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what is soul? what is spirit?

Answer Me This: Soul vs Spirit?

What, if anything, is the difference between a person’s soul and a person’s spirit?

Think about it, then go ahead and leave your answer in the comments below. Here’s what I think.

what is soul? what is spirit?

There Is No Versus

I tend to think “soul” and “spirit” name the same thing. “Soul” feels like it has more pagan or druid roots (it doesn’t; I checked) while “spirit” sounds like it comes from Greek and Latin and is thus more Christian-y (only kind of; I checked). But to me, they both seem like they mean the same thing: an individuated portion of the Divine.

But WHY??

To consider why each person’s essence is an individuated piece of the Divine, I’m going to crib from a post I wrote in 2007, at which time infertility bloggers were talking about the Big Bang and God and creation. I theorized that God is unlimited. God is all. God lacks nothing.

Except for one thing: God lacks the ability to experience limitation.*

Well, God WANTS to experience everything, including limitation. So God breaks Godself into gazillions of separate bits — a Big Bang of soul-bits or spirit-bits.

But the separateness of these bits is an illusion — each bit is still a part of God, but doesn’t necessarily realize it. Each bit has the job of bringing back the experience of limitation back to itself — back to God.

Now, the Divine doesn’t care if the experiences are “good” or “bad.” The unlimited God doesn’t prefer being enormously happy to living under the Khmer Rouge. In Divine Oneness there can be no such Duality. The Divine just wants juicy.

But there’s a catch.

We Forget Our Divinity

As a God-bit incarnates, a veil descends, causing the soul/spirit to forget it is part of God. After all, if it remembered, limitation wouldn’t really be experienced.

As Shakespeare said, all the world is a stage, and we are here playing our parts. Sometimes we are villains, sometimes we are victims, sometimes we are heroes, always the journey is serpentine.

The goal, then, is to find our way back. To remember we are unlimited, that we are Divine. God will have experienced limitation, and we souls/spirits will have found our way home.

* I got this idea years ago from the book, The Game of God.

See also: What Happens After Death?

What do you think is the difference between soul and spirit? Going a step further, what do you think is the point of it all?


This post is part of #MicroblogMondays? Whazzat? A post that’s not too long. Head to Stirrup Queens to join the fun.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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21 Responses

  1. It feels like the same thing to me, but then I think that’s the subtle difference–perspective. The soul belongs to and is felt by the individual, but the spirit of that individual is felt by others and lingers and lives in others.

    Hmmmmmm, cool prompt.

  2. Wow Lori, you’ve been asking some toughies!

    I think on a deeper level they’re equivalent to me, but I use the words differently on an everyday basis. I’d use soul to mean what we think of as soul, and I’d use spirit for totally unrelated everyday things such as “spirited child,” “spirit of Christmas,” or “we’ve got spirit yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ’bout you?”

  3. I heart you, Lori, you know I do. But these questions!!! Holy guacamole, I need some libations to oil the brain machinery, but the best I can do w/just caffiene on board is that I think someone’s spirit is their Chi, their energy which is present and everlasting both in the mortal sphere and also transcendental space. A person’s soul is their part of the divine and is usually not apparent in everyday life unless you work to develop an attitude of appreciation. (see, Sunday School and the Jesuit University didn’t go to a complete waste for this Buddhist)
    Thanks, ((Hugs))
    How’s Rodge-A-Roni? (Sorry, after such deep thoughts, I had to lighten it up, plus your hubby’s name is quite fun and full of possiblity.)

  4. Interesting question! I think they can mean the same thing in certain contexts, but to me soul refers specifically to a human being, whereas inanimate things can have spirit, like the spirit of the holidays, school spirit, etc.

    Also, I think when you die you take your soul with you, but your spirit remains behind in your loved-ones’ memories.

  5. Loved everybody’s answers! I believe the soul lives on after death in the afterlife and is who we are without our earthly bodies. A person’s spirit is something that can be felt by others and as Sandy said, lives on with our friends and family in their hearts and minds when we pass on.

  6. This is not an easy question to answer as it’s very abstract. Here’s how I understand it:

    The soul is the totality of our experience. The soul records the impressions of all your life, physical, emotional, and spiritual. The soul can mature over time.

    Your spirit is your True Nature, your essence. It is with you when you are born and when you die. It is not affected by your physical life, per se, like how impressionable our soul is. We often lose touch with our True Nature when we grow up, get a sense of self and an ego, but it is always there. Our spirit is just one expression of the Universal spirit.

    By the way, why do you ask?

  7. This is the way I explained it a long time ago using the three Hebrew words for spirit/soul:

    A person will still look like the person without their nefesh or ruach. Not moving, but still the same. But I think they may one day understand that without a person’s n’shama, they no longer exist. Without my n’shama, I wouldn’t be Melissa. It’s an essence that can’t be recreated, it can’t be contained, it can’t be captured in full, and it can’t be helped by an outside force.

    The longer explanation of the words are here:

  8. Holy jeezum, that’s a complicated question! I guess when I talk about my spirit, I am thinking about it in terms of things I do to nourish my mental well-being, my sense of happiness and peace in the world. When I think of my soul, I think of that piece of me that is intangible, that makes me who I am and that would disappear somewhere if I were to die, leaving my body nothing but an empty shell. It’s the essence of a person, I guess? I love that you looked up the origins of both words. I feel like “spirit” tends to be more spiritual and less religious, and lends itself to the paranormal better (you don’t hear of evil souls as much as evil spirits, or haunted by souls versus haunted by spirits). “Soul” definitely has a more religious connotation for me, and reminds me of church and praying for souls and eternal souls and things of that nature. But for me, I don’t really have religious beliefs, but I do believe that I have a spirit that needs tending to and a soul, I just don’t know where they go in the end. I think the point, for me, is to be the kindest person you can be and to make the most of the time we’ve got on this earth, and to try to be a light for other souls/spirits out there. And I agree with Edenland, my spirit is sure glad it has met your spirit!

  9. Loving reading all the comments! So much thought and variation surrounding this idea of soul vs. spirit. Given me a lot to reflect on as I’ve been nodding along with everyone.

  10. Hmmm. What a tricky one. I agree with much of what Jess said, though I am not at all religious and don’t believe in souls, or even really spirits. I’d use spirit only in the context she mentioned. I don’t ever (I don’t think) refer to souls.

  11. Lori, what a great question to throw out there! I only just stumbled on it as a latecomer.

    I’ll just simply say that the most helpful distinction I’ve ever heard—and I believe it came via a Waldorf/anthroposophical avenue—is that spirit is that aspect of us that is most Divine; and soul is that aspect of us that is most deeply human. (This may be what the pagan reference above relates to, re: soul.)

    Lots to say about that, but I’ll just leave it at that, since I’m not sure this late comment will even “take”! 🙂

  12. Very interesting perspectives on the difference between the ‘soul’ and ‘spirit.’ My current life experience is that my soul is pure, transcendent and cannot be injured, while my spirit which is also pure, is vulnerable and affected by the human condition. This is a great question for, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With The Wolves.

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