The Roman Genius

The Genius of the Roman Religion is a numen/guardian spirit that guides, plasm and govern the life of an individual from his birth until death. The etimology of the Latin word “genius” means “divinity or guardian/tutelary spirit that watches a person from his birth; spirit, incarnation, generative power, inborn nature”. It shares with the word “nature” and the Latin word “gens” (“tribe, people”) the PIE root *gene- (“to generate, give life”), encouraging “inborn nature” as the original meaning of the word.

Ancient depiction of a Genius:

Analyzing these elements in the light of the European initiation ritual of reincarnation/rebirth in the long dead ancestors, or generally speaking in the European belief on the reincarnation/rebirth of the individual spirit in the ancestry, we can see that the figure of the Genius takes shape directly from that ritual and from that belief, because it symbolizes the dead ancestor. The festivity dedicated to the Genius coincides with the birthday of the person under its tutelage, the latter being no more than its reincarnation. In Rome the thalamus, the marital bed, was called “lectus genialis” (“bed of the genius”) because it’s thanks to the act of love that the Genius (the dead ancestor) is reborn, through the conception of a new member of the ancestry. The part of the body related with the Genius is the forehead, meaning the head/skull, since prehistory the part of the body symbolizing the mind/spirit of the individual. The Genius is consecrated to the forehead to symbolize how the descendant has inherited the mind/spirit of his ancestor, which is reborn in him. The Genius was abitually depicted in the form of a snake, as the various snakes/dragons that the heroes of the myths must fight during their initiation rituals: the snake/dragon represents the umbilical cord/placenta.

The Genius depicted as a snake:

The Genius is equivalent to the Demon/Daimon of the Greeks (the one that Socrates says to have) and the Guardian Angel of the Christians (…). The Latin word “daemon” means “spirit” while the Greek word “daimon” means “divinity, divine power, guiding spirit, tutelary divinity, spirit of the dead, fortune”, and their common PIE root means “divider, supplier” (of fortune/destiny). Other equivalent figures are the Fylgja (literally “someone that accompanies”, sometimes designated as “aettarfylgja”, “fylgja of the ancestry”) and the Hamingja of the Nordics, both being a supernatural form of life connected with the fortune/destiny of a person. The word “fylgja” has the same root of the English word “follow” (from Ancient English “fylgian, fylgan”, with the meaning of “accompany” [referred to a disciple], “moving in the same direction”). The word “hamingja” is composed by “hamr” (“shape”) and the verb “gangr” (“go/walk”) in the sense of “he who walks in the shape/form” (the physical shape/form, i.e. the body), in reference to the memory of what there was of good, noble and honourable in our long gone ancestors, the noble and honourable part that lives on in the ancestry, handed down from body to body, through memory. In addition to the examples described above there are the Fravashi of the Persians and the Ka of the Egyptians. The Fravashi consists in the double of an individual and in his transcendental guardian (identified with the spirit of a dead ancestor). The word “fravashi” is commonly reconstructed as *fravarti, from the root -var (“to choose”), with the meaning of “one who has been selected”: only the child who has been chosen/selected to be reborn will obtain the Fravashi of one of his honourable ancestors. The Ka is also the double of an individual (it was often represented in Egyptian iconography as a second image of the king), it is transmitted from father to son and indicates the life force/spirit of an individual.

Another element to consider is the one related to the concepts of “fate” (in the sense of “predetermined course of life/the individual existence”) and “fame”, words that have the same PIE root *bha- (“to speak, talk, tell”) in reference to the good fame and reputation attributed to someone, fame/reputation that spreads by means of tales, stories and speeches. The concepts of “fate” and “fame” are strongly connected to the mental and spiritual heritage obtained by a descendant after his rebirth in one of his ancestors (in this context, the personal objects with which the deceased was buried are of fundamental importance, because their primary function is to awaken, in the descendant, the memories of his previous lives; the Norse mythology provides us with some excellent examples in this regard: the sword Aettartangi [“hilt of the lineage” or “sword of generations”], endowed with “heill” [the “luck of the lineage”], the armor Finnzleiff and the sword Dáinsleif [“inheritance of Dáinn”, a dwarf whose name means “dead”], whose suffix “-leif” means “inheritance”), the dead person chosen after hearing the honourable tales concerning him, tales handed down from his family and from the members of his tribe. The word “fairy” also have the same PIE root *bha-, and the Italian name of the fairies (“fata/fate”) makes clear the connection that these entities/figures have with destiny. The Parcae (the Roman equivalent of the Moirai of the Greeks, of the Norns of the Nordics and of the Egyptian goddess Neith) were also called Fatae by the Romans, from Latin “fatum” (“destiny”), since the Parcae/Fatae are the entities who preside to destiny: in Rome they were represented inside the Forum by three statues commonly called “Tria Fata” (“The three Fates/Destinies”).


Even the concept of “fortune” falls in the same category of entities, having originally the same meaning of “destiny” as “project, purpose that predetermines the essential course of the individual existence” (and in this context we can remember the Roman goddess Fortuna and the Greek goddesses Ananke [“necessity”] and Tyche [“fortune/luck”], personifications of the concepts of destiny, fate and fortune/lack). Fortunate is the one who owns a destiny, in the sense of he who owns a Spirit, Genius, Daimon, Fylgja, Hamingja, Fravashi or Ka. Unfortunate is the one who doesn’t possess a destiny and is excluded from the eternal cycle of death and rebirth inside the ancestry. Indeed the PIE root of the word “fortune” is *bher- (“to carry”), in the sense of “what is carried/brought on”: what we carry inside us, the honour of the long dead ancestor that we are and that we have inside, that guides us, the ancestor that we have brought back to life in ourselves. Fortune, Destiny, Genius, Daimon, Fylgja, Hamingja, Fravashi, Ka and many other similar entities are all equivalent, their meaning and origin lies in the vision of life of our forebears!



6 thoughts on “The Roman Genius

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  2. ‘Hada’ (from latin ‘fata’, or ‘fatum’) is spanish for ‘fairy’, and also means destiny. I think the concept could also be related to the latin ‘signus’ in some way. In spanish we have the word ‘sino’ (from latin ‘signus’), wich means destiny, too.

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