of the Numinous

...the eternal breaking into time,
each particular breakthrough of the numinous
utterly extraordinary and utterly itself...

When has the eternal broken into time for you?

What practice(s) help you escape the prison of time
and grant the hours their own life?

* * * * *

Numinous is open territory for the non-believer in specifically Christian "religious experience" (Wikipedia gives a nice summary of the various uses of the term, Christian and otherwise). I especially like Michael Pollan's description of his experience with DMT:

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.
(How To Change Your Mind pg 277)
...which seems to evoke the transcendental, what Rudolf Otto (usually cited as coiner of the term 'numinous') nailed as mysterium tremendum et fascinans. And Carl Jung adopted the term:
More frequently found in Jung's works is "numinosity." He used this term to refer to a quality inherent in archetypes, in complexes, in "curiosities which the logical mind cannot explain." Found in Western alchemy, and in cultural symbols, numinosity is that quality that gives religious ideas their "thrilling power." Much as with archetypes, we can't grasp the meaning of the word without personal experience. True understanding here comes from a lived encounter.
(from Jungiancenter.org)

For me, the numinous is in our Minds, in our Imagination, and manifests pretty often via sight and sound. What it seems to require is my focused attention on what is AND what might be. I encounter the numinous often while photographing, and in music, and sometimes in text (le mot juste again).

Four bits of my numinous:

(perhaps it's obvious that music and dance are ALL about Time. So is the flow of speech.)

* * * * *

The support materials for my contribution to the Maine Photographers Showcase have been much on my mind lately, and the five photographs I have included are definitely in my zone of the numinous: they evoke mystery and a sort of magic that goes beyond the mundane rockishness of the material origins of the images.

* * * * *

"The prison of time" has never felt confining to me. I've generally thought of time as pulsing, as expanding and dilating around the pivot of my attention, and not as something to "escape". As for my 'practices' in the sense of what I do in the waking world: the lifelong habit of early rising, morning writing and reading, like Maria Popova (today's on George Sanders seems a fine and relevant example) and Heather Cox Richardson and whatever else the gods plant in my inboxes, and the trash picking up, and the photographing, and the music-playing, and the reading, and the cooking... All of those are joys, and none are prisons for me. And there's always stuff like this, numinosity maded flesh:

and gifts like this:

* * * * *

...and this just in from Andy Ilachinski: Self-Conscious Flow (Just In Time Delivery)

* * * * *

As for angels and their marvelous variety in many traditions:

even in Japan as Tennin and (wingless) in Indian Apsaras and wingéd again in Mesopotamian Lamassu (who have walk-on parts in Gilgamesh).

Angels of the Hour

...What is an "hour"? Is it nothing more than a unit of time composed of 60 minutes? Is it measured by numbers or by impressions, feelings, moods? Like the seasons of the year, the seasons of the day differ by the way we experience them. Each hour we encounter has a character and a presence infinitely richer and more complex than clock time. As a messenger from another dimension — an angel as it were — an hour has its own unique significance. Here is your opportunity to meet the angels of the hours, to befriend them, and to allow them to befriend you...

I surely first learned of angels at my mother's knee (and other low joints...), Swedenborg being one of those who experienced angelic personages (and demonic ones too). (see The Lives of Angels Emanuel Swedenborg (pdf)... which may tip you over the edge)

Somehow (though I can't remember how or when) I got the (Swedenborg-heretical) idea that angels were metaphorical, not actual real palpable beings, and that the elaborate iconography was a way of dealing with the Ineffable. Which brings me to Ludwig Wittgenstein:

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann
Darüber muss man schweigen

Whereof one cannot speak
thereof one must remain silent

(the concluding sentence of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations)
(which isn't bad advice)
{M.A. Numminen is ...numinous, surely}

* * *

green wings

A few years ago I started to accumulate a Catalog of Wings for Celestials,
thinking that even Angels should be able to accessorize

a few angel-wise texts to keep where I can find them again:

How Angels Found their Wings Norman Ricklefs, in History Today 2022

The Development of Winged Angels in Early Christian Art Therese Martin (pdf)

