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The Numinous

By: Seth Moris "Numen, pl. numina, ("an influence perceptible by mind but not by senses," is a Latin term for a potential guiding the course of events in a particular place or in the whole world, used in Roman philosophical and religious thought. " ~ Wikipedia

Numen and Story


Throughout history, there has been a phenomena that affects every facet of human life that remains to the average person unknown. The accounts of this phenomena from history tends to be viewed at best as myth, crude explanation of life experience due to ignorance and at worst blind superstition. The accounts of this phenomena in modern times takes many forms, but is more widely accepted as 'possible'. This phenomena I will call the Numinous. In Latin, it means 'a nod to the divine', or "an influence perceptible by mind but not by senses," but for the purposes of this text let us just define the numinous, or numen, by its traits. There are many things encountered from a first-person perspective in modern day life that are not the product of stimuli from external sources, prompts that lead to senses that clarify and direct us through our physical existence, and indeed these non-sense based experiences are more often than not confused for the senses and are categorized into a person's memory as such, or held to the same degree of concrete truth. From a first person perspective, all external stimuli that is "interpreted" automatically (not consciously willed) in their mind can be called numen. In this sense it is understandable that the numinous is confused for the senses, they are both received rather than produced. Unlike a willful act of self manipulation, a human has very little control (at least at the average state of affairs) over how their mind interprets their experiences. The same way in which a person does not have control over the feeling of 'hot' from a boiling pot of water spilled on their hand, neither do they often have much control over interpreting, for example, a person as a 'bad driver' because they see this person make one bad decision whilst driving their vehicle on the road. The water is not 'sensation hot" (sense of temperature being an anthropocentric way of viewing the properties of the boiling water) inherently any more than the person is a 'bad driver' simply because the mind decides automatically to categorize both in such a way, though both interpretations no doubt have their practical advantages. While both are primarily automatic, that is both 'sense' of stimuli and 'interpretation' that is numen, there are

some key differences. Namely, numen is projected outward from the mind and under variability between one mind and the next and deals with matters such as aesthetic, opinion, and faith, sense is generally a reaction that is projected outward (because the sense is indeed within the mind) and causes automatic reaction usually to aid physical tasks or avoid physical hindrances. This also hints to that the bodies of humans are relatively similar, but that minds hold more capacity for individuality. It will be hard to find a human who does not experience 'hot' at boiling water, but it would be relatively easy to find people who interpret a painting many different ways. Both are determined by the make-up of their selves before encountering the objects, but the mind is subject to more diversity, even within conformist cultures. The numinous, while generally automatic, can also be adjusted to conform to a person's will much easier than that of senses. It is much easier to change how you interpret something than how sense something, though both have been manipulated and shifted by human beings in the past. Another difference is that the senses are 'set up' by, effectively, genes and DNA, where numen is configured mostly through personal myth, cultural superstition, and memes, though there are also (in the concept of 'biophilia) that humans are predisposed to certain natural aesthetics due to their evolutionary advantage. Why is a clear understanding of the numinous so important? Because it is virtually completely within one's own mind, and is often mistaken for the inherent quality of an external object or person. I mentioned earlier that the past's accounts of 'numen' is usually considered myth, superstition or general ignorance. This is because our current 'numen' looks different than theirs did, and like all cultures we really do believe ours is the Truth. It is hard to not give credit to a culture that produces innovations in technology, language, social welfare and the like, but most humans today fail to realize that humans have always been doing this. As the culture bequeaths more tangible perks, the laity start to form stories and myth (that later shape how EVERY outside phenomena is experienced) that they can use to rationalize the miraculous. The stories about how 'how things came into being' are their attempts at crystallizing the magical, taking things from the realm of the fantastic and reducing it to commonality, though it can easily be seen that as it is now and even in the past, the laity outside of specialists did not actually have the correct, scientific understanding of things from an objective standpoint. This can be said because they could never reproduce the effects of the specialists, they could only simply translate/interpret their accomplishments into an easy story to feel as though they had a grasp on the miraculous, as well as be able to explain it to their children. The priest castes of many societies concern themselves with 'directing the story', or providing stories to the laity so that they may better render the

miraculous into commonality, so that the average people do not become overwhelmed with the true implications of most technological and ideological achievements. What does this have to do with the concept of 'numen'? Put simply, numen itself as a concept acts as the sort of 'stuff' of our 'cognitive virtual reality', that is, humans do not live in a world of senses but a world of interpretation, in a world of story in which they are the prime protagonist. The reason that story is intrinsically tied to the numinous is because humans use story as a sort of pre-rational way of navigating the world. When there is a lack of information, a lack of stimuli or a lack of comprehension of the 'random' or 'miraculous', the mind finds ways to 'fill in' the mystery so that it is no longer having to drain on the mental energy required to unlock the mystery, instead a hasty bandaid is put over the Strange and it soon becomes as bland as wallpaper. This fill in is the numen, it is pure automatic interpretation and ends up recorded into our memories as concrete. This is not to say that the numen in itself is bad, or wrong, or harmful. The danger comes only from the misunderstanding of the numinous from the sensible, and the rational. Humans have long attributed power to the numinous, and in many ways it is not a detriment to human existence, to be ignored or rationalized away but rather a quite useful opportunity. Emotional reaction, interpretive reaction of external objects, scenery, aesthetic or symbolism gives humans an interesting approach to re-program themselves, or to give themselves the phenomenological story they so choose, it must simply be understood as the numinous, not the concrete.

