("presence", plural numina
) is a Latin
term for the power of either a deity or a spirit that is present in places and objects, in the Roman religion
. The many names for Italic
gods may obscure this sense of a numinous presence
in all the seemingly mundane actions of the natural world.
The word was also used for the imperial cult of ancient Rome, to refer to the guardian-spirit, 'godhead' or divine power of a living emperor—in other words, a means of worshiping a living emperor without literally calling him a god (which was a problem under the Roman system).
The word numen is also used by sociologists to refer to the idea of magical power residing in an object, particularly when writing about ideas in the western tradition. When used in this sense, numen is nearly synonymous with mana. However, some authors reserve use of mana for ideas about magic from Polynesia and southeast Asia.
Note that etymologically the Latin word numen originally and literally meant "nodding". It has the sense of inherent vitality and presiding, and was also associated with the terms for "command" or "divine majesty".
Due to its use as a central term in Roman religion, Numen is also the name of one of most important academic journals in the field of History of Religions.
Similar cultural concepts
The concept of a life-energy inherent in all living beings seems to be a fairly universal archetype, and appears in numerous ancient religions and systems of metaphysics.
Analogies to numina in other societies:
- Australian Aboriginal mythology, maban
- Egyptian mythology, ka
- Greek mythology, ichor
- Inuit mythology, inua, sila
- Japanese mythology, ki, kami
- Lenape mythology, manetuwak
- Norse mythology, óðr
- Polynesian mythology, mana
- Yoruba mythology, ashe
Also related are the philosophical concepts of
- In the novel Contact by Carl Sagan, the term 'numinous' comes up in a discussion between Ellie Arroway and Ken der Heer regarding the differences between science and religion.
- In the original World of Darkness game system, 'numina' were minor psychic or magical abilities held by otherwise ordinary humans, as well as various supernatural powers used by other beings that didn't fall into a specific category. In the new World of Darkness, 'numina' and 'numen' refer exclusively to the powers of ghosts and other spirits.
- Roland Barthes, the French literary critic and philosopher, uses "numen" to describe qualities of historical painting and photography. “Numen is history petrified, eternalized, trapped, for one finally holds it immobile, chained beneath a prolonged gaze”.