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The Numinous: Sacredness and Light

Updated: Nov 15, 2021




I love the word numinous as a word for describing that which we call holy or spiritually alive. One definition of numinous means, "to be filled with a sense of the presence of divinity,” or “having a strong mysterious or spiritual quality." In other words, when we experience that which is numinous we are taken beyond our usual daily mindset and are drawn into a moment of connection with the Divine.


One way I experience this is by making photographs. As I look at the screen of my iPhone or through the lens of my camera, I reduce my world to just what I can see through with whatever camera I'm using. I stop seeing the enormous range of things that surround me, and I begin to see just one or two things. It's like taking a person's portrait - you exclude everything around you and focus on capturing the look that conveys the essence of that person or thing, and then you can reveal how they really look.


In the picture above, you could say that I was taking the portrait of our flagstone patio and the shadows of the glass picnic table on it. And yet I was really taking pictures of the lines, textures, and colors of this scene, creating a satisfying abstract image that was both accessible and mysterious. The mid-morning angle of the sun was casting an interesting shadow of our glass picnic table onto the stone patio, with the curves of its legs and circular edge creating a mysterious design that counterpointed the colors and textures of the red sandstone. Together, they formed an interesting tableaux, both ordinary and mysterious, and I framed it in my camera in a way to form a unified image. I processed it to add a touch of glow and texture to give the image more depth.


If I had stood back to capture the whole table, the mysterious combination of shapes and shadows wouldn’t have been very apparent. It would just look like a documentary photo. If I’d gotten any closer, I think I would have lost the wholeness that the current image has.


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If you'd like to explore your own world in this way, I encourage you to begin paying attention to shapes, shadows, lines, color, and light. If you have an iPhone or other cell phone with a decent camera built into it, I encourage you to explore your world with it and to "play" with it. Look around you, near and far, through its screen, and start to notice just how many things there are in your world that look more interesting when framed by a camera – often at closer range. You can also explore light this way – how do you begin to see the world when you take pictures early or late in the day, and what kind of light do you find yourself drawn to? Perhaps you'll discover that you like to play with shadows, as I do. Have fun!


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Patricia Gerloff
Patricia Gerloff
Nov 29, 2021

The composition is stunning, Paul. I thought I was looking at an Indian artifact site, hoping I could too see it up close some . Now I know I just need to come crawl under your picnic table 😊.

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Paul, I love the ambiguity of the space in this image. The white linear elements (grout between the flagstones) seem to shift in space, sometimes over and other times under the shadow elements. For me, the numinous appears most clearly in the space as it opens up between the "layers" I see. Beautiful image.

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wprince007
wprince007
Aug 18, 2021

The beauty of this composition ultimately defies verbal analyses, but it certainly encapsulates the notions of the ethereal, the numinous, and the mysterious in the most delightful way. You have a remarkable eye, Paul. Please keep delighting us!

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I love this picture, its layering, its textures. It has an ancient and mysterious feel to it.

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Eileen M. Nadolski
Eileen M. Nadolski
Aug 10, 2021

The Numinous: I am drawn to the artistry of this image. The interaction of light, shadow and form is intriguing, and from your inspired description, what comes to mind for me when reflecting on the meaning of numinous is how one can choose to see the beauty of creation, of light, in every moment. Thank you, Paul! ~Matrika

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paulhawkwood
paulhawkwood
Oct 14, 2021
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Hi Matrika! Greetings from Sedona. It's nice to hear from you. Where are you and what are you up to? Achala and I are enjoying retirement, which we divide between here (during the school year) and Eugene, where we spend the summers. Thank you for your thoughtful comment about recognizing beauty in seemingly ordinary places and moments. Paul

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