So I’m writing this post as my first post for the Pagan Blog Project, a idea run by Rowan Pendragon over at OneWitchsWay.com. She had an interesting idea to do an alphabetical post system whereby every Friday people post a topic about something starting with a different letter. Every two weeks the letter moves one up in the alphabet: so this past week, April 6th, was the second Friday of the “G” posts. I think it’s an excellent way to get ideas about posts and to keep a steady updating schedule.
…Needless to say, I came rather late to the PBP, and this will be my first post under that category.
I’m writing about the concept of the Roman genius.
The genii (plural form of genius) are tutelary spirits. They are sort of guardians, not only of people but also of places – ever hear of a genius loci? That is, quite literally, the tutelary deity of a specific location. While the genius is the term used for the tutelary deity of a male, women had their own, called the iuno (taken from the goddess of women herself, Iuno).
In addition to being guardians, they are also the fount of creativity and talent for each individual: sort of like your own inner Muse. Their creativity aspect was not always an internal one: they were seen as the forces behind the growth of such things as vineyards, for example. The genii of humans were traditionally given an offering on an individual’s birthday.
Like every Roman deity, the genii and the iunones had many epithets for many occasions. They could be prayed to in circumstances surrounding infants (as the Cuba, Cunina, and Rumina – the ‘lying down for sleep’, the deity of the cradle, and the deity of breastfeeding – attest), or, for stages in an individual’s life.
For household worship, the genius would be often on the lararium (the altar for the household gods, something that I will do a post about later) as a snake. The snake was not seen as an animal with the pathos attributed it by some mainstream religions today; instead, it was seen as a symbol for fertility. Other representations of the genius include a man, with or without wings, sometimes with his head covered by a toga, sometimes holding a cornucopia or an offering dish in his outstretched hand, or as a pudgy infant.
During the time of the Roman Empire it was common for the genius of the Emperor to be given libations as offerings.