There is a beautiful saying by C.S.Lewis: ‘You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.’ It’s one of my favourite quotes. Ever since the Sam-doesn’t-have-a-soul theory came up, I kept hearing these words in my head.

I couldn’t just let it go, because to my mind the whole concept of a soulless Sam and the logic within Supernatural appeared defective to me. So I dug into my library (and the mind of a professor known to me who was kind enough to answer some questions on a late Saturday night) and tried to find an answer that would satisfy my thirst for truth in terms of adequate storytelling. 

My personal concern and point of dispute was the fact that we’ve seen Sam display various emotions, though it was argued throughout the fandom that he was supposed to not feel anything at all. However, he was angry, annoyed, curious, fascinated, satisfied, etc.

Empathy was not one of the traits to be found in his face and demeanour, but there was a lot going on. If the creators of Supernatural actually are determined to show Sam bereft of all emotion, I am not convinced.

Sam’s face was not a blank canvas. 

If they really want to show a Sam devoid of all emotion and capability to feel, the scripts are not communicating it properly. There is a hole in the logic of the whole concept…

This was somehow an adventure for me. If you like, follow me to see what I found out and whether I had to revise or completely reverse my opinion.

Okay, now, what is the Soul?

The expression soul owns such a manifold collection of possible meanings and ideals, depending on where you turn to look – there are religious, philosophical, spiritual or psychological connotations, whereas in contemporary usage a soul is meant to be the entirety of all emotional, spiritual and mental processes in a human being. According to this, you could also equate the soul to what is described as the psyche.

Furthermore, the soul might be applied to a religious/spiritual/philosophical standard meaning: an individual’s life and his consistent identity through all time, often combined with the notion that the soul is independent from its existence in the body and thereby from death, being immortal, an incorporeal core of a living being.

From the late Middle Ages on, formulaic phrases like ‘with body and soul’ became popular (dividing the body from the soul), as well as the expression ‘beautiful soul’ rooted in the antique nobilitas cordis (‘noble heart’) or old French gentil cuer (like in the French medieval courtly love song by Solage: Tres gentil cuer amoureux, attraians, frans et courtois, jolis et plains de joie, a vous servir du tout mon temps emploie.(Very noble heart, loving, attractive, generous and courteous, beautiful and full of joy to service you above all do I use my time.)

During the age of Enlightenment the ideal of the beautiful soul was not only regarded with a religious eye but denoted a sensitive and virtuous disposition. The German poet, philosopher and historian Friedrich Schiller described it in his essay ‘Über Anmut und Würde’ (‘On Grace and Dignity’) as the perfect harmony of sensuality and morality.

England’s politician and philosopher the 3rd Earl of Shaftsbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, also advocated the principle of harmony and balance, describing man in his Inquiry concerning Virtue or Merit as individual in possession of a complex of desires, cravings, affections, more or less perfectly controlled by the central reason, being in appropriate balance in a moral man.

And, moreover, man is a social being, thereby a part of a greater concord being able and compelled to contribute to the happiness of the whole, in need of adjusting his own activities in a manner they won’t clash with his surroundings - thus being thought of as a moral being. According to Shaftsbury, both the altruist and the egoist are imperfect. A perfect human will adjust both impulses harmonically.

What an idea.

The Greek word psyche (life, spirit) derives from the verb ‘to blow’, referring to the vital breath (the enlivening source to living beings, also using the same word, psyche, to describe being alive or, well, souled). Similar to that appears the Hebrew nephesh, denoting ‘life, vital breath’, describing the popular belief (in many cultures) that breath is the seat of vitality and life force (to be found, among others, in Indian prana tradition or the Chinese chi)

Many old, indigenous religions describe various criteria defining the soul and thereby giving it various elements:

The Vital Soul regulates body functions, possibly attached to a specific organ or part of the body. Some cultures thought the soul to be located in the head (e.g. the Celts, one plausible reason why they liked to decapitate their dead enemies: apart from the wish to retain and control the power of the dead -  to prevent them from being reborn as they believed that man was reborn after spending a certain amount of time in the afterlife), heart (e.g. Maya), bones, eyes (early Polynesian cultures), blood (e.g. ancient Babylon).

