AskDefine | Define numinous

Dictionary Definition

numinous adj
1 evincing the presence of a deity; "a numinous wood"; "the most numinous moment in the Mass"
2 of or relating to or characteristic of a numen

User Contributed Dictionary



From Latin numen, numinis


  • italbrac RP /ˈnjuːmɪnəs/
  • italbrac US /ˈnuːmɪnəs/ or /ˈnjuːmɪnəs/


  1. Filled with awe or wonder; feeling that you are in the presence of God or something greater than yourself; spiritual experience.
    All quests are concerned with a numinous object, e.g. the Holy Grail

Extensive Definition

Numinous () is a Latin term coined by German theologian Rudolf Otto to describe that which is wholly other. The numinous is the mysterium tremendum et fascinans that leads in different cases to belief in deities, the supernatural, the sacred, the holy, and the transcendent.
The word was used by Otto in his book Das Heilige (1917; translated as The Idea of the Holy, 1923). Etymologically, it comes from the Latin word numen, which originally and literally meant "nodding", but was associated with meanings of "command" or "divine majesty". Otto formed the word numinous from numen in a manner analogous to the derivation of ominous from omen.
Numinous was an important concept in the writings of Carl Jung and C. S. Lewis. The notion of the numinous and the wholly other were central to the religious studies of Mircea Eliade. It was also used by Carl Sagan in his book Contact.
Carlos Castaneda deals with a related concept in his Don Juan Matus books, which purport to describe his experiences among Native American shamans, though the factual basis of the texts has since been largely discredited. This is the 'nagual' which seems to correspond to an idea of something wholly other, or at least to something our neural net has not yet fit into a template or cookie-cutter 'recognition' (Casteneda's so-called 'tonal'). The term is also used in Jacques Derrida's book The Gift of Death in reference to his own idea of the other, and in conversation with Otto's ideas.
It may be viewed as "the intense feeling of unknowingly knowing that there is something which cannot be seen." This "knowing" can "befall" or overcome a person at any time and in any place - in a cathedral; next to a silent stream; on a lonely road; early in the morning or in the face of a beautiful sunset. Similarly unpleasant or frightening scene or experiences can lead to a sense of an unseen presence of ghosts, evil spirits or a general sense of the presence of evil. Visions or hallucinations of god, gods, the devil or devils can also happen.
The idea is not necessarily a religious one: noted atheist Christopher Hitchens has discussed the importance of separating the numinous from the supernatural.

Related phrase

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans (“fearful and fascinating mystery”) is a Latin phrase often attributed to Rudolf Otto in The Idea of the Holy, to name the awe-some (fascinating and full of awe) mystery that was the object common to all forms of religious experience.
In The Sacred & the Profane and in Myths, Dreams & Mysteries (both 1957), Mircea Eliade adds his own coinage, mysterium fascinans, to Otto's mysterium tremendum. In view of this, it seems likely that it was Eliade who coined the phrase mysterium tremendum et fascinans in some other of his many works.
Mysterium tremendum is also mentioned in The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley:
Nostalgia for paradise was a term also used by Mircea Eliade to help bring understanding to the numinous. This idea was based on the theory that a person has a sort of longing for perfection or paradise, which creates a platform for experience of the numinous.


numinous in Japanese: ヌミノース

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Greek to one, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-seeing, all-wise, almighty, ambiguous, arcane, awe-inspiring, awesome, awful, awing, beyond understanding, bizarre, boundless, bright, brilliant, cabalistic, cantrip, changeless, charismatic, creating, creative, divine, eerie, esoteric, eternal, eternally the same, everlasting, extramundane, extraterrestrial, fey, glamorous, glorious, good, hallowed, heavenly, highest, holy, hoodoo, hypernormal, hyperphysical, illustrious, immortal, immutable, impenetrable, inarticulate, incantational, incantatory, incognizable, incoherent, incomprehensible, ineffable, inenarrable, inexpressible, infinite, inscrutable, inviolable, inviolate, just, limitless, loving, luminous, lustrous, magian, magic, majestic, making, merciful, miraculous, mysterious, mystic, necromantic, occult, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, one, otherworldly, past comprehension, permanent, perpetual, preterhuman, preternatural, preternormal, pretersensual, psychic, radiant, rambling, religious, resplendent, sacred, sacrosanct, shaman, shamanic, shamanist, shamanistic, shaping, shining, sorcerous, sovereign, spiritual, splendent, splendid, splendorous, splendrous, superhuman, superior, supermundane, supernatural, supernormal, superphysical, supersensible, supersensual, supramundane, supranatural, supreme, talismanic, thaumaturgic, timeless, transcendental, transmundane, ubiquitous, unaccountable, unbounded, uncanny, unchanging, unconnected, undefined, unearthly, unfathomable, unguessed, unhuman, unintelligible, unknowable, unlimited, unsearchable, unspeakable, untouchable, unutterable, unworldly, venerable, voodoo, voodooistic, weird, witch, witchlike, witchy, wizardlike, wizardly
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1