Genius Loci and Psychogeography


Psychogeography is an approach to geography that emphasizes playfulness and "drifting" around urban environments. It has links to situationism. Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals."~ Wikipedia -----"Consult the genius of the place in all; That tells the waters or to rise, or fall; Or helps th' ambitious hill the heav'ns to scale, Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;

Calls in the country, catches opening glades, Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades, Now breaks, or now directs, th' intending lines; Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs." ~Alexander Pope -----"Salient (sl-nt, slynt) adj. 1. Projecting or jutting beyond a line or surface; protruding. 2. Strikingly conspicuous; prominent. "

While the numinous is in large part dictated by the personal mythos that a person finds themselves projecting , there do exist signs that certain areas are awe-some in their own right by sheer magnitude or force of presence. How a person interprets these things, as good or evil, as maleficent of benevolent, (such as a dark forest) depends a bit on their culture and personal myth, but the force of awe itself seems to exist in a consensus for the majority of human beings. The psychogeographical approach, which draws maps based on the psychological experience that a person has while moving from different points is not a new concept, though it may be new in aesthetic. The human mind itself uses a psychogeographical approach, relying on associations and iconic memory (and in no little part the spatio-temporal regions of the brain) to build a cognitive 'map' of the world. However, unlike most traditional maps which concern themselves with a certain hyporealism, the psychogeographical concerns the first person phenomenological account that we all actually deal with in a given day. The fact is that these maps can be used outside of any strict language or math to bring about human understanding, the base language is the human experience itself. Even without knowing another person, one human is alike enough to another human that a sensory/interpretive mapping of an area would suffice in most cases to explain a route. "The grass is green, next to the shade of trees and nice on a hot day" is by no means a universal truth, but think for a moment how much MORE humanly universal it would be compared to say, specific music aesthetics or ideologies. The interpretation of certain physical formations is out of the control of the interpreter, as long as they are human.

Mountains are large, intimidating, and it is no wonder they are used symbolically to mean a great challenge, as they are in fact a great challenge to climb or cross. Given that the human mind is already used to a psychogeographical numinous format, it should not surprise people that there is a staggering amount of lore we have as to the 'spirit of a place' across most cultures. Spirit must be understood to be INcorporeal. It has no physical substance. Since all senses (sight, taste, touch, smell, hearing, body awareness, temperature, pain, balance) rely on some sort of physical stimuli to prompt them (outside of hallucinations) we cannot expect to encounter spirits on any level of 'physicality' though as I just said hallucinations are the exception, but that still means they are without substance. In particular, a numinous phenomena that most people have experienced and which should be easily distinguished for most is the "Genius Loci', or 'spirit of a place". The feeling of awe, fear or reverence when entering a shrine, church, library, museum, or of a vast forest, a steep mountain or the axis mundi of the ocean meeting with the sea. While one could divide Genius Loci into two kinds of these 'spirits', the artificed and the wild, they are both at the root the same phenomena, that is the "sacred' (from sanctum, set apart). No belief in the Gods is needed to find a 'set apart' grove deep in the woods, or a sacred mountain, because it is the mind itself that sets it apart. Shrines, temples, churches are piled with memetic vectors, or in other words they are intentionally constructed with numen related objects, the vector is the physical shell, inanimate, that causes a human mind to project the numinous upon it and thus prompts a feedback loop of interpretation. Various combinations of these objects can lead to an overall effectively numinous psychodramatics embodied in matter, from tranquil parks, to haunted houses, to sacred temples, so long as there are humans able to perceive such numen in the vicinity.

