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Numen facts for kids

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Numen, pl. numina, is a Latin term. It is used for "divinity", a "divine presence" or a "divine will." The Latin authors defined it as follows. Cicero writes of a "divine mind" (divina mens), a god "whose numen everything obeys," and a "divine power" (vis divina) "which pervades the lives of men." It causes the motions and cries of birds during augury. In his Aeneid, Virgil tells about the how the one-eyed giant, Polyphemus, is blinded: First, Odysseus and his men "ask for the assistance of the great numina" (magna precati numina). Reviewing public opinion of Augustus on the day of his funeral, the historian Tacitus reports that some thought "no honor was left to the gods" when he "established the cult of himself" (se ... coli vellet) "with temples and the effigies of numina" (effigie numinum). Pliny the younger in a letter to Paternus raves about the "power," the "dignity," and "the majesty;" in short, the "numen of history." Lucretius uses the expression numen mentis, or "bidding of the mind," where "bidding" is numen, not, however, the divine numen, unless the mind is to be considered divine, but as simply human will.

Since the early 20th century, numen has sometimes been treated in the history of religion as a pre-animistic phase. This is a belief system that comes from an earlier time. Sociologists also use the term Numen to refer to the idea of magical power coming from an object, particularly when writing about ideas in the western tradition. When used in this sense, numen means almost the same thing as mana. However, some authors only use the word mana for ideas about magic from Polynesia and Southeast Asia.


The literal meaning is simply "a nod", or more accurately,"that which is produced by nodding". In the same way, flamen is "that which is produced by blowing", i.e., a gust of wind. It came to mean "the product or expression of power" — not, be it noted, power itself.

Numen (divinity) is not personified (although it can be a personal attribute) and should be distinguished from deus (god).

Roman cults of the numina

Numen was also used in the imperial cult of ancient Rome, to refer to the guardian-spirit, 'godhead' or divine power of a living emperor. It was a way of worshiping a living emperor without literally calling him a god.

The cult of Augustus was promoted by Tiberius, who dedicated the Ara Numinis Augusti. In this context, a distinction can be made between the terms numen and genius.

Definition as a pre-animistic phase of religion

The expression Numen inest appears in Ovid's Fasti (III, 296) and has been translated as 'There is a spirit here'. Its interpretation, and the exact sense of numen has been discussed extensively in the literature.

Some people thought, that numen could have been a leftover of ealier animist religions which was incorporated into the Roman religion. Sometimes the etymology of Latin names for deities, has often been popularly implied, but it was criticised as "mostly a scholarly fiction" by McGeough (2004).

Numina and specific religions

The phrase "numen eris caeloque redux mirabere regna" appears on line 129 of the poem Metrum in Genesin, attributed to Hilary of Arles.

In popular culture

In modern times, the term (referring to the Christian God) has been used in various expressions:

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