The Genius of the Roman Religion is a guardian spirit that guides, shapes and governs the life of an individual from his birth until his death. The etimology of the Latin word “genius” means “guardian deity, spirit, incarnation, inborn nature, talent, generative power”. It shares with the word “nature” and the Latin word “gens” (“tribe, people”) the root *gene- (“beget, give birth”).
Ancient depiction of a Genius:
Analyzing these elements in the light of the European initiation ritual of reincarnation/rebirth in the ancestors, or, generally speaking, of the European belief in the reincarnation/rebirth of the individual spirit in the ancestry, we can note that the figure of the Genius takes shape directly from that ritual and from that belief, because it symbolizes the ancestor. The festivity dedicated to the Genius coincides with the birthday of the person under its tutelage, the latter being nothing but 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 (i.e. the 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, i.e. the head/skull, since prehistory the part of the body symbolizing the mind, memory and spirit of the individual: the Genius is consecrated to the forehead to symbolize how the descendant has inherited the mind, memory and spirit of the ancestor reborn in him. The Genius was usually depicted in the form of a serpent, as the various serpents/dragons that the heroes of the myths must fight during their initiation rituals: the serpent/dragon represents the umbilical cord that connects the descendant to his ancestors.
The Genius depicted as a serpent:
The Genius is equivalent to the Daimon of the Greeks 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], “move in the same direction”). The word “hamingja” is composed by “hamr” (“shape”) and the verb “gangr” (“to 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 ancestors, the noble and honourable part that lives on in the ancestry, handed down from body to body, by means of the 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 transcendent guardian (identified with the spirit of an 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 that 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 passed down from father to son and indicates the life force/spirit of an individual. Lastly, our shadow is the manifestation of the metaphysical reality of the “double”: hence the belief in the dead intended as intangibles shadows or ghosts.
Another element to consider is the one related to the concepts of “fate” (in the sense of “predetermined course of the individual existence”) and “fame”, words that have the same PIE root *bha- (“to speak, tell”) in reference to the good fame and reputation attributed to someone, fame/reputation that spreads by means of tales, stories and conversations. 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 were of fundamental importance, because their primary function was 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 ancestry” or “sword of the generations”], endowed with “heill” [the “fortune of the ancestry”], 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. Also the word “fairy” has the same PIE root *bha-, and the Italian name of the fairies (“fata/fate”) makes clear the connection between the fairies and fate (i.e. 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 over 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/luck). “Fortunate” is he who possesses a destiny, in the sense of he who possesses a Spirit, Genius, Daimon, Fylgja, Hamingja, Fravashi or Ka. “Unfortunate” is he who doesn’t possess a destiny and is excluded from the eternal cycle of death and rebirth within the ancestry. Indeed the PIE root of the word “fortune” is *bher- (“to carry”), in the sense of “what is carried/carried on”: what we carry inside us, the honour of the 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!