Numinous vs luminous

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Numinous and luminous are two words that are sometimes confused. We will examine the definitions of numinous and luminous, where these two words came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Numinous describes something that is mysterious or holy, something with a spiritual feeling or meaning. Numinous is an adjective, and is derived from the Latin word numen meaning the will of the divine and the suffix -ous, which is used to make a noun into an adjective.

Luminous describes something bright, something that gives off a great amount of light, something that shines. Luminous is also an adjective, and is derived from the Latin word luminosus which means shining or brightly lit, and the suffix -ous.


“Will you lead a numinous host of avenging heroes, a stalwart band of doughty Duardin, a mystical clique of haughty Aelf or a warrior hoard of Bloodbound?” (The Rio Rancho Observer)

For a century or so, many educated people preferred Culture (yes, with capital C) to religion, teaching that great art could unite people and the numinous, and venerating Beethoven and Goethe as the greatest apostles. (The Sydney Morning Herald)

But, one November day, moments after dismissing her class, a mysterious girl’s face appears above the students’ desks: “a wild numinous face with startling blue eyes, a face floating on top of shapeless drapes of purples and blues where arms and legs should have been.“ (The Bainbridge Island Review)

Sometimes her meditative landscapes almost resemble aurorae borealis with their luminous bands of light, one of the most beautiful spectacles in the sky, but the colors seen in Kim’s creations cannot be found in nature, only digitally. (Forbes Magazine)

I can totally relate to this as when I purchased Kraftwerk’s 12” luminous vinyl record of ‘Neon Lights’ back in the late 1970’s, I would draw shut all of the curtains in the lounge and switch off the lights and put the record onto my old walnut Bush record player and turn the volume up really high and lay down in between the in-built speakers as to enhance the stereo effect. (The Brighton and Hove News)