Souce Quotes: Jung and the Numinosum


“…Numinosum is a word Jung used repeatedly.[12] He may have borrowed it from Otto; perhaps the original German text had this Latinized version of “numinous.” I have not found it in the English translation. In his essay “Psychology and Religion”

Jung provides a definition of numinosum:

“… a dynamic agency or effect not caused by an arbitrary act of will…. The numinosum—whatever its cause may be—is an experience of the subject independent of his will…. The numinosum is either a quality belonging to a visible object or the influence of an invisible presence that causes a peculiar alteration of consciousness….”[13]

In Jung’s thinking the numinosum is both a quality inherent to an object or an experience that comes over a person, often inadvertently.[14]

Qualities and Features of the Numinous

Otto and Jung provide a wealth of explicit qualities people are likely to feel when in the presence of the holy. First, it must be noted that the numinosum is a paradox,[15] containing both positive and negative, both of which we may experience simultaneously in any encounter with the Divine.

Some of the positive qualities of the numinosum include: sublimity, awe, excitement, bliss, rapture, exaltation, entrancement, fascination, attraction, allure[16] and what Otto called an “impelling motive power.”[17] Not so pleasant are other qualities like: overwhelment, fear, trembling, weirdness, eeriness, humility (an acute sense of unworthiness), urgency, stupor (blank wonder), bewilderment, horror, mental agitation, repulsion, and haunting, daunting, monstrous feelings[18] that “overbrim the heart.”[19] Otto speaks at length of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the fascinating mystery that makes us tremble (in awe). Because it “grips or stirs the mind,”[20] such an experience is not one we forget.

But, while it is memorable, the numinous is not easily put into words. “Ineffable” is another of its features.[21] The numinous “eludes apprehension in terms of concepts.”[22] Being bigger and beyond oneself, it induces speechlessness.[23] Being a mystery, it bewilders the rational mind.[24] Being divine, it links us to the “ground of the soul.”[25] Being “unevolvable,” it is not to be derived from any other feeling.[26]

More frequently found in Jung’s works is “numinosity.”[27] He used this term to refer to a quality inherent in archetypes, in complexes,[28] in “curiosities which the logical mind cannot explain.”[29] Found in Western alchemy,[30] and in cultural symbols,[31] numinosity is that quality that gives religious ideas their “thrilling power.”[32] Much as with archetypes, we can’t grasp the meaning of the word without personal experience.[33] True understanding here comes from a lived encounter.”

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