Featured Post


This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, May 4, 2013



I seem to remember that at some point Otto mentions his awareness that one response to the numinous is a desire to become "godlike" oneself, but as yet I can't locate the passage. 
I would have expected that a doctrinaire Christian would have little regard for the idea of any mortal undergoing apotheosis, and when I scanned my collection of Otto-quotes, I found that this one came the closest to what I seemed to remember:

The daemonic-divine object may appear
to the mind an object of horror and dread, but at the same
time it is no less something that allures with a potent charm,
and the creature, who trembles before it, utterly cowed and
cast down, has always at the same time the impulse to turn to
it, nay even to make it somehow his own.
Here the "potent charm" stems from the aspect of the numinous which Otto terms the *mysterium fascinans.*  I've argued in this series of essays that one might take the desire of a subject to "become like God" to be a natural extension of the numen-aspect, in contradistinction to the "fear and trembling" next to a force one cannot oppose.  In Part 4 I said:

This [desire to become godlike] would seem to be a natural extension of the idea of celebrating numinous "worth," however: not just feeling that Zeus is the mysterious creator of the universe, but that Heracles, begotten on a mortal by the Father of the Gods, can provide a conduit by which mortals can participate in that divine mystery.

On reviewing other relevant sections of THE IDEA OF THE HOLY, though, I see that the only way in which Otto can see a subject legitimately trying to become one with the divine is through the process of conferring praise upon the source of the numinous, not by any actual physical or mental transformation. 

Here's Otto taking snipe shots at the different types of mystics who identify themselves with the numinous power:

A characteristic common to all types of Mysticism is the
Identification, in different degrees of completeness, of the
personal self with the transcendent Reality. This identifi-
cation has a source of its own, with which we are not here
concerned, and springs from moments of religious experience
which would require separate treatment.
This has a peculiar vagueness to it.  Does Otto mean, by speaking of a "source of its own," to imply that the Devil Made Them Do It?  But it's not likely: the rest of the book doesn't show any passion for demon-hunting.  Going by a later section, it seems likely that Otto's putting the pretensions of mystics into the same category as the "weird" beliefs of superstitious natives: as religious practices that are explained in part by anthropological findings, in part by Otto's conviction that the religious beliefs have not been "developed" enough:

...there is a series
of strange proceedings which are constantly attracting greater
and greater attention, and in which it is claimed that we may
recognize, besides mere religion in general, the particular roots
of Mysticism. I refer to those numerous curious modes of
behaviour and fantastic forms of mediation, by means of
which the primitive religious man attempts to master the
mysterious , and to fill himself and even to identify himself
with it. These modes of behaviour fall apart into two
classes. On the one hand the magical identification of the
self with the numen proceeds by means of various transactions,
at once magical and devotional in character by formula, ordination,
adjuration, consecration, exorcism, &c. : on the other hand
are the shamanistic ways of procedure, possession, indwelling,
self-imbuement with the numen in exaltation and ecstasy. All
these have, indeed, their starting-points simply in magic, and
their intention at first was certainly simply to appropriate the
prodigious force of the numen for the natural ends of man.
Though Otto turns up his nose at both of these "strange proceedings," he's roughly on track in making a valid distinction between the pratice of the primitive magician, who seeks to compel the gods or to assimilate their powers through "formula, ordination, etc.," and the primitive "shaman," who seeks to commune with the numinous through "exaltation and ecstacy."  What Otto fails to appreciate, of course, is that within all species of Christian worship one finds just as many appeals to the "numen of Christianity" for "the natural ends" of its worshippers.  One can find a few Christian credos that have attempted to place an insuperable wall between Deity and the needs of worshippers, but in a statistical sense these must be judged as "rare birds" that do not represent the prevalent norms of Christian worship.

To put a final point on the matter, Otto is so opposed to the idea of impinging on the numinous source that he similarly conflates the systematic approach of the medieval Scholastics with he views as a similar "rationalization" in archaic myth:

Representations of spirits and similar conceptions
are rather one and all early modes of rationalizing
a precedent experience, to which they are subsidiary. They
are attempts in some way or other, it little matters how, to guess
the riddle it propounds, and their effect is at the same time
always to weaken and deaden the experience itself. They are
the source from which springs, not religion, but the rationalization
of religion, which often ends by constructing such a
massive structure of theory and such a plausible fabric of
interpretation, that the mystery is frankly excluded. Both
imaginative Myth, when developed into a system, and intel-
lectualist Scholasticism, when worked out to its completion,
are methods by which the fundamental fact of religious
experience is, as it were, simply rolled out so thin and flat
as to be finally eliminated altogether.
I submit that Otto's real objection is to any system that does not validate the experience of the numinous as it is asserted by the "higher religions."  There is, to be sure, an element of the rational in the formation of archaic myths, as I argued here, but Otto is simply mistaken as to how much the rational elements exclude the non-rational.  Building on Jung's infinitely more latitudinarian understanding of the religious consciousness, I wrote in this essay:

In Jung's paradigm, it's impossible to imagine a primitive trying to explain the regular motions of the sun in terms of a figure like Helios driving his chariot across the sky. However, it would be fair to state that many of the features of the physical world that science would study in terms of their etiology-- the movement of celestial bodies, the characteristics of vegetation, et al-- became for the primitive sacred clues to the nature of divine power. The "empty and purely formal" archetype is the principle around which these "clues" aggregated. For Jung the emotional wonder of beholding the sun as a sacred mystery would be the keystone of making a myth about it, while the specific local details of any given myth were the "ions and molecules" upon which the organizing power acts.
Nevertheless, I maintain that though Rudolf Otto may have looked askance at the claims of magicians and shamans, their concepts of assimilating the numinous are archetypally identical with Otto's description of the *mysterium fascinans,* even though Otto himself saw the proper response as awestruck praise of the numen. 

Further, what the magician/shaman seeks from a numen-source in his theoretical reality is archetypally identical with what the typical subject of a reading-or-viewing "audience" desires from his experience of a fictional narrative: an identification with (1) various levels of meaning from the simple to the complex (comparable to the experience of the "combinatory-sublime") and/or with (2) various levels of dynamicity from the paltry to the exceptional (comparable to the experience of the "dynamic-sublime.") 

I should say that nothing in Otto's book supports my own personal deduction of "sympathetic affects" that I outlined in TRIPLE THE TREMENDUM AND THE FASCINANS.  But to be sure, though Otto does use all three of the terms that appeared in Lewis' PROBLEM OF PAIN essay, he never brings them into the same schema that Lewis uses in that essay.  Thus my formulation of three "sympathetic affects"-- "admiration" as a parallel to "fear," "fascination" as a parallel to "dread," and "ecstasis" as a parallel to "awe"-- is more properly a response to Lewis than to Otto.  But in my final anslysis both scholars' formulations suffer due to a mutual overemphasis of the antipathetic affects.


No comments: