Numinosity

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Blake, Angel of Revelation

It is through numinosity that the archetypes seize the soul and produce faith ( Jung, Symbols of transformation par 344)

Rudolf Otto coined the word “numinous” to describe fundamental religious experiences. It comes from the Latin “numen” meaning spiritual power. This experience of the numinous can include awe, a sense of being in the presence of something something “wholly other”, being overwhelmed and a personal sense of creatureliness and sinfulness.

It is this sense of being “wholly other” that gives the archetypes their numinosity. We experience the archetypes as being beyond us, larger and more powerful. We have this sense that we did not choose them, they chose us: who has chosen to be in love, has it not come upon us when and where it wills?

Central to Carl Jung’s theory (and our interest here) was the observation that the Archetypes are numinous to us. This numinous experience of the mother archetype may be manifested then in the ecstasy of a new mother who holds her baby, in the devotion to Mary at a shrine in Lourdes in the cringing of a grown man before the criticism of his own mother, in the passionate worship of the goddess, Durga in India during the Durga puja. The numinosity of the archetypes forms the core of archetypal spirituality and devotion.

But not only does numinosity produce awe in us, it also lends us energy that leads to action. That energy can find its way into devotional acts such as rituals or lead us on a mission to do what we believe is God’s will in the world. We sometimes call this energy religious zeal which may lead someone in its grip to spend time in the temple, help the poor or spread the message of their faith.