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Word of the Day: geest (soul, mind, spirit, ghost), part 2)

GEEST is a spooky word. Freaky because it can have so many meanings in Dutch. The most profane meaning of GEEST is mind or consciousness. GEESTIG therefore means ‘witty’ or ‘funny’


The most sacred meaning refers to the almighty. Someone who is moved by the Ghost is a GEESTELIJKE, priest. Pope Francis I is the GEESTELIJKSTE GEESTELIJKE.

GEEST can also refer to the soul and when this invisible spirit leaves the body, the English call it ‘giving up the ghost’ and the Dutch GEVEN DE GEEST’.

I think therefore I am… an eternal mind in a mortal body, said philosopher René Descartes around 1640 when he separated mind and body as if they were two autonomous entities. But twenty or thirty years later Baruch Spinoza joined them again, saying that they are mere finite modes of the same infinite substance.

To this day we find it hard to believe that Thought and Body are inseparable. Because mortality is such a frightening idea, it must have given rise to the belief that souls live on after death.

To be or not to be… When I met my old friend Paul in town the other day, he told me that he had played the role of the ghost in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet in a school production. He told me what a sweeping experience this had been. The ghost of Hamlet’s late-father is referred to as ‘Ghost’ in the stage directions and he appears four times in the play. The first time in full armour and the last time in his nightgown.

Pity I missed his performance. Paul must have made an impressive GEEST with his wit and white hair. Indeed, playing ‘Ghost’ is an honourable act with a long tradition in the world of theatre. Rumour has it that Shakespeare himself played the Ghost in the first performances around 1600.

Shakespeare was an eminent literary ‘ghost’writer. Pity we don’t translate ‘ghostwriter’ as ‘geestschrijver’ but as SPOOKSCHRIJVER. SPOOK may be a synonym for GEEST, ghost, but it sounds far less noble.

So here end my thoughts on LICHAAM and GEEST, thinking of the beautiful terror of Shakespeare’s lines spoken by Hamlet:

To die, to sleep;

To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause.