Saturday, July 28, 2012

Reflections on "Numinous"

A few weeks ago I had an art project called "Numinous" pop into my mind while at a hot springs.  So I've been researching and reflecting on what that means to me ever since, and a few posts that represent my "research" keep  evolving.

When I attended the Women and Mythology conference in May, I had an "ah ha" moment when a presenter, speaking of the ancient megalithic sites of  Britain as "stations within a sacred landscape", commented that myth making has always been a way for human beings to become intimate with, to commune, with what is vast, deep,  and mysterious, like the forces of nature.  In the past, people were embedded within the environment, and the environment was the body of the Mother Earth, from which all things arose, and all things returned.  "Nature" was not just a "backdrop", or as now in corporate thinking, a "resource"...........nature was a conversation full of mythological,  visionary reciprocity, intelligent, and alive.

"Speak to the Earth and it shall teach you".  Job 12:8

In an "en-chanted" environment all beings, visible and invisible, are perceived as having Mana, as being Numinous.  Raven and Magpie were not just birds........they were also Relations, and might even be, on occasion, Messengers.  Plants had Medicine Spirits, and healers invoked their gifts with gratitude and no small measure of caution for fear of offending the powers within. A mythic landscape was inhabited by animals, plants, people, weather, seasons, sacred mountains, goddess rivers, and Numen, the energy and intelligences of place, what the Romans called Genius Loci.  Culture was founded within a grand conversation with many voices, and not all of them were human or even visible without a little shamanic help.

Ancient tribes hunted antelope, buffalo, or mammoth - but not without a sense of  gratitude which expressed itself as reciprocity.  Among the Dakota, dances and prayers were necessary to honor the sacrifice of the buffalo. Their great teacher, who gave them their Great Rites and ceremonies, White Buffalo Calf Woman, manifested as both human and as the great generous spirit of the Buffalo.  Among the aborigines of Australia, there was "geomantic reciprocity".  If the landscape is sacred and holds memory, then walking across the landscape is a way of harmonizing with the "song lines".  As the land is activated by the act of a "walk about", so is the mind of the walker animated by the land.    A mythic conversation. Among the Inuit, rites of cleansing and attunement were cyclically enacted to restore the balance with Sedna, the great Ocean Mother from whose body the sea animals that sustain the tribe come. It was believed that without enacting these rituals, Sedna would withdraw, and starvation would follow.

Paleolithic artists painstakingly painted animals in caves that symbolized the dark womb of the Great Mother -  sympathetic magic meant to assist the animals to return again.   Early arts were no doubt enjoyed, and beyond a doubt are aesthetic - but their essence and purpose originated in ritual, prayer, magic.  The earth and all of its creatures, to them, was alive and communicative, and responsive.  Which is not unlike what James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis have suggested with the Gaia Theory,*** which is now taken very seriously in the world of Earth Sciences.

Calendar 2 Stone Chamber Vermont, photo by James Garfall
In 1982 I visited one of the mysterious Cairn sites on Putney mountain in Vermont. These sites have been explored by NEARA, written about by Barry Fell in America B.C.  They bear a remarkable resemblance to cairns and standing stone "Calendar sites" to be found in Britain and Ireland, which is why many believe they were made by early Celts or Phoenicians who colonized along the Connecticut River valley.  There are some 300 of them in Vermont and New Hampshire alone.  Although no one knows who built these sites, dowsers know that they are built on geo-magnetically powerful places where ley lines cross and underground water domes are.  They are, like the one on Putney mountain where I spent a radiant summer morning, often aligned with the Summer Solstice.  Regardless of who built them, they are attuned to auspicious days and the cycles of the year, and built in places that are "power places" because of their unique abilities to change consciousness.  How is it possible we have lost this sense of participation that our ancestors felt and knew?

Numen/Numina is Roman, and  meant the deities of place, presences that presided over springs, orchards, or mountains.  The Numina were later, as the Romans became influenced by the Etruscans and Greeks, personified, but in the early days of Rome they were not given human attributes.  Numinous  means a sense of Presence, the invisible intelligence (intelligences) that inhabit and are unique to a place.

I so strongly felt the presence of the Numinous when I went to Glastonbury, to visit the sacred wells, and walked within this ancient pilgrimage site.  You cannot visit the Chalice Well, or the White Spring, or walk up to the Tor which stands high over the ancient lakes of Avalon......without feeling the presence of the Numinous, and the memory of the many people who came before.  I believe one would have to be very dense indeed to not be changed in some way by visiting this ancient place of pilgrimage.

But one does not need to travel across the ocean, or even into the  maple forests of Vermont, in order to experience the "conversation".  An open mind and heart is a profound tool for communion of all kinds, with people, animals, and the invisible realms as well.  If one has the idea that the Earth is alive, then it follows that beings on the Earth are alive and thus responsive in some way.  Our experience changes when World becomes a "you" instead of an "it".  Or  "Thou".  Myth can provide a language with which to interpret.


See,  The Re-Enchantment of the World:  Secular Magic in a Rational Age, Edited by Joshua Landy and Michael Saler, Stanford University Press, 2009
cover for The Re-Enchantment of the World

** Here's a great Blog about the sacred sites of New England:

 *** On James Lovelock and Gaia Theory:


Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Wonderful post. There's a spot in our back yard where I try to go at least once a day - beneath the shade of a giant mango tree. The tree has produced hundreds of mangoes this summer, and I express my gratitude to the tree for that and for just being in our yard.

Lauren said...

wonderful! I have a relationship like that with my lemon tree. two years ago we had a frost that killed many trees.....I did some Reiki on the tree and told it I was sorry. It completely came back from the bottom and now has a few tentative lemons.