Behind the scenes in all of us is a force that strongly attracts our attention, a primal something we seek union with. That something, though widely variable in what it attaches to or is reflected in, embodies a numen, what the Romans called the energy of a divine power or presence.
Literally, numen is defined as a nod of the head by a divine presence. In ancient Rome when someone sought guidance they would go to the temple of a god, pose their question and await a nod, some movement that expressed the will of the god, like a gust of wind.
Even in an age dominated by reason, the drive for encounter with some powerful irrational force remains the prime mover and shaker of our lives. One need only look to the headlining quote of the New York Times today, “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” to see an outer expression of the tension, fascination, and tremendum of potential explosive numinous encounter. As the world is spellbound at this current missile crisis, let us turn our attention inward to find the presence of this numinous encounter in our own personal lives. Locating and working with these encounters within changes the world at a grassroots level.
Numinous encounters are powerful. We experience them with awe, fear and trembling, with thumping heart, blissful ecstasy, compulsion, fascination, urgency, and at times as utter calmness and stillness. A numinous encounter might lift one to the heights of spiritual union or cast one into the depths of trauma.
By definition, trauma is a human reaction to an encounter with a completely unexpected overpowering force greater than one’s ability to assimilate it, which consequently lodges itself in some hidden, fragmentary way within our unsuspecting selves. There it remains buried, perhaps for years, though it continues to exert its terrifying numinous power over the life of its human host.
Only a recapitulation of that traumatic event, which relives and fully assimilates the numinous traumatic encounter, can relieve an individual of its binding fixation, allowing for deeper, more fulfilling numinous encounters to occur in life.
Numen at the lower energy body centers in the human body, from the root to the solar plexus, offers access to divine union with the material fixations of sex, security, power, and substance.
Such numen might draw us back to the blissful experience of symbiotic union in the womb of mother, prior to our being planted as an individual in this human realm of earth. Thus, the ocean, with its mesmerizing rhythm and pulse, may draw us to re-union with this primal experience and rejuvenation in the numen of a beach vacation.
Some might pursue that same numen through the substance of alcohol or the needle of opiate as the ticket to that lulling oceanic bliss within. Addiction is the fixation of numen upon an object, which is why it is so difficult to dislodge. Bill W., AA co-founder, realized in his own numinous encounter with God that it was only an encounter with a power greater than oneself that could dislodge a numen from the substance it had attached to.
Numen frequently attaches itself to food. The ecstasy of binge, of purge, of refusal are all numinous dances with divine power ensconced in food. Reason is no match to dislodge numen from this encounter, to the dismay of family and loved ones. Only a humbled ego, saturated with many a groundhog day of ecstasy and futility, may be ready to move on to deeper numinous experiences beyond the mana of food.
Sexuality is another powerful fixation of numen in the lives of human beings. Freud must be credited with identifying this numen, as it first fixates in the primal family, as an overarching factor in the development of the personality, and of civilization as well. Enduring attachment to the primal family can result in great struggle in finding fulfillment beyond the relationships in the family.
The fixation of numen on one’s parents can result in a lifetime of bemoaning the emotional and material sustenance that one needed and felt entitled to as a child. Numinous energy can become caught here in the torment of regret, resentment, anger, and powerlessness. This can result in a numinous, passionate obsession with unfairness.
The fascination, urging, and compulsivity of the numen of sexuality might find abstract relief in the web of internet opportunities or instantaneous union through online dating. The numen of sexuality may remain ensconced in the flesh alone or find its way to loving connection freed of or in combination with its biological imperative.
Obsession with merger with another in relationship may become the dominating numen of a lifetime. However, in many instances the numen for personal power trumps the concern for love or connection. For instance, the numen of union with the divine might transmogrify into the conquest and accumulation of countless partners, an unending quest to posses more of everything.
The numen of unlimited power can attach to money, material possession, or political dominance. Underlying this numen is merger with infinity and the boundless, characterized by an insatiable quest for unlimited growth and acquisition. The substances that might attach to this power numen are alcohol, which melts away boundaries and limitations, or cocaine and methamphetamine, drugs that transform ordinary human attributes into super powers.
Numen at the higher energy body centers in the human body, from the heart to the crown, offer access to divine union beyond the material fixations of sex, security, power, and substance. Numinosity at this level is energetic union beyond the confines of the body, which is achieved through spiritual practices such as meditation and shamanic dreaming. Alcohol and hallucinogens can become the numinous trappings for seekers at this level as they suspend the defenses which keep the psyche cohesive and expose it to other configurations of reality that may be benevolent or shattering, a bad trip from which one may never return.
As is evident from this sampling of possible numinous engagements, some can promote growth and evolution, while others can be lethal. Once a numinous attachment sets in it can seem impossible to break it, such is the power of this religious hunger. We do best to see the attachment as just that, a religious rite, as reason is no match for compulsion.
Finding out how we personally do our numinous rites in our lives is essential if we are to become truly conscious and aware beings. If we can bring consciousness to, and respect the power of these numinous unions, we can then decide if we are where we truly need or want to be. Have we engaged the right numen?
Ego does have the power to agree to engagement with numen or to refuse it. To refuse a numen is to bear tremendous tension and suffering, however, it can be done. And ultimately, if we refuse that which is not right, the path will open to that which is right.