the ' absolute otheras the incomprehensible, unwonted, enigmatic thing, in whatever place or guise it may confront us. This will be all the more true if the uncomprehended thing is something at once mighty and fearful, for then there is a twofold analogy with the numinous—that is to say, an analogy not only with the ' mysterium' aspect of it, but with the ' tremendum' aspect, and the latter again in the two directions already suggested of fearfulness proper and sublimity. This exemplifies the general truth already considered that any form of the numinous consciousness may be stirred by means of feelings analogous to it of a ' natural' kind, and then itself pass over into these, or, more properly, be replaced by them. And in fact this is everywhere manifest in the experience of man. Whatever has loomed upon the world of his ordinary concerns as something terrifying and baffling to the intellect; whatever among natural occurrences or events in the human, animal, or vegetable kingdoms has set him astare in wonder and astonishment—such things have ever aroused in man, and become endued with, the ' daemonic dread' and ' numinous ' feeling, so as to become ' portents', ' prodigies', and ' marvelsThus and only thus is it that 'the miraculous' rose. And, in the reverse direction, the feeling of the numen as 'the mysterious' worked as a potent stimulus on the naive imagination, 'aciting it to expect miracles, to invent them, to ' experience' them, to recount them, just as before the felt awefulness of the numen became a stimulus to select or fashion inventively, as a means of religious expression, images of fear and dread. ' The mysterious' became an untiring impulse, prompting to inexhaustible invention in folk-tale and myth, saga and legend, permeating ritual and the forms of worship, ami remaining till to-day to naive minds, whether in the form of narrative or sacrament, the most powerful factor that keeps the religious consciousness alive. But here too, as in the case of the fearful and terrible, progress to a higher stage of development shows the gradual elimination of this merely external analogue to the numinous, viz. the miraculous; and so we see how, on the more enlightened levels,' miracle begins to fade away ; how Christ is at one with Mohammed and Buddha in declining the rfile of mere wonder-worker'; how Luther dismisses the 'outward miracles ' disparagingly as 'jugglery ' or ' apples and nuts for children '; and tinally how the ' supernaturalism ' of miracle is purged from religion as something that is only an imperfect analogue and no genuine ' schema ' of the. numinous.

There are other manifestations of this tendency of the feeling of the ' mysterious' to he attracted to objects and aspects of experience analogous to it in being ' uncompre-hended It finds its most unqualified expression in the spell exercised by the only half intelligible or wholly unintelligible language of devotion, and in the unquestionably real enhancement of the awe of the worshipper which this produces. Instances of this are—the ancient traditional expressions, still retained despite their obscurity, in our Bibte and hymnals ; the special emotional \irtue attaching to words like Hallelujah Kjrie eleison, Selali, just because they are ' wholly other' and convey no clear meaning; the Latin in the service of the 'Miuse, felt by the Catholic to be, not a necessary evil, but something especially holy; the Sanskrit in the Buddhist Mass of China and Japan ; the 'language of the gods' in the ritual of sacrifice in Homer; and many similar cases. Especially noticeable in this connexion are the half-reveal* d, half-concealed elements in the Service of the Mass, in the Creek Church liturgy, and so many others; we can see here one factor that justifies and warrants them. And the same is true of the remaining portions of the old Mass which recur in the Lutheran ritual. .Fust because their design shows but little of regularity or conceptual arrangement, they preserve in themselves far more of the spirit of worship than the proposed recastings of the service put forward by the most recent practical reformers. In these wo find carefully arranged schemes worked out with the balance and coherence of an essay, nut nothing unaccountable, and for that very reason suggestive; nothing accidental, and for that very reason pregnant in meaning; nothing that rises from the deeps below consciousness to break the rounded unity of the wonted disposition, and thereby point to a unity of a higher order —

in a word, little that is really spiritual. All the cases cited, then, derive their power of suggestion from the same source; they are all instances of the analogy to 'the mysterious' afforded by that which is not wholly understood, unwonted and at the same time venerable through age; and in the resemblance they present to the ' mysterious' they arouse it in the mind by a sort of ' anamnesis' or reminder, and at the same time constitute its outward analogical representation.

3. Means by which the Numinous is expressed in Art

In the arts nearly everywhere the most effective means of representing the numinous is ' the sublime '. This is especially true of architecture, in which it would appear to have first been realized. One can hardly escape the idea that this feeling for expression must have begun to awaken far back in the remote Megalithic Age. The motive underlying the erection of those gigantic blocks of rock, hewn or unworked, single monoliths or titanic rings of stone, as at Stonehenge, may have well been originally to localize and preserve and, as it were, to store up the numen in solid presence by inagic ; but the change to the motive of expression must have been from the outset far too vividly stimulated not to occur at a very early date. In fact the bare feeling for solemn and imposing magnitude and for the pomp of sublime pose and gesture is a fairly elementary one, and we cannot doubt that this stage had been reached when the mastabas, obelisks and pyramids were built in Egypt. It is indeed beyond question that the builders of these Temples, and of the Sphinx of Gizeh, which set the feeling of the sublime, and together with and through it that of the numinous, throbbing in the soul almost like a mechanical reflex, must o '

themselves have been conscious of this effect and have intended it.

