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Soul leaving the body, artist unknown

The belief in an immortal, intangible soul — “the incorporeal essence of a living being” — exists in the vast majority of religious and folk beliefs all over the world. While some belief systems hold that only human beings have souls, many others do not limit the possession of a soul to humans, but assume that animals and even plants and geographical features have souls.

There is no universal agreement between religious doctrines or cultural folk beliefs on how the human soul essence comes into existence, how it is structured, or how it functions during a person's life or after death. These differences of belief have led to structural differences in the various religious and magical traditions of humanity.


The Creation of the Soul: Trends in Creation Stories

Dutch cemetery tombstone with a carved depiction of the soul, artist unknown
Reincarnation of the soul conceived as the infinite cycle from life to death and from birth to life; artist unknown
"Damned Soul" by Michaelangelo (1475-1564)

For more information, see Creation of the Soul

The first question we must consider in our study of the soul is how it comes into existence. Creation myths (stories conveying profound truths metaphorically, symbolically, culturally, spiritually, or even historically) rarely consider the soul as a separate creation from the being, so we shall consider ancient stories of the creation of earth and living creatures as we look for the origins of the soul. (Read more...)

Anatomies of the Soul and Spirit

For more information, see Anatomies of the Soul and Spirit

Not all belief systems view the soul as only consisting of an immortal, intangible spirit essence. Many belief systems separate the soul into both physical and spiritual elements. Some even posit multiple souls, functioning in concert, for each being. Furthermore, there are schools of thought — going back thousands of years in many parts of the world — which maintain that the soul does not exist at all after death. (Read more)

The Soul in the Afterlife

For more information, see The Afterlife

If the soul is immortal, as many religions, maintain, what happens to it, what does it do, and where does it reside after the death of the body? Most immortalist religions and folk beliefs surmise that there will be some form of judgement of the soul, followed by a reward or punishment as appropriate. A belief in after-death judgement even extends to some traditions within Buddhism, despite the idea that their doctrine holds that humans have "no soul," or rather a mutable soul. (Read more)


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