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Spirit, from Latin spiritus "breath", has many different meanings and connotations, most of them relating to a non-corporeal substance either contrasted with or given ontological priority over the material body. It can also refer to a "subtle" as opposed to "gross" material substance, as in the famous last paragraph of Sir Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica. The word spirit is often used metaphysically to refer to the consciousness or personality. The term may also refer to any incorporeal, immaterial, supernatural being or essence — transcendent or metaphysical.


  • The world has lost its happiness, because happiness is in the spirit. Those who have turned away from the spirit must endure unhappiness, because why else would they return to the spirit? Therein lies the meaning of great events. To seek happiness through lies and through murder! One may rejoice that degeneracy is hastening evolution. Crimes are fanning the fire of an extinct world.
  • SPIRIT. — The lack of any mutual agreement between writers in the use of this word has resulted in dire confusion. It is commonly made synonymous with soul; and the lexicographers countenance the usage. This is the natural result of our ignorance of the other word, and repudiation of the classification adopted by the ancients. Elsewhere we attempt to make clear the distinction between the terms "spirit" and "soul." There are no more important passages in this work. Meanwhile, we will only add that "spirit" is the nou'" of Plato, the immortal, immaterial, and purely divine principle in man — the crown of the human Triad; whereas, SOUL is the fuch , or the nephesh of the Bible; the vital principle, or the breath of life, which every animal, down to the infusoria, shares with man.
    • H.P. Blavatsky, in Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology, Vol. I, Before the Veil, (1877)
  • ...we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it.
  • Teach me to do your will,
For you are my God.
Your spirit is good;
May it lead me on level ground.
  • [T]here are patient naturalists, but they freeze their subject under the wintry light of the understanding. Is not prayer also a study of truth,—a sally of the soul into the unfound infinite? No man ever prayed heartily, without learning something. But when a faithful thinker... shall... kindle science with the fire of the holiest affections, then will God go forth anew into the creation.
    The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common. ...To the wise... a fact is true poetry and the most beautiful of fables. ...So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect... Then shall come to pass what my poet said; 'Nature is not fixed but fluid. Spirit alters, moulds, makes it. The immobility or bruteness of nature, is the absence of spirit; to pure spirit, it is fluid, it is volatile, it is obedient. Every spirit builds itself a house; and beyond its house a world; and beyond its world, a heaven. Know then, that the world exists for you. For you is the phenomenon perfect. What we are, that only can we see. All that Adam had all, that Caesar could, you have and can do. Adam called his house, heaven and earth; Caesar called his house, Rome; you perhaps call yours, a cobler's trade; a hundred acres of ploughed land; or a scholar's garret. Yet line for line and point for point, your dominion is as great as theirs, though without fine names. Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit. So fast will disagreeable appearances, swine, spiders, snakes, pests, madhouses, prisons, enemies, vanish; they are temporary and shall be no more seen. The sordor and filths of nature, the sun shall dry up, and the wind exhale. As when the summer comes from the south; the snow-banks melt, and the face of the earth becomes green before it, so shall the advancing spirit create its ornaments along its path, and carry with it the beauty it visits, and the song which enchants it; it shall draw beautiful faces, warm hearts, wise discourse, and heroic acts, around its way, until evil is no more seen. The kingdom of man over nature, which cometh not with observation,—a dominion such as now is beyond his dream of God,—he shall enter without more wonder than the blind man feels who is gradually restored to perfect sight.'
  • The heart's wave would not foam up so beautifully and become spirit, if the ancient, mute rock, fate, did not stand opposed to it.
    • Friedrich Hölderlin, Hyperion, or the Hermit in Greece (1797–1799), translated by Ross Benjamin. Brooklyn, NY: Archipelago Books, 2008, p. 55
    • Variant translation: The heart's wave would never have splashed and frothed so beautifully, and become Spirit — had not the grim, old cliff of Destiny stubbornly opposed ...
      • As translated by Gerald Malsbary in Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture (1948). South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine's Press, 1998, p. 129.
  • During the prehistoric age of mankind, spirit was presumed to exist everywhere and was not held in honor as a privilege of man. Because, on the contrary, ... one saw in the spirit that which unites us with nature, not that which sunders us from it.
  • We said that the perceptive-ability of the animal, when compared with what is in plants, is a more far-reaching way of relating to things. Would not, then, the peculiarly human manner of knowing — for ages past, termed a spiritual or intellective knowing — in fact be another, further mode of putting-oneself-into-relation, a mode which transcends in principle anything which can be realized in the plant and animal worlds? And further, would this fundamentally different kind of relating power go together with a different field of relations, i.e., a world of fundamentally different dimensions? The answer to such questions can be found in the Western philosophical tradition, which has understood and even defined spiritual knowing as the power to place oneself in relation to the sum-total of existing thngs. And this is not meant as only one characteristic among others, but as the very essence and definition of the power. By its nature, spirit (or intellection) is not so much distinguished by its immateriality, as by something more primary: its ability to be in relation to the totality of being.
