There are many definitions of the term spirits. In general, it depends on who you ask.
To the general public, the Merriam-Webster (M-W) definition of spirit is likely the one they use, as well. According to M-W a spirit (as it relates to paranormal and spiritual phenomena) is one of the following:
- A supernatural being
- The immaterial sentient part of a human
Parapsychologists and Paranormal Investigators
In parapsychology, they don't officially use the term "spirit," although many paranormal investigators use it to mean the non-physical essence of someone who has passed away that remains after bodily death. In other words, a ghost. In general, paranormal investigators may be referring to a ghost or an apparition when they use the word "spirit."
According to Loyd Auerbach, parapsychologists break spirits down into further categories.
- Apparitions are spirits that appear to have some level of sentience. That is, they appear to be interactive with living people.
- Hauntings are non-intelligent anomalous events, such as sounds, sights, or smells. They appear to be more of a recording than a sentient being; some people call these residual hauntings.
Types of Spirits in the Paranormal
In the paranormal, researchers often further break sentient spirits into various categories including:
- Ghosts - These are people who have died, but some essence of their intelligence lingers in the physical realm to create noticeable phenomena.
- Poltergeists - Technically "noisy ghosts," these are spirits that move objects, make lots of noises, and generally cause a ruckus.
- Demons - Some believe demons are evil spirits that are out to steal or possess human souls.
- Elementals - Some also classify elementals, which are earth creatures such as faeries and gnomes, as spirits.
Psychics may use the term differently. While in paranormal investigation, the term "spirit" typically means an earthbound spirit - that is, the sentient, non-physical part of a person who has died that has not yet crossed over (i.e. "gone to heaven") - psychics use the term to describe any sentient intelligence with whom they communicate. This may include people who have died and remain earthbound, as well as those who have died and are communicating from "the other side" or "heaven." Some psychics may also define spirits as their angels and guides that exist in the "spirit realm." These spirits help provide people with direction in life and keep them on their path.
Energy Healers and Metaphysicians
Energy healers and metaphysicians tend to be closer to M-W's definition of spirit. They believe people are body, mind, and spirit combined in a living person. Therefore, they tend to define spirits as the etheric part of a living human, as well as the intelligent part of a person that remains after the person has died. Spirit is, according to metaphysicians and energy healers, the Divine aspect of one's nature that always was, always is, and always will be, regardless of whether the physical body of the person is living.
Religions may also have their own definitions of spirit. For example, in Christianity, spirit can refer to the Holy Spirit, which is the breath of God that animates living beings. Alternatively, spirit in Christianity and other religions may describe the aspect of a person that God created, put in a body, and brings back to heaven after death - in other words, the soul. Other religions have similar views of spirit.
In religions that believe in reincarnation, the spirit is the part of the person (or soul) that returns from lifetime to lifetime, embodied in different bodies and lives but of the same essence. Alternatively, Buddha taught the principle of anatta (no soul), which is the doctrine of non-self, or the belief there is no overarching soul or spirit that defines and animates the self. So, in some religions, there is no spirit as it relates to the human soul.
There are multiple definitions of the term "spirit" as it relates to the paranormal, psychic phenomena, energy healing, parapsychology, religion, and more. In general, all refer to the etheric part of humans that is not of the physical realm or to other supernatural intelligences that may or may not be embodied.