|numinous things: astrolabe paper art...|
'Nostalgia for paradise' was a term also used by Mircea Eliade to help bring understanding to the numinous."
I want to build a Museum of Joy. What the heck is the numinous doing here? In fact, what the heck is the numinous, exactly? Well, that's a funny question. I can say how it feels, but I can't define it.
|...and real astrolabes..|
|...and lamplit alleyways...|
|...and amulets and old glass beads...|
|...festivals, toys, bones, altars...|
But this is easy to forget. Look, it's good to live a life that is mild, pleasant, cheerful, mostly unruffled. That's fine! That's lovely! Just don't let go of the mystery. I think it's harder to go down into it when you're actually relatively happy -- because it makes living on the surface of things much more enjoyable, you're not trying to escape misery or fear or desperation, you can just stay up here where the emotional weather is fair. Why concern yourself with the stuff that's gonna kick you in the kishkas? Mystery means not having it all figured out. It can feel pretty profoundly at odds with stability. I don't think it is, necessarily; I just don't think that we, as a culture, know much about being both stable and steeped in the mystical. Mysticism is old-fashioned -- I mean the kind of mysticism where you don't try to put occult forces to work to determine your future or align your chakras, but simply sit with it, delight in it, the strange and glorious and incomprehensible swell of the world, live a life that moves through it, breathes it, tingles with it. Why is that important? I don't know. It's just what lives inside me, and I feel clearly and firmly that everything I do that is not in connection with the numinous is just getting by. Often pleasantly, beautifully, enjoyably -- but at a couple of degrees of separation from the world as it really is. The world is having a life, steamy and kaleidoscopic and wild, and I can partake or no. But if I don't, it will be exactly -- and I do mean it feels to me just like this -- like passing by a marvelous festival of light and color and strange smells and stomping dancers and bells that has come from nowhere and will be gone forever and going home to read a book because I am too shy to take a deep breath and fling myself into the dance. I like reading alone in the evenings. That can be its own numinous experience -- but not if I have not chosen it but rather turn to it out of some vague fear of getting lost, caught up forever, given up once and for all to enthusiasm -- from en + theos, having the god within. Is that what I'm afraid of, I wonder -- or it is just that living sedately is so much easier?
|...and Odilon Redon|
L'Oeil, comme un ballon bizarre se dirige vers l'infini (The eye, like a strange balloon directs itself towards infinity), 1878
And here is The Man Who Was Thursday on the secret face of the world:
"'Then, and again and always,' went on Syme like a man talking to himself, 'that has been for me the mystery of Sunday, and it is also the mystery of the world. When I see the horrible back, I am sure the noble face is but a mask. When I see the face for but an instant, I know the back is only a jest. Bad is so bad, that we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel certain that evil could be explained. But the whole came to a kind of crest yesterday when I raced Sunday for the cab, and was just behind him all the way.'
'Had you time for thinking then?' asked Ratcliffe.
'Time,' replied Syme, 'for one outrageous thought. I was suddenly possessed with the idea that the blind, blank back of his head was really his face - an awful, eyeless face staring at me! And I fancied that the figure in front of me was really a figure running backwards, and dancing as it ran.'
'Horrible!' said Dr. Bull, and shuddered.
'Horrible is not the word, said Syme. 'It was exactly the worst instant of my life. And yet ten minutes afterwards, when he put his head out of the cab and made a grimace like a gargoyle, I knew that he was only like a father playing hide-and-seek with his children.'
'It is a long game,' said the Secretary, and frowned at his broken boots.
'Listen to me,' cried Syme, with an extraordinary emphasis. 'Shall i tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front --'"