The Iconography of Angels RP Pullan in Archaeological Journal 1886 (pdf)

William Blake's Angels Michael R Burch, from thehypertexts.com

A Reader's Guide to Orthodox Icons

* * * * *

Sunday being St. Patrick's Day, I read a review by Fintan O'Toole of Ireland's Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth Mark Williams 2017 in NYRB, and snagged the book on Kindle. My next challenge is to relate this rabbit hole to the numinous, and to tie in a tangential reference to The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries Walter Evans-Wentz 1912 (pdf). So how am I going to orchestrate that? We need to consider Túatha Dé Danann, and we may need to make a brisk pass through Theosophy and other wranglings with the numinous...

* * * * *

And on Monday, I did some due-diligence explorations of Theosophy, finding Wikipedia quite even-handed. Also Theosophical mysticism, Western esotericism. And Harvard's Theosophy Collection adds to the savor. Can't resist including the marvelous picture of Blavatsky and Olcott:

Gnostics, Rosicrucians, Masonic orders, Anthroposophy, NeoPlatonists, Kabbalah ... the Occult ... even New Age. Oh my sainted aunt...

(Flammarion engraving)

* * * * *

And then I went back to scratch another itch from the original Question, for which Wende linked a David Whyte post containing this passage:

In many traditional cultures, a particular hour of the day is seen to have a personal, almost angelic presence, something that might be named - though only in hushed tones, and only in ways that reinforce its unknowingness. The Benedictine, Brother David Steindl-Rast, defines an angel as the eternal breaking into time, each particular breakthrough of the numinous utterly extraordinary and utterly itself. Time and each hour of time is a season, almost a personality, with its own annunciation, its own song, its whispering of what is to be born in us. Its appearance like a new conversation in which we are privileged to overhear ourselves participating.
Hmmmmm, I thought, what does the eternal breaking into time MEAN? And where did the phrase come from? An hour following google's offerings has been an interesting tour of Appropriations, by persons as various as the Quaker Thomas Kelly, Pope Benedict XVI, Paul Tillich, maybe Søren Kierkegaard, Cardinal Jean Daniélou (the brother of the ethnomusicologist Alain Daniélou)... For context, scan these and note their dates:

...all of which gets me no further toward grasping what eternal breaking through time means. Why did I spend most of the day trying to track that down?

* * * * *

My searches for material on 'numinous' introduced me to lots of people I hadn't previously encountered, one of them Dan Merkur (1952-2016), whose "Interpreting Numinous Experiences" appeared in Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology in 2006. I snagged it from JSTOR and put it aside to read later, and got to it on Monday evening. Here are some especially useful bits:

...as clinicians, we take interest in our patients' subjective experiences of religion. It is not religions as systems of rites, ethics, tales, doctrines, and social structures but rather individuals' emotion-laden experiences of their religions that clinicians seek to interpret... (205)

...In The Idea of the Holy, a classic contribution to the history of religions that was first published in German in 1917, Rudolf Otto (1950) invented the term 'numinous' to designate the specific quality of religious experiences... the neologism was very rapidly appropriated by theologians as an oblique way of speaking about God. Through van der Leeuw, Wach, Eliade, and many others, Otto's term gained wide employment as a vehicle for smuggling covert theology into the academic study of religion. In the process, the concept that Otto intended lapsed into obscurity. (205, 206)

...Otto remarked that the holy, like the beautiful and the moral, has an aspect or dimension that can be understood only on its own terms. Its experiences can be approached and explained theoretically from sociological, psychological, theological, and other points of view, but the latter do not exhaust its study. Just as it is both possible and meaningful to study beauty as beauty and morality as morality, it is appropriate to study numinosity as numinosity. (206)

