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
Apart from the increased efforts to find spiritual aspects in natural science, the last centuries have also had a flow of speculations based on spiritual beliefs in other cultures, and in ancient times.
During the 19th century, there was a great increase in the study of exotic cultures, done by anthropologists and explorers, but also by missionaries fascinated by what they learned about the beliefs and myths in cultures they were supposed to convert to Christianity. This information was eagerly consumed by the Western population, and resulted in many new perspectives on religion and spiritual aspects in general.
The above-mentioned Theosophists, among many other spiritual movements, were particularly interested in Indian cosmology and myth, adapting much of it in their own teachings. So did occult movements like the Golden Dawn and OTO, with its charismatic leader of the early 20th century Aleister Crowley (1875-1947, see the image), but they also explored old alchemist theories and ancient Egyptian mythology.
Regarding life force ideas, prana of Indian tradition was introduced by the increasingly popular practice of yoga. Later in the 20th century, the Chinese concept qi and its Japanese counterpart ki spread to the West through the practice of Eastern martial arts, as well as acupuncture and qigong.
Asian traditions were not the only ones introduced and popularized in the West, but they became the most widespread ones, making the deepest impression. Other traditions explored were those of North American Indians, shaman practices of African and other tribes, et cetera. In general, non-European belief systems were particularly popular to investigate and adapt.
Nonetheless, some old European traditions have also been given a modern renaissance of sorts. Chiefly, Medieval alchemy and Jewish Kabbalah (see the image of yesod) have been revisited, from the late 20th century to the present.
Most of this exploration has been initiated completely outside of the scientific community, such as in the esoteric and occult movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the New Age movement of the 1960's and 1970's.
In some cases, though, the academic world has also been involved. For example, the French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson (1859-1941) and the German biologist Hans Driesch (1867-1941) suggested a revised form of the vitalism theory from around the year 1600.
In the 1970's, probably influenced by the New Age movement, several physicists started to compare old Asian cosmological concepts to advanced modern physics and astronomy. Gary Zukav's (see the portrait) book on quantum physics, The Dancing Wu Li Masters from 1979, was the first to reach a wide audience, soon followed by many similar books.
The physicist Paul Davies (1946-, see the portrait) has since the 1980's written several books comparing modern astronomy to traditional and novel ideas about the divine.
The mechanical universe that Newton discovered in the 17th century became much less mechanical some 200 years later with the theories of Einstein, who twisted both time and space. And in the mere decades to follow, our world got additionally bewildering with the emergence of quantum physics.
By the end of the 20th century, black holes as presented by Stephen Hawking (1942-, see the portrait), and multi-dimensional string theory models of the material universe, have contributed to making our world just about as mysterious and absurd as it was to Homo rudis.
In such a universe, old ideas of a life force and a spiritual realm no longer seem that farfetched.
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: