Sacred Power and the Mysterium


1.    The search for origins related to the question of religion’s essence

a.    Identify the roots of religions so as to discern commonalities, a universal essence.  Little evidence.

b.    100,000 10 25,000 years ago: burial rites (belief in an afterlife), efforts to appease  deities

c.    Scholars sought origin of religions in animism and totemism

2.    Religion as directed toward what is perceived as sacred, of ultimate value and power

a.    Things, beings, places, laws, objects, ideas – set apart as sacred, of ultimate significance

b.    Experience of the sacred, the ultimate as opposed to the ordinary, profane

c.    Gerardus van der Leeuw, Religion in Essence and Manifestation

d.    Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy

3.    Experience of sacred Power as the root of all religion – van der Leeuw

a.    “The first affirmation that we can make about the Object of Religion is that it is a highly exceptional and extremely impressive ‘Other.”…This Object is a departure from all that is usual and familiar; and this again is the consequence of the Power it generates”

b.    Fetishes (inanimate object worshipped for its inherent magical powers), amulets, totems, icons, idols, sacred people, sanctuaries, temples, sacraments, special times = vehicles or bearers of sacred power

c.    Ambivalence of sacred power – evokes a mixed response (cf passage on p.55)

                                     i.     Avoidance and attraction

                                    ii.     Sanctity and defilement – purity and danger, pollution. Be free from the profane in order to reach the sacred.

4.    The Holy as Mysterium Tremendum and Fascinans – Rudolf Otto

a.    An experience peculiar to religion – non-rational, ineffable.

                                     i.     From the experience issue ideas about morality, conceptualizations in myth, doctrine, traditions of ritual behavior

b.    The numinous – uniquely religious experience – from “powers” or “spirits”

                                     i.     History of religion = history of how the numinous has been expressed in myths, ritual, and doctrine

                                    ii.     Brings about “creature consciousness,” “creature-feeling”: overwhelmed by own nothingness in contrast to supreme

c.    Mysterium – beyond capacity to comprehend or conceptualize fully, mysterious, extraordinary, unfamiliar

d.    Tremendum – Tremor, peculiar dread and awe.  Eerie, weird, uncanny,  awful, awesome – supernatural, daemons, spirits, animism (worship of nature).  In mind of “primeval man,” and in most sophisticated expressions of theistic religion.

                                     i.     Majesty or majestas: evokes creature-feeling

                                   ii.     Energy: experience of deity’s vitality, passion, might, will

                                 iii.     Examples: Isaiah VI, Bhagavadgita ch 11, Job 39-42

e.    Fascinans – fascination, attraction, intoxication.  Joy, elation, ecstasy, love

                                     i.     Evokes joyful thanksgiving, praise, adoration

5.    The evolution of religions = naming and conceptualizing numinous experience

a.    tremendum – ideas of justice and morality

b.    fascinans – ideas of goodness, mercy, love, God’s grace