The term supernatural often refers to things like ghosts, magic powers or special abilities, or a general sort of "magic".

I was wondering if there is a specific word for the supernatural within a religious (esp. Christian) context - things like possession and exorcism, the devil, demons and angels, miracles, magic rituals etc.


The movie involved themes of the supernatural

But replacing supernatural with something more specific to the religious context.

EDIT: the Exorcist series of movies is probably the quintessential example of this theme in action.

  • I'd say not. If I were giving serious thought to this, I'd start by assessing where along a scale of speciousness ... reality individual elements should be considered (I'd put Pucky the mousebeaver at one end). – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '16 at 22:05
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    I think you've used it in your question: miracles. As a replacement for the adjective supernatural, miraculous. – MetaEd Oct 3 '16 at 23:22
  • The movie involved themes of the occult ? – ķ̢̫̬̺͚̻͚̹̙̔̎ͣ͆͛͛ Oct 4 '16 at 0:18
  • @k1eran definitely a related concept...I think the occult conjures up images of followers of supernatural beliefs and organisations...but I don't think there mere presence of the supernatural (e.g. demonic possession) suggests occult. – aaa90210 Oct 4 '16 at 0:31
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    I, too, think you've answered you own question. Supernatural captures all of your examples and more, e.g., virgin birth, rising from the dead. If your examples are not representative of the supernatural, I don't know what would be. – Richard Kayser Oct 4 '16 at 4:03

mysteries (one word) or Sacred mysteries (two words, but an unambiguous term). The OP asks for a single word. Mysteries is not satisfactory for the purpose defined by the OP, because it could mean, e.g., murder mysteries. Sacred mysteries are defined by Wikipedia as:

The term sacred mysteries generally denotes the area of supernatural phenomena associated with a divinity or a religious ideology. The term has two senses, which often overlap:

1.Religious beliefs, rituals or practices which are kept secret from non-believers, or lower levels of believers, who have not had an initiation into the higher levels of belief (the concealed knowledge may be called esoteric).

2.Beliefs of the religion which are public knowledge but cannot be easily explained by normal rational or scientific means.

There were many pre-Christian religious mystery cults or religions, such as the Eleusinian mysteries and Mithraism.

The OP asks specifically about the supernatural in the Christian context.

In the Roman Catholic Church the First Vatican Council [1868] re-affirmed the existence of mysteries as a doctrine of Catholic faith as follows: "If any one say that in Divine Revelation there are contained no mysteries properly so called (vera et proprie dicta mysteria), but that through reason rightly developed (per rationem rite excultam) all the dogmas of faith can be understood and demonstrated from natural principles: let him be anathema" (Sess. III, De fide et ratione, can. i). The position, if not the terminology, of other Christian churches is essentially the same


I am catching up on my reading, and just saw the article in The Economist, Talking in Tongues, which is about religious language and whether it should modernize and keep up with language as currently spoken. The article concludes:

A language of sacred mystery could be seen as a sign of [a special status of religious faith] —or as an admission that letting the faithful interrogate the doctrine in plain language can be a dangerous thing. (Emphasis added.)

  • 'The position, if not the terminology, of other Christian churches is essentially the same.' A certain Mr Ling, when asked to fully explain the Tri-unity, gave the usual B-/C+ answer then added 'Of course, you're on a loser with Theology – it's man trying to understand God.' – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '16 at 23:09
  • This appears to be the technically correct answer, although few would understand it's meaning, even if the phrase "Sacred mysteries" was used. – aaa90210 Oct 3 '16 at 23:14

The term mysticism often carries a religious tone. And Christian mysticism would get you the closest in meaning.

The various definitions of mystic from Merriam-Webster cover quite a bit of your intended meaning:

  1. mystical 1a
  2. of or relating to mysteries or esoteric rites : occult
  3. of or relating to mysticism or mystics
    • a : mysterious
    • b : obscure, enigmatic
    • c : inducing a feeling of awe or wonder
    • d : having magical properties
  • To me mystic almost seems like the opposite of religious magic. – aaa90210 Oct 4 '16 at 0:40
  • @aaa90210 I never considered Black Magic to be compatible with the tenets, cannons and beliefs (or otherwise) of mainstream religion. Likewise "religious magic" sounds like an oxymoron to me. "Mystic" per se is appropriate but looses something when used as an antonym of "religious magic". – Peter Point Oct 4 '16 at 1:38
  • @PeterPoint "religious magic" was a bad term - but I meant things comparable to magic in a religious supernatural/paranormal sense like performing a miracle or exorcising a demon. – aaa90210 Oct 4 '16 at 2:36

You might look at the question "from the other side", as it were. That is, a different word for the non-religious supernatural.

I participate in multiple discussion fora on these topics. Most of the theists I interact with consider "supernatural" to mean the religious supernatural.

Non-religious supernatural (ghosts, magic, etc.) is generally referred to as the paranormal.

This usage is not universal, though; merely common.

  • Hello, Dr H. This does not provide an 'answer' for the specific question OP asked, and would be best given as a 'comment'. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '16 at 23:05
  • I think you are right, the more I look at it the more it seems supernatural is a Christian term, although in common usage, supernatural and paranormal are basically synonymous. – aaa90210 Oct 3 '16 at 23:13
  • @Edwin Ashworth: I disagree; I answered the question the OP asked. The appropriate word for the supernatural within a religious context is "supernatural". There are other words for the supernatural in non-religious contexts. – Dr H Oct 5 '16 at 1:16
  • OP asks "I was wondering if there is a specific word for the supernatural within a religious (esp. Christian) context". 'Supernatural' does not fulfil the specificity requirement, as "the term 'supernatural' often refers to things like ghosts, magic powers or special abilities, or a general sort of 'magic'." It is also mentioned by OP, and word requests should not be 'answered' on ELU by repeating a word OP provides. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 5 '16 at 17:28
  • Even if repeating the word provides the correct answer to the question? Is form really considered more important that accuracy here? Of course "supernatural" can also have other uses. Is there -any- word in English that doesn't have more than a single meaning? – Dr H Oct 17 '16 at 21:53

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