By Stefan Stenudd
I'm a Swedish writer and instructor of the peaceful martial art aikido. I've written several books about qi and other lifeforce concepts. I'm also a historian of ideas, researching the thought patterns in 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.
Life Energy Fundamentals
By the shift of the life force from being used to being the user, it became much less of a means to accomplish vitality and longevity, something still craved by each individual - especially those most privileged by the excess appearing in agrarian society. When the life force was in divine hands, something else was needed for people who wanted more than their share.
In China of the centuries around the beginning of our Christian era, alchemy was developed in the pursuit of potions that would give longevity to the ones who could afford them. In particular, there were some Chinese emperors spending vast amounts of the royal fortune on men who claimed to know the recipe. The potions included some heavy metals, so they tended to shorten life rather than prolong it.
In Europe, similar pursuits were made by alchemists of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance (see the image on the following page). They preferred to work with gold and other precious substances, so whatever potions they mixed were solely for the well to do. They also saw this work as a method to reach an individual refinement, which would probably include longevity but focused more on personal transcendence.
The life force was not the focus of such efforts, at least not the one of the beliefs of the time, such as the Holy Spirit of Christianity. That was Godâ€™s instrument, and He had decided on a limited life span for humans, so they had to find other means. Their methods could be categorized as magic - a science of the impalpable, allowing for powers independent of those in nature.
Magic was a way of trying to reclaim control of the life force.
For that purpose the alchemists needed to investigate its nature, as well as that of surrounding circumstances of significance. Their method was scientific enough, with theories, trial and error, and so on. Of course, their perspective, or paradigm if you will, was quite mystical, and in line with the fundament of Christian cosmology.
So, they searched principles rather than manifestations, and imponderabilia, things of a fleeing and obscure nature, rather than the known materials around them. They sought to manipulate the world by finding the hidden laws and workings of it, as if getting to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, behind Godâ€™s back.
Had they not done their research in fields where many rulers were eager to get results, they would surely have been banned by the Church and burned at the stake as heretics. But rulers longed for longevity.
Through the occult sciences, ideas of the life force moved around quite a bit. The alchemists speculated anew about its nature and workings, eager to find new ways to describe and understand it. They left the basics of the mindâ€™s will and the bodily movements far behind, as well as the orderly view otherwise fondled by agricultural society. In a way, they stepped back into chaos, the dark unknown, fully prepared to return with something never before imagined.
This process is still at work in todayâ€™s society, although the terminology and the objects of research have changed.
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: