By Stefan Stenudd
I'm a Swedish writer and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written several books about lifeforce concepts and East Asian traditions. I'm also a historian of ideas, researching creation myths. My personal website: stenudd.com
The life energy exists in many traditions, such as qi (chi) in China, prana in India, pneuma in Ancient Greece, spiritus in Latin, and vitalism in philosophy. Here they are all explained.
Books by Stefan Stenudd:
The Greek philosophers and what they thought about cosmology, myth, and the gods, by Stefan Stenudd. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.
The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. The great Chinese classic, translated and extensively commented by Stefan Stenudd. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.
The ancient Chinese life energy qi (chi) explained and how to exercise it. Click the image to visit.
Taoism, the old Chinese philosophy of life, based on Tao, the Way. Click the image to visit.
Creation stories from around the world, and the ancient cosmology they reveal. Click the image to visit.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Life Energy Beliefs L
Life Force Ideas Around the World
L-field see life field.
Labuni is a word for the life force used by the tribe Gelaria in New Guinea, according to C. G. Jung in his book On the nature of the Psyche.
Latent neutral is an expression introduced by the American John Worrell Keely (1827-1898) for a receiving spirit in all matter, which he called the soul of matter. It is an element that defies any definition. What it receives is celestial radiation, the force in space that creates movement and life, and was released at the birth of the universe. Keely called his theory sympathetic vibrational psysics.
Lebenskraft see dynamis.
Leza see mulungu.
Libido (Latin for desire and lust) is a term for all kinds of psychic energy, introduced by the Austrian Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). The term has gotten a sexual connotation, but Freud used it for every form of psychic energy, expressed in thought, perception, fantasy, memory, desire, and so on. He claimed that this energy exists in a fixed quantity in each human, but moves between different expressions. The consequence is that focus on one expression makes the others weaken, sometimes to the extent that it leads to neurosis. The German Psychoanalyst C. G. Jung (1875-1961) had a partially altered and widened view on libido as a strife for balance. The similarity to life energy such as qi is limited. Libido is more about purely mental states.
Life (Latin vita, Greek bios) is not easy to define. In past times it has been regarded as either filling all of cosmos, or just present in humans, animals, and to a lesser degree in plants. In the animal kingdom, the difference between life and death is evident, so in practice the definition has really been that those who are not dead must be alive. Modern medicine, though, has the ability to make this border blurred. Humans have always wondered about exactly what it is that ceases when life shifts to death. Out of these speculations, ideas about a life force and the like have been born. The belief in a life spirit probably stems from the fact that breathing stops at death. The exhalation of the last breath has surely stimulated the belief in an escaping spirit. We are born with an inhalation, like when the Biblical God blew life into Adam, and we die with an exhalation (see also breath). Also the rich symbolic meaning of the heart in traditional thought can be linked to the fact that it stops beating at the moment of death. Modern natural science has no single definition of life, apart from the thesis that it consists of nothing but known biochemical processes. Life contains the demand for some kind of movement and change, also growth – all the way from the nourishment intake and multiplying by division of unicellular creatures, to the birth, growth, and multiplying of mammals. It is more questionable if life as such depends on death, the inevitable demise of any individual life form. Although none have been found, creatures with eternal life must also be regarded as alive if they move and act and change somehow. Many but far from all deities in myths around the world have eternal life as their major trait. Most deities seem unable to die by old age, or to age at all, but can still be killed – mostly only by other deities (see also gods). Where a driving force of life is pointed out by natural science, it is the gene, which is in modern biology described as sort of a motor and meaning to procreation. Historically, the driving force has been searched in the whole of the animal, or the whole species. Charles Darwin (1809-82) spoke about the fight for survival of the species. Most theories before his focused on the individual creature’s strife for eternal life through its offspring. Both these theories are easily combined in pointing out the will of the individual, as opposed to the impersonal drive of genetics. Among humans, life has traditionally been regarded as awareness of it – knowing to be alive, and thus to have an I. Since life, in that case, is connected to the individual experience, ‘I live,’ it would be impossible to reach the same certainty about the state of death, because it would demand the experience ‘I am dead’ – but that would be just another way of being alive. It would confirm the necessity for life after death, which in turn would deny the existence of death altogether.
God creating Adam, by William Blake 1795.
Life body see life ether.
Life elixir see longevity.
Life energy is an expression commonly used today for ideas about a kind of energy that might be the source for life in animals and plants, in addition to the biological processes at work. The expression implies that this life source is a type of energy, comparable to radiation, electricity, and so on. This view is contemporary, being inspired by the scientific explorations of electricity and radiation in the 19th and 20th centuries, also Einstein’s thesis about the relation between matter and energy – basically that they are in essence the same. Compare life force and life spirit.
