Numinism - So what's the deal?

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Numinism - So what's the deal?

Postby Lucius Tyrrhenus Garrulus on Sun Feb 06, 2005 8:36 am

SALVETE OMNES, S.V.B.E.V.

I've been searching the internet for info (I know, I know...) and I'm getting 2 completely contradicting definitions.

a) A numen is an animistic type of proto-deity.
b) A numen is the will of an already existing deity.

I don't get it, it can't be both. These seem to be mutually-exclusive definitions. So what's the deal?

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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Sun Feb 06, 2005 2:26 pm

Salve Garrule

Yes, they are two exclusive abd contradictory perceptions. You can read more of what I have to say on it in the article I wrote for Collegium Religionis http://www.societasviaromana.org/Colleg ... minism.php

Numenism, posing numina as anamistic proto-deities, was an idea promoted mostly by the English linguist Rose. It was a perspective that saw all non-Christian religions as inferior and primitive, and held that the Romans had not concept of gods before the Greeks introduce the idea. It posed that the Italians only had superstitious fears of ambiguous supernatural powers, like mana of the South Pacific, and Rose looked through Latin for a term that could be posed to support this idea. He came upon numen. But in the 1960's the error of this perspective was being shown by many historians on Rome and the other Italic tribes, and then Georges Dumezil definitively disproved Rose's theories. Dumezil's own ideas about the religio Romana, replacing what the Romans said of their own tradition with his own model of a socio-political scheme that he held for Indo-Europeans, was itself later shown to be an error, mainly by Momigliano in the 1960-80's. But bad ideas seem to be contiued on in popular views, and so you will find Rose's numenism and Dumezil's IE theories still permeating the internet. You won't find their ideas accepted today in most history or archaeology departments, some linguists still refer to Dumezil's ideas.

The very term numen appears rather late during the Late Republic and took on more significance later in the imperial eras. Horace and Silius Italicus refer to numina as "footsteps" of the Gods. A numen is an imprint, a presence, or a power that has been emitted by a God or Goddess into a place or thing. Think of it like the body warmth of a person left on a chair after they have left. A numen is not a God or a proto-deity. It has no existence of its own but is a power emitted from a deity. An indigitamentum in an aspect of a deity, a facet of a divine personality, that wields a particular numen. For example, in the invocation of Ceres, spoken by the flamen Cerealis, She is called by naming twelve indigitamenta, aspects of Herself, who are each in turn involved with a different phase of the growth of grain. From seed to ripened and harvested wheat, Ceres watches over grain, using Her powers, or numina, to enhance each stage of its development. Whenever something is devoted to a God as a sacrifice, He receives it by making a spiritual connection with the offering, imparting a numen into the sacrifice. Therefore it can be said that a numen, or presence of the God, is left behind in the altar, and for however often that altar would be used for the particular God, the strength of His presence builds up over time. Thus you find Horace say that "we worship Your numen" in this altar, as the numen, emitted by the God, remains connected with the God, and thus serves as a channel connecting the God with His worshippers. When a vow was made before the Gods, a Roman would touch the altar with his hand, as Aeneas does in Virgil's Aeneid, making a physical connection that also joined him spiritually in the spiritual powers (numina) of the Gods he swore by. The same was true of images devoted to a God, the dedication received by the deity imparting a numen into the image, and thus you find Romans performing an adoratio by placing their hand on the feet of a statue, that physical touching also spiritually connecting the person with the God. An idol is not a God. The numen placed in the idol by a God is not the God Himself, but it is a presence emitted by a God and thus links back to the God. Only by misrepresenting Roman beliefs could it be thought otherwise.

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Postby Q Valerius on Sun Feb 06, 2005 10:52 pm

BTW - 3rd party support for Horatius, bene factum!
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Postby Lucius Tyrrhenus Garrulus on Tue Feb 08, 2005 8:58 am

I even formatted that page! :oops: Thanks Piscine.
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Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Fri Feb 11, 2005 8:44 pm

Avete Amici,

Coincidentally after you, Garrule, posted your question about the numina I received the latest edition of the "Pagan Dawn" (Members' Magazine of the Pagan Federation) which deals with the origin of Roman Religion written by the Wiccan High Priest Ko Lankaster. I will later on in a seperate thread present this article. But for now I would like to quote what is written there on the subject of the numina:

Gods And Numina
From the start Roman religion was imbued with the concept of numen (plural numina). This was seen as a latent power, present in things, substances, plants, animals, human beings, and supernatural beings. Numen was ascribes to everything, but some things or places were more numinous than others. This numinous power could be activated by acting out the proper rites. This activated power could be used to propagate fertility, porsperity or safety. Most Roman gods and goddesses always remained numinous powers, and never became full-fledged persons. the Roman deities were never a family. They did not act like human beings, as the Greek gods and goddesses were supposed to have done. they did not have lovers, parents or children. They were just there as numinous powers that could be activated and put to proper use. To make this more concrete an example may be illuminating.

