The root of the word spirit is the Latin spirare - to breathe. It then becomes synonymous with "life" and "living" - including in the religious sense - the Holy Spirit.
Then of great relevance to the development of the word as we use it in connection with substances is what happens, evidently, from the 14th century.
OED - sense 16 -
a. One or other of certain subtle highly-refined substances or fluids
(distinguished as natural, animal, and vital) formerly supposed to
permeate the blood and chief organs of the body. In later use only pl.
▸a1387 J. Trevisa tr. R. Higden Polychron. (St. John's Cambr.)
(1865) I. 53 For þe son beme..draweþ oute þe humours,..and by
drawing oute of spirites makeþ hem coward of herte.
c1400 Lanfranc's Cirurg. 26 Þe toþer arterie..haþ two cootis, bi
cause þat oon myȝt not aȝenstonde þe strenkþe of þe spiritis.
c1400 Lanfranc's Cirurg. 162 Of þis clene blood þe spirit is
engendrid; which spirit is..more sutil þan ony bodi.
1477 T. Norton Ordinall of Alchimy v, in E. Ashmole Theatrum Chem.
Britannicum (1652) 82 The Spirit Vitall in the Hert doth dwell, The
Spirit Naturall..in the Liver.., But Spirit Animall dwelleth in the
1541 T. Elyot Castel of Helthe (new ed.) 12 b, Spirite is an ayry
substance subtyll, styrynge the powers of the body to perfourme theyr
There are further entries on this down to the 19th century. However from the 17th century the notion of spirits as a refined substance generally seems to become accepted sense 21 -
a. A liquid of the nature of an essence or extract from some
substance, esp. one obtained by distillation; a solution in alcohol of
some essential or volatile principle.
1612 B. Jonson Alchemist ii. vi. sig. F2, H'is busie with his
spirits, but we'll vpon him.
1651 J. French Art Distillation v. 139 Dissolve any
sulphurous..metall..in Aqua fortis, or any other acid Spirit.
1728 E. Chambers Cycl. (at cited word), The Chymists are said to
draw a Spirit from Sulphur, Salt and other Bodies, when they extract
the Essence, or the subtilest Part thereof, by Distillation or
1813 H. Davy Elements Agric. Chem. (1814) 136 All the common
spirits may, I find, be deprived of their peculiar flavour by
repeatedly digesting them with..charcoal and quicklime.
It would seem therefore that the etymological route is from spirare - (to breathe), to spirit - meaning "alive", to substances supposed to permeate the blood - and finally to refined materials like alcohol, turpentine etc.
Edit 16.22hrsGMT 12 Jan 17.
The Hebrew information (per @David) is interesting. Spiro (spiravi, spiratus, spirare) according to my Latin dictionary Virgil used it in idioms to mean variously of strong odour; be propitious; to breathe, blow, be exhaled, burst forth, rage, figuratively to be inspired, have poetic inspiration and Horace (born 65BC) to breathe, live, be alive - videtur Laeli mens spirare etiam in scriptis: spirat adhuc amor puellae
It doesn't say anything about "spirit" in the sense of the non-corporeal.
Another (English - Latin) dictionary indicates the word for soul was animus (m) and ghost - anima (f). So it would appear that the linkage between breath(e) and spirit does not emerge from Latin, at least not classical Latin. Might be interesting to look at how medieval Latin dealt with it (or to hear from a modern Italian speaker such as @Mari-Lou A)
Senses 6 & 7 of the OED re the Christian ideas; examples do not start to appear in the dictionary until the later middle ages e.g 14th century (and a Chaucer concordance indicates his extensive use of the Christian spirit) suggesting it may have been the non-availability of Judeo-Christian literature in English prior to the fourteenth century (as one commenter has noted) that may explain the lack of examples prior to that time.