Spirit — What Does It Mean?

by The Editor

Contents List:

Dictionary Definitions
Need for Clarification
The Ardue Glossary
Holistic Resolution

Go to:

Supplementary "Lectures"
Temple Library

See also:

The Holy Spirit
What We Mean by "Spirit"
A Rational Approach to Genesis, Part 1
A Rational Approach to Genesis, Part 2
Science versus Materialism
Mind, Life, and Body
Non-material Reality

"God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth." — Jesus the Nazarene [John 4:24(NIV)]

Dictionary Definitions

The word 'spirit' and its derivatives get bandied about as if everybody knows what they mean; but I suspect that they mean so many different things to so many different people that nobody knows precisely what they mean in any particular context.

Consulting the 1978 edition of the Longman Modern English Dictionary, I read:

Spirit — the intelligent or immaterial part of man as distinguished from the body || the animating or vital principle in living things || the moral nature of a man || a disembodied soul || a supernatural being, usually regarded as invisible but as having the power to become visible at will || a specified mental or emotional attitude characterising words, actions, opinions, etc. || a person animated by a specified quality || the emotional quality or frame of mind characteristic of a group of people || the essential character of something || mood or temperamental state || ... etc.

This is an outstanding example of what C S Lewis meant when he talked of "a word which has so many meanings that finally it has none".

My eye is drawn to the much shorter entry for 'spirituality' — which I naturally assume to be derived from 'spirit':

Spirituality — attachment to all that concerns the life of the soul || the quality of being spiritual || (eccles. law) something which belongs to the church or to a priest of the church.

This definition seems simple enough at first glance; but then I feel impelled to check my understanding of three words in the definition:

Scanning each of these definitions in turn, I keep finding more and more words with a wide range of possible meanings:—
state, organism, character, action, ability, metabolism, growth, reproduction, response, fact, being, beings, period, time, birth, present, death, person, expectancy, last, thought, aspect, existence, way, manner, animate, stimulating, quality, seeming, arise, inner, energy, immortal, distinguished, body, moral, emotional, expressiveness, appeal, response, religious, sacred, matter, relationship, based, feeling.

From this brief foray into a not-very-large dictionary, I find that the little word 'spirit' has connotations from which hardly any topic of possible interest to human beings seems to be excluded.

Need for Clarification

Student: What is mind?
Teacher: Doesn't matter.
Student: What is matter?
Teacher: Never mind.

The above is the only example I can remember of anything I heard from James Mason, then Headmaster of Keil School, that might be construed as a joke. But it is a very good joke, because it draws attention to the reluctance of educators to get to grips with the fundamental truths underlying human life and their inclination to take refuge in an ultimately meaningless maze of interlaced circularities.

Because the Ardue Web Site is "dedicated to the cause of personal liberty in the practical exercise of spirituality", I must not dodge the task of clarifying these truths as far as I am able. Regular readers of these pages, and especially of most of the books in the Temple Library (notably The Kybalion as amplified by the writings of Thomas Troward and The Wisdom of the Overself by Dr Paul Brunton), will be aware of my preference for what may be termed 'Hermetic Philosophy' or 'Mentalism' as offering the clearest and most consistent explanation for all aspects of human life on Earth.

Although it may be neither possible nor desirable to remove all the nuances or specialised connotations that may be associated with those words which symbolise the most important features of human life, it is nevertheless necessary to try to identify the main purport of a small number of key words as I understand them and shall endeavour to use them in my future personal contributions to this site.

The Ardue Glossary

I am grateful to my Internet "friend", Frederick Navarro, for the following analogical definitions which I believe most readers will understand more easily than my earlier, more academic, efforts:

Mind is the potential for consciousness — like an electric current is the potential for light, given the right apparatus.

Matter is the structure or substance that Mind acts upon, like the bulb the electric current would act on.

Consciousness is the interaction of Mind and Matter (and Matter can be of any form — physical, psychic, or otherwise). The light from a bulb is the result of the interaction between the form of matter in the bulb and the electric current flowing through it. Human consciousness is a kind of light resulting from the flow of Mind through the form of the human body and brain. Bird consciousness is the form of light that is the result of Mind flowing through the form of the bird body and brain. Psychic consciousness is the result of Mind flowing through a psychic form of body and brain. One of the unique things that the light of human consciousness illuminates is the profound and near infinite Meaning in all things. Human consciousness names everything and gives it meaning. No other expression of consciousness we are aware of does this to the same extent.

Personality is the nature and colour of Mind as it is expressed in each unique form, just like no two bulbs shine in exactly the same way. Personality is the unique glow of Mind that comes through the unique form of substance it is associated with.

Soul is the Principle that "animates" all conscious things and is the force that manifests in movement and activity as willed by consciousness. When a something becomes a "living soul" it becomes a thing with consciousness and capacity for intentional movement.

Soul Personality is the unique glow of Mind that is associated with each unique psychic (non-physical) form through which Mind expresses itself. The psychic form which expresses the Soul Personality is eternal (outside of time and space), but it is also unique. Soul is One — inseparable and a unity. Each physical individual is one of "the many". Each one of the Many uniquely expresses the Unity. The Soul Personality is a form that occupies a unique place in the shades of gradation between the eternal Unity of the Soul, and the temporal, transitory and ever-changing Multiplicity revealed in matter. The Soul Personality has traits of both extremes — eternality and uniqueness.

Spirit is a Universal vibratory energetic essence which pervades all Nature, including inanimate matter. It manifests in many ways as a consequence of its capacity to be vibrated in various frequency bands within the unimaginably wide range constituting the spirit spectrum. In matter, the vibrations in Spirit become manifest as physical forces, including attraction, repulsion, cohesion, and adhesion. Vibrations in certain frequency bands higher than those manifesting as gross matter constitute the Vital Life Force which, interacting with the lower vibrations of matter, produces living organisms, including Man. The still higher (finer) vibrations which Soul produces in Man manifest as psychic forces or feelings, including love, desire, fear, and hate.

Spirit thus accounts not only for the "perpetual motion" that seems to pervade the Universe but also for diathetic properties of mind. Diathete is a word which Reginald O Kapp introduced in Chapter XXVII of Science versus Materialism where he discusses "non-material reality".

Holistic Resolution

The most common cause of confusion and misunderstanding concerning spirit is its too-frequent use to refer exclusively to the human "soul" as distinct from the body. This causes a rift in man's understanding of himself and unintentionally promotes materialism by treating matter as if it were self-existent rather than as spirit manifesting in tangible but transient form.

Understanding that spirit is the underlying reality which accounts for physical as well as psychic and so-called "spiritual" laws removes much of the mystification that so frequently arises in connection not only with mysticism but also with the more arcane aspects of physical science. It thus restores a much-needed sense of wholeness to human culture. This "binding together" is the proper function of an apolitical religion and should be the cornerstone of an apolitical education.

The more I think on these things, the more "comfortable" I become with the idea that the actuality of the Universe is just as "mental" as my understanding of it.