Psychology, the Numinous, and Gebser's assumptions regarding consciousness~

I was unable to catch either hang out this past week, although I had lots going on regarding Gebser here~
First of all, I want to clarify some things that I disagreed with while reading Gebser.
Regarding the “numinous”… it was nice that he pointed out the fact that Rudolph Otto did not originate nor give credit where it was due for the idea of the numinous.
There were several things that Gebser as WELL did not give appropriate credit to where credit was due.
Many of his discussion ideas were published by earlier scholars (one psychologist/philosopher/writer in particular) when Gebser would have been in his early 30’s. Gebser 's ideas here, developed according to him in 1932, were already published in other works not noted by Gebser.
Either giving credit was much less necessary back then, or people just wrote about what appeared to be common knowledge, but I did not appreciate Gebser’s treatment of Rudolph Otto (and others, including Wilhelm Wundt) here.
Rudolph Otto, as a Theologian, was not referring to the Numinous as a BELIEF (as Gebser claims) but as an EXPERIENCE.
This particular experience (known as a mystical experience) has been written about by several other mystics, including Rufus Jones, A Quaker mystic who stated that an experience of the Numinous could cause one to become deaf and dumb, mute.
This is because an experience of the numinous is one that in psychological terms overwhelms consciousness as part of the process of expanding it.
Wholeness, too, is not something absolutely knowable, as the ultimate form of the unconscious is physical death~ We cannot know that experience until it actually happens. That being said, numerous spiritual traditions DO practice a form of tiny death before death (le petit morte, also referred to in relationship to sexual orgasm, hence Tantra’s connection to the mystical here). I am thinking of both Ayhuasca journeys and Tibetan Chod practice among others.
Georg Feurstein also questions notions of wholeness in favor of the idea of transcendence, something I find more accurate as well~
Critical to this discussion is Gebser’s reference to early psychology and conceptions of consciousness. Either he hasn’t read much of the early psychological theories fully, or he doesn’t understand them. Wundt was among the first to define consciousness, and it is clear from Gebser’s writing that he knows nothing about Wundt’s perspective on this~
I wrote 12 pages of notes on this section, and found discussing it a challenge because I wonder who else wants to discuss it around these key points…
anyway, love him still, just finding erroneous places that must be teased out further and clarified~

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I watched the Hangout, and I wondered if I had been reading the same chapter of the book (which came at last this week). The references to caution and fear of being overwhelmed by an experience of the numinous were puzzling to say the least. The Presence of Origin is awesome and may set a person trembling, but not through fear or dread, but because of the love and joy that fills the soul.It would be unwise to seek a experience like this for the wrong reason, but an open and searching attitude longing for spiritual fulfillment seems to be what I am seeing in the participants of this Hangout. Keep seeking, my friends.

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are you speaking specifically to me?
if so, I have had my own experience with this over 30 years ago.
I am speaking from a scholarly engagement with Gebser’s work as well as a deep scholarly engagement with Otto and others here too.
My reference to an overwhelming psychological experience is different from what you are talking about I think. I am referring to a very specific experience that has been widely discussed in psychology, what Freud referred to as the “uncanny.” From Rudolph Otto’s perspective (and others) it is closely related to the Macabre. I don’t think it is a joyful experience at all, but has somewhat of a sinister quality to it (which is ONE of the reasons it is associated with mysticism /the left hand path).
I appreciate your comment, but I think we are speaking of very distinct things~

Too bad you weren’t on the hangout, Ari. We could have used your detailed perspectives on this chapter, which I think it’s fair to say most found uncommonly challenging. Personally, I haven’t read Rudolph Otto, Wilhelm Wundt, et al, so can’t comment on any particular omissions or misrepresentations in that regard.

I think @grannyjan was addressing those of us on the hangout specifically. We discussed this experience of encountering the “completely other” (as Gebser described the numinosum) and his reluctance, it seemed, even to write about or invoke the otherness of this experience (or the magic and mythical structures in general) for fear of letting loose forces that could overwhelm consciousness.

However, I appreciate what Janice is saying because the “otherness” of the numinous is really relative to one’s own consciousness and whether one has experienced the other as truly not-other, but as an aspect of one’s self (i.e., one’s own source or origin).

“Where there is an other, there is fear,” I think it says in the Vedas.

The “completely other” character of the numinosum would, therefore, be related to the biblical “fear of God,” or Kierkegaard’s existential “fear and trembling.”

And since you brought up Freud, it might be worth mentioning that Heidegger also wrote about the “uncanny” encounter with the “nothing” as the source experience giving rise to metaphysics. That’s another topic, though.