Otto described numinosity as "non-rational," but Pruyser (1983) drew attention to the cognitive dimension of numinous experiences. He suggested that numinous experiences always involve a "limit situation," a topic that has finality, beyond which it is not possible to think. "Limit situations" become numinous when attempts to exceed their limits precipitate experiences of "transcendence and mystery ... charged with cognitive, ontological, epistemological, and emotional implications" (ibid.: 155-156). "Limit experiences ... when man encounters the Holy or Sacred" provoke "the experience of man's contingency on powers beyond his grasp or control" (ibid.: 157). Examples of limit situations include life, death, moral decision, and other decisive moments of unchangeable truth. They may include the sunrise and sunset, starry nights, and other wonders of the environment. (206)

...A mysterium tremendum is numinous because numinosity is the most awesome, majestic, urgent, and mysterious quality that can be experienced... (208)

...A numinous experience occurs when a sense perception, a fantasy, a concept, or another mental content that concerns a limit situation acquires significance as a metaphor that signifies something more, something intrinsically transcendent of the limit situation. (2014)

...Numinous experience, as Otto conceptualized it, differs significantly. It can be neither made nor unmade. Its circumstance is instead comparable to aesthetic experience. Numinosity is in the eye of the beholder. Anything can be numinous. Nothing is numinous necessarily. When a thing is experienced as numinous, it has been found or discovered to be numinous. A thing that is experienced as numinous on one occasion may not be experienced in the same way on others. One can cultivate an aptitude for experiencing things as numinous, but numinous experience cannot be produced on demand. It is not meaningful to speak of the numinous as having an opposite any more than the aesthetic has one. Just as the category of the aesthetic can be differentiated into a spectrum that ranges from the beautiful to the ugly, so the numinous can be resolved into a spectrum that includes the divine, angelic, miraculous, ghostly, and demonic. The concept of the profane does not belong on the spectrum and is irrelevant to it. (217)

Numinosity is found; sacrality is made. Numinosity is a naturally occurring category of human values. It consists of awe and wonderment—that is, it consists of wonderment with or without the addition of anxiety. Numinosity can be mystical; everything can be seen as numinous. Sacrality, by contrast, never occurs alone. It is always implicitly conceptualized as one term of an implicit pair. The sacred is always opposed to the profane. (217)

I also happened upon this, and sent it along to John McIlwain:

The Social Location of Psychedelic Mysticism: Dan Merkur

* * * * *

And this, just in from NYRB, is pretty damned numinous, don't you think?

Here he [Charles Lamb] is thinking unmethodically about food in a letter of 1805, thrilling over the unexpected gift of a hunk of brawn (a terrine made from pigs' heads) from a friend in the kitchens of Trinity Hall, Cambridge:
He might have sent...the tops of asparagus, fugitive livers, runaway gizzards of fowls, the eyes of martyred Pigs, tender effusions of laxative woodcocks, the red spawn of lobsters, leverets' ears, and such pretty filchings common to cooks: but these had been ordinary presents, the every-day courtesies of Dish-washers to their sweethearts. Brawn was a noble thought. It is not every common Gullet-fancier that can properly esteem of it. It is like a picture of one of the choice old Italian masters. Its gusto is of that hidden sort... It will be wooed & not unsought be won. Now, ham-essence, lobsters, turtle, such popular minions absolute court you, lay themselves out to strike you at first smack, like one of David's Pictures (they call him Darveed) compared with the plain russet-coated wealth of a Titian or a Corregio.

This is Lamb cogitating. First, there is the list of kitchen "filchings," which spirals outward from unadorned asparagus tops to increasingly bizarre personifications: the thought of "fugitive," or miscellaneous, livers leads to "runaway" fowl gizzards, imagined scampering headless from their bodies; pigs, revolving stoically on a spit, are pictured as "martyred"; woodcocks are "laxative" and their droppings "tender," the profusion of adjectives comically overcooked. Then there is the imaginative leap to Titian and Correggio, the "choice old Italian masters," by dint of an association no "common Gullet-fancier," surely, could have made: fine foods, Lamb says, "ham-essence, lobsters, turtle," are flirtatious, too obvious by half, just like David's paintings (here the spoken voice butts in to remind us it's "Darveed"); what you want is the hidden "gusto," the coyly "plain" riches, of Titian and brawn...

(Claire Bucknell, August 18 2022 NYRB)

and if that's not enough, with this I rest my case: