I have been asked quite a few times about the title of my book, Shamanic Qabalah and the new The Shamanic Soul, and why the term “soul” was used instead of “spirit.” To answer this, I must examine the origins and use of these terms, especially within the context of shamanic practice.
The word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus, which means “breath” and is often synonymous with the life essence of a person. Anima is the Latin word for “soul,” identified with “breathing,” denoting the action of being alive, mental processes, etc. The Classical Greek nomenclature is similar in its distinctions: pneuma recognized as “breath” or “spirit” and psykhē as “to breathe” or “breath of life.” Although these are closely linked, we can see that spirit seems to typify the essence of life within oneself and that soul describes the activity of being alive.
In earth-honoring traditions, the matrix of reality consists of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water, each representing the aspects of life such as the physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental planes of being, respectively. Spirit is one aspect of four parts of being. Yet, soul is what ties them together. Soul is the expression of these parts in action and participation with the world.
Perhaps the greatest example of soul in action is, indeed, soul music. To watch and listen to Etta James, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and others perform moves the audience in invisible ways, taking control of mind, body, and heart. My favorite interpretation of soul is in the novel Mumbo Jumbo (1972) by Ishmael Reed, a wild, psychedelic romp taking place in Roaring ’20s Harlem, about a “virus” called “Jes Grew” that infects the populace with Jazz music, dance, and ecstasy. The corrupt establishment wants to contain and eliminate Jes Grew, but it spreads through the common people like a forceful wave. “Dance is the universal art,” the narrator of Reed’s book says, “the common joy of expression. Those who cannot dance are imprisoned by their own ego and cannot live well with other people and the world. They have lost the tune of life.” (p. 60)
To have soul is to be in tune with life, to be tapped into the collective world soul, the anima mundi (in Latin). Shamanic practice is about enlivening the human spirit, to “grow soul” as it were. Soul is dynamic; it is the active energy of movement and creativity. It is the dancer, singer, musician, painter, and athlete in action, aligned with joyful purpose. If spirit is the essence of life, soul is the animating essence, the flow of evolution and transmutation within one’s life.
The shamanic process includes tools and practices that help enliven one’s soul, activating your physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental parts into motion. It was my intention to include such practices I have learned in my own shamanic training in my latest book, The Shamanic Soul. To me, shamanism is indeed the art of growing soul.
Our thanks to Daniel for his guest post! For more from Daniel Moler, read his article, “Mysticism of the Unseen.”