In Roman Religion, the genius or Pater Genius for men, and the Mater Juno for women respectively, is considered a sacred manifestation of the spiritual intelligence of an individual’s soul. Considered more broadly however, genii are also spirits of natural phenomena and places – as well as abstract personifications of ideas and concepts. Much like the Hellenic daimones, genii can be used for all spirits, but is most commonly used for lesser spirits rather than more supernal dii like Iuppiter and Mars.
The concept of genii – with its close Hellenic daimones counterpart, is echoed in various other traditions. In Germanic polytheism, there are the wights – which in modern Heathenry is most particularly used when referring to landwights. This is similar to the concept of the genii loci. However, it has use in describing all spirits – as well as in describing human beings and living creatures in general. The concept of the fetch shares a lot of these qualities, in my opinion, and it has others that I will expand on a bit later.
When looking at Gaelic tradition – a culture with whom enchanted spirits are especially well articulated, the concept of the sidhe or “fae” has much the same kind of broad associations with spirits as a whole, lesser spirits in particular, and the divine intelligence of an individual as well. This connotation of the sidhe is echoed in the latinate term “sprite” – which has many of the same aforementioned qualities.
Among the Ancient Egyptians there were many nuanced forms of the soul, to be certain, but I think that the akh could be most strongly argued as the Egyptian genius – since it exists in living or dead person, can exist independently from an individual (much like the Germanic fetch), and is used as an epithet for lesser entities in the Pyramid Texts.
You can find similar ideas in various other traditions – such as in the relationship between minor kami-sama and yokai in Shinto, and in countless others as well. With these choice examples I first endeavor to establish the common, universal quality that they speak of. A genius or “sprite” is both a manifestation of divine intelligence, but also a spiritual being that can be most understood as neither a god nor a ghost.
To me, the genii are more than just abstract spiritual intelligences. They are spirits that live alongside humans with their own agendas and desires. This is echoed in the djinn of Arabian folklore – for whom the French word genie has been connected to the Latin genius.
As I mentioned earlier, the fetch is also a form of the soul that is described in Germanic folklore – something that reflects the individual, but also exists independently. The fetch often takes the form of a particular animal – usually one that is especially important to an individual, but it could arguably take on other forms as well. This connects it to the medieval concept of the magical familiar. It also connects to the concept of animal totems, for those so inclined, but also back to several of the other spirits I’ve already mentioned.
The djinn, as well as the sidhe, are often thought to take on the form of animals in various stories about them. In some cases, specific animal forms have their own distinct identities – such as cu sidhe for dogs and cat sidhe for cats respectively. There are lots of other examples – especially in European folklore, and their agendas are often quite misunderstood. If you extend your reach into modern fantasy, you also see echoes of the kinds of animal associations that people often make with enchanted creatures – such as anthropic boars as orcs, the consistently battish representations of vampires, and the playful rivalry between folks who see kobolds as either canine are reptilian.
What first began as a creative examination of a novel narrative concept – exploring the idea of anthropic beasts being identical to the spritely creatures of ancient folklore, has revealed what I truly think of genii as beings within the world. Though I don’t think I’ll be whisked away to a magical realm like the characters in my book, I do believe that genii reside in a netherworld right beside our own. I believe that they have the form, however ethereal, of majestic anthropic beasts, common, feral animals, and dire, monstrous creatures.
The mysterious fog in my book – a narrative device of my setting, is not without a kernel or truth in the real world either. It is my belief that many genii – whether or not they use fog, appear in the midst of ethereal phenomena. This may be nightly fog or stormy weather, but could just as easily be dreams, daydreams or the appearance of omens. This is especially the case when discovering one’s personal genius – something that can take a lot of time and patience to properly understand.
Some of the very reason why I sought to explore the concept of enchanted, anthropic beasts in a narrative – a task I endeavor to explore with joy rather than haste, was also motivated by my dissatisfaction with a saddening dichotomy within the furry fandom. On one end, you have therians – those who claim that their fursonas are their whole identities, and on the other end you have people who are so flippant with the concept of fursonas, and the fandom itself, that they are more focused on collecting them than forming any sort of real, deep connection.
I consider therians, and otherkin as a whole, to be based on misaligned spiritual philosophy that is already better expressed in traditional ideas in other cultures. Having personal totems – something that other furries have privately admitted to me is their approach, is far healthier than having a kin type. It allows more flexibility in your approach – such as changing how you experience a totem, or having multiple totems to express different aspects of your personal experience. All of these are without discarding your human identity in the process.
To me, the concept of a genii – as well as daimones, wights, sidhe and akhu, has a more focused and respectful approach than using the term totem out of the Ojibwe context. I prefer genius over animal spirits for similar reasons. There are probably several others terms that someone could use in other traditions – as this concept is really that universal across cultures. And the ways it isn’t similar can help add flavor to one’s personal practice while teaching them valuable history.
It is worth reiterating that, such as in Egyptian and Germanic tradition, there are many different aspects of the soul. Some of these soul aspects, like the ba-bird in Egyptian Religion or the fetch in Germanic folklore, can also exist as independent entities – ones that I believe overlap with how I have defined the concept of genii in my writing here.
These various aspects of the soul can help to broaden how we experience our own spiritual identities, but nothing is completely cut and dry. There are things that can be drawn from ancient traditions, but also many things that aren’t easily categorized. This is a part of the reason why, in spite of my favoritism towards Cultus Deorum, I have also mentioned other examples from traditions I highly respect. I am also a syncretist, so I have a vested interest in normalizing cultural mixing – when done carefully and sincerely.
It is my hope that getting you to think about this has not only allowed you to think of personal and natural spirits as having a myriad of manifestations – even more than the necessarily animalistic ones I’ve mentioned here, but also got you to think about them in a manner that isn’t as deeply malevolent as the concept of the Christian demon, or far too many Islamic representations of djinn.
Genii, sprites or demons could certain harm or help you – whether they come from you, or interact with you through the world itself. But they are definitely more receptive to understanding and a bit of appeasement than fearful, hateful regard for their existence. I think it’s much better to understand them for yourself, be patient and respectful instead.