Reply To: The Way of Art and Two-Way Roads” with Mythologist Craig Deininger”
Thank you, Stephen. It’s a real pleasure to be here, getting into the myths and the mythic. And especially in a time when its message can provide much-needed insight into all that we are facing these days as a collective. And great opening questions. I’ll dive right in:
Regarding how I came to learn of Joseph Campbell, you guessed it, was through the Power of Myth. (Campbellophile-status confirmed!). But more so, this is a synchronistic starting point since the circumstances that surrounded this encounter really reflect the content of my recent Mythblast. I was picking up supplies in a small town in Alaska (where I’d spent several summers working and getting into all sorts of wonderful misadventures) when the title and cover caught my eye and I just knew, for no reason I could explain, that it was “important.” Anyway, I brought it back to the base of a mountain where I had set up camp to do my first (and definitely last) seven-day water-only fast. I had previously gotten my hands on some Taoist breathing-techniques literature (written by a contemporary Westerner) which told me if I did these things I’d bust through into some exalted state of consciousness, etc. Well, I was young and ambitious and all that. What’s more important is that the Power of Myth kept me company through those days, and anyone who has been “diminished” through hunger, thirst, sickness, etc knows, whatever your awareness attends to takes on a greater magnitude, or permeates the consciousness more deeply, or at least feels to. Anyway, I think it was a good initial mythic-download, if you will. And I look back on that time with great fondness.
As for the term “numinous,” I’m glad you bring it up, seeing it’s hardly something any of us will hear on a given day. And, yes, it is like “trying to staple one’s shadow to the wall” as you put it. I love that—an endeavor I’d never expect to succeed in, though with things like that I think the real value lies in the attempt. On that note, I know “numinous” denotes a supernatural or spiritual presence, and that its Latin root numen refers to a place’s presiding deity—to the presence that lives “in” the things themselves. Some might classify it as animism (from anima “soul.”). Or in the Hindu tradition, as Brahman. And a physicist might call it gravity. I like to call it “presence,” and sometimes “existence” just to get different flavors of this untouchable content.
I suppose I should pause a moment since I have plenty of associates who would say “Hey, there’s no spirit living in that cinderblock on the side of the road there.” Fair enough. But that I may perceive and experience it as if it does is ample. This is what Jung calls “psychic reality,” which is true to the perceiver. The placebo-effect is a good example of this.
Overall, though, “numinous” is probably my favorite since it emphasizes the presence of a “being” within things whose effects I can experience under the right conditions. And most of all, I prefer “numinous” because the word is itself is only a stone’s-throw away (if that) from “luminous.” And then, all the connotations of light come in, but come in slant, as Emily Dickinson would say. And light is arguably the most widely used metaphor for consciousness and divinity.
So, with all that walking around the subject, I’ll say that “numinous” (whether we approach it as “psychic reality” or “supernatural”) is the spirit or character of presence that exudes from a thing just as a glowing ember exudes heat and light.