The Unconscious Spiritual Nature

Abstract: Centering upon a modern man’s dream about a glowing fish, the article points out that the unconscious, and the much older notion of the spirit, are partly overlapping spheres. The spirit ever searches to manifest via the unconscious, and it is expressive of the spiritual urge in mankind.

Keywords: relational unconscious, ichtys, spirit, spiritual urge, the Unknown, religion, alchemical vessel, dream interpretation.

The Spirit Fish

The following is a dream by a columnist in The Boston Globe and a former Catholic priest; a dream about a fish coming out of an oven.

LAST NIGHT I had the strangest dream. Its soundtrack was the ticking of a kitchen timer. Suddenly, the timer sounded, which was my signal to take a large pot out of the oven. The roast of beef was finished cooking. But before I could remove the cut of meat, a live, foot-long fish leaped out of the pot instead, flopping to the floor.

I jumped back, startled and afraid. The fish was a glowing, translucent green. Indeed, only at the sight of that exquisite color did I become aware that everything else in the dream was in black and white. By comparison, the fish was stunningly beautiful, but it was in trouble. As I watched the creature thrashing on the floor, I realized that, out of water, gills without oxygen, it was suffocating.

Perplexed as I was about how the fish had come to be in the pot and how, for that matter, it had survived the roasting, I felt an urgent need to rescue the pitiable but beautiful thing. The feeling was — color had come into the world, but was about to be extinguished, unless I found a way to save it.

I didn’t know I was dreaming. Despite my squeamishness, I picked the fish up and ran outside, where I was relieved to find a pool of water. I threw the fish in, but it bounced. The water was only an inch deep. I watched in horror as the fish desperately attempted to swim, splashing across the glistening but finally useless sheet of gray liquid. I myself began to choke, as if I too were oxygen deprived… (Carroll, 2007, here)

The Christian context

Sometimes we can understand a dream, at least to a degree, without recourse to much contextual information. This man had formerly been a Catholic priest. The fish has a very special meaning to such people, since it is a famous Christian symbol. Christ himself (ICHTYS) is symbolized by the fish and was as such celebrated in the eucharistic meal of fishes. The fish also plays a prominent role in astrology since it is the zodiacal sign that governs the first two thousand years of the Christian era.

When a Catholic priest dreams about a radiant fish we must suspect that it is connected with the Christ, although in this form the divine being appears as pure spiritual life-force, unlike the fossilized spirit of the dreamer’s former vocation. It might also signify the Christchild, i.e. the living spirit, especially due to its green light, which is the colour of the Holy Ghost.

FishThe fish is also an analogue of the alchemical spiritus mercurialis who dwells in the oven of the unconscious, although the alchemists more commonly used the image of a living salamander surrounded by flames inside a vessel. In alchemical texts a “round fish in the middle of the sea” with no bones and a wonderful fatness is frequently mentioned, and later this fish was connected with a glowing fish which causes fever (cf. von Franz, 1996, p.155). Alchemical texts make it clear that it is exclusively through greenness that the final goal of the opus is reached. The ‘benedicta viriditas’ is the green gold and it’s a living philosophical stone.

The unconscious content as spirit

M-L von Franz says:

Psychologically the fish is a distant, inaccessible content of the unconscious, a sum of potential energy loaded with possibilities but with a lack of clarity. It is a libido symbol for a relatively uncharacterized and unspecified amount of psychic energy, the direction and development of which are not yet outlined. The ambivalence regarding the fish derives from its being a content below the threshold of consciousness… (ibid.)

At the ripe age of the dreamer the spiritual problem again surfaces, symbolized by the fish. The author says that all things are black, white, and grey in contrast to the colourful splendour of the fish. It’s like colour has come into the world for the first time, so it appears to be of divine origin. This is the “other” passion, referenced in Goethe’s Faust I, where Faust says to Wagner:

Thy heart by one sole impulse is possess’d;
Unconscious of the other still remain!
Two souls, alas! are lodg’d within my breast,
Which struggle there for undivided reign:
One to the world, with obstinate desire,
And closely-cleaving organs, still adheres;
Above the mist, the other doth aspire,
With sacred vehemence, to purer spheres…

The shallow pond, which the fish is thrown into, is situated outside the house. It probably signifies the outer world, more specifically the dreamer’s own turf, namely the civic-minded consciousness of the author. In a sense, this is where he first tries to put the fish, when he publishes the dream in his own column in the Boston Globe. It does not seem to belong in this place. It is a shallow pond and not suitable for the living spirit. The unconscious content as “spirit” has been the subject of several authors (see below, here).

