nu·​men ˈnü-mən How to pronounce numen (audio)
plural numina ˈnü-mə-nə How to pronounce numen (audio)
: a spiritual force or influence often identified with a natural object, phenomenon, or place

Did you know?

How did numen, a Latin term meaning "nod of the head," come to be associated with spiritual power? The answer lies in the fact that the ancient Romans saw divine force and power operating in the inanimate objects and nonhuman phenomena around them. They believed that the gods had the power to command events and to consent to actions, and the idea of a god nodding suggested his or her awesome abilities-divine power. Eventually, Latin speakers began using numen to describe the special divine force of any object, place, or phenomenon that inspired awe (a mystical-seeming wooded grove, for example, or the movement of the sun), and numen made the semantic leap from "nod" to "divine will or power." English speakers adopted the word during the 1600s.

Word History


Latin, nod, divine will, numen; akin to Latin nutare to nod, Greek neuein

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of numen was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near numen

Cite this Entry

“Numen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 31 May. 2023.

More from Merriam-Webster on numen

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!