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Numinous (Analytical Psychology)

NUMINOUS (ANALYTICAL PSYCHOLOGY)

The term numinous, based on the Latin numen ("will, the active power of the divine") was coined by Rudolf Otto (1917/1926) to define a "category for the interpretation and evaluation" of nonrational manifestations of the sacred. According to Otto, the numinous is characterized by a "sense of one's creature state" (p. 10), mystical awe (tremendum ), a presentiment of divine power (majestas ), amazement in the face of the "completely other" (mysterium ), demoniacal energy, and paradox.

Otto's phenomenological method and the importance he granted to experience are congruent with the empirical approach of Carl Gustav Jung, who as a matter of course integrated this notion into his own field of research beginning in the 1930s (Jung, 1937-40). He had previously used the term numen to describe the autonomy of psychic energy, conceived in its most primitive sense, in relation to mana (spiritual power) (Jung, 1928b [1948], p. 233).

For psychology and psychotherapy, the numinous is a borderline concept that names and circumscribes certain dynamic and constraining psychic events through which the subject becomes linked to an object that is "completely other" and cannot be understood intellectually. Indeed, conscious will has no hold over the numinous object, which is experienced as indescribable and which "puts the subject into a state of amazement [being dumbstruck], or passive submission" (Jung, 1928b [1948], p. 186). The state of consciousness is altered, the mental level "lowered." The numerous warnings from therapists about this effect are commensurate with the risks entailed: schizophrenic dissociation, inflation of the ego, fascination, or possession; as well as the broader social consequences of fanaticism and the "terrifying suggestibility that lies behind all mass movements" (Jung, 1942 [1948], p. 184).

However, based on his own experience of the collective unconscious during his self-analysis from 1913 to 1918 and on the dreams and visions of his patients, Jung believed that the numinous effect could be therapeutic. Indeed, it signals the emergence of an archetype with specific energy or emotional charge, which can effectively compensate for the overly unilateral attitude of consciousness. For example, the numinosity of the archetype of the self "incites" man to realize the paradoxical totality of his being, conscious and unconscious, by means of the symbols of the quaternity that appear in dreams. In this case, the attitude of the ego is the determining factor. Jung described it as "religious," in that sense that for him, religion (from the Latin relegere, or "send forth," and not religare "restrain") was "a careful and scrupulous observation of . . . the numinosum " (Jung, 1937-40, p. 7).

AimÉ Agnel

See also: Archetype (analytical psychology); Religion and psychoanalysis.

Bibliography

Jung, Carl Gustav. (1928b [1948]). On psychic energy. Coll. Works (Vol. 8). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

. (1937-40). Psychology and religion. Coll. Works (Vol. 11). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Jung, Carl Gustav. (1942 [1948]). A psychological approach to the dogma of the Trinity. Coll. Works (Vol. 11). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

. (1966). Theoretical considerations on the nature of the psyche. Coll. Works (Vol. 8). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Otto, Rudolf. (1926). The holy: an inquiry into the non-rational factor in the idea of the divine and its relation to the rational (John W. Harvey, Trans). London: Oxford University Press. (Original work published 1917)

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Numinous

Numinous (derived by R. Otto from Lat., numen, ‘divinity’). The non-rational elements in what is experienced in religions as the ‘Holy’. Experience of the numinous is of a mysterium tremendum fascinans et augustum. As mysterium, the numen is revealed as a ‘wholly other’. As tremendum, it generates boundless awe and wonder in the person who experiences it. As fascinans, it entrances and captivates the individual. It is of supreme subjective value for humans and possesses in itself objective value (augustum).

For Otto, the whole course of the history of religions is determined by an evolving apprehension of the fundamental elements of the numinous. It is therefore held to be the core of all religion.

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numinous

nu·mi·nous / ˈn(y)oōmənəs/ • adj. having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity: the strange, numinous beauty of this ancient landmark.

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numinous

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