Otto - the numinous

Developed by Rudolph Otto in his 1923 book [1] the numinous is an overpowering experience with several components.


One is awefulness (inspiring awe) which still retains aspects of the “religion of primitive man”, characterised as “daemonic dread”. Other elements include the tremendum, which brings about fear and trembling and fascinans, the ability to fascinate and compel. Another feature particular to the numinous experience is a feeling of being in the presence of something wholly other.


The numinous experience can result in a belief in deities, the supernatural and the holy/sacred. The numinous is felt outside the self, inspiring creature-feeling, an irresistible, indescribable force that must be experienced to be understood. Otto's concept of creature-feeling, is about being in the presence of something that is completely different from us in every way. Almost magical. It's also partly about feeling the smallness of one's existence.


The numinous as understood by Otto, was an often quoted concept in the writings of Carl Jung. To echo Jung's ideas, we have a longing to experience life beyond rationality. We have the desire to be awe-struck. The numinous state of mind is when one is rapt in worship. Anthropologist Roy Rappaport [2] examined the ways ritual can create social reality. He saw propositions such as “God exists” as only being significant in the construction of reality if they can be made to work. Here, Rappaport draws on the idea of the numinous - “meeting God” in a highly charged, ritualistic, socialising environment makes it more difficult to deny existence. As Friedman describes it [3] the effect of ritual is to combine undeniability with unfalsifiability, producing the unquestionable [or numinous], which can be taken to be the truth effect and socialising power.




[1] Otto, R. (1932) 'The Idea of the Holy'

[2] Rappaport, R. (1999) ‘Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity’

[3] Friedman, J. (2002) ‘ Globalisation and the Making of the Global Imaginary’



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