The spiritual problem

The fish is gasping for breath in this grey and shallow water. As yet, the author lacks the conscious faculties to take care of the fish. He doesn’t know what to do with it. All the world appears grey to the author now, when compared with the splendid fish. He begins to gasp for breath himself, because imperceptibly he has grown weary of worldly attachments. They now appear dull and lacking in life-giving oxygen. A thirst for the spirit, which is Goethe’s “other impulse”, has been brewing in him, and now it has surfaced.

How is he to take care of the divine fish? Arguably, the fish would require a new vessel, a translucent one, such as the alchemical vas hermeticum, proper. In this glass vessel, unlike the former clay vessel, the spirit fish can be exposed to the rays of consciousness. It can be tended to and kept in an advanced environment where the climate is controlled, like in an aquarium. The combination of unconscious life and a mild light of consciousness has powerful transformative properties. Thus the proper spiritual technique is applied, and the fish can thrive and metamorphose.

Following M-L von Franz, the fish symbolizes a content loaded with possibilities, which are as yet undeveloped. Arguably, this is the reason why the author must find a proper aquarium, a glass house for the fish, allowing it to transform at its own pace, to show what potentialities it carries. To achieve this a mild heat of consciousness must be applied, but not too strong.

The conclusion is that the unconscious wants to manifest a content of spiritual dimensions, but the conscious personality must find a means to deal with it. The important thing is that he takes the content seriously. He ought to take down any dreams revolving around this theme. Had he still been a priest, then he could make use of the ready-made theological edifice. However, because religion is institutionalized spirit, it could be argued that it functions as a substitute for a living relation to the spirit. Effectively, it is a bulwark against the spirit in that it denies the manifestation of “the Unknown” in the individual person. So this dream would scarcely represent the reentry of the author’s former religious attitude.

The urge of the spirit

“Spiritual” can be called that which is Unknown and Immaterial, and which houses a life-force that unfolds in relation to consciousness. [1] This means that any unconscious content will either be spiritual, per se, or contaminated by the spiritual. The spiritual and instinctual sides can very well be amalgamated in the unconscious. There is a spiritual side of sexuality, too, and religious history knows many cults of sexuality. Clearly, then, the unconscious coincides with the spiritual side of existence.

A too limited definition of the unconscious, e.g. as a depository of repressed content, foremostly of Oedipal nature, does not give heed to the intrinsic nature of the unconscious, namely its spirituality. In today’s Western hemisphere people have come to repress the spiritual aspect to a remarkable degree. I propose that this is the foremost reason for the increase in neurosis and psychosomatology. It’s seems like the average person lacks a resting-place inside himself, and he is always futilely looking outside himself to the material world.

The roast of beef would perchance signify how the dreamer anticipates a period of otium cum dignitate in the autumn of life. Instead he is up for a challenge. When he opens the door to the oven and opens the vessel, then a fish flies out as a divine boon. He has opened the door to the unconscious, which is also the door to the spirit. Wholeness can be attained in certain individuals if they try and relate more privately to the spiritual side of human nature. The reason why the spirit manifests itself in the unconscious is because homo sapiens is also a spiritual species. The spiritual passion is probably even stronger than the sexual, and in our soul the spirit always searches to manifest itself. In cases where this side of personality is temporarily or constantly undervalued, the unconscious is certain to create a compensatory dream.

The author had, early on, embraced a social-minded theological perspective, on lines of theologian Krister Stendahl (cf. Carroll, 2008, here). The dream seems to counterbalance the extraverted form of theological perception; after all, such a standpoint is not particularly suitable for old age. It is portrayed as a shallow pool with grey liquid. Instead, the dream points him in the direction of a private relation with the divine, because time has arrived for inwardness.