But Gebser also puts the “completely other” in scare quotes, I think because of what Janice is saying, which is that consciousness has the power to recognize itself in this otherness (partly through integrating and harmonizing the magic, mythic, mental, etc. structures in itself) in which case the numinosum really can become a much friendlier and more loving kind of experience.

I appreciate talking about the uncanny is challenging however I feel that it might help to point out specific experiences of the uncanny to put some flesh on all of this. We are often labeled and dismissed too quickly because we are arguing about labels rather than specifics. We are taught as good scholars to avoid using embodied writing that would make specificity a priority and so we end up generalizing about other’s generalizations. Abstractions about abstractions can lead to serious headaches and distortions and this for me a sign of the mental deficiency so rampant in our current crises as we turn to turn models for help and then sadly turn our models into idols.

I sense that there is a way of communicating that honors the concrete and the abstract, that can pay attention to what is happening and to contrast and compare lived experience with others in a new kind of process that welcomes ambiguity and respect for the other’s self descriptions even when they don’t fit the norm. I speak as a gay man who was raised in the fifties in a profoundly homophobic culture where my kind of difference, my kind of erotic imagination was dangerous and taboo.

I don’t know what Ari means by uncanny without a clear example. And that might illuminate her more critical remarks about Gebser. Fear, joy, are words we all use in perhaps very idiosyncratic ways. I have been open to fear and have had some interesting experiences of the uncanny, which I do not see in any of the considerable literature I have read. Fear is a threshold that many of us do not cross. Of course I avoid disclosing these experiences in a public forum so I understand why many of us stay in the abstract, third person mode most of the time.


Hi Ari,
I was not speaking directly to you, my inexperience with using the
technology put my remark in the wrong category.

However, I was reading your remarks, that gave me courage to express a
view that was contrary to what seemed to be happening

on the Hangout.

Your scholarly explanation is impressive, I meant no disrespect to
your work or experience.

My mystical experience happened in 1964, as a result of desperate
need, and I required a lot of healing from child abuse

that this enabled to unravel.

This also began a long study of Jungian and others, leading to Ken
Wilber in the 1980’s.

So, Integral theory came part of my life in the years until now,
Gebser is filling in the gaps.

I do not consider myself anything other than ordinary.

Every body has the opportunity to gain a full and satisfying inner
life, if they also have the desire.


Janice Macpherson.

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I agree Marco. I see it as Gebser’s denial of that other (a denial of an existential “other” (GOD) that he believes Otto is talking about) rather than the human other.
although the human other was defined in terms of good and evil, (and still is by some people) so it doesn’t make much difference.
My point is, that either Gebser never HAD a mystical experience, (or a kundalini awakening? in Vedic terms) or he languages it differently somewhere else in the text, which I don’t remember seeing~
Heidegger DID speak of the numinous and the uncanny. It was a well known (and understood) phenomenon in Germany. Heidegger also changed the way we understand God in a radical way. Rather than the previously accepted man is made in God’s image, he reversed it and asserted that we make God in the image we make him/her/it. the IMAGO DEI. but you’re right. that is another topic entirely~ and it leads to really curious philosophical inquiries.
sigh. maybe this week I can join all of you~ best~

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no worries, I was just trying to put it into context with my own comment. but that makes sense~ blessings~ <3

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hey there Johnny~
I am referring to the German sense of the uncanny, defined as the macabre, the prickles on the back of one’s neck, a feeling of dread, or a sense of intuition or knowing that borders on dread. (like maybe the way that Gebser and others perhaps felt in 1930’s pre-Nazi Germany?)
I don’t know. I could give you a clearer example, but I would rather wait for now.
Somewhat like a sense of impending doom perhaps.
My specific critique of this part of Gebser’s work is in regard to his ideas of consciousness and wholeness, which I tend to disagree with here.
but. all good. I think the opportunity to consider all of it and reinvent ourselves is the greatest possibility of them all~

and oops~ Marco. regarding the numinosum becoming a friendlier experience. perhaps.
to me it is really death here that the numinosum is really referring to. (but death in a Buddhist sense for me). not sure about Gebser.
I have begun to find some differences between the way that I thought I understood Gebser and differences for Feuerstein too.
so in the sense of not being afraid of our own death? perhaps this is befriending the numinosum. but I am not sure if that is what Janice means either~
perhaps it can be understood as a return to the Mother too, which it really is. I don’t know. I think of the numinosum as Kant’s “sublime”… only terrifying when we really stop and think about it.
It’s lat5e and it has been a long day, so forgive my incoherence here~ X

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don’t mind me~ I have a kind of formal way of communicating in text. I am really pretty harmless, but notice that I don’t always express the way I think I do or wish to~

I should not try to e coherent when I am tired~ X

I think among the most important conversations extending Gebser’s efforts concerns the nature of the [unconscious]—a term Gebser both rejects and uses freely. The conversations between Gebser and Jung are pertinent, naturally.

