Spirituals are religious folk songs that originated with blacks in the American South. Many of the lyrics are based on Exodus, and call upon God to free the slaves, end hard labor, and carry the blacks to a better land. Spirituals frequently contain a chorus that's repeated after every line (such as "Let my people go!" in Go Down Moses or "Comin' for to carry me home" in Swing Low Sweet Chariot). This structure allows everyone to participate in the song, including illiterates and people who didn't yet know the lyrics. Musically, spirituals tend sound like dirges, but they're strangely uplifting dirges at that--they always contain a glimmer of hope in their descriptions of pain and suffering.

Some authors note that slaves used spirituals to send information to other slaves or Underground Railroad members--Swing Low Sweet Chariot meant that the slave was willing to take a chance at freedom, for example, while O Canaan signified an escape to Canada.

"Spiritual" is perhaps the most eye roll worthy adjective in use today. The original meaning of the word "spirit" is "breath" or "air", and then over the years it picked up a bevy of meanings, all tinted by history and easily confused by the inherent vagueness of the term. Without accepting any type of doctrinaire religion, either inside the monotheistic mode or out of it, the world spiritual might have connotations of awe, majesty and the ineffable. However, through some strange process, its modern connotations are almost more of a fashion or a style. To say that a person is "spiritual" probably means they have an easy manner and like to wear earth tones. Although always a vague word, spiritual has migrated to being truly insipid, suggesting nothing more than an aesthetic of restfulness.

And don't even start me on "spiritual but not religious".

And yet, for all its abuse, I sometimes find myself having to use the term "spiritual", although sometimes I have to apologize and explain before I do so. To call experiences spiritual seems to be a natural and important category. I was recently talking to a female friend of mine, and when she said that she had a long and unrequited love for a man, I asked her what she saw in him. After naming off the usual suspects, I asked her if there was anything spiritually fulfilling that made the otherwise troublesome relationship worthwhile. And of course, I could have avoided the dread word "spiritual", but to do so, I would have had to replace it with a string of words to communicate my meaning: "Does this relationship provide you with mental and emotional growth that is beyond your normal experiences in such, and do so in a lasting way that communicates to something deeper in your being, giving you a lasting and dramatic change in your life", or something to that effect. In other words, although the vagueness and recent insipidity are both barriers to the use of the adjective "spiritual", it is still a word that communicates something, and an important something.

Spir"it*u*al (?), a. [L. spiritualis: cf. F. spirituel. See Spirit.]


Consisting of spirit; not material; incorporeal; as, a spiritual substance or being.

It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. 1 Cor. xv. 44.


Of or pertaining to the intellectual and higher endowments of the mind; mental; intellectual.


Of or pertaining to the moral feelings or states of the soul, as distinguished from the external actions; reaching and affecting the spirits.

God's law is spiritual; it is a transcript of the divine nature, and extends its authority to the acts of the soul of man. Sir T. Browne.


Of or pertaining to the soul or its affections as influenced by the Spirit; controlled and inspired by the divine Spirit; proceeding from the Holy Spirit; pure; holy; divine; heavenly-minded; -- opposed to carnal.

That I may impart unto you some spiritual gift. Rom. i. ll.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings. Eph. i. 3.

If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one. Gal. vi. 1.


Not lay or temporal; relating to sacred things; ecclesiastical; as, the spiritual functions of the clergy; lords spiritual and temporal; a spiritual corporation.

Spiritual coadjuctor. Eccl. See the Note under Jesuit. -- Spiritual court Eccl.Law, an ecclesiastical court, or a court having jurisdiction in ecclesiastical affairs; a court held by a bishop or other ecclesiastic.


© Webster 1913.

Spir"it*u*al, n.

A spiritual function, office, or affair. See Spirituality, 2.

He assigns supremacy to the pope in spirituals, and to the emperor in temporals. Lowell.


© Webster 1913.

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