The relational unconscious

Out of the unconscious may emerge what you don’t know in advance. It could be anything that is wholly unconnected with drive nature. If the individual thinks he knows in advance that the unconscious is concerned only with materiality and drive nature, he has effectively mutilated it.

The content of the unconscious is largely unknown. In relating to the unconscious one must be prepared to meet the unknown. Therefore, one ought not immediately label its content according to one’s preconceived ideas. If the dreamer takes the view that the unconscious region consists of infantile attachments, and then pinpoints any dream symbol as contingent on this, the effect is generally counter-productive, and the unconscious is repressed. There is no other option than to keep the door open for the spirit. After all, one cannot postulate that it’s not there — that would be unscientific.

Should consciousness already have recourse to an assured knowledge about what constitutes the unconscious, then there exists no unconscious proper. In this way unconscious contents are “killed” and repressed. This is the reason why one must sometimes treat the unconscious like a fish in an aquarium. It’s necessary to, as it were, provide heat, food and oxygen and see how it unfolds. In medieval alchemy plant symbols also occur. Sheltered from the world the “moon plant” is allowed to grow in the mild light of the moon. Its milky sap, the lunaria, is a precious liquid, although not without dangers to the mind.

For above reasons it is imperative to relate to the unconscious. In the end, the unconscious will always remain beyond reach. It cannot be “identified” and its nature can never be wholly understood. That’s why the attitude toward the unconscious must foremostly be relational. In the general case, the central problem is the method of relating to the content, without prematurely pinpointing it.

The survival value of spirit

In the following dream, fixation on outer success is compensated with an image of spiritual ambition:

A young woman C dreams about a young man S. They both were in a very high tower. She was on the second floor, while S lived on the eight floor. S went downstairs to the second floor, and they sat around the kitchen table and talked. She wanted to ask S his number, but she remembered that she already had his number, so she thought: “Fortunately I have remembered this information, it would have been embarrassing otherwise to ask him”. She had a fear of heights. She said: “– How do you manage to live on the eight floor? I have shivers!” [2]

In real life they both play tennis together. She had expressed her wish to be as successful as him, and to have fans following her at the games, just like he has. She said she wants to be seen, be listened to, and to receive compliments for both her play and her thoughts. Analysing dreams without much contextual information is like groping in the dark. In order to decide whether the dream should be interpreted objectively or subjectively, one really needs to know more. This is a recurrent difficulty in dream interpretation, because the unconscious doesn’t seem to know the difference between inner and outer. Nevertheless, although S is real, I intuit that this should be interpreted on the subjective level and the dream concerns her spiritual problem. S represents her ‘animus’ [3] who exists far above earth in the region of spirit. Perhaps C projects her animus on him, i.e. there is a transference. C stands at the brink of conscious realization. The number two is associated with the doubling (splitting) of a psychological content when it enters the conscious sphere. That’s why the ‘binarius’ is also called Lucifer, the falling star. When the angel entered the world it also entered the conscious sphere. The two is a dubious, even devilish, number because it represents crisis.

She has qualms about advancement to a higher consciousness, i.e. she is afraid of heights, of advancing to a higher level. The number two represents a crisis when advancement can occur to a new level, but the number could also represent an unresolved crisis, i.e. neurosis, implying that she remains split against herself. When the animus-spirit lowers himself to the level two, this has the same significance as the fall of the angel, i.e., the unconscious archetype breaks through into the conscious sphere. She is afraid of heights and doesn’t want to go upwards, towards realization, so the unconscious makes an inroad in the conscious sphere instead. What forces itself upon her is the realization of the animus, the paternal (fatherly) Logos, the incarnation of spiritual meaning. The animus at its finest is a ‘psychopomp’, a mediator between the conscious and the unconscious and a personification of the latter. [3]

The fact that the two are seated around a table communicating, points at the relational aspect of the unconscious, i.e. it is imperative that she makes contact with the unconscious instead of leading life wholly on the outside, like regular people do. Such dreams represent a call to a life in the spirit, but she shudders at the thought of it because she fears it is cold and lonely at the upper levels of the tower. But she has already taken the first steps and is now afraid to advance from level two. He is comforting her. She calls to mind where this spirit lives, and she questions him how he can live at such heights.