    • Josef Pieper, "The Philosophical Act", in Leisure, the Basis of Culture (1948), translated by Gerald Malsbary. South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine's Press, 1998, p. 85.
  • To label Seth as a spirit guide is to limit an understanding of what he is . . . The minute I found out after my first book was published that this automatically put me in what people called the psychic field . . . I was so humiliated I could hardly hold my head up. I'm using my writing [and] my life to transform intuitive, sometimes revelationary material into art, where it can be enjoyed, understood to varying degrees, and stand free of the stupid interpretations . . . The whole psychic bit as it is, is intellectually and morally psychologically outrageous as far as I'm concerned and I want no part of it or the vocabulary or the ideas.
  • The life of the mind, although supremely excellent in itself, can not bring health into the life of instinct ...it is, as a rule, too widely separated from instinct... to afford either a vehicle for instinct, or a means of subtilizing and refining it. Thought is in its essence impersonal and detached, instinct is in its essence personal and tied to particular circumstances: between the two, unless both reach a high level, there is a war which is not easily appeased. ...Thought which does not rise above what is personal is not thought in any true sense: it is merely a more or less intelligent use of instinct. It is thought and spirit that raise man above the level of the brutes. ...Thought must achieve its full growth before a reconciliation with instinct is attempted. ...
    When refined thought and unrefined instinct coexist, as they do in many intellectual men, the result is a complete disbelief in any important good to be achieved by the help of instinct. According to their disposition, some such men will as far as possible discard instinct and become ascetic, while others will accept it as a necessity, leaving it degraded and separated from all that is really important in their lives. Either of these courses prevents instinct from remaining vital, or from being a bond with others; either produces a sense of physical solitude... so long as this sense of unity is absent, instinct and spirit cannot be in harmony, nor can the life of the community have vigor...
    The life of the mind, because of its detachment, tends to separate a man inwardly from other men, so long as it is not balanced by the life of the spirit. For this reason, mind without spirit can render instinct corrupt or atrophied... On this ground, some men are hostile to thought. But no good purpose is served by trying to prevent the growth of thought, which has its own insistence, and if checked in the directions in which it tends naturally, will turn into other directions where it is more harmful. ...But the opposition is not irreconciliable: all that is necessary is that both thought and instinct should be informed by the life of the spirit. ...
    In order that human life should have vigor, it is necessary for the instinctive impulses to be strong and direct; but in order that human life should be good, these impulses must be dominated and controlled by desires less personal and ruthless, less liable to lead to conflict than those that are inspired by instinct alone. Something impersonal and universal is needed over and above what springs out of the principle of individual growth. It is this that is given by the life of the spirit. ...
    The life of the spirit demands readiness for renunciation when the occasion arises, but is in its essence as positive and as capable of enriching individual existence as mind and instinct are. It brings with it the joy of vision, of the mystery and profundity of the world, of the contemplation of life, and above all the joy of universal love. It liberates those who have it from the prison-house of insistent personal passion and mundane cares. It gives freedom and breadth and beauty to men's thoughts and feelings, and to all their relations with others. It brings the solution of doubts, the end of the feeling that all is vanity. It restores harmony between mind and instinct, and leads the separated unit back into his place in the life of mankind. For those who have once entered the world of thought, it is only through spirit that happiness and peace can return.
  • Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
    Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
    But will they come when you do call for them?
  • Black spirits and white,
    Red spirits and grey,
    Mingle, mingle, mingle,
    You that mingle may.
  • There is neither spirit nor matter in the world; the stuff of the universe is spirit-matter. No other substance but this could produce the human molecule. I know very well that this idea of spirit-matter is regarded as a hybrid monster, a verbal exorcism of a duality which remains unresolved in its terms. But I remain convinced that the objections made to it arise from the mere fact that few people can make up their minds to abandon an old point of view and take the risk of a new idea... Biologists or philosophers cannot conceive a biosphere or noosphere because they are unwilling to abandon a certain narrow conception of individuality. Nevertheless, the step must be taken. For in fact, pure spirituality is as unconceivable as pure materiality. Just as, in a sense, there is no geometrical point, but as many structurally different points as there are methods of deriving them from different figures, so every spirit derives its reality and nature from a particular type of universal synthesis.
  • One of the unfortunate consequences of the intellectualization of man's spiritual life was that the word "spirit" was lost and replaced by mind or intellect, and that the element of vitality which is present in “spirit” was separated and interpreted as an independent biological force. Man was divided into a bloodless intellect and a meaningless vitality. The middle ground between them, the spiritual soul, in which vitality and intentionality are united, was dropped.
  • Therefore, all the spirits and demons have one half from man below, and the other half from the angels of the supernal realm.
    • Zohar 3:76b-77a