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Thank for this conversation about the numinous, and the “other”. This was all quite abstract for me as a theologian, until I experienced what I would call the numinous, on sacred medicine, in the form of an “Other”. The “Other” was an undeniable felt presence before which I needed to remain very, very still and very, very quiet, head bowed, and in a inner posture of reverence. It seemed actually very close to what the Hebrew Scriptures refer to as “the fear of G_d”. But fear here just kind of means that you don’t fuck around with this Presence. If you are going to make yourself available to It/Him/Her, do not think that you are going to come away with your life in tact. My sense is that this isn’t a projection or manifestation of my own consciousness, but rather a Presence that actually redeems my consciousness, in a very specific way. It “saved” me from the terrifying isolation of this whole fucking world being an abstract projection of my mentality. This was, blessedly, ecstatically, an “Other”, and this Other despite being inexpressibly awesome was for “me”, that is for the absolute transformation of my soul in a way that helped me to realize the condition of humility, devotion, and gratitude.


i think you are right regarding the numinous and the Hebrew idea of the fear of God. Otto has a Hebrew word for it too… it is considered to be a living force in Judaism ~ called “qadosh”~
yes. i think as a concept, it is abstract, while as an experience, it is a felt presence.
Goethe calls it "What is too vast for our faculty of space-perception."
this is why i think Gebser has not experienced it~ appreciate your comment~

agree. that Gebser both rejects and utilizes the term “unconscious”… mostly rejects it~

and I think I JUST realized that I was speaking to the 3rd weeks reading and not the current reading… ugh. I am much more fatigued thanI thought~ sorry all~

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You are making perfect sense Ari. I wish Gebser had made more of his personal experience in this text, it is hard to say. Underneath the enormous amount of data he sifts through, there is a strong hypnotic quality in the presentation of his vast materials, which creates an altered state of consciousness. He is interested not in the history of ideas but in the history of consciousness. I am getting the grand sweep of Gebser’s narrative and it is quite exhilarating.


@AriAnnona: Thanks for you comments, they certainly got me thinking, but not wanting to shoot down the wrong path, I do have a couple of questions.

I didn’t get the impression that Gebser gave Otto unfair treatment (for example, I’m not finding where Gebser claims Otto’s use of the numinous was belief as opposed to experience), but that doesn’t mean he didn’t. As I’m reading the text in German, could you give me a pointer to the passages/pages in EPO you are referring to? I’d really like to compare original and translation.

Also, as I often get lost in the references that Gebser does give, I don’t know who you are referring to (your parenthetical remark “one psychologist/philosopher/writer in particular”), to whom he give no? or improper? credit for I would like to explore this avenue further myself. It wasn’t clear to me from your post if you meant Wundt, Otto, Jones or someone you didn’t mention at all. I’d like to get this sorted in my own head. (I thought re-reading Gebser this time around with a kind of support group would make it easier, but it’s only making it more challenging, :confused: well, at times anyway.)

As always, thanks in advance.


Have you read or are you familiar with Feuerstein’s book Wholness or Transcendence? by any chance. It was originally published in 1974 as The Essence of Yoga and republished in 1992 under the WoT title.

With regard to the numinous experience these statements by JG impress me:

“The numinosum, in psychological terms, is a projection; in psychic terms it is an under or over stimulation of our capacity for “resonance.” As long as we lack insight into the numinosum, it remains a correspondence between the inner and outer, between man and the world, between soul and power; either man incorporates it, or he subordinates himself to it.” P.203

I take this to mean that we are origin. We project everything that is not incorporated into consciousness, (to the degree that our evolution/intensification process will allow it) out onto the world as part of the co-creative project, remembering that our minds are creators in participation with the world. The numinous is the presentation of a mighty unincorporated part of us and can be overwhelming, awe inspiring, and “awful.” Just as we contain all the possibilities of creative freedom. We are both the creator, the sustainer, and the destroyer, and when we meet this part of our greater selves seemingly outside our physical packages it can be both blissful and scare the living Christ out of you.

“The role of consciousness in this process is evident: consciousness makes it possible to retract the projection that once took place. In more exact terms, the reintegration of the projection is itself an act of the awakening consciousness.” P.203

“One of the preparations for this reintegration is that we withstand the power of the numinosum without rationalizing it.” “…everything depends on “knowing” when to respond actively and when passively, when to let things happen and when to make them happen, while hearkening to the magic events, correlating to the mythical, and taking into account the mental, thus giving an appropriate degree of direction to these magic and mythical events.” P.205

Gebser is telling us that it is not enough to just have these mystical experiences, all can be interpreted in a deficient way and therefore consciousness intensification is lost. When it comes to all kinds of numinous experience, “we will neither rationalize these events, nor will we permit ourselves to be irrationalized by them.” P.205

“If we react in this way, it is possible for us to become aware of certain types of reaction that reveal how the one or the other structure in us predominates, ever threatening our integrality.”

