension of divine power to man; inspiration, a charismatic state; charismatic power, especially of prophecy. (Divine = reflecting the deus, the shiny one.)

Christian terminology made a distinction between soul and spirit: anima / spiritus in Latin and psyke / pneuma in Greek. Pneuma also means wind and comes from pnein, to blow, to breathe, and the root is the Proto-Indo-European pneu- to breathe. The word psyche comes from the PIE root bhes-, to blow, to breathe.
So one can wonder if there was any original difference in the meanings of the different roots that meant blow and breathe! We have now got ane-, (s)peis, pnein and bhes- for air, wind and breathing and they are all being used for a life giving force, that we get energy from and "filled with".

The word god comes from the root ghut- which means "that which is invoked". So the spirit becomes a god when you start praying to it and calling for it.
It is not the same meaning as in the Latin word deus, which means "the one that is shining". That word is used in the Latin world: dio in Italian, dieu in French and so on... but we translate it with god. The root is dyeu-, to shine.
But we translate deus with god, even if it is not exactly correct according to the basic meanings of the words. If you do not invoke the shiny one he is not your god. And if you invoke the spirit of the river she will be your goddess.

As both anima, spiritus, psyke and pneuma originate from roots with the same meaning: to blow, to breathe. it means that this variation does not really reflect any basic truth. It is simply not true that we are made up from these different parts. They have changed meanings many times and they have replaced each other when writers have got new ideas or made translations. 

So it is useless to try to figure out the ”real” difference between soul, psyche, mind and spirit etc. by comparing European texts and translations. The only thing you can do with that is to get a Ph.D. in linguistics / religion. How our mind /spirit / soul works is probably best told in Sanskrit, but as soon as we start translating the words it gets lost. You will have to get it explained from someone who is fluent in sanskrit and also well trained in spirituality. But... only explained and not translated!
If you get it from another old language, as for example from some old Native American Indian tradition, you will have to remain in that bubble of references and then you will experience their world from inside. Translations create confusion as the words being used do not mirror each other.

In a conversation we just have to decide upon the mening of the word before we start using it and arguing about the eventual existence of it. First we can ask: What is the meaning of "inner essence".

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