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The Hun & The Shen

Before we jump into the Hun, or Ethereal Soul, I’d like to talk about Shen first and clarify the context in which we use the term. People often translate “Shen” as “spirit”. The term “Shen” can also encompass the TCM diagnostic criteria of “life” observed in one’s complexion or eyes. “Shen” can also be conceptualized as what the English speaker might refer to as their “mind”. It actually has quite a few other ways it is used, but I particularly appreciate Macioca’s choice of using “Shen of the heart” to specifically refer to this “Shen”, differentiating the concept of the “mind” from the spirit as a whole. He reserves the use of “spirit” for the 5 Shen complex.

Shen of the Heart: The Mind

The Shen of the Heart (Mind) governs our cognitive processes and thinking. When the Shen weakens or becomes disrupted, it causes unclear thinking and a mind that is cluttered. The Heart (Yin) organ houses Shen. The Shen of the Heart receives, interprets, and feels our emotions. I really like the way Macioca explained it when he wrote:

 “When we say (or think) “I feel angry” or “I feel sad”, who is the “I” that feels angry or sad? It is the Shen of the Heart”.

Maciocia, Giovanni. “Shen and Hun: The Psyche in Chinese Medicine.” |, 3 Sept. 2020, giovanni-maciocia.com/shen-and-hun-psyche-in-chinese-medicine/. Accessed 2023.

So, despite each emotion being associated with a specific organ system, when we say that the heart feels all emotions, it is because of this concept: the Shen of the Heart. Any emotion in excess, will disturb the heart, which will inevitably disturb the Mind.  A Heart organ system out of balance won’t properly house the Shen, leaving it scattered. The Shen of the Heart, the Mind, encompasses our rational thought process and the integration of information. When Shen is balanced, we can experience clear, rational thought, feeling organized and unburdened. When the Shen is weak, so then are our thoughts; slow and clumsy. 

The Hun: The Imagination

Cloud Soul

The Chinese character for “Hun” is composed of “ghost” or “soul” on the right, and “cloud” on the left (“Cloud Soul”). The Ethereal Soul, or “Hun”, is the aspect of consciousness that comes from the Heavens and leaves the body in death to return there. Existing in implicit dualism with its eternal counterpart, The Corporeal Soul, the Hun manifests in subtle and intangible form. It is the last to arrive in our physical body and the first to leave when we expire. If we would like to consider the 5 elements and apply the Luo Shu model, the Hun is linked to Wood and an Eastern direction, while the Po is linked to Metal and a Western direction.

(Discover more about the Corporeal Soul (Po) in my dedicated post, The Po & Hun).

The Hun stores all our memories and experiences throughout our lives. It is responsible for the mental activities of the Shen of the Heart by providing it with ideas that the Shen then processes and integrates into our current life or future. The Hun controls all of our creativity, imagination, and intuition. It also is responsible for visions; it brings us images in both wakefulness and slumber, as well as visions of ourselves, in the sense of future planning. 


The House of Hun

The Liver both houses and governs the Hun, while its channel opens to the eyes. During wakefulness, the Hun travels to the eyes where it pulls in the images before us and delivers them to our Mind. During rest, the liver stores the blood, causing it to pull the Hun back, away from the eyes. The wandering “cloud soul” of the 5 Zhi, the Hun, may travel out of the body on other (astral) planes while we rest, providing us “dreams” and visions from outside our current reality.

Like the liver, movement is critical for the Hun. It requires the smooth movement of coming and going. Liver Qi needs room to move, expand, roam, and flow outwardly. Physiologically, the Liver Qi naturally ascends toward the Heart. Similarly, the Hun can project itself outwardly. The Hun…

“gives the Shen “movement” in the sense that it allows the Shen the capacity of insight and introspection as well as the ability to project outwards and relate to other people”.

Maciocia, Giovanni. “Shen and Hun: The Psyche in Chinese Medicine.” |, 3 Sept. 2020, giovanni-maciocia.com/shen-and-hun-psyche-in-chinese-medicine/. Accessed 2023.

Gathering the Hun

On the other hand, Shen only works with one idea at a time. It is this mandatory single focus of the Mind that “gathers” the Hun so that it doesn’t wander aimlessly, and it is the good health of the Liver, abundant in Liver Blood (Liver Yin) that keeps the Hun rooted. Thus, the Shen receives movement from the Hun, and the Shen gathers the Hun for an organized interplay with each other.

 Where aspects like the Yi and the Zhi are functionally just extensions of the Shen of the Heart (Mind), The Hun and Shen exist independently of one another, though still function as if inseparably tethered.

Zhang Jie Bin in the “Classic of Categories” says: “The Shen and the Hun are Yang…the Hun follows the Shen, if the Shen is unconscious the Hun is swept away”.

Maciocia, Giovanni. “Shen and Hun: The Psyche in Chinese Medicine.” |, 3 Sept. 2020, giovanni-maciocia.com/shen-and-hun-psyche-in-chinese-medicine/. Accessed 2023.

The Hun, the Ethereal Soul, embodies our irrational thought processes, inspiration, intuition, and interconnectedness. When we hamper the Hun, restricting its movement, we feel unmotivated, lack direction, and lack vision/aspirations. Evident depressive symptoms are present. When the Shen weakens and the Hun moves excessively, we become scattered in our thinking. These circumstances psychologically unsettle us, leading to the manifestation of manic behaviors or thoughts. Refining the Hun aspects of our life brings our greatest ideas, creations, and inspirations into our reality. 

If you’re interested in delving deeper into the realm of elemental spirits, the book Five Spirits by Lorie Eve Dechar is a delightful source that you’re sure to enjoy!

This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. No product mentioned herein is intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. For educational purposes only.

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