The existence of this soul ends with the body’s life.

The Free Soul is presumed to be a soul capable of leaving the body in ecstasy or during sleep (on which the concept of astral projection is based) and giving up the body it resides in upon the death of the host body. Being immortal it enables the continuity of a person.

It can move on to a netherworld or stay in this world, becoming a ghost sometimes (e.g. Neolithic beliefs). Some traditions teach that this soul, being a soul of reincarnation, too, can move on to another body.

To not expand this article to an essay of novel proportions, I will explain the concept of the soul in only some of ancient or contemporary religions and philosophy and focus only on the most significant elements, here.

Please forgive me for not going into further details or marking components as noteworthy according to my personal view and to what I need for this article. I don’t mean any disrespect by any of this. I am, as you may know by now, have you read any of my previous meta-articles, supporting the respectful and peaceful co-existence of all religions and beliefs (a personal ideal of mine that, sadly, probably will never find fulfilment in my lifetime).

The Antique World

Homer’s Iliad

According to Homer, the psyche (the old greek usage for what we would call the soul) is divided from the body upon the moment of death and moves on to the netherworld as a shadowy image of the person. A dead person’s soul seems to be so real that Achilles tries to embrace the soul of his dead companion Patroclos who appears and speaks to him (the Iliad 23). Homer describes the ‘bodyless’ soul as being capable of showing emotions and active thinking.

Homer also describes the source of all human drives as the thymos, and this is regarded to be just as important as the psyche to life. He doesn’t claim that the thymos enters the netherworld, but shows it as destructible. During a person’s life the thymos will be enriched or depleted by life events. Furthermore, in contrast to the psyche which is presumed to be a cold breeze, the thymos burns hot, being located in the chest, the diaphragm. There is no distinct location to the psyche to be found in Homer’s works.

The psyche, however, in only mentioned in life threatening situations. Achilles speaks of endangering his psyche during battle (Iliad, 9). Scientists agree that is the intellect that is meant here, while all emotions take place in the thymos.

Philosophical evolvement after Homer - Plato

In later ancient literature of the Greeks, both ideas (the psyche and the thymos) are somewhat combined to one soul, appearing more and more in moral contexts. To be ‘souled’ means not only to be alive, but also to be a being of conscience, furthermore describing the soul as an immortal entity.

According to Plato, learning is an activity of the soul. Without a soul a person would not be capable of learning. This also concerns the ability of remembering knowledge already acquired and events experienced. Combined with what the soul acquires during her body-bound life is the knowledge the soul brought from a ‘higher place’.

The soul has the ability of realizing and understanding notions of justice, beauty or simply the good. Its nature commands the soul to direct its attention to these ideas. It is, however, exposed to factors in life that might nurture or damage it. The afflictions causing harm to the soul are injustice, according to Plato, and action based on ignorance or nescience that works against a person’s own nature.

The soul being composed of three parts – the logos (mind, reason), the thymos (emotion, spirituality, the masculine) and the eros (desire, appetitive, the feminine).

Based on this hypothesis he also explains the innate inner conflicts of a human being with the thought of the soul actually consisting of three parts: the logistikón (corresponding to reason, located in the brain), the epithymetikón (corresponding to drive, passion, love, located in the abdomen) and the thymoeides (corresponding to courage, located in the chest). In his writings, Plato used this distinction to also describe the nature of politics and a republic.

A just society can’t exist without man living in accordance to his soul. All the soul’s various functions, as described above, are supposed to have their own desires, emotionality and rational abilities which makes a soul an inconsistent, non-uniform matter. But – in Plato’s system of thought – they establish a form of unity by being immortal.


