Pneumatism by definition is - "the manifestation of spiritual gifts; specifically : observable phenomena and exterior signs frequently interpreted as indicating that one is possessed by the Holy Spirit". []

Pneumatism, in medicine, from the ancient Alexandrian medical school, or sect, is based on the theory that life is associated with a subtle vapour called the pneuma; it was, in essence, found in nearly all ancient cultures.

Pneumatism was expounded by the Greek anatomist and physiologist Erasistratus about 300 bc, though the concept had been suggested earlier by other commentators. Unlike his contemporary, the Alexandrian anatomist Herophilus, who accepted the theory of humoral pathology (i.e., that human temperament and features were determined by certain combinations of body fluids), Erasistratus held that health and disease and, in fact, the nature of life were intimately connected and animated with the pneuma, which had affinities with the air people breathe. Erasistratus drew a distinction between two kinds of pneuma: one was a “vital spirit” formed in the heart from air; the second type was formed in the brain from the first kind. The former was transported by arteries to the parts of the body and the latter, the “animal spirit,” by the nerves, being the prime cause of movement. Although Erasistratus held that hindrance of the action of the pneuma, or an excess of blood, was the essential cause of certain diseases, called 'stoppages,' he did not follow the contemporary practice of bloodletting, preferring to attempt to control the blood supply by diet and other less drastic measures.

Pneumatism was thus parallel to medical humoralism and by some schools both were observed and incorporated in Greek medicine, especially by Galen. Pneumatism by definition is - "the manifestation of spiritual gifts; specifically : observable phenomena and exterior signs frequently interpreted as indicating that one is possessed by the Holy Spirit."It was part of the the doctrines concerning the highest of three Gnostic orders of mankind, those who have received spiritual gifts and are therefore by nature capable of salvation. Cf. hylicism, psychism: 

  • A belief in the soul, spirit, or life force; (History of Science) the theory or beliefs of the pneumatists.

Pneumatism was thus a medico-spiritual practice of the ancients which begin in Alexandria, Egypt.


Mid 19th century. From ancient Greek πνευματ-, πνεῦμα + -ism, originally after German Pneumatismus.

From: Encyclopedia of Medical Astrology, H. C. Cornell, M.D.:

"I have been asked by quite a few people to explain what the words choleric. phlegmatic, sanguine and melancholic mean. This is no easy task to do briefly but I will try to give some of the most basic images related to the Mappa Mundi. In the old Pythagorean works the entire universe is said to be revolving around a universal center of etheric fiery pneuma (The old Greek word pneuma and the Sanskrit word prana have similar roots). Due to the complimentary actions of attraction and aversion different concentrations of this primordial pneuma produced heat (fire). gases (air). fluids (water) and solids (earth). which are called the four root elements. It is a mixture of these elements that produced the galaxies, solar systems, planets and Moons as well as all life on Earth Mother Gaia.

In the human organism the fire and air make up what the ancient Greeks called the vital force (pneuma zotikon). Due to the innate heat of the fire element stored in the heart, the outer air is drawn deeply into the lungs to cool the body. These complimentary opposites produce the energy cycle of the vital force that is circulated through the arteries (fire) and the nervous system (air). The water and earth element make up the natural force (pneuma physikon) which rules from its seat in the liver, the transformation of food (earth) and drink (water) .

The combination of the vital force and the natural force distills the essences of the four elements which become the four humours of the body, the bile (earth). phlegm (water). blood (fire) and atrabile (air). The essence which is left over is distilled into the psychic force (pneuma psychikon) which is stored in the pineal gland and nourishes the spirit (Anima). The bilious humour is made up predominately of the dry earthy element but has a secondary part of fiery heat. The phlegmatic humour is made up predominately of the moist water element but has a secondary part of cool air. The hot sanguine blood humour is made up predominately of the fire element but has a secondary part of moist water. The atrabilious humour is made up predominately of the cold air element but has a secondary part of the dry earth element."

Pneumatic medicine, once renamed aerotherapy, offered new inhalatory delights in salles dʼaspiration and salles de pulvérisation.

"Breathing, in short, is the key that unlocks the whole catalog of advanced biological function and development. Is it any wonder that it is so central to every aspect of health?  Breathing is the first place, not the last, one should look when fatigue, disease, or other evidence of disordered energy presents itself. Breathing is truly the body's most basic communication system."
OXYGEN BREAKTHROUGH, Sheldon Saul Hendler, MD, Ph.D.

In this Course, we examine the history and medical applications of Pneumatherapy. This offers the bridge as a wonderful therapy and tonic which parallels as a 'religious therapy' both East and West.