Finding Numinosity

Modern man does not understand how much his “rationalism” (which has destroyed his capacity to respond to numinous symbols and ideas) has put him at the mercy of the psychic “underworld.” He has freed himself from “superstition” (or so he believes), but in the process he has lost his spiritual values to a positively dangerous degree. His moral and spiritual tradition has disintegrated, and he is now paying the price for this break-up in a worldwide disorientation and disassociation.

Anthropologists have often describe what happens to a primitive society when its spiritual values are exposed to the impact of modern civilization. Its people lose the meaning of their lives, their social organization disintegrates, and they themselves morally decay. We are now in the same condition. But we have never really understood what we have lost, for our spiritual leaders unfortunately were more interested in protecting their institutions than in understanding the mystery that symbols present. In my opinion, faith does not exclude thought (which is man’s strongest weapon), but unfortunately many believers seem to be so afraid of science (and incidentally of psychology) that they turn a blind eye to the numinous psychic powers that forever control man’s fate. We have stripped all things of their mystery and numinosity; nothing is holy any longer.

— C.G. Jung, Man and his Symbols 

The preceding quote by C.G. Jung resounded in my mind over again in the last several months. Jung completed his section of the book Man and His Symbols ten days before his death on June 6th, 1961. Over half a century after his death, his insights bear more significance than ever. 

I discovered Jung when I was an undergrad studying design. While I can’t remember how I found him, reading Man and His Symbols was a significant moment in my life. Jung’s assessment of the human condition stunned me. He managed to articulate what I had often sensed on an intuitive level but could not put it into words. As designers, we learned the art of working with “symbols,” and yet we seldom studied the intrinsic nature of symbols and how they differ from signs. Surface activity and material are the chief preoccupations of modern people; of the seismic forces within the depths of the psyche that shape our reality, most of us have little understanding. 

Now, I’m no expert on Jungian psychology. At one point, I had entertained the idea of becoming a Jungian analyst, but that seemed far out of reach. However, what little of his genius I managed to comprehend through his work and my time as an analysand helped me bring the numinous back into my world. Life began to take on a whole new quality. 

The journey to individuation or self-realization can be uncomfortable. One goes down a rabbit hole and enters a great labyrinth. The ego will desperately cling onto its belief systems and fabricated identities as it falls into the void of truth. What I learned while embarking on this path is that if we want to heal our world, we must heal the split within ourselves and acknowledge the wounded healer. 

Rest assured, we are not alone in our quest. Every so often, the numinous will encourage us onward by unveiling its radiance, glory, beauty and power. All we have to do is learn how to listen again. 

Cover photo by Reynardo Etenia Wongso