Further, we often say of a building, or indeed of a song, a formula, a succession of gestures or musical notes, and in particular of certain manifestations of ornamental and decorative art, symbols, and emblems, that they make a ' downright magical' impression, and we feel we can detect the special characteristic of this ' magical' note in »,rt with fair assurance even under the most varying conditions and in the most diverso relationships. The art of China, Japan, and Tibet, whose specific character has been determined by Taoism and Buddhism, surpasses all others in the unusual richness and depth of such impressions of the ' magicaland even an inexpert observer responds to them readily. The designation ' magical1 is here correct even from the historical point of % iew since the origin of this language of form was properly magic il representations, emblems, formularies, and contrivances. But the actual impression of ' magic ' is quite independent of this historical bond of connexion with magical practices. It occurs even when nothing is known of the latter; nay in that case it comes out most strongly and unbrokenly. IVyond dispute art has here a means of creating a unique impression—that of the magical—apart from and independent of reflection. Now the magical is nothing but a uj pressed and dimmed form of the numinous, a crude form of it v, hich great art purifies anil ennobles. In great art the point is reached at which we may no longer sjicak of the ' magical', but rather are confronted with the numinous itself, with ail its impelling motive power, transcending reason, expressed in sweeping lines and rhythm.1 In no art, perhaps, is this more fully realized than in the great landscape painting and religious painting of China in the classical period of the Tang and Sung dj nasties. It has been said of this great art:

' These works are to be classed with the profoundest and fiublimest of the creations of human art. Tho spectator who,

' This numinous—magical character is specially noticeable in the strangely .mpressive figures of the liuddli.i in early Chinese art ; and here too it affecU the observer independently of 'ideas', i e. without hi» knowing anything about the spe-ulative doctrines of Buddhism. Thus Sirén justly says ot the great Buddha fruin the Lung Men Caves (T'ang Dynasty):

'Ai.vone who approaches this figure will realize that it lias a religious significance Without Knowing anything about its motil. . . . It matters littie whethsr we, call it a prophet 01 a god, because it is a complete work ot a t pt'rme.i'ed by a spiritual will, which communicates itseif to 'he beholder . . . The rel.gious element of such a Lguri is immanent; it is " a prcacucs " or an atmosphere rather than a formulate 1 idea. ... It cannot be described in words, because it oes beyond intellectu.il definition.'

(Oswald Sirén, Chinttt Hailptuii, London, 1 'JÜÓ, vol, i, p. '¿U.)

as it were, immerses himself in them feels behind these waters and clouds and mountains the mysterious breath of the primeval Tao, the pulse of innermost being. Many a mystery lies half-concealed and half-revealed in these pictures. They contain the knowledge of the " nothingness " and the " void ", of the " Tao " of heaven and earth, which is also the Tao of the human heart. And so, despite their perpetual agitation, they seem as remotely distant and as profoundly calm as though they drew secret breath at the bottom of a sea.'1

To us of the West the Gothic appears as the most numinous of all types of art. This is due in the first place to its sublimity ; but Worringer in his work Probleme der Gothik has done a real service in showing that the peculiar impressive-ness of Gothic does not consist in its sublimity alone, but draws upon a strain inherited from primitive magic, of which he tries to show the historical derivation. To Worringer, then, the impression Gothic makes is one of magic ; and, whatever may be said of his historical account of the matter, it is certain that in this at least he is on the right track. Gothic does instil a spell that is more than the effect of sublimity. But' magic ' is too low a word : the tower of the Cathedral of Ulm is emphatically not ' magical', it is numinous. And the difference between the numinous and the merely magical can nowhere be felt more clearly than in the splendid plate Worringer gives in his book of this marvellous work of architecture. But when this is said, we may still keep the word ' magic' in use to denote the style and means of artistic expression by which the impression of the numinous comes into being.

But in neither the sublime nor the magical, effective as they are, has art more than an indirect means of representing the numinous. Of directer methods our Western art has only two, and they are in a noteworthy way negative, viz. darkness and silence. The darkness must be such as is enhanced and made all the more perceptible by contrast with some last

1 From an article by Otto Fiselier on Cliineso landscape painting in l)as Kunsiblatt, Jan. 1920.

vestige of brightness, which it is, as it were, on the point of extinguishing; hence the ' mystical' effect begins wiih semi-darkness. Its impression is rendered complete if the factor of the 'sublime' comes to unite with and supplement it. The semi-darkness that glimmers in vaulted halls, or beneath the branches of a lofty forest glade, strangely quickened and stirred by the mysterious play of half-lights, has always spoken eloquently to the soul, an 1 the builders of temples, mosques, and churches have made full use of it.