The dream concerns the breaching of the “incest barrier” in relation to the animus. She ought to realize that she is unconsciously afraid of committing the Oedipal crime and to make her future abode in the spiritual inner world. This inner realm would then be the principal goal of her ambitions, rather than the allures of the outer world. If she is naively longing after outward success, then the notion of advancement on the inner path could be viewed as a compensatory reaction on part of the unconscious. Arguably, the dream says that she needn’t have outward success. There is an inner ladder, too. St. Teresa of Avila in “The Interior Castle” (1577, here), describes the journey of faith through seven stages, ending with union with God. Every stage represents a mansion in the castle. In the young woman’s dream the tower has eight levels, however, which is significant. Eight is a chthonic number whereas seven is masculine and more in line with the Christian focus on the spirit. The seven storeys of Teresa’s castle would refer to the this-worldly levels, whereas advancement to the eight storey would represent the passage to the other side, i.e. the spiritual sphere. That’s where the animus deity comes from.

Evidently, the survival value is basic, whereas pleasure and displeasure are secondary motives. The reason why C dreams of the spiritual sportsman is because, historically, to view existence from an alternative spiritual vantage point has increased the survival value. It is a cure for a looming depression, as she expresses that something is missing in her life. She longs for outward success, to have fans following her at the tennis court, etc. The dream signifies that success needn’t be visible, but it can be realized in another way. With Teresa of Avila she can ascend to the seventh mansion, but the door to the eight level is, for the time being, locked. Behind it is the “other side”, i.e. the realm of the dead.

Modern people, Americans especially, tend to be very career-oriented. It would serve them well to learn about the “interior castle”, and the inner path to success. It compensates the exaggerated fixation on outward achievement. The spiritual vantage point has saved humans from the narcissistic consequences of neurosis, and warded off depression. It is also a cure against a too strong fixation on role models, something that could make the subject stalk a movie star, opera singer, etc. The wholesome effects of the spiritual perspective is such that it has increased the survival value in humans. That’s probably why all cultures on earth have developed a spiritual worldview. It also explains why the unconscious spontaneously produces images of the divine.

Neumann, Cassirer, and Jung on the notion of spirit

In the following excerpt psychologist Erich Neumann (1905-1960) discusses unconscious contents as expressions of “spirit”.

The symbol, however, is also an expression of the spiritual side, of the formative principle dwelling in the unconscious, for “the spirit appears in the psyche as instinct,” as a “principle sui generis.” (Jung, ‘On Psychic Energy’). So far as the development of human consciousness is concerned, this spiritual side of the symbol is the decisive factor. Over and above its “gripping” aspect the symbol also has a meaningful aspect: it is more than a sign; it assigns meaning, it signifies something and demands interpretation. It is this aspect that speaks to our understanding and rouses us to reflection, not just to feeling and emotionality. These two aspects working together in the symbol constitute its specific nature, unlike the sign or allegory which have fixed meanings. So long as the symbol is a living and effective force, it transcends the capacity of the experiencing consciousness and “formulating an essential unconscious component” (Jung, Psychological Types, def. 51) — the very reason why it is so attractive and disturbing. Consciousness keeps on returning to it and circles round it fascinated, meditating and cogitating, thus completing the circumambulatio which recurs in many dramatically enacted rites and religious ceremonies […]

Images and symbols, being creative products of the unconscious, are so many formulations of the spiritual side of the human psyche. In them the meaning and “sense-giving” tendency of the unconscious are expressing themselves, be it in a vision, a dream, or a fantasy, or again in an inner image which is seen outside, as the visible manifestation of a god. The inside “expresses” itself by way of the symbol. Thanks to the symbol, man’s consciousness becomes spiritualized and finally arrives at self-consciousness:

“[Man] can apprehend and know his own being only insofar as he can make it visible in the image of his gods” (Cassirer, 1970, p.218).