Terminus was the god of borders. There were no myths concerning who he was, who his parents were, or whether he had a wife or children. In fact, he was just the numinous power that protected borders. Still, he was of the utmost importance to farmers and other landowners. Boundary stones were installed as part of a solemn ceremony in which an animal was sacrificed as a burnt-offering to Terminus. Blood and ashes from the sacrificial fire were placed in the hole where the boundary stone was placed, to make sure Terminus would guard this boundary. Each year, during the Terminalia, on February 23, each boundary stone was anointed and garlanded to activate the numinous power of Terminus, so he would guard the boundary for another year.

Of course Terminus was a numinous power with a specific range: the protection of boundaries. Gods like Mars or Jupiter had a much wider scope. But they, too, did not really become persons until the age of Augustus.
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Postby Anonymous on Wed Feb 23, 2005 6:53 pm

Ave Piscine,

Horatius Piscinus wrote: You won't find their ideas accepted today in most history or archaeology departments, some linguists still refer to Dumezil's ideas.



What about Adkins and Adkins, and their Dictionary of Roman Religion? The definition of "numen" there reads rather like what Aelia posted, and starts "a divine spirit or power..."

Their credentials seem appropriate. Do you fell they are biased?

Vale,
Celetrus
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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Wed Feb 23, 2005 8:55 pm

Salve Celetre

I have found some errors in Atkins and Atkins, and I dislike their lack of references. So I don't use their books. It is alright as a quick reference sometimes I suppose, but as with any dictionary or encyclopedia style book you really have to check into their sources, and if they don't provide their sources, then I see no reason to use them.

There are a limited number of available sources on the religio Romana. Something like Scullard's book on Roman festivals, written in the 1970's, refers to Dumezil's ideas, and other books written in the 1960's still refer to Rose's numenism. Later books that are translations made by liguists of primary sources also refer to Dumezil and numenism in their footnotes. You cannot avoid that. Often times I prefer earlier works, such as Fowler rather than Scullard. They will go into some cultural comparisons and refer to something like Frazer's "Golden Bough" that I find a more acceptable approach in discussion than either Rose or Dumezil offered. Basically Rose and Dumezil fudged the data to fit their preconceived notions. You know that with any author you read you have to look a little deeper. That is true with Cicero and his political biases, or Ovid with his playing to a certain audience, and it is true with any modern author as well. Maybe my personal bias, but I prefer authors who work more form archaeological evidence alongside texts. Even there you have to take some archaeological work with a grain of salt, and even more so with historians who then refer to the work of archaeologists. R. Ross Holloway has a nice little discussion on historians misinterpreting archaeological discoveries in his "The Archaeology of Early Rome and Latium." And T. J. Cornell's "The Beginnings of Rome," which is a book I favor, makes the kind of mistakes that Holloway discusses.

History is an interpretive discipline. It deals with the presentation of facts, and not always skillfully. As Napoleon once said, "History is an agreed upon lie." That is until the next historian comes along to refute an interpretation's argument. It does not mean that the new interpretation is right, only that the old interpretaion was fundamentally wrong in the way it presented its argument. And with something like Rome, we are really at the edge of what can be called history. The "facts" currently available to us really do not lend themselves to an historical interpretation as they are so few. To form an interpretation on Roman history or on the religio Romana necessarily means piecing together disjointed "facts" which really leads to more distortion than clarification. So we do have to be careful on how far we take our acceptance of any interpretation, with the realization that interpretation on Rome can quickly change with new discoveries. We can do that as we are students, without an academic reputation to protect. The same is not ture of the authors we read.
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Postby Anonymous on Thu Feb 24, 2005 12:13 am

Salve Piscine,

Thank you for your reply, but I fear we are referring to different books? Lesley Adkins and Roy Adkins? The book I just received the other day, published in 1996, is indeed an "encyclopedia" style book, but there a some 100 authors in the bibliography, and just about every entry is referenced to one or the other of them.

For instance, the "numen" entry refers to a J. Ferguson and an M. York. Do you know these? I've read your SVR article and have your references (and you know how much I value sources that back up a position), but find myself in a quandary.

You use the indigitimenta of Dea Ceres as part of your argument. But when I look up the individual "aspects" in Adkins, I find a minor male god referred to, not an aspect of Ceres. Yet both of you ultimately reference back to Fabius Pictor.

See the problem? I like and prefer your explanation, but now have to question it. No big deal - it just would have been nice to accept all your tremendous amout of work as authoritative. In other words, I really hate the idea of duplicating your work and would rather just be lazy about it.