¡Silence is what corresponds to this in the language of musical sounds. ' Yah well is in His holy Temple, let all the earth keep silence before Hi».' (Ilabakkuk, ii. 20.) Neither we nor (probably) the prophet any longer bear in mind that this ' keffliing silence' (as tvfprjfidv in Greek), if regarded from the historical, 'genetic' standpoint, springs from the fear of using words of evil omen, which therefore prefers to be altogether speechless. It is the same with Terst-eegen in his 'God is present, let all in us be silent'. With prophet and psalmist and poet we feel the necessity of silence from another and quite independent motive. It is a spontaneous reaction to the feeling of the actual ' nuinen praesens'. Once again, what is found coming upon the scene at a higher level of evolution cannot be explained by merely interpolating Jinks in a ' bistorieo-genetic' chain of development; and the Psalmist and Tert-tcegen and even we ourselves are at least as interesting subjects for the analysis of the psychologist of religion as are the ' Primitives', with their habitual practice of tv(prj/iia, the silence that merely avoids worels of ill augury.

Besides Silence and Darkness oriental art knows a third direct means for producing a strongly numinous impression, to wit, e,nptiaeks and empty distances. Empty distance, remote vacancy, is, as it were, the sublime in the horizontal. The wide-Stretching desert, the boundless uniformity of the steppe, have real sublimity, and even in us Wcstei tiers they set vibrating chords of the numinous along with the note of the sublime, according to the principle of the association of filings. Chinese architecture, which it essentially an art in the laying out and grouping of buildings, makes a wise and very striking use of this fact. It does not achieve the impression of solemnity by lofty vaulted halls or imposing altitudes, but nothing could well be more solemn than the silent amplitude of the enclosed spaces, courtyards, and vestibules which it employs. The imperial tombs of the Ming emperors at Nanking and Peking are, perhaps, the strongest example of this, including, as they do, in their plan the empty distances of an entire landscape. Still more interesting is the part played by the factor of void or emptiness in Chinese painting. There it has almost become a special art to paint empty space, to make it palpable, and to develop variations upon this singular theme. Not only are there pictures upon which ' almost nothing' is painted, not only is it an essential feature of their style to make the strongest impression with the fewest strokes and the scantiest means, but there are very many pictures—especially such as are connected with contemplation—which impress the observer with the feeling that the void itself is depicted as a subject, is indeed the main subject of the picture. We can only understand this by recalling what was said above on the ' nothingness' and the 'void' of the mystics and on the enchantment and spell exercised by the ' negative hymns'. For ' Void' is, like Darkness and Silence, a negation, but a negation that does away with every ' this' and ' here ', in order that the ' wholly other ' may become actual.

Not even music, which else can give such manifold expression to all the feelings of the, mind, has any positive way to express 'the holy'. Even the most consummate Mass-music can only give utterance to the holiest, most ' numinous' moment in the Mass—the moment of transubstantiation—by sinking into stillness : no mere momentary pause, but an absolute cessation of sound long enough for us to ' hear the Silence' itself; and no devotional moment in the whole Mass approximates in impressiveness to this ' keeping silence before the Lord'. It is instructive to submit Bach's Mass in B minor to the test in this matter. Its most mystical portion is the ' Incarnatus' in the Credo, and there the effect is due to the faint, whispering, lingeriug sequence in the fugue structure, dying away pianissimo. The held breath and hushed sound of the passage, its weird cadences, sinking away in lessened thirds, its pause« and syncopations, and its rise and fall in astonishing semitones, which render so well the sense of awe-struck wonder— all this serves to express the mysterium by way of intimation, rather than in forthright utterance. And by this means Bach attains his aim here far better than in the ' SanctusThis latter is indeed an incomparably successful expression of Ilim, whose is 'the power and the glory', an enraptured ami triumphant Boric hymn to perfect and absolute sovereignty. But it is very far distant from the mood of the text that accompanies the music, which is taken from Isaiah \i, and which the composer should have interpreted in accordance with that passage as a whole. No one would gather from this magnificent chorus that the Seraphim covered their faces with two of their wings.1 In this point Mendelssohn shows very fine sensibility in his musical setting of Psalm ii at the words (v. 11): ' Serve the Lord with fear, ami rejoice with trembling.' And here too the matter is expressed less in the music itself than in the way the music is restrained and repressed—one might almost say, abashed as the Cathedral choir at Berlin so well knows how to render it. And, if a final example may be cited, the' I'opule meus ' of Thomas Luiz gets as near to the heart of the matter as any music can. In this the first- chorus sings the first words of the 'Trisagion': 'Hagios, ho theos, hagios ischyros, hagios athanatos', and the second chorus sings in response the Latin rendering of the words: 'Sanctus deus, sanetus fortis, sanctus immortalis', each chorus thrilling with a sort of muffled tremor. But the Trisagion itself sung pianissimo by singers kept out of sight far at the back, is like a whisper floating dow n through space, and is assuredly a consummate reproduction of the scene in the vision of Isaiah.

1 The Jew! h tradition has hnen, however, very well aware of the import of the mitter. In the splendid New Year's d.iy Hymn of Melek Elyon the words run: 'All the mighty ones on high tchitjmr low: Yahwtii is King.'

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment