Regarding The Term Numinous

David Myatt

David Myatt

A Note Regarding The Term Numinous

As a chapter of a book by Christopher Pankhurst – Numinous Machines, published in December 2017 by the ‘right-wing’ San Francisco based Counter-Currents organization – is titled Nexus of Life: David Myatt & the Acausal, it is fitting that we examine the origin of the term ‘numinous’ and what Myatt himself means by the term, especially as the blurb for the book on the publishers website repeats the common but mistaken belief that “Rudolf Otto coined the term numinous to refer to the primal experience of the holy.”

A mistaken belief since as a certain “Anton Long” pointed out in his text Alchemical Seasons and The Fluxions of Time published in 123 yfayen (2011 ce) that

“despite the now common belief that the use of the word ‘numinous’ is fairly recent, deriving from the writings of Rudolf Otto, its first occurrence in English – so far discovered – is in a religious tract published in London in 1647 ce, entitled The simple cobler of Aggawam in America. Willing to help mend his native country. The author, Nathaniel Ward – a scholar at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, an English clergyman, and a Puritan supporter – emigrated to Massachusetts in 1634 ce.”

The meaning of the term numinous in that book, and in later books such as The Quest of the Sangraal by Robert Stephen Hawker published in 1864 (where it is spelt numynous), is “of or relating to a god or a divinity, revealing or indicating the presence of a divinity; divine, spiritual,” derived as it is from the classical Latin ‘numen’, which Latin word implied a deity, a divinity, a reverence for what is divine.

In his 2013 book The Numinous Way Of Pathei-Mathos Myatt described how he then philosophically used and understood the term:

“The numinous is what manifests or can manifest or remind us of (what can reveal) the natural balance of ψυχή; a balance which ὕβρις upsets. This natural balance – our being as human beings – is or can be manifest to us in or by what is harmonious, or what reminds us of what is harmonious and beautiful. In a practical way, it is what we regard or come to appreciate as ‘sacred’ and dignified; what expresses our developed humanity and thus places us, as individuals, in our correct relation to ψυχή, and which relation is that we are but one mortal emanation of ψυχή.”

Prior to that ‘Pathei Mathos iteration’ (c.2011 – present) Myatt had frequently used the term ‘numinous’ during his ‘National Socialist iteration’ (1968-1998) writing in his 1990s text The Meaning of National-Socialism, {1} published by George Dietz in his Libery Bell magazine and also circulated by Myatt’s National-Socialist Movement, not only that

“Something is numinous if it has beauty and awe. Something which is divinely-inspired or divinely-representative is numinous. What is numinous is generally what is revered, or regarded as sacred – as spiritual or divine. Nature herself is numinous – a wonderful, awe-inspiring mystery. The numinous is an expression of the acausal – of the Unity behind causal, temporal, appearance,”

but also that

“a folk is not an abstract, easily defined, static, “thing” like the concept of race. It is a living, changing, evolving, being – a unique type of life. What defines a folk is thus far more than a certain set of physical or physiological or genetic characteristics. A folk is a symbiotic being – in symbiosis with the being which is the homeland of that folk, with that community or that collection of folkish communities. All this makes the culture, the Way of Life, the ethos (or soul) of that folk living as well. And it is this living which is numinous, which presences the numinous.”

Since Myatt uses and used the term numinous in specific ways, and always seemed to avoid using the English word ‘holy’ both in reference to that term and in his Greek translations, it is interesting and relevant to mention his commentary on the Greek word ἅγιος in section 5 of the Pymander chapter of the ancient Corpus Hermeticum. {2}

The Holy

In regard to ἅγιος – conventionally translated as ‘holy’ – Myatt, quoting Rilke and providing his own translation of the German, writes that the numinous has two aspects:

{Begin quote}

Numinous is better – more accurate – than ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’, since these latter English words have been much overused in connexion with Christianity and are redolent with meanings supplied from over a thousand years of exegesis; meanings which may or may not be relevant here.

Correctly understood, [the] numinous is the unity beyond our perception of its two apparent aspects; aspects expressed by the Greek usage of ἅγιος which could be understood in a good (light) way as ‘sacred’, revered, of astonishing beauty; and in a bad (dark) way as redolent of the gods/wyrd/the fates/morai in these sense of the retributive or (more often) their balancing power/powers and thus giving rise to mortal ‘awe’ since such a restoration of the natural balance often involved or required the death (and sometimes the ‘sacrifice’) of mortals. It is the numinous – in its apparent duality, and as a manifestation of a restoration of the natural, divine, balance – which is evident in much of Greek tragedy, from the Agamemnon of Aeschylus (and the Orestia in general) to the Antigone and the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles.

The two apparent aspects of the numinous are wonderfully expressed by Rilke:

Wer, wenn ich schrie, hörte mich denn aus der Engel
Ordnungen? und gesetzt selbst, es nähme
einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem
stärkeren Dasein. Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen,
und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht,
uns zu zerstören. Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.

Who, were I to sigh aloud, of those angelic beings might hear me?
And even if one of them deigned to take me to his heart I would dissolve
Into his very existence.
For beauty is nothing if not the genesis of that numen
Which we can only just survive
And which we so admire because it can so calmly disdain to betake us.
Every angel is numinous

wenn ich schrie. ‘Were I to sigh aloud’ is far more poetically expressive, and more in tune with the metaphysical tone of the poem and the stress on schrie, than the simple, bland, ‘if I cried out’. A sighing aloud – not a shout or a scream – of the sometimes involuntary kind sometimes experienced by those engaged in contemplative prayer or in deep, personal, metaphysical musings.

der Engel Ordnungen. The poetic emphasis is on Engel, and the usual translation here of ‘orders’ – or something equally abstract and harsh (such as hierarchies) – does not in my view express the poetic beauty (and the almost supernatural sense of strangeness) of the original; hence my suggestion ‘angelic beings’ – of such a species of beings, so different from we mortals, who by virtue of their numinosity have the ability to both awe us and overpower us.

{End quote}

Myatt thus provides a new – yet ancient, and most certainly pagan – interpretation of the term, so very different from the understanding of that of Christianity, which Christian understanding is “pertaining to God; belonging to God, commissioned by God, or persons devoted to God; conforming to the will of God, entirely devoted to God.”

Three Wyrd Sisters

{1} A copy of Myatt’s text is available here:
{2} David Myatt. Corpus Hermeticum: Eight Tractates. 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1976452369