Numinous (pronounced /ˈnjuːmɨnəs/) is an English adjective describing 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 two aspects: mysterium tremendum, which is the tendency to invoke fear and trembling; and mysterium fascinans,[citation needed] the tendency to attract, fascinate and compel. The numinous experience also has a personal quality to it, 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.



The word numinous is derivative from the Classical Latin word numen.

Rudolf Otto

Otto's use of the term as referring to a characteristic of religious experience was influential among 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.

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans (“fearful and fascinating mystery”) is a Latin phrase which Rudolf Otto uses in The Idea of the Holy to name the awe inspiring mystery that was the object common to all forms of religious experience.[citation needed]

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.

Non-religious usage

The idea is not necessarily a religious one: noted atheists Carl Sagan, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have discussed the importance of separating the numinous from the supernatural.[1]


  1. ^ "The Four Horsemen", Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, September 2007

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  • numinous — uminous adj. 1. Evincing the presence of a deity; as, a numinous wood; the most numinous moment in the Mass. [WordNet 1.5] 2. same as {supernatural}. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • numinous — (adj.) divine, spiritual, 1640s, from L. numen (gen. numinis) divine will, properly divine approval expressed by nodding the head, from nuere to nod, from PIE *neu to nod (Cf. Gk. neuein to nod ) + OUS (Cf. ous) …   Etymology dictionary

  • numinous — ► ADJECTIVE ▪ having a strong religious or spiritual quality. ORIGIN from Latin numen (see NUMEN(Cf. ↑N)) …   English terms dictionary

  • numinous — [no͞o′mə nəs, nyo͞o′mə nəs] adj. [< L numen (gen. numinis), a deity (see NUMEN) + OUS] 1. of or characteristic of a numen; supernatural; divine 2. having a deeply spiritual or mystical effect …   English World dictionary

  • numinous — /nooh meuh neuhs, nyooh /, adj. 1. of, pertaining to, or like a numen; spiritual or supernatural. 2. surpassing comprehension or understanding; mysterious: that element in artistic expression that remains numinous. 3. arousing one s elevated… …   Universalium

  • numinous — [[t]nju͟ːmɪnəs, AM nu͟ːm [/t]] ADJ GRADED Things that are numinous seem holy or spiritual and mysterious. [LITERARY] This garment was beautifully numinous after being touched and blessed by so many loving hands …   English dictionary

  • numinous — adjective /ˈnjuːmɪnəs,ˈnuːmɪnəs,ˈnjuːmɪnəs/ a) Related to a numen; indicating the presence of a divinity All quests are concerned with a numinous object, e.g. the Holy Grail b) Awe inspiring; evoking a sense of the transcendent, mystical or… …   Wiktionary

  • numinous —    Also known as numen praesens. Both terms were introduced in or shortly before 1917 by the German theologist Rudolf Otto (1869 1937) to denote the * sensed presence of a sacred or daemonic entity.    References    Cheyne, J.A. (2001). The… …   Dictionary of Hallucinations

  • numinous — adjective Etymology: Latin numin , numen numen Date: 1647 1. supernatural, mysterious 2. filled with a sense of the presence of divinity ; holy 3. appealing to the higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense ; spiritual • numinousness noun …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • numinous — Synonyms 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,… …   Moby Thesaurus

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