The numinous dimension

“In keeping with the tendency of science to objectify the natural world, space, the numinous dimension, was gradually stripped of its mythic qualities and made an extension of earthly reality. An atlas of the year 1652 illustrates a halfway point in this process. Peter Heylyn’s World Geography places the moon in the same dimension of reality as the new territories of Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands; alongside them are maps of Utopia and Fairyland. New conquests and colonies fueled dreams of conquering space. In 1638 the Bishop of Chester published a book predicting the inevitable conquest of the moon by some airborne Drake or Columbus; what concerned the author was the pressing need for missionaries able and willing to convert the lunarian heathen. In the same year, and in 1659, popular romances by Francis Godwin and Cyrano de Bergerac described voyages to the moon that included the traditional layover in the Earthly Paradise setting. Instead of Eden, however, the paradisiacal locations were St. Helena’s Island and Canada. The numinous dimension had been thoroughly assimilated to the expansion of colonial empires.


“The changing view of space paralleled the cultural transition from the belief in maternal nature to the modern concept of inanimate nature. With the objectification of space, nature is physically appropriated, while its numinous aspect is pushed off the map of a newly rationalized world. (An interesting side effect of all this involves the sense of – time. The numinous dimension was timeless and changeless. But when space became conquerable territory, time was also objectified. History became a charted map of exploration and conquest, while the future was more of the same, an automatic extension of the map of conquest. In other words, if you looked at Peter Heylyn’s map, you saw lands that had already been conquered, history and lands that hadn’t yet but would be, in the future.)”

Myths of The Final Frontier in The Artificial Paradise: Science Fiction and American Reality, by Sharona Ben-Tov. Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 1995. pp 90-91.

Image: FRONTISPIECE: The early modern moon. From Johannes Hevelius, Selenographia: Sive, Lunae descriptio; atque accurata . . . delineatio…. Early Modern Space Travel and the English Man in the Moon


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