Christianity

With the New Testament written in Greek, the term psyche has been used to describe the soul, being rather ambiguous and complex, over the various translations the descriptions have altered, influenced also by development of language.

In Revelations we find souls of people that were slaughtered, calling out (Rev 6), so it can be assumed that during the outline of the New Testament there existed an idea that souls are capable of acting and possess cognitive ability even after their bodies have been destroyed.

During the age of the founding fathers of the church (approx. 2nd century AD) philosophers were very much at odds, some in favour of Plato, others arguing that the soul holds the exact same form as its body, agreeing however that it was incorporeal.
 
During the late Middle Ages Meister Eckhart argued that the active intellect was ‘something inside the soul’ (aliquid in anima), able to recognize God.

The Bible uses, mostly, the Hebrew description of nephesh (or ruach, meaning wind) and the Greek psyche.

Genesis 2:7 says ‘and the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.’ This theme is also taken up in the New Testament, for instance in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians ‘the first man Adam was made a living soul’.

Characteristics of a soul breathed into a being are, among others, various emotions such as distress, yearning, affection, love, grief, delight.

Today, the majority of Christians believe that the soul is distinct, albeit connected, from the body. Its nature is described in terms of morality, philosophy, spirituality. It is taught that Jesus Christ secured salvation for all souls by his sacrifice (though the rituals within various branches of Christianity may differ).

Some Christians believe that the non-penitent person (and his soul) who does not trust in Jesus Christ as the Saviour and Lord will go to hell and suffer everlasting separation from God – that being considered as the most unbearable agony (the punishment Lucifer himself suffered). Believers are allowed eternal life in heaven and companionship with God.  The judgement of that will take place at the day of the last judgement.

Protestant beliefs tend to state that the soul at the moment of death becomes present with the Lord, without spending any time in between.

Islam

Early Arabic poetry describes the self as naf. The Koran also uses this word to denote a person (also God), but describes with it the human soul, too, including any mental functions, in particular unwelcome desires emanating from the soul that have to be tamed.

We also find the word ruh, meaning originally breath or wind, in religious context the breath of life given to Adam by God. The soul can also leave the body during sleep and return. It is written that angels take the soul during sleep (though not described exactly where), but not disconnecting it from the body.

The naf is supposed to consist of three stages: the inciting naf (the lower self, base instincts) (the primitive stage in which the naf provokes us to commit evil with ‘seven heads’ that need to be defeated: greed, false pride, envy, lust, backbiting, stinginess, malice), the self-accusing naf (the stage in which the conscience is awakened and makes one ask for forgiveness), the naf at peace (the ideal stage, the soul in tranquillity).

Theosophy

Theosophy is a religious philosophical and mysticism movement established in the late nineteenth century and regards the soul as the field of our psychological activity – emotions, memory, desires, thinking, etc. It is not understood as the highest dimension but rather a middle one.

Higher than the soul is the spirit which is considered to be the real self, the source of everything we call good – happiness, wisdom, love, harmony, compassion.

According to theosophical ideas the spirit is eternal and incorruptible, while the soul is not. Because it is caught in between the spiritual and material realms it is the battleground where the battle of good and evil is fought.

The Fate of Sam?

Theory one:

According to what I found with Plato and Islamic teachings I’d say that Sam brought the part of him back to this life that is responsible for action.

Without his soul, Sam would not have been able to learn during his year of being back which he obviously has. He also still possesses the ability to remember knowledge and events before his stint in hell – one more indication (in accordance with Plato) that Sam is not entirely soulless.

What he brought with him is the logistikón that part of the soul that corresponds with intellect and reason while the other two parts, denoting passion/love and courage are left in the pit. There is no love for his closest family (in that case: Dean) in him, no empathy, no care, only the intellectual idea of it not filled with the compassion usually found in him, and he lacks the courage (but not fear) to be honest or to look closer for answers – or deal with the time in hell (and my hypothesis here is: he remembers everything. It drives me sick, alas, imagining, that the compassionate part of Sam is still in Lucifer’s cage, having been in agony for a year now).

