When Rudolph Otto, (1869-1937) German philosopher and historian of religion, wrote of the numinosum, (from numen, spirit) he was referring to a particular aspect of experience, which “entrances the soul”.
According to Otto, the mysterium tremendum is one of the forms which the numinous takes, and it is the non-rational encounter that is “beyond conception or understanding, extraordinary and unfamiliar”, which causes astonishment, awe, and sometimes fear. In Otto’s view the numinous was ‘wholly other’ and experienced by affect, that is feeling, rather than intellect; for him “the nature of the numinous can only be suggested by means of the special way in which it is reflected in terms of feeling”. That is, the numinosum is experienced, rather than thought (Otto, 2004)pp 12,13,26,42.
The numinous is undoubtedly difficult to discuss, primarily because it resists both logos and rationality. It is useful to remember that it renders us without thoughts, words and concepts.
A fundamental question is whether numinosity is a quality of interiority or whether it is something external to one’s-self. So, is the numinous something that we discover about ourselves, and then presume the source to be outside ourselves? Is the numinous interior, which we then project onto an external object or person outside ourselves?
When we say ‘interior’, do we mean inside the specific psychic confines of an individual, or do we mean interior as a quality of life that requires a particular attitude of mind - interiorly-oriented – in order to perceive? My view is that ‘interiority’ is a way of perceiving, and as such neither interior nor exterior to that person, but both.