Myth, art, religion, and language are all symbolic expressions of the creative spirit in man; in them this spirit takes on objective, perceptible form, becoming conscious of itself through man’s consciousness of it (Neumann, 1995, pp.368-9).

Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945) was a German-Swedish philosopher, father of the philosophy of Symbolic Forms. As a thinker he is uninfluenced by Freud and Jung. He, too, deals with the subject of spirit, which emerges unconsciously, and takes shape as gods:

While the philosophy of technology deals with the immediate and mediated bodily organs by which man gives the outside world its determinate form and imprint, the philosophy of Symbolic Forms is concerned with the totality of spiritual expressive functions. It regards them not as copies of being but as trends and modes of formation, as “organs” less of mastery than of signification. And here again the operation of these organs takes at first a wholly unconscious form. Language, myth, art — each produces from itself its own world of forms which can be understood only as expressions of the spontaneity of the spirit. But because this spontaneous activity is not carried out in the form of free reflection, it is hidden from itself. In creating its mythical, artistic forms the spirit does not recognize itself in them as a creative principle. Each of these spheres becomes for it an independent “outward” world. Here it is not so much the case that the I is reflected in things, the microcosm in the macrocosm, as that the I creates for itself a kind of opposite in its own products which seem to it wholly objective. And it can contemplate itself only in this kind of projection. In this sense the mythical gods signify nothing other than successive self-revelations of the mythical consciousness. Where this consciousness is still wholly confined to and dominated by the moment, where it simply succumbs to every momentary impulse and stimulus, the gods, too, are enclosed in this merely sensuous present, this one dimension of the moment. And only very gradually, as the spheres of action broaden, as the drive ceases to exhaust itself in a single moment and a single object but prospectively and retrospectively embraces a number of different motives and different actions, does the sphere of divine action acquire diversity, breadth, and depth. It is first of all the objects of nature which in this way move apart — which are sharply differentiated for consciousness by virtue of the fact that each of them is taken as an expression of a special divine power, the self-revelation of a god or demon. But although the array of particular gods that can arise in this way may be extended indefinitely, it contains the germ of a limitation in content; for all the diversity, all the differentiation and fragmentation, of divine action ceases as soon as the mythical consciousness considers this action no longer from the standpoint of the objects to which it extends but from the standpoint of its origin. The diversity of mere action now becomes a unity of creation, in which the unity of the creative principle becomes more and more clearly discernible. And to this concept of the transformation of the god corresponds a new view of man and his spiritual-ethical personality. Over and over again we thus find confirmation of the fact that man can apprehend and know his own being only insofar as he can make it visible in the image of his gods. Just as he learns to understand the structure of his body and limbs only by becoming a creator of tools and products, so he draws from his spiritual creations — language, myth, and art — the objective standards by which to measure himself and learn to understand himself as an independent cosmos with its peculiar structural laws (Cassirer, 1970, pp.216-8).

The Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung (1975-1961) discusses unconscious aspects of spirit:

This spirit is an autonomous psychic happening, a hush that follows the storm, a reconciling light in the darkness of man’s mind, secretly bringing order into the chaos of his soul (Jung, 1975, CW 11, par.260).

Spirit, like God, denotes an object of psychic experience which cannot be proved to exist in the external world and cannot be understood rationally. This is its meaning if we use the word “spirit” in its best sense (Jung, 1978, CW 8, par.626).

The archetype of spirit in the shape of a man, hobgoblin, or animal always appears in a situation where insight, understanding, good advice, determination, planning, etc., are needed but cannot be mustered on one’s own resources. The archetype compensates this state of spiritual deficiency by contents designed to fill the gap (Jung, 1981, CW 9i, par.398).

From the psychological point of view, the phenomenon of spirit, like every autonomous complex, appears as an intention of the unconscious superior to, or at least on a par with, intentions of the ego. If we are to do justice to the essence of the thing we call spirit, we should really speak of a “higher” consciousness rather than of the unconscious (Jung, 1978, CW 8, par.643).

