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Numinous // is an English adjective, taken from the Latin Numen, and used by some to describe the power or presence of a divinity. The word was popularised in the early twentieth century by the German theologian Rudolf Otto in his influential book Das Heilige (1917; translated into English as The Idea of the Holy, 1923). According to Otto, the numinous experience has in addition to the tremendum, which is the tendency to invoke fear and trembling, a quality of fascinans, the tendency to attract, fascinate and compel. The numinous experience also has a personal quality, in that the person feels to be in communion with a wholly other. The numinous experience can lead in different cases to belief in deities, the supernatural, the sacred, the holy and/or the transcendent.
Otto's use of the term as referring to a characteristic of religious experience was influential among certain religious intellectuals of the subsequent generation. For example, numinous as understood by Otto was a frequently quoted concept in the writings of Carl Jung and C. S. Lewis. The notion of the numinous and the wholly other were also central to the religious studies of Mircea Eliade.
The literature of religious experience abounds in references to the pains and terrors overwhelming those who have come, too suddenly, face to face with some manifestation of the mysterium tremendum. In theological language, this fear is due to the in-compatibility between man's egotism and the divine purity, between man's self-aggravated separateness and the infinity of God.
- Huxley, Aldous (2004). The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. Harper Collins. p. 55.