Within the Indo-European metaphysics we find not infrequent mention made for the ‘Breath of Life’.
On one level, this is just easy empirical deductionism. We see that a man lacking in the breath in his lungs is likely not long for this world.
However, we also see that a man in a state of ‘high spirits’, in a state of ‘more intense life’, has the ‘Hot Breath’ – the ‘Smoke’ which correlates with the active expression of his (or, for that matter, her) spirit.
This can be said, in cold climes, to be again the simple fact of exertion leading to the ‘fogging up’ of breath in cold air as our interior body temperature rises relative to our surrounds.
Yet for the Ancient Greeks, it was θῡμός (Thumos – from PIE *dʰuh₂mós, which also gives us Sanskrit ‘Dhuma’ – i.e. ‘Smoke’) – and it connoted the Soul, as well as Breath. Indeed, it possessed a meaning-field somewhat correlate with μένος (Menos) – which, for those who have followed my work on Sanskrit ‘Manyu’, should prove instantly familiar.
Manyu means, at once, ‘Spirit’ (indeed, it is from the same Proto-Indo-European *Men which informs ‘Mind’ – or Latin Manes), but also ‘Wrath’, ‘Passion’, ‘Zeal’; and is the name of a Rudra … indeed, in the Shatapatha Brahmana’s rendition of the SataRudriya Rite, it is *The* Rudra. An emotion so strong as to have ‘external’ existence. Elsewhere, it refers to Rudra as a War God.
I mention this, as Rudra is quite literally Vital to comprehension of what has gone on here. Indeed, in the Upanishadic literature we find the ‘Vital Airs’ referred to as Rudras – in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad [III 9 4], the Eleven Rudras are said to constitute Ten Pranas of the Purusha [‘Breaths of the Body’] and one ‘Soul’ or ‘Mind’ (Atma). (A similar recounting is to be found in the Chandogya Upanishad – III 16 3)
The explication given within that particular text for the linkage of these energies to the term ‘Rudra’ is simple and straightforward, yet conceals something else, I feel.
There, it is said that it is because ‘Rudra’, refers to ‘Howling’ – and that the departure of these ‘Rudras’ as one dies tends to cause both the dying one and all those about him to howl, cry, lament, and wail.
And as for what is being ‘concealed’ there … well, read on.
Now, the reason that I have moved from discussion of the ‘Breath of Life’, through to this ‘Smoke’ term (Thumos) that designates ‘Soul’, ‘Breath’, ‘Passion’, ‘Desire’, ‘Rage’ … and thence on to a term (Manyu) which declares ‘Soul’, ‘Spirit’, and ‘High Spirits’ in the psycho-emotive sense … is because all of these expressions, all of these perceptions, are fundamentally, foundationally one.
How can we tell ? Via the close analysis of the comparative mytho-linguistics – the theology and its associations.
In the Voluspa, at the Creation (more the ‘Investiture’) of Humanity by Odin and His Co-Workers Hœnir and Lóðurr, Odin grants Askr & Embla something called ‘önd’.
This is a fascinating term – as it is utilized to mean ‘Soul’ in various translations, yet quite clearly is a ‘Wind’ term. Comparative analysis of the related Old Norse ‘Andi’ demonstrates this – showing how it derives ultimately from PIE *h₂enh₁- , ‘To Breathe’ (also the root for Sanskrit Vyana and Anila, two terms for (Energized, Vital) Breath and Air, respectively)
The intermediary Proto-Germanic which stands between these two points – *anadô – has also the sense of this ‘strong emotion’ we had mentioned earlier. This can be demonstrated via looking at the Old English ‘Anda’, which is almost entirely that and lacking in ‘Soul’.
Alongside this, we also find Old Norse ‘Andi’ referring to a metaphysical capacity – a ‘Siddhi’, we might suggest in Sanskrit terms. The same term can additionally refer to a ‘Spirit’ in the more discorporeal sense – which, we may surmise, is functionally equivalent to the notion of this ‘Breath of Life’ that no longer inhabits a body … or, at least, may look like that to an exterior observer : that is to say, a ‘Ghost’.
Latin ‘Anima’ and ‘Animus’ are from the same PIE root, the former carrying the ‘Breath’ sense whilst the latter enhances the ‘Psychoemotive’ understanding. Both are unified around ‘Soul’.
To bring things back to the Old Norse and the Völuspá in particular – what we see there is Odin, a God both etymologically and functionally intimately connected to the state of Óðr (‘Furor’) imparting the ‘Ond’ (‘Soul’ / ‘Wind’) into Man.
Although we must, of course, note that in the text itself it is the aforementioned Hœnir most directly responsible for the actual investiture of what the text declares to be ‘óð’ – a term which, interestingly enough, also carries within its definitional ambit the perhaps (to-be-/un-)expected sense of ‘Song’, along with the more conventional ‘Mind’, ‘Soul’, and ‘Furor’.
This Óðr, we should note, is actually from another PIE root – *weh₂t – which refers to just such a state of ‘heightened being’ : ‘Divine Inspiration’, ‘Rage’, ‘Furor’ of both the ‘Poeticus’ and ‘Teutonicus’ varieties. It shows up in Latin ‘Vates’ for a Seer; and as we have covered extensively elsewhere, it maps rather well for ‘Manyu’ / ‘Ugra’ in Vedic Sanskrit usage – as well as tending to ‘track’ in parallel for ‘Wind’ terms for post-PIE languages.
In any case – what I believe is being ‘concealed’ in the Upanishadic verse is something which is much less ‘covert’ in the Voluspa rendition:
Namely, that what we get when the Sky Father imparts His Essence into us in order to ‘bring us to life’ (or, we may say – make us more than barely-animate ‘wood’) is just exactly that.
It is NOT simply the ‘Breath of Life’ – as in, air and our capacity to interactively engage with same through the lungs.
It is some small sliver of His Divine Quality. Hence why we find it labelled accordingly: as the Wind, for a Wind God; as the Furor for the God of Fury; as the Roar for the Roaring One, the Howl for the Wolf Who Stalks Amidst The Stars; a Ghost for the Lord of Ghosts, High Spirits from the Lord of Spirits. Smoke from The Smoking One, declaring that there is subtle internal fire which flashes and which flares in tempo with the tempestuous nature of His Children in war or other and more joyous exultation.
Hence, as we can see – the declaring that the Breath and the Mind within one are, in fact, Rudras makes eminently logical sense.
Even as, at the end of our lives, that final breath in which our spirit seeks to exit our corporeal form is also a ‘Rudra’. A Howl.
Our way of letting The Gods know what we felt about our time here on Earth.