The common modern idea of spirit ill accords with the Christian view, which regards it as the summum bonum, as God himself. To be sure, there is also the idea of an evil spirit. But the modern idea cannot be equated with that either, since for us spirit is not necessarily evil; we would have to call it morally indifferent or neutral (Jung, 1981, CW 9i, par.394).

How can we make a definition of the spirit for today?

I want to emphasize that the greater part of the unconscious is today being neglected, and that it demands recognition. The unconscious is in psychoanalysis defined as the repository of our drive nature. To this is added the ramifications of our relations with our parents, etc. However, the unconscious contains another part, which is the “spirit”. Hence spirit is that part of the unconscious which is not rooted in the mundane. It is an unconscious urge that must be articulated. That’s why a spiritual form of creativity seems to be a constant concern in the dreams of modern people. In my dreams I discover that my clothes have been stained with oil paint. It makes me irritated. Who is slopping oil paint on my clothes all the time? Those dreams only stop when I start painting in oil. A good example is the spiritual paintings of the Australian aborigines (Wiki, here), an art form that has existed for 40,000 years. Today, the notorious phallic dream symbols typically point at spiritual content. Psychoanalysts have caused great damage by again and again misinterpreting this symbol in the traditional sexual way. Here are two examples of phallus dreams, which the unconscious tirelessly produce in modern people.

A British male dreams: “I am studying ancient musical instruments, and have an ancient Egyptian trumpet. I take it off the wall. Somehow, a former work colleague is involved as an expert. I try to blow the trumpet, but have problems. I cannot blow hard enough to make a proper sound…”

An American male dreams: “30 years ago I had a dream about a penlight that began to make a high pitched sound, which started off soft, but became louder and louder until the sound it made threatened to destroy the entire world…”

The trumpet is an eminent phallus symbol, as is the pen. It is a symbol of spiritual power in some form. Sound is very “spiritual” in a sense, as it is invisible. The spirit wants to manifest, but it needs help to do so. However, the dreamers cannot yet handle the “trumpet” or “pen”. Likely, it is something in themselves, some capacity which they underestimate, which holds the key to sounding the trumpet and writing with the spiritual pen. A penlight is a perfect phallus symbol, because ‘phallus’ means the “shining one”. Light is very “spiritual” in a sense. One can write about spiritual matters with this pen. Obviously, it wants to make itself heard, and if nobody picks it up it will scream louder and louder until the whole world is threatened.

Such dreams use the phallus to point at the spiritual creative factor, and to highlight its immense importance. Creation by sound occurs in myth. According to an Egyptian creation myth, the universe was created at the cry of the goose: the sun was said to be an egg laid daily by Geb, the “Great Cackler”. He took the form of a goose, whose piercing call awakened all the movement of creation.

Just imagine how the two dreamers would have been misled by the psychoanalyst, had they attended therapy. Analysts steeped in the tradition of infantile sexuality would have destroyed the healing attempt of the unconscious. Psychoanalysis won’t make significant headway until it integrates into its theory the notion of the creative spiritual factor, symbolized by the phallus. Patients will suffer as long as their unconscious urges continue to be neglected. The dream symbols are likely to be misinterpreted, which makes matters worse.

The spirit is the unfolding potentiality from where the psychic functions have appeared, including all our knowledgeability. In the first place, the spirit tends to manifest as gods. Thoth, in ancient Egypt, was the god of scribes and represented the potential of mathematical thinking, and thinking in terms of abstract signs, foremostly characters. In so far as he was integrated as psychic function, he disappeared as a god. And so it tends to go for all gods. Something which illustrates this is how the gods tended to become adjectives: Mars became martial (i.e. a characteristic of personality), Mercury became mercurial, Saturnus became saturnine, etc.