You could also say, the vital soul is still active, here.

Or, according to Islamic teaching, Sam’s soul might have been thrown back to the stage of the inciting Naf, the primitive stage with the ugly heads of greed, false pride, envy, lust, backbiting, stinginess, malice.

Now, I haven’t detected backbiting or false pride in Sam so far, but he has been lustful (having a hooker over at least once (that we know of)), he has been malicious with allowing Dean to get turned into a vampire for secret intelligence reasons, and, well, he has been proud of being such a good hunter which seemed to have given him some kind of peace of mind.

Sticking to what he felt he was good at - hunting, deceiving, relying on his skills learned in more logical times – helped him survive.

He might not have the instincts Dean hoped would still be there, but his drive to survive is very much developed. And, if we look at theosophical theories, we might also assume that there is a battle going on in Sam’s soul at the moment, a battle between good and evil, endangering him of becoming corrupted.

Theory two:

By the end of last season, Sam fought a terrible battle within himself (eventually coming to the decision to sacrifice himself for the greater good) and was imprisoned in Lucifer’s cage.

The fact of being ridden by Lucifer alone must have been traumatic for him. And at this point I dread what we might learn of Sam’s time in hell. If we look at Homer’s idea of the soul and his postulation of the thymos being enhanced or worn-out by life events, we can assume that Sam’s soul entered the netherworld already wounded, if not washed-out to the point of destruction.

Plato developed this even further and claimed that deeds working against a person’s character, yet based on nescience would harm the soul. One of such actions Sam fell victim to was his pact with Ruby. He – ignorantly – believed to be doing the right thing and therefore was working with her, deceiving the people closest to him, against his nature.

So, I’d say, Sam went to hell with a soul not intact anymore. Perhaps it fell apart (if that is possible), was misguided down there, or torn into its various elements. And the Sam who returned to life is not a shell utterly vacant.

He feels that he is empty (as the Alpha Vamp confirmed, too). He feels various emotions but is detached from the deep and warm ones, which makes perfect sense if we keep in mind that Lucifer once stated that he was cold – the intimate contact with the ultimately flawed, cold angel might leave every soul in a state of ice.

This is also a protection against the unquestionably horrific memories that might haunt him. He explained that he doesn’t sleep. At all.

Theory three:

Well, perhaps he will have found a way to dream in an awake state (though I can’t imagine how, actually), as any human being deprived of the ability to dream would become insane sooner or later. It is a means of torture within some regimes on this planet – not allowing prisoners to dream (not to be mistaken for the Charcot-Wilbrand-Syndrome which is a neurological disorder and characterized by the brain’s inability to make sense of visual stimuli and thereby loss of the ability to revisualize images).

That he doesn’t need any sleep at all makes me presume that he, indeed, isn’t entirely human.

A human being not sleeping would show significant effects very soon: for instance the carbohydrate metabolism would derail thereby cause the blood glucose level to rise, the production of thyroid hormones would be disturbed, along with rising concentration of stress hormone cortisol. The person would be highly irritable, nauseous, not able to concentrate, later hallucinating. Eventually, a person would die.

No one, no human being, that is, would survive a year (!) without sleep. And he would certainly not be able to focus in a manner Sam does.

I do hope the producers and writers will keep the story on a logical path according to what science teaches today. They have been quite free in their interpretations of biblical images, and I agree with that kind of creative license.

But I am highly critical when it comes to scientific topics or, well, storylines completely outside of logic.

Well, sadly, at this moment I still hold on to my protest I voiced in the beginning here. To my mind, the way the story is told does not add up to the supposed idea of Sam being utterly bereft of emotions. I wonder what kind of explanation we will be given. And I am curious.

Thank you.

SOON TO FOLLOW: AN ESSAY ON HELL