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Deity and the numinous in Witchcraft

Updated: 5 days ago

In the world of Paganism, deities are not just abstract concepts, but powerful beings that are experienced as divine forces. While many religions believe in a god, for Witches, their relationship with deity is much more personal. Deity is seen as a transformative force and so rather than merely holding belief in the supernatural, Witches are able to experience the numinous directly.

The term numinous is based on the Latin word numen meaning a god, the divine power or simply divinity.

The following notes are from a presentation by Tim Ozpagan for the Strange Brew in the Witch Circle Meetup, held on Sunday, 26 March 2023.

What is the numinous?

The numinous experience is a concept I borrowed from Carl Jung, who in turn was influenced by Rudolf Otto's book "The Idea of the Holy". He coined the term numinous based on the Latin word numen meaning a god, the divine power or simply divinity. Numinous experiences refer to sometimes spontaneous encounters with the sacred or the holy or a god.

Where Jung deviates from the orthodox idea that these experiences only happen to a select few (such as a Jesus, a Mohammad, or a Moses), he felt encounters of the numinous could occur in perfectly ordinary people as well. While Otto's original concept focused on experiences of the orthodox religious understanding of God, Jung expanded this to include the transpersonal in the psyche or non-personal levels of consciousness in everyone. In an effort to demonstrate this Jung introduced the concept of "a religious function of the psyche"; a multi-demential doorway through the soul (psyche) to the transpersonal. Jung concluded that the psyche has the tendency to produce numinous experiences.

Back to Rudolf Otto's work: Where he talks about the numinous being encounters before divine beings that are frequently accompanied by feelings of the uncanny, a thrill of awe and reverence in the presence of a divinity.

Other experience common during numinous states are the sense of dependence, of impotence, and of nothingness. In other words you soul encounters the feeling of being very small and insignificant. While equally for others such encounters are accompanied by feelings of religious rapture and exhilaration.

Normandi Ellis, a Spiritualist minister, astrologer, a clairvoyant-medium and translator of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics in her book "Awakening Osiris, The Egyptian Book of the Dead", she shares this encounter of an ancient with the divine:

"Like a fish in water, like a lapwing among the stars I breathe among the gods. I have lived among the gods countless years. I am an old soul, a great man, one of the ancients. Many nights I have looked into the fire, felt the heat of their tongues, seen their faces, heard them speaking. Many days I have stopped behind my plow to gaze up, blind with the sun and the gods' power. In my times, and there ave been many times, I have come to know the gods. By their silence I understand their presence. I have quivered beneath the power of their hands on my head and trembled in the powerlessness of their absence when they turned and left me to my destiny."

In his book "The Religious Function of the Psyche," Lionel Corbett explores the concept of spirituality from a depth psychological perspective, specifically drawing on the work of C.G. Jung. Corbett argues that spiritual experiences are not limited to only religious contexts but are an inherent aspect of human psychology. He emphasises the importance of recognising and understanding the religious function of the psyche in order to facilitate personal growth and healing.

Corbett explores four important aspects of the religious function of the psyche— these include:

  1. Numinous experiences: Where he discusses the importance of numinous experiences, which can be spontaneous encounters with the sacred or holy. These experiences can be deeply transformative and provide individuals with a sense of connection to something greater than themselves.

  2. Archetypal images: Building on Jung's concept of archetypes, Corbett examines how these innate psychic structures can manifest through religious symbols and experiences. Archetypal images can emerge in dreams, visions, and other forms of creative expression, often providing insight into the deeper aspects of an individual's psyche.

  3. Individuation: Corbett emphasises the importance of the individuation process, a key aspect of Jungian psychology that involves the integration of conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche. By engaging with the religious function of the psyche, individuals can foster a more holistic sense of self and promote psychological growth.

  4. The role of suffering: Finally, Corbett also explores the relationship between suffering and spiritual growth, arguing that suffering can serve as a catalyst for deepening one's spiritual awareness and understanding.

As an example of this last point of the powe