|Gather 'round the campfire|
Spirits are purported disembodied beings — wandering minds without the physical connections — pure intelligence or thought. Many religions see them as what remains after one has died. The idea of spirits may arise from the awareness that something seemingly "non physical" and distinct from the body is what animates us. If one cuts off my foot, or my arm, or any part of the physical me, there is still something left. Some cultures define that essence as a soul, others a spirit, and still others as both. This duality, of physical body and 'soul', leads directly to the belief that consciousness will somehow continue even after the very organ of consciousness, the brain, has turned into worm-ridden tapioca pudding.
Most cultures posit some form of invisible spirits which may or may not be benevolent, but which generally all share the same characteristic of being an invisible friend or foe, which is not quite a deity, but not quite mundane.
In philosophy and theology
The Israelites as depicted in the Old Testament texts did not postulate the survival of identity after death - this notion became part of Jewish thought only after the injection of Hellenistic ideas, especially Plato's "ideal forms". Just as the philosopher Plato (died 348/347 BCE) regarded an actual chair as a poor copy of a perfect "ideal" chair which existed somewhere in a remote mathematical mindscape, so was the psyche held to be the ideal, "true" human being, temporarily imprisoned in a corruptible body. The distinction between the mind and the body — and sometimes the dichotomy between the evil body and the good soul — made its way into Jewish communities, first in Jewish colonies outside of the Levant, bleeding into Judea during the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE.
The Alexandrian philosopher Philo (circa 25 BCE - circa 50 CE) developed the pre-Socratic idea of Logos]] into the notion that God's word (Logos) is itself an ideal, spiritual being. This idea seems to have gained attention from early Christians, for the Gospel of John (usually dated to between 90 and 110 CE) makes frequent references to this sort of Logos (which, of course, the author identifies with Jesus Christ). The tradition of Paul of Tarsus (died circa 64 or 67 CE), meanwhile, developed Christian spiritual theology, emphasizing the superiority of the spirit over the body, and often blaming "the flesh" for causing problems in the early Christian communities. However, Paul still holds onto a very Jewish distaste of the body and soul being separate.
All of these ideas have trended into Roman Catholic and from there Protestant theologies, even to the present day, leading ultimately to the concept that God, angels, demons, and even Heaven and Hell are all spiritual.
René Descartes (1596–1650), the father of modern philosophy and skepticism, divided the world into matter (physical things) and mind (immaterial things that move the physical world). As a result of his radical doubt, he made the observation cogito, ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am") — identifying himself with his mind, which he considered unchanging, and his body, which could change.
A "spirit" in alcohol terms is used to refer to a type of alcohol that is low in sugar but usually around 40% ABV. Some examples include gin and vodka. Not to be confused with the spirit of Christmas.
- Compare: Drazin, Israel. "Does the Soul Survive the Body's Death?". "The famous Greek philosopher Plato [...] believed that the soul exists independent of the body. It is the real me that is clothed in the body, which is not me. It might not have existed from the beginning of time, but it will survive for all eternity with the same personality it had when it was joined to the body. [...] Plato's notion was enormously influential and although not even hinted in the Hebrew Bible, it became the religious view of most religions."
- See the Wikipedia article on psyche.
- See the Wikipedia article on Pre-Socratic philosophy.