Numinous (/ˈnjmɪnəs/) is a term derived from the Latin numen, meaning "arousing spiritual or religious emotion; mysterious or awe-inspiring."[1] The term was given its present sense by the German theologian and philosopher Rudolf Otto in his influential 1917 German book The Idea of the Holy. He also used the phrase mysterium tremendum as another description for the phenomenon. Otto's concept of the numinous influenced thinkers including Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, and C. S. Lewis. It has been applied to theology, psychology, religious studies, literary analysis, and descriptions of psychedelic experiences.

Jung applied the concept of the numinous to psychology<

Jung applied the concept of the numinous to psychology and psychotherapy, arguing it was therapeutic and brought greater self-understanding, and stating that to him religion was about a "careful and scrupulous observation... of the numinosum".[12] The notion of the numinous and the wholly Other were also central to the religious studies of ethnologist Mircea Eliade.[13][14] Mysterium tremendum, another phrase coined by Otto to describe the numinous,[3]:12–13[9] is presented by Aldous Huxley in The Doors of Perception in this way:


In a book-length scholarly treatment of the subject in fantasy literature, Chris Brawley devotes chap

In a book-length scholarly treatment of the subject in fantasy literature, Chris Brawley devotes chapters to the concept in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Phantastes by George Macdonald, in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien; and in work by Algernon Blackwood and Ursula Le Guin (e.g., The Centaur and Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Out Tonight, respectively).[16]


Neuroscientist Christof Koch has described awe from experiences such as entering a cathedral, saying he gets "a feeling of luminosity out of the numinous," though he does not hold the Catholic religious beliefs with which he was raised.[17]

Psychologist Susan Blackmore describes both mystical experiences and psychedelic experiences as numinous.[18] In 2009, Czech psychiatrist Stanislav Grof re-released his 1975 book Realms of the Human Unconscious under the title LSD: Doorway to the Numinous: The Groundbreaking Psychedelic Research into Realms of the Human Unconscious.[19] In his 2018 book How to Change Your Mind, journalist Michael Pollan describes his experience trying the powerful psychedelic substance 5-MeO-DMT, including the following reflection on his experience of ego dissolution:

Here words fail. In truth, there were no flames, no blast, no thermonuclear storm; I'm grasping at metaphor in the hope of forming some stable and shareable concept of what was unfolding in my mind. In the event, there was no coherent thought, just pure and terrible sensation. Only afterward did I wonder if this is what the mystics call the mysterium tremendum—the blinding unendurable mystery (whether of God or some other Ultimate or Absolute) before which humans tremble in awe.[20]

See also