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989)

  • The sword conquered for a while, but the spirit conquers for ever!
    • Sholem Asch, The Apostle (1943), trans. Maurice Samuel, p. 804.
  • Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never;
    Never was time it was not; End and Beginning are dreams!
    Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit for ever;
    Death hath not touched it at all, dead though the house of it seems!
    knoweth it exhaustless, self-sustained,
    Immortal, indestructible,—shall such
    Say, "I have killed a man, or caused to kill?"
    Nay, but as when one layeth
    His worn-out robes away,
    And, taking new ones, sayeth,
    "These will I wear to-day!"
    So putteth by the spirit
    Lightly its garb of flesh,
    And passeth to inherit
    A residence afresh.
    • Bhagavad Gita (The Song Celestial or Bhagavad-Gita, trans. Sir Edwin Arnold (1934), p. 10–11). This is chapter 2, sections 20–22 in other editions.
  • If that vital spark that we find in a grain of wheat can pass unchanged through countless deaths and resurrections, will the spirit of man be unable to pass from this body to another?
    • William Jennings Bryan, eulogy, Elks Lodge annual memorial service, Lincoln, Nebraska, December 2, 1906, as reported by the Nebraska State Journal, December 3, 1906, p. 3.

In "The Prince of Peace", a lecture delivered at Chautauquas and religious gatherings, starting in 1904, he phrased the idea this way: "If this invisible germ of life in the grain of wheat can thus pass unimpaired through three thousand resurrections, I shall not doubt that my soul has power to clothe itself with a body suited to its new existence when this earthly frame has crumbled into dust".—Speeches of William Jennings Bryan, vol. 2, p. 284 (1909).

  • I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.
    • John F. Kennedy, remarks at a closed-circuit television broadcast on behalf of the national cultural center, November 29, 1962. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1962, p. 846–47. Inscription on the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 745-46.
  • Why, a spirit is such a little, little thing, that I have heard a man, who was a great scholar, say that he'll dance ye a hornpipe upon the point of a needle.
  • Not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
    • II Corinthians, III. 6.
  • Some who are far from atheists, may make themselves merry with that conceit of thousands of spirits dancing at once upon a needle's point.
    • Ralph Cudworth, True Intellectual System of the Universe, Volume III, p. 497. Ed. 1829. Isaac D'Israeli in Curiosities of Literature. Quodlibets, quotes from Aquinas, "How many angels can dance on the point of a very fine needle without jostling each other." The idea, not the words, are in Aquinas—Summa and Sentences. Credited also to Bernardo de Carpino and Alagona.
  • A Corpse or a Ghost—… I'd sooner be one or t'other, square and fair, than a Ghost in a Corpse, which is my feelins at present.
  • I am the spirit of the morning sea,
    I am the awakening and the glad surprise.
  • Aërial spirits, by great Jove design'd
    To be on earth the guardians of mankind:
    Invisible to mortal eyes they go,
    And mark our actions, good or bad, below:
    The immortal spies with watchful care preside,
    And thrice ten thousand round their charges glide:
    They can reward with glory or with gold,
    A power they by Divine permission hold.
    • Hesiod, Works and Days, line 164.
  • The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
    • Matthew, XXVI. 41.
  • Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth
    Unseen, both when we wake, and when we sleep.
  • Teloque animus præstantior omni.
    • A spirit superior to every weapon.
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, III. 54.
  • Ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.
    • I Peter, III. 4.
  • Know then, unnumber'd Spirits round thee fly,
    The light Militia of the lower sky.
  • He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.
    • Proverbs, XVI. 32. Mishna. Ethics of the Fathers, IV. 2.
  • A wounded spirit who can bear?
    • Proverbs, XVIII. 14.
  • After the spiritual powers, there is no thing in the world more unconquerable than the spirit of nationality…. The spirit of nationality in Ireland will persist even though the mightiest of material powers be its neighbor.
  • Of my own spirit let me be
    In sole though feeble mastery.
  • Boatman, come, thy fare receive;
    Thrice thy fare I gladly give,
    For unknown, unseen by thee,
    Spirits twain have crossed with me.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
  • There are times in the history of men and nations, when they stand so near the vail that separates mortals from the immortals, time from eternity, and men from their God, that they can almost hear the beatings, and feel the pulsations, of the heart of the Infinite.
  • Hands of invisible spirits touch the strings
    Of that mysterious instrument, the soul,
    And play the prelude of our fate.
  • Millions of spiritual beings walk the earth unseen,
    Both when we wake, and when we sleep.
  • It may be that at this moment every battlement of heaven is alive with the redeemed. There is a sainted mother watching for her daughter. Have you no response to that long hushed voice which has prayed for you so often? And for you, young man, are there no voices there that have prayed for you? And are there none whom you promised once to meet again, if not on earth, in heaven?
  • Do we not hear voices, gentle and great, and some of them like the voices of departed friends,— do we not hear them saying to us, "Come up hither?"
  • Yes, thank God! there is rest — many an interval of saddest, sweetest rest — even here, when it seems as if evening breeze; from that other land, laden with fragrance, played upon the cheeks, and lulled the heart. There are times, even on the stormy sea, when a gentle whisper breathes softly as of heaven, and sends into the soul a dream of ecstasy which can never again wholly die, even amidst the jar and whirl of daily life. How such whispers make the blood stop and the flesh creep with a sense of mysterious communion! How singularly such moments are the epochs of life — the few points that stand out prominently in the recollection after the flood of years has buried all the rest, as all the low shore disappears, leaving only a few rock points visible at high tide.
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