Monstrous Revelations

Monstrous Revelations December 9, 2016

Near the beginning of his Religion and its Monsters, Timothy Beal points to the etymological hint that monsters might have some inherent connection to religion: “the monster’s religious import is rooted in the word itself: ‘monster’ derives from the Latin mon­strum, which is related to the verbs monstrare (‘show’ or ‘reveal’) and monere (‘warn’ or ‘portend’), and which sometimes refers to a divine portent that reveals the will or judgment of God or the gods. In this sense a monstrum is a message that breaks into this world from the realm of the divine. Even in the ancient and cruel notion of ‘monstrous births’ as revelations of divine judgment, the other­ ness of the monster is considered not only horrifically unnatural but also horrifically supernatural, charged with religious import” (6–7).

He refers to Rudolph Otto, who “describes religious experience as an encounter with the mysterium tremendum, that is, a radically other mystery that brings on a stupe­fying combination of fascination and terror, wonder and dread. lt is ‘something inherently wholly other, whose kind and character are incommensurable with our own, and before which we therefore recoil in a wonder that strikes us chill and numb.’ For Otto ‘the monstrous’ (das Ungeheuere), like the ‘uncanny’ (unheimlich), is ‘a fairly exact expression for the numinous in its aspects of mystery, awefulness, majesty, augustness and ‘energy’; nay, even the fascina­tion is dimly felt in it.’ For him the monster is an aweful monstrum tremendum. lndeed, Otto interprets the monsters Leviathan and Behemoth in the book of Job as quintessential representations of the monstrous as a figure for the wholly other” (7).

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