The psychic capacity of love manifested firstly as a goddess, e.g. Venus or Aphrodite, who sprang from the foam of the sea. Her name may be translated “foam-risen.” The foam of the sea is symbolic of the spirit, i.e. the unknown unpredictable potential from which anything can take shape and ultimately manifest as a new psychic function or a new science. Notably, primitive people are still lacking in the function of personal love. In fact, at a traditional African cultural level the love goddess has not yet appeared from the foam of the sea. The science of psychology first presented himself as a god, too, namely Hermes/Mercurius. He is the messenger of the gods, the mediating principle between heaven and earth, and instinct and spirit. Mercurius was extremely active in the medieval era, prior to manifesting as a science, and as a new tool of consciousness, namely the unconscious phenomenon.

The foam of the sea has the capacity to give birth to anything which we cannot predict. New psychic functions are likely to take shape in the future, and humanity will acquire new capacities. Its potentiality is the most important aspect of the spirit. It was a divine wonder when the goddess of love first took shape in the sea foam. In medieval times she attained her high point, as expressed in works such as Parsifal, Tristan and Isolde, etc. When she sadly disappeared she left a little but stabile imprint in the Western psyche.


© Mats Winther, Jan 2009.


1. Such a modern definition of “spirit” is qualitatively different from a traditional, and more concrete and pneumatic, view of the concept. Historian J.B. Russell comments on the notion of spirit:

Berge comments on the use of spiritus in Minucius and many of the fathers. For Minucius a spiritus is (1) air in motion, e.g., a wind, (2) breath; (3) life; (4) soul; (5) a spiritual being. The Devil is clearly a spiritus in this last sense. The multiple meanings this term possesses, however, make it a fuzzy-bordered concept in Latin, Greek, and modern languages as well: […] in Latin the constellation anima, animus, spiritus; in German Geist and Seele; in French âme and esprit; in English “soul,” “mind,” and “spirit.” Humphrey Carpenter points out: “When we translate the Latin spiritus we have to render it either as spirit or as breath or as wind depending on the context. But early users of language would not have made any distinction between these meanings. To them a word [such as] spiritus meant something like spirit-breath-wind. When the wind blew, it was not merely like someone breathing: it was the breath of a god. And when an early speaker talked about his soul as spiritus he did not merely mean that it was like a breath: it was to him just that, the breath of life” (The Inklings, [Boston, 1979], p.41.)
  Efforts by philosophers and theologians to distinguish among soul, mind, and spirit have not been very successful. Generally speaking, the Christian tradition attempted to distinguish among “soul,” the immortal element in a human being, and “spirit,” a spiritual being though a “soul” could be a “spirit.” It has always been unclear whether “mind” is mortal or whether it is to be equated with “soul,” whether, in other words, it is to be linked with the brain-body-material world or with the spiritual world. Further, most of the fathers attributed a tenuous “body” to the spirits. Thus the definition of the Devil as a “spirit,” though firmly fixed in the concept, has never conveyed a precise meaning (Russell, 1988, pp.104n-105n).

2. As related by Mr. P. Parker in Yahoo groups forum “Free Associations” (Oct 2011).

3. Animus. The inner masculine side of a woman. See “Jung Lexicon”, here.


Avila, St. Teresa of (1577). The Interior Castle. (here)

Carroll, J. (2007). ‘Waking nightmare’. The Boston Globe. July 23, 2007. (here)

   --------  (2008). ‘Life to the full’. The Boston Globe. April 21, 2008. (here)

Cassirer, E. (1970). The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Volume 2: Mythical Thought. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Franz, M-L von (1996). The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Boston & London: Shambala.

‘Indigenous Australian art’. Wikipedia article. (here)

Jung, C.G. (1975). ‘A Psychological Approach to the Trinity’ in Psychology and Religion: West and East. Princeton/Bollingen. (CW 11)

   --------  (1978). ‘Spirit and Life’ in The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. Princeton/Bollingen. (CW 8)

   --------  (1981). ‘The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales’ in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Princeton/Bollingen. (CW 9i)

Neumann, E. (1995). The Origins and History of Consciousness. Princeton University Press (Mythos).

Russell, J.B. (1988). Satan – the Early Christian Tradition. Cornell University Press.

See also:

‘Victor Frankl’. Wikipedia article. (here) (Frankl says that humans have a ‘spiritual unconscious’ and that each person has a latent intuition and yearning for the transcendent.)