Subversive Spirits

Editorial cartoon from The Hornet of Charles Darwin as an ape, 1871.

Life Energy Fundamentals

Although this mechanical view of the world and its creatures became the norm among natural scientists, other views persisted in society.

       The defenders of religion saw the spirit and the soul as immaterial entities, independent of natural laws, and completely separate from the material world where those laws applied. However, they found little reason for maintaining the belief in a life force as such, since body movement as well as survival were sufficiently explained by science.

       Some thinkers outside the field of natural science dared to question a completely materialistic universe. Actually, Isaac Newton, the very father of the Scientific Revolution, was extremely interested in spiritual aspects, even astrology and such. But few of his peers followed him in this.

       Instead, it was some philosophers and researchers of the social sciences who continued to speculate about immaterial aspects of existence. Quite a few physicians did the same. They did so by seeking connections to ideas of old, such as alchemy and other ancient traditions. But after the Scientific Revolution they had to do it in opposition to, and renounced by, established science.

       Several such projects sought to combine the old spiritual traditions with modern natural science. In the first century or so of the Scientific Revolution, they mostly tried to find scientific evidence for spiritual aspects of life, with little but temporary success until proven wrong. Later on, they tried to reform and widen the perspectives of natural science to incorporate spiritual phenomena. Such doctrines remain today, but outside the community of natural science, completely denounced by it.

       Since the discoveries made by Newton, these mixtures of physical and spiritual theories have usually followed the development of natural science closely, adapting its latest findings in their speculations, and forming new metaphysics with many similarities to the established physics of the time. In most cases, such researchers have been similar to the alchemists in regarding themselves as proper scientists rather than mystics, claiming to have proven their theories in the manner demanded by science.

       There are countless examples of such theories, as can be seen in the following encyclopedia. When put in a chronological order, their links to the natural science of the time is quite evident.

       In the 18th century, the Swiss physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815, see the image) treated patients with magnetism, which was a force bewildering to the people of that time. So was electricity, which Luigi Galvani (1737-1798) believed to exist also as a fluid in living beings. Since their days, there have been many ideas about a life force either identical or similar to magnetism, or to electricity.

       By the end of the 19th century, when these two forces were rather well known and utilized, speculations tended instead toward light, which was also in physics receiving renewed attention. Theosophy, founded by Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891, see the portrait), talked about an astral light as the ordering principle of the universe. Later on, many ideas about an aura, a colored light radiating from living beings, have emerged.

       The 20th century fascination with light is mostly due to Albert Einstein's (1879-1955) use of it in his theories about gravity, speed, and time. Also gravity and time have been used in several life force ideas of the 20th century.

       The change of terminology during the 20th century, mainly in speaking more about life energy than life force, is also a result of the Einstein influence and the growing scientific concern for energy and its importance in cosmology as well as in daily life.

       Another expression used, although rarely, is life spirit. This is more closely connected to Christian ideas, and to Western ethnocentric views on beliefs in other cultures. Contemporary discussions and theories favor the expression life energy, which is why I chose it for the title of this book.

       There are other influences on the terminology of life force speculations. Where ancient thoughts dealt with it as a power, a force, contained in the body using it, the last few hundred years have increasingly preferred concepts like emanation, radiation, vibration, and such, indicating a force extending beyond the body.

       Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845-1923, see the portrait) discovered the x-ray at the end of the 20th century, and Antoine Henri Becquerel (1852-1908) discovered radioactivity at about the same time. Since their discoveries, there have been numerous speculations about a life force similar to radiation.

       Quantum physics, emerging in the beginning of the 20th century, especially with the theories of the German physicist Max Planck (1858-1947, see the portrait on the next page), gave rise to ideas about certain life force particles, behaving quite differently from those dealt with in physics, but still as physically real.

       Generally, there has been a growing flow of theories about forces beyond those known to science, but described much the same way. These theories often combine the parts of modern physics that are yet the least understood by natural science. As science progresses, these speculations adapt and change, constantly moving toward the least known fields of natural science, and finding the cracks and anomalies within scientific theory.

       This line of thought is usually described as pseudoscience, implying that it is incorrect and aiming to prove what has already been disproved, which is not that certain in every case. Since many of these theories oppose the very paradigms of natural science, the scientists would be very reluctant indeed to confirm them. Often, these theories are such that there just is no scientifically approved method of testing them.

       Of course, there are also numerous examples of theories having been tested and proven false.


  1. Introduction

  2. Homo rudis

  3. Prime mover

  4. Air

  5. Bodily fluids

  6. Survival

  7. The dead

  8. Spirits

  9. Hell

  10. Change

  11. Agricultural order

  12. A demanding spirit

  13. Magic

  14. The Scientific Revolution

  15. Mechanical man

  16. Subversive spirits

  17. Alien forces

  18. Future speculations

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Qi Energy Exercises

The ancient Chinese life energy qi (chi) explained and how to exercise it.

Creation Myths

Creation stories from around the world, and the ancient cosmology they reveal.

Cosmos of the Ancients

What the Greek philosophers believed about the cosmos, their religion and their gods.


Taoism, the ancient Chinese philosophy of life explained. Also, the complete Tao Te Ching online.

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Life Energy Encyclopedia. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Life Energy Encyclopedia

Qi, prana, spirit, ruach, pneuma, and many other life forces around the world explained and compared. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

QI - increase your life energy. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Qi - Increase your life energy

The life energy qi (also chi or ki) explained, with several very easy exercises to awaken, increase, and use it. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

My Other Books

Cosmos of the Ancients. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Cosmos of the Ancients

The Greek philosophers and what they thought about cosmology, myth, and the gods. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

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The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. The great Taoist classic, translated and extensively commented chapter by chapter. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

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Fiction. A brunch conversation slips into the mysterious, soon to burst beyond the realm of possibility. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

Stefan Stenudd, Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction. Stefan Stenudd

About me

I'm a Swedish author and historian of ideas, researching the thought patterns in creation myths. I've also written books about Taoism, the Tarot, and life force concepts around the world. Click the image to get to my personal website.