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For other uses, see Numinous (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Noumenon.

Numinous /ˈnjuːmɨnəs/ is an English adjective, taken from the Latin numen, to describe the power or presence or realisation of a divinity.


The word was popularized in the early 20th 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.

C.S. Lewis, citing Rudolf Otto, described the numinous experience as follows:

Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told 'There is a ghost in the next room', and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is 'uncanny' rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply 'There is a mighty spirit in the room', and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking--a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant of prostration before it--an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare's words 'Under it my genius is rebuked'. This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.[1]

Rudolf Otto[edit]

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 the ethnologist Mircea Eliade.

Aldous Huxley[edit]

Mysterium tremendum is described in The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley in the following terms:

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.[2]

Christopher Hitchens[edit]

While speaking of the numinous and the transcendent, Christopher Hitchens said: "Everybody has had the experience at some point when they feel that there's more to life than just matter."[3]


  1. ^ Lewis, C.S. (2004). The Problem of Pain. Harper Collins e-books. pp. 5–6. 
  2. ^ Huxley, Aldous (2004). The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. Harper Collins. p. 55. 
  3. ^ Sewell, Marilyn (February 21, 2015). "Was Christopher Hitchens Religious?". Huffington Post.