The role of the numinous in spirituality

At the first Numinous meeting we will use the following as a springboard to our discussion:

A quote from C. G. Jung, Psychology and Religion, 6 – 9

In speaking of religion I must make clear from the start what I mean by that term. Religion, as the Latin word denotes, is a careful and scrupulous observation of what Rudolf Otto aptly termed the numinosum, that is, a dynamic agency or effect not caused by an arbitrary act of will. On the contrary, it seizes and controls the human subject, who is always rather its victim than its creator. The numinosum whatever its cause may be is an experience of the subject independent of his will. At all events, religious teaching as well as the “consensus gentium” always and everywhere explain this experience as being due to a cause external to the individual. 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. This is, at any rate, the general rule. There are, however, certain exceptions when it comes to the question of religious practice or ritual. A great many ritualistic performances are carried out for the sole purpose of producing at will the effect of the numinosum by means of certain devices of a magical nature, such as invocation, incantation, sacrifice, meditation and other yoga practices, self-inflicted tortures of various descriptions, and so forth. But a religious belief in an external and objective divine cause is always prior to any such performance. The Catholic Church, for instance, administers the sacraments for the purpose of bestowing their spiritual blessings upon the believer; but since this act would amount to enforcing the presence of divine grace by an indubitably magical procedure, it is logically argued that nobody can compel divine grace to be present in the sacramental act, but that it is nevertheless inevitably present since the sacrament is a divine institution which God would not have caused to be if he had not intended to lend it his support.

Religion appears to me to be a peculiar attitude of mind which could be formulated in accordance with the original use of the word “religio”, which means a careful consideration and observation of certain dynamic factors that are conceived as “powers”: spirits, daemons, gods, laws, ideas, ideals, or whatever name man has given to such factors in his world as he has found powerful, dangerous, or helpful enough to be taken into careful consideration, or grand, beautiful, and meaningful enough to be devoutly worshipped and loved. In colloquial speech one often says of somebody who is enthusiastically interested in a certain pursuit that he is almost “religiously devoted” to his cause; William James, for instance, remarks that a scientist often has no creed, but his “temper is devout.” I want to make clear that by the term “religion” I do not mean a creed. It is, however, true that every creed is originally based on the one hand upon the experience of the numinosum and on the other hand upon “pistus”, that is to say, trust or loyalty, faith and confidence in a certain experience of a numinous nature and in the change of consciousness that ensues. The conversion of Paul is a striking example of this. We might say, then, that the term “religion” designates the attitude peculiar to a consciousness which has been changed by experience of the numinosum. Creeds are codified and dogmatized forms of original religious experience. The contents of the experience have become sanctified and are usually congealed in a rigid, often elaborate, structure of ideas. The practice and repetition of the original experience have become a ritual and an unchangeable institution. This does not necessarily mean lifeless petrifaction. On the contrary, it may prove to be a valid form of religious experience for millions of people for thousands of years, without there arising any vital necessity to alter it.