Vale,
Celetrus
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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Fri Feb 25, 2005 5:21 am

Salve Celetre

No big deal to me, as I would not consider my own effots to be anything authoritative. Mostly I just question accepted viewpoints with a natural scepticism and am unforgiving about poor logic or needlessly jumping to conclusions. J. Fergusen sounds familar, someone referred me to him once, but he doesn't show up in any bibliography of books I've read, and York I've never heard of.

As should be well known, I do not often recommend Dumezil, but in regard to the indigitamenta and numina you should perhaps see his Archaic Roman Religion, chapters 3 and 4. In ch. 3 on Numen or Deus? he points out that the term numen is rare in the Late Republic and was a concept that evolved late from Roman notions on the Gods, rather than that Roman concepts of the Gods had evolved from ideas of ambiguous numina. The development of the indigitamenta he says was also a later development, projecting onto the society of the Gods what was emerging in Roman society. The indigitamenta, according to Dumezil, acted as the apparitores who assisted magistrates.

"In such a society, which loved lists, specifications, method, and well-divided work, it was natural that the true gods, great and small, should also have within their prouincia auxiliaries named for the single act which each had to perform, under the responsibility and for the advantage of the god. Once the mold was established and the habit formed, this kind of personage multiplied in every area, with popular names, sometimes with names as 'poorly made' or with etymology as approximative as certain products put out nowadays by our drug manufacturers."

The indigitamenta do not really show up in Roman texts that we have. Augustine mentions them, quoting Varro, who quotes Pictor, and Servius, commenting on Virgil, quotes Varro quoting Fabius Pictor. So the idea goes back to a single source in the second century. But if it was part of the religio Romana - to invoke a God or Goddess by calling on His or Her indigitamenta in the same way you would call upon the consul's secretaries to approach him - then why would not indigitamenta appear in something like the Acta sacrorum Saecularium or similar inscriptions? I cannot think of a single example of indigitamenta being employed in such a manner, where as they may show up as lesser deities.

Why most of Ceres' indigitamenta would appear in male form is that such names of the agent of an action can refer to either male or female actors. Later in the imperial period you do find reference to the Gods being both male and female. I think the earliest you see such notions in Roman literature is with Cicero's discussion of Greek philosophy in De Natura Deorum. The sexual ambiguity of the Gods was a later development intended to express the omnipotence of the deities. I doubt with Pictor in the second century that his terms for indigitamenta really carried that notion of sexual ambiguity. It could be that because an indigitamentum actively wields a specific numen that, as an active force, it would have been held male. But that is due to the nature of the Latin language and does not really offer much in the way of how Romans of the Midrepublic actually thought about the Gods. Some examples of where minor deities appear who could be classified as [indigitamenta[/i] they are found as a male and female pair. That is even more prevelent in Italic religions, from which the Romans adopted some of their minor deities. In common practice I think it was probably a matter of calling on minor deities, which the literati, and possibly the pontifices, then tried to relate to the great deities, and thereby posed them as indigitamenta.

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Postby Anonymous on Fri Feb 25, 2005 3:37 pm

Ave Piscine,

et gratias tibi ago! I was wondering where to go to find out more about indigitimenta, since I am one who loves "lists, specifications, method, and well divided work." :)

I also happen to think this is an important topic, and given the "indigitamenta do not really show up in Roman texts that we have," I was anticipating a frustrating search. I will take your advice and start with Dumezil.

vale optime,

Ambrosius Celetrus
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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Fri Feb 25, 2005 5:09 pm

Salve Celetre

Dumezil, as he himself says, is "not an archaeologist or an historian." He is a comparative mylthologist from an earlier era when notions of racial conflict were prevelent at Western universities. You should read Dumezil directly, rather than indirectly through those who still refer to his ideas on Roma antica. Dumezil argued for a certain model of Indo-European society divided into castes of warriors, priests, and workers. He claimed traces of this earlier form of society could be found in the myths and language of all races speaking an IE language. Problem was that Rome did not fit his model, in fact Roman society was quite the opposite. Hittite society also did not fit his mold, where some non-IE societies did. Some of the information he provides, and some of his analysis of the information, is interesting. But his purpose is to fit Roma antiqua into his preconceived notions and he uses fallacious methods in making his argument.

You have probably already run into Dumezil somewhere. And in Beard's Religions of Rome and T.J. Cornell's The Beginnings of Rome you would have run into some of the arguments against Dumezil. Or you may have read the posts at the Temple of Religio Romana list where I argued with someone over Dumezil. You will probably enjoy reading Momigliano and other Italian archaeologists; decidedly opposed to Dumezil's anitiquated notions. From Carandini and his students I think you already read a little. There is a good deal more that has been discovered since Dumezil wrote.

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