Life ether is an expression used in anthroposophy, founded by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). He regarded humans as consisting of four parts: physical body, ether body, astral body, and ego, where the two latter are able to leave the body, for example in sleep and by incarnation. The ether body, also called the life body, is a transparent cover around the physical body, a receiver of impulses from the four ethers heat, light, sound, and life, which are heavenly counterparts to the Greek elements fire, air, water, and earth. So, the life ether is linked to earth, the last step in the creation of the world through the previous ethers and elements. The idea of the life ether might be the nearest to the life energy concept, but to some extent all the ethers are connected and cooperate.
Life field is an expression for the body’s energy field, introduced in 1972 by the American Professor of Medicine Harold Saxon Burr (1889-1973), who researched this in 1932-1956. He claimed that diseases could be traced to this field, and be prevented or cured by changes in people’s life fields. These fields are electric and magnetic, and disappear when people die. The English author Edward Wriothesley Russell called them L-fields in books from the 1970's. See also T-field.
Life force is a traditional expression for a driving force of life, of an incorporeal kind, although at work in the body. The expression implies a will-power with its own purpose, which is also how it was often perceived in past times. In this perspective the life force was a primordial or divine power, setting the living beings of the world in motion. Modern concepts of a life source tend instead to compare it to energy, not necessarily originating in some kind of will, or aiming toward some kind of goal. Compare life energy and life spirit. See also dynamis.
Life spirit is an expression for ideas about some kind of essence in living beings, bringing them to life and keeping them alive. The expression implies that this essence is a kind of ether, incorporeal although at work in bodies, maybe also immaterial. It is almost a tautology, since the word spirit implies just about the same. Within New Age and occult traditions, the expression is probably used to distinguish it from ideas of a life source that are material and mechanical in nature. See also spirit and élan vital.
Light has always been regarded as connected to divine powers, which is easily explained by its major source, the sun, being a heavenly body as distant as it was bewildering to ancient humans. Many mythologies contain stories of how fire (see this word) was stolen or given from heavenly powers, as if snatched from the very sun. The sun (see this word) is a high deity in many cultures, often regarded as essential already in creation, bringing light and warmth. Light is the first creative act of the Biblical god in Genesis: “Let there be light!” Thereby darkness was conquered, and the rest of creation became possible. The traditional link between light and heat (see this word) is such that light is connected to heat and life, whereas darkness is connected to cold and death. This basic polarity is found in many traditions, such as the Chinese yin and yang, originally referring to the shady and sunny side (for example of a tree). Yin is regarded as earthly and yang heavenly. The fact that light is possible to block, creating shade, must have fascinated the minds of ancient humans. From this observation, and that of the change between night and day, they imagined a constant battle between light and dark, where the former had so much more to offer mankind, and therefore gained their sympathy. The differences between light and heat may have influenced people to form ideas of spirit and soul, the one more elevated and abstract than the other. To ancient man, light was less tangible than heat, and more difficult to induce. Therefore it is plausible that while heat can have stimulated ideas about a flowing life force partially controllable by the will, light gave ideas about a heavenly energy, given from above, outside of human control. The significance of light in the human mind is difficult to exaggerate. In modern society, we have it at the reach of a switch, but primitive man was completely at the mercy of the heavenly lights, before he learned to make fire (see this word). Darkness was a state of dire and dangerous helplessness, from which each dawn brought liberation. The concern since the dawn of civilization for celestial matters, is probably because of heaven’s ancient monopoly on light. Ideas of an inner light are not likely to have appeared before humans learned to make fire, which is to bring out the light and heat from inside objects that beforehand are cold, with dark interiors. By fire, light could be made to emerge from earthly objects. Human use of fire was probably originally for the light of it, more than the heat. See also aura.
God creates light. Bible illustration by Gustave Doré, 1866.
Logoital plasma see eloptic energy.
Longevity is having a long life, something intensely strived for through many different means in many cultures. This is certainly still the case in our modern society. Where we have medicines and nutritional additives, there were numerous experiments in the past to come up with a life elixir (see this word), some kind of potion that stopped ageing completely. The religious Taoists of old made one containing heavy metals, making it quite poisonous. The alchemists of Medieval and Renaissance Europe were focused on making gold, but nourished the idea that humans could transform to a “golden” level of refinement and awareness, also bringing longevity. Longevity has in many traditions been closely linked to what is presently called life quality, a life that is not just long but has other qualities as well. It has often been assumed that such qualities promote longevity, whereas the opposite is not necessarily the case.
The Taoist immortal Lu Tung-Pin.
Luster can be used symbolically about people, referring to what can also be described as charisma (see this word), the impression a person makes on others. Luster is often mentioned as a quality of persons who have reached a high level of spiritual clarity or religious piety, but can also describe a specific human characteristic of a more profane nature. In alchemy, a far developed personality was believed to express itself with a visible luster. There are also many ideas about an inner light in exemplary humans. See also light, nimbus, aura, and halo.
An angel's face with evident luster. Detail from Virgin of the Rocks, painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the 1480's.
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BooksI have written two books on the subject of life energy: Qi: Increase your Life energy and Life Energy Encyclopedia. This website has material from the latter. Here are the two books: