Numen/numina: Vaguely referred to as the life force in plants in many texts on Italian witchcraft. Maddeningly little information available on it. After all these years, I decided it was time to tackle this one to the ground.
From dictionary.com : “noun, plural nu·mi·na [noo-muh-nuh].
divine power or spirit; a deity, especially one presiding locally or believed to inhabit a particular object.”
In Ancient Roman Religion, H.J. Rose compares numina to Polynesian and Melanesian mana which in its most neutral definition means “force or forceful, potent”(13).
It is often helpful to compare one thing to another to better understand both, so let’s follow this trail a bit with our good friend wikipedia:
“According to Melanesian and Polynesian mythology, mana is the spiritual life force energy or healing power that permeates the universe. Anyone or anything can have mana. They believed it to be a cultivation or possession of energy and power, rather than being a source of power. It is an intentional force.
In the 19th century, scholars compared mana to similar concepts such as the orenda of the Iroquois Indians”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mana).
“Orenda is the Iroquois name for a certain spiritual energy inherent in people and their environment. It is an “extraordinary invisible power believed by the Iroquois Native Americans to pervade in varying degrees in all animate and inanimate natural objects as a transmissible spiritual energy capable of being exerted according to the will of its possessor.” . . .
Orenda is present in nature: storms are said to possess orenda. A strong connection exists between prayers and songs and orenda. Through song, a bird, a shaman, or a rabbit puts forth orenda”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orenda).
Back to numen and numina and H. J. Rose:
The Romans believed in a “supernatural power or influence”, which they called numen, plural numina. This word, which seems literally to signify a movement, perhaps especially a nod of the head (the verb nuere, with which it is connected, means to nod) would appear to have developed the sense of “result of action, sign of a force or power at work”(13).
It does not mean a god or goddess. Rather, numina is something a god or goddess possess. A god or goddess can confer numen onto a mortal. And a mortal or groups of mortals can conjure numina by consistent collected intention towards a goal or a purpose.
Even inanimate things “may have or even be numen”(15) and there can be numina in places. A grove can have numina, a forest can have numina, a tree can have numina, making them “numinous.”
“Men themselves could on occasion confer numen, or at least persuade it to come where it was wanted, by performing the proper rites”(15).
So it seems that ritual can confer, create and increase numina. Perhaps we have all felt that happen. I certainly have. The energy becomes heightened. A unique and potent energy, numina, is generated. This numina can make things happen, have an effect, transform or change something; heal.
Rose tells us that when making an offering or sacrifice in Rome and pre-Rome, the petitioner would often say:
“Be thou macte by this offering.” Macte is an old word, apparently to begin with the vocative of a participle which signified “increased”. It is hard to imagine in what the god was supposed to be increased if it was not in his store of mana. He had, no doubt, much numen of his own, but his activities would surely result in drawing on his capital of power. What if he spent it and had none left for the further benefits which would be needed by his people, not least so in business matters, suggested that if there was to be so much expenditure, there ought to also to be a steady income, and it would seem, this was supposed to be furnished by the sacrifices”(18).
It is interesting to think of sacrifices or offerings as increasing the numina of a spirit, a god or goddess, shrine, object or a place.
I was taught to make offerings onto my shrines to offer energy as a sort of “payment” or “exchange” to the entity housed on the shrine, to help them “do the work we are asking them to do.”
But how about this too? How about that the offerings are making the god, goddess, spiritual entity, even ancestors, stronger; increasing their numina so they may be more effective, have more ability to make things happen?
This feels accurate to me.
Numina makes things happen. That would mean, as Rose says, it is a force. A force that can be increased, supported and nourished with offerings and interaction. The is where and how the human, or mortal, spirit worker can interact and collaborate with it.
There is a lot of numina on the land but growing crops also uses a lot of that numina. It needs to be replenished with cyclic and regular offerings.
“Man cannot, it would seem, originate numen, but he is capable of directing it, in this as in many other rites…Mana in the pacific region, numen in Rome can attach itself to certain inanimate things…in Rome there are distinct signs of numen about so holy a thing as an altar. It can be “increased” by putting some offering, even a trifling one, upon it”(20).
When I checked in with the wedeme (the elemental beings of the wild that I work with) they said: “Call it numina.” They don’t like the word numen. Only numina, because “it is always plural,”they said. “Numen is passive. Numina is alive.”
They continued: “Much numina is needed by a Strega/Stregone or a witch to do their work. It is a rarefied, healing energy. Potent & palpable, it has a density. It is a matter-energy. Mattergy.”
Then they offered this:
How to restore or increase your own, personal numina
- Resting restores and increases numina
- Walks in nature can restore and increase numina
- Lying on the earth can increase and restore numina
- Sitting in the sun can increase and restore numina
- Meditation can increase and restore numina
- Time in water, including bath water, can increase and restore numina
- Talking to plants, using certain plants, planting certain plants in your garden or yard can increase and restore numina
Foods to restore and increase numina
(The above are a brief and partial lists)
All of this is a jumping off point to begin to recognize, interact with and collaborate with numina. Not quite tackled to the ground yet, but, a start.
“Be thou macte by this offering.”
© Theresa C. Dintino 2022
Rose, H.J. Ancient Roman Religion, Cheltenham, England, Cheltenham Press, Ltd. 1948.