Kami and the Daimonic


"[A kami is] any thing or phenomenon that produces the emotions of fear and awe, with no distinction between good and evil." ~ Motoori Norinaga [the daimonic is] "any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person... The daimonic can be either creative or destructive, but it is normally both... The daimonic is obviously not an entity but refers to a fundamental, archetypal function of human experience -- an existential reality".~ Rollo May Beyond the aesthetics of the 'sacred' places such as those Genius Loci, humans also have a tendency to attribute agency and to personify their

interpretations of abstractions and phenomena, from love, to weather, and even intellectualized concepts. It is highly improbable (and perhaps impossible) to expect to find a culture that has not given these attributes to such numen. The English word demon has its root in 'daimon' or 'daemon', which were not good or evil but simply 'spirits'. Keeping in mind that spirits are incorporeal, and the correlations to the concept of the "Place Spirit" it is easily enough seen that such daimons, or in Asian thought "kami" are intrinsically linked to the feelings, and interpretations they produce within the imagination and cognitive maps of humanity. The fact that such phenomena are usually ascribed their own agency also gives us a telling hint, that the things thought of as spirits, daimons, or kami act according to their own laws and intentions. This could be viewed as an anthropocentric way of viewing inanimate phenomena, however the key is that they are not by nature under the control of humans, and indeed function despite us (though the perception of their numen is tied by nature to humanity, without which they would have no form or described traits) though many religious traditions have ways of effectively 'controlling', 'communicating" or 'banishing" these personified numen. One must differentiate daimons from 'place spirits' in such a sense as they are not tied to geography, and are interpreted as having individual agency. The other common link for personified spirits is that they are often talked about in terms of 'possessing' humans, and causing the unwary (or willing) person to fulfill the spirits nature outside of the realm of conception and inside of physical reality. While our culture tends to think nothing of this, it is easily seen that inanimate matter that gives rise to the perception of influences outside of the senses have a very contributive effect on how we make our decisions, and indeed our ability to fathom or plan are inherently tied to ideas, and memes. If a spirit is the personified agency of an individual ideal, or phenomena, than the possession is as simple as a person interacting with said numen, and then unconsciously acting out the 'traits' of said spirit, under the mistaken impression it was something that the person chose inand-of-themselves, either by choice or will. If this seems confusing or unrealistic, think about the way copycat killers are inspired by the 'idea' of a serial killer, only to enact the same archetype. The 'daimon' is revealed to the copycat by way of inanimate vector (the television, or newspaper), after which the individual numen of the story is glorified by the copycat, and now swimming around in the mind of said copycat, it becomes the new prime directive. The fact that such stimuli is brought to the attention of a person through no conscious volition of their own suggest that they have very little power over such an ideal, unless they recognize its actual source outside of their mind, that of a simple idea.

Fortune and Talismans


"A talisman is an object which purports to contain certain magical properties which would protect the possessor from evil or harm, or provide good luck. The word comes from the Arabic word Tilasm, and ultimately from the Greek word teleo which means "to consecrate".~ Wikipedia "Luck or chance is fortune (whether bad or good) which occurs beyond one's control, without regard to one's will, intention, or desired result. " ~ Wikipedia Another common aspect of the numinous is that of 'Fortune'. While it could be said that we do indeed live inside of a causal-deterministic system (if you disagree, check in on the progress science is making compared to other traditions) that the interpretation of events as either "lucky/fortuitous', or "unlucky/misfortunate" is a psychological process that is determined itself by the orientation and context of the individual perceiver. Even if we are participants/caught up in a causal system there is no inherent goodness or badness from a non-anthropocentric viewpoint, yet it is a very real consequence of being a conditional being that such things must be interpreted as beneficial or harmful in an overarching general sense. Thus said, the quality of a circumstance to be either 'lucky' or 'unlucky' (and it could be said most mystico-magical traditions throughout the ages have been primarily based on the twin concepts of Luck and Self-Betterment) is a quality only perceptible by the mind, and as such is numinous itself, and thusly is much more up for interpretation than sensation based stimuli. Talismans are objects that are ascribed numinous traits either through active consecration (again, 'setting apart", related to the idea of sacred/sanctum), and usually are created with the intention that they will manipulate the 'Fortune' of a person, most of the times the goal is to ensure that the talisman-affected encounter Fortune and avoid Misfortune in one aspect of life or another. Even if not thought of as "luck" based, simply creating an object and 'setting it apart' from others so that it brings you success in general, it must be seen that the opposite, or failure, will be interpreted the same way as general misfortune. In this sense the numen of fortune is often counteracted or manipulated by material based and mentally prompting numen of the talisman, which of course itself incorporates symbolism from the culture the crafter is a part of, and as such will be the more potent force for them to focus upon. This is often called 'sorcery' by anthropologists, and even the word sorcery gives us a clue into its nature, that is "sorcery (n.) c.1300, from Old French sorcerie, from sorcier "sorcerer," from Vulgar Latin *sortiarius, literally "one who influences, fate, fortune," from Latin sors (genitive sortis) "lot, fate, fortune" (http://etymonline.com/?term=sorcery). The fact that all of this is within the mind, the idea of Fortune in general as well as the idea of a magical talisman. The effect this has on the perceiver, and their subsequent will and shift in action which will

without doubt cause a butterfly effect/chaotic unfolding as 'effective reality manipulation" will be discussed at a later time, in a different article. Hac in hora sine mora corde pulsum tangite; quod per sortem sternit fortem