So, in an encounter with the numinous the magic person will be overwhelmed by feeling, the mythic will believe she has been “touched by God!” the mental/rational mind will believe they have suffered a psychotic break or some massive biochemical event, or respecting the phenomenon will simply try to spatialize and quantify it. All these reactions are dead ends in Gebser’s book.


lol~ yes, thanks for your reply Ed~ first of all, as I mentioned in my last (late night text), i was actually referring erroneously to the third weeks reading and not week four. my bad. That being said, I still want to discuss this, so I am glad that you have asked.
so. the specific place that Gebser asserts that for Otto it is a BELIEF and NOT an experience begins on page 193. Although Gebser does clarify the origin of the word (which is Latin, long before Moravian Pietist Zinzendorf in 1745) and he defines it, according to the Latin definition as an experience as well, he states that for Otto it was a belief. The Numinous in Latin (according to Gebser) is an articulation of the prerational and irrational components of religious ‘holiness’ and is concerned with vital experience rather than with any valuative or ethical category." (pg 193, pp.2)
The next paragraph is key as well, for the root word of healing has to do with death, where the ultimate completion or ‘wholeness’ necessarily includes the opposite of vibrancy, which is death. Gerbser goes on to state that “The expresssion ‘numinous’ circumscribes a very specific sphere of vital experience: religious ‘trembling’_ tremendum._ the awe and thrill of man’s encounter with the ‘completely other’ (death, or God, which is where we theoretically ultimately return).
Even the idea of the transmigration of the soul, found in Eastern traditions and in the work of the early Christian Mystics and among the Orphics and the Pythagoreans, alludes to a continual return until the FINAL return to Illo Tempore, time beyond time, ironically someday later in time.
Perhaps Gebser believes that we can achieve that state in consciousness (but not in body) NOW.
The other scholar I was referring to is Otto Rank, an artist and a poet, a contemporary of Freud who died in 1939. He wrote of all of these same ideas as Gebser, except that he born much earlier, and defines these things much more clearly. He speaks clearly about the invention of the idea of ‘soul’ as man’s most ingenious act of creativity. Hard to imagine a time when that wasn’t a conceptual reality that defined life/death. That being said, for Rank, the soul referred to the part of the being that lived on exclusively ‘in death’ while the Greek psyche, which came much later, was the living part that lived in both life and death, the part that transmigrates and is ever existent and eternal. In Egypt, the soul left the realm of the living and continued on when it went to live exclusively in the realm of the dead.
I use both Rudolph Otto and Otto Rank a bit in my own work, so I was a bit reluctant to talk about their work, but, well… it seems important.
Gebser’s comment about Otto and the Numinous as merely a theological 'belief” can be found on page 201, pp 6, near the bottom.
Gebser states that “If we were to approach the question of the numinosum from a religious standpoint, then the concept [i. e. BELIEF] formulated by the theologian Rudolph Otto (Gebser here refers to Otto as a theologian, someone who works in the business of belief?) would seem to include a supernatural divine power to which man in his belief subordinates himself”…
It is here that he describes this (Numinosum, Numinous) for Otto as merely a “belief” when in fact, Rudolph Otto was speaking of an very distinct “experience”…
the problem comes in when we begin to categorize “the other” as other unknown human beings, a condition of tribal mindsets where “other” posed a threat to one’s community safety.
MIrcea Eliade describes this phenomenon of distinguishing between self and other as unconsciously developing insider/outsider status. What belongs to us, what we hold sacred, we protect, while what is outside of us, what is OTHER, is often perceived as threatening, and we defend ourselves against it.
There is a very real truth to our need to do this, UNLESS we view life almost through a karmic lens where we relinquish our need to “get back at” those who wound us. This is incredibly difficult to do as the ego is the thing that tells us what we value, what we hold on to and protect, even amongst (and especially amongst" our “beliefs” and “ideas”…
This mindset still lingers on in Nationalistic mindsets of us against them, where the other is both benevolent or threatening depending upon which side of the line one is standing on. The projection of evil onto other is understood here to be that “something wholly other” (at once an angel and simultaneously demonic) hence, the numinosum is often described as Demonic Dread. It is the splitting of a single energy into good and bad, and projecting that onto other human beings. With the loss of a divine referent, human beings have NO CHOICE except to do this, until they pull their projections back and SEE what they are doing. For both Mircea Eliade and Carl Jung, the (imaginal?) divine referent is a psychological necessity~
Thanks for asking~ x