Saturday, October 5, 2013

30 Days of Halloween - Day 4: The Numinous is Luminous

Tiger vs. Ghost
‘Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is "uncanny" rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous.’ (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)

On Day2 I said that nostalgic horror (such as Ray Bradbury writes) is one of the appeals of the Halloween season.  The autumn weather, harvest festivals, apples and pumpkins, family and friends are actually enhanced by a generous dose of horror:  a fright that shows us what's right with the world by comparison.

Today I want to balance out that observation by noting that horror has an integrity all its own, not just in contrast to ‘nicer’ feelings.  A sense of the monstrous is not merely a gruesome counterpoint to goodness.  Rather, the aesthetic feeling of Dread that we get from horror is a way of pointing us to something totally 'beyond' normal human experience, nudging us toward the reality of the supernatural.  And not only an awareness of supernatural evil, but also of the holy. In fact, part of my life's work is to argue that actually the latter is the scarier, the more truly terrifying, but, of course, terrifying in a completely good way.  

Good Terror? 
Consider what Chesterton says a fairy tale—full as it is of dreadful dragons and goblins and equally fierce heroes and heroines—can teach a child:  ‘that these infinite enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.’  Such holy horror is, to me, good news.

Incredible Shrinking People
In conclusion, hear how C. S. Lewis further describes the awe-inspiring phenomenon of the Numinous just after the quote above:

‘Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a mighty spirit in the room,” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking—a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant and of prostration before it—an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare's words “Under it my genius is rebuked”. This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.’

I believe that in this kind of smallness, we may become great.  Horror helps us get there.  It can be a holy darkness that lights our way.