Word of the day… numinous

We were talking today about how some writers have favourite words which they seem to use over and over again, ‘filigree’ was one such word which became weary with over-use in a book a friend read. I remarked that as a writer, repetition was a particular horror of mine, and one good thing about rereading my own work over and over again as I edited it, was that repeated words or phrases leapt out at me. from now on when I spot one in my own work, or another’s I shall think of it as a filigree word ( filigree, by the way, is a very delicate jewellery made from metal, usually gold or silver; it’s made with fine threads and/or beads twisted together and soldered, either to itself or onto some other object. It goes back to ancient times, to the Etruscans, Greeks and Egyptians, but more recently became popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. The word filigree comes from filigreen, which is an early English term from the Latin, filum meaning thread and granum meaning bead.)

filigree pattern

So, today’s word isn’t filigree (that’s your bonus word!) it is numinous. I won’t name the author who was so pleased with it that it kept popping up throughout a book I read, but when I read it I had to look it up because it is not a common word in every day speech or reading. Like filigree it is originally a Latin word, numen, meaning the presence or power of the divine. Apparently it became popular through the writings of a German theologian, Rudolf Otto, and as far as I can gather, it means a combination of awe, almost fear and trembling, and at the same time an attraction and fascination. This can lead to an almost religious response … hey, just a minute… I’ve been writing about this in Night Vision!

It was a wonderful tree to climb and soon she was eight foot off the ground and she stopped and grinned and wondered when she’d last done that. She could see the rocky walls of the quarry more clearly, covered with ivy and unfurling ferns and long trails of some sort of vine.

Beulah began to climb again, not looking up, enjoying the feel of the bark, the smell of the leaves. Sun shafted through the branches, the weather clearing at last and she glanced over at the cliff and then back again in disbelief.

There was a sculpture of a hanging man suspended on the rock in an impossible place. It was carved out of wood but she couldn’t quite see it because a branch hung down. It was difficult to climb higher but she had to get a better look at the figure on the rocks.

Beulah reached for the next bough and had to stretch for it, a broken off stump protruding awkwardly. She still couldn’t see the carving and lacing her fingers together, pulled herself up awkwardly, bumping her breast and grazing her face. The discomfort made her feel alive and she smiled as she wedged her foot on the broken stump and pulled herself onto the next branch, swung her legs over and sat peering at the figure.

It was not a carving at all; it was a stunted trunk of a tree growing out of the side of the quarry, she could see that now, but its natural provenance made it even more remarkable. It still looked exactly like a hanging man, the rounded chest straining above the concave belly; a swelling of some canker round the hips suggested he was swathed in cloth, or wearing britches, or as if he had a satyr’s fleecy legs or was Pan himself.

A grooved channel running down the lower part of the twisted trunk marked his legs pressed together and then a splay of aerial roots gave the impression of cords binding the ankles and hiding the feet or cloven hooves.

Above the swelling chest, the head lolled forward, the top of the tree pollarded or deformed by some growth.  The face was hidden but the sun highlighted a bent nose, parted lips and the line of the brow; gnarled protuberances, lumpy and knotted looked like curls of shaggy hair. On either side, twisting branches, like bent arms, came together as if the wrists had been bound, and tangled vines of ivy hid the hands.

It was the most amazing thing and Beulah stared at it, mesmerised. It was strangely moving, a primitive god unexpectedly revealed, sacrificed for some dark magical mystical reason. She looked down; she was nearly thirty foot above the ground. From below the hanging man would look like a twisted and deformed tree, growing out of the rock face. Only from here was the mystery revealed.

“You are wonderful,” she said loud enough for the figure to hear. “I could worship you,” and she was amused at her foolishness.

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