I’m not going to go into Rudolf Otto’s work here, as I have not studied it. I just like the word he conjured to deal with the ineffable mystery
”With all your science can you tell me how it is, and when it is, that light comes into the soul?”
~ Henry Throeau
The mysterium is the wholly-other, an object eluding all understanding. It is over and beyond what is familiar or intelligible and fills the mind with “wonder and astonishment.” In our encounters with the mysterium we meet something “whose kind and character are incommensurable with our own, and before which we therefore recoil in a wonder that strikes us chill and numb.”
~ Rudolf Otto
CG Jung borrowed the term Numinous from Rudolf Otto (a Lutheran Philosopher), when Jung was looking for a word to describe the awesome otherness of Holy. This Numinous extends from above to below for both men, not something the human mind has invented.
The years when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life.
Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore.
My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me.
That was the stuff and material for more than one life.
Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life.
But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.
~ Carl Jung.
Otto ascribed ”Numinous” to the following types of experiences and feelings..
The deepest and most fundamental element in all strong and sincerely felt religious emotion.
strong, sudden ebullitions of personal piety, … in the fixed and ordered solemnities of rites and liturgies, and again in the atmosphere that clings to old religious monuments and buildings, to temples and to churches.
evades precise formulation in words. Like the beauty of a musical composition, it is non-rational and eludes complete conceptual analysis; hence it must be discussed in symbolic terms.
come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship
or, it may be…
thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes itsprofane, non-religious mood of everyday experience…
from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions…
the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy.
It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of—whom or what? In the presence of that which is a Mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.
Some of the positive qualities of the numinosum include: sublimity, awe, excitement, bliss, rapture, exaltation, entrancement, fascination, attraction, allure and what Otto called an “impelling motive power.” Not so pleasant are other qualities like: overwhelment, fear, trembling, weirdness, eeriness, humility (an acute sense of unworthiness), urgency, stupor (blank wonder), bewilderment, horror, mental agitation, repulsion, and haunting, daunting, monstrous feelings that “overbrim the heart.”Otto speaks at length of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the fascinating mystery that makes us tremble (in awe). Because it “grips or stirs the mind,”such an experience is not one we forget.
(Note : Some sources say Mircea Eliade (who wrote the very interesting book ”Shamanism” coined the phrase mysterium tremendum et fascinans. He was a student of Otto’s.)
Otto had been influenced in turn by JF Fries who ascribed the word ”Ahnung” meaning Intuition or the yearning that leads one to seek for the Divine.
Both were influenced by William James, and all shared the ”emotional” approach to Divine experience. And thus Otto explored the ”non-rational” aspect to the search for or experience of Divinity.
So, for Otto the transcendent experience (”The Idea of the Holy”) is both Awful (in the original sense of the word) and Fascinating, both frightening and attractive.
Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a might spirit in the room” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe, and the object which excites it is the Numinous.
~ C.S. Lewis (another student of Otto)
It is interesting that Otto touched on the concept of the Void from eastern mysticism as facilitating this encounter with the awesome Otherness, the Numinous.
For Void is, like Darkness and Silence, a negation, but a negation that does away with every this and here, in order that the wholly other may become actual. ~ Rudolf Otto
Summary and Extracts from The idea of the Holy ~ http://epages.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/an-outline-of-rudolf-ottos-the-idea-of-the-holy-by-michael-w-clark-phd/
“Myth is what we call other people’s religion. All religions are true but none are literal. All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.”
― Joseph Campbell