I know. I know. It looks like I’ve misspelled a lot of words in that title, but in fact, I meant exactly what I spelled.
The other night, I was listening to Tanis, a dark, decadently spooky podcast from Pacific Northwest Stories. I was struck by this passage:
In our contemporary world, genius loci generally refers to a specific location or region’s unique atmosphere or spirit. But the term dates way back. The genius loci, or protective spirit of a place, or guardian spirit of the crossroads, was very popular in many ancient religions.
As happens, I immediately tumbled down the rabbit hole speculating on how the idea of a genius loci is connected to our modern understanding of genius.
According to Roman tradition, each person is born with a genius, or guiding spirit. In some people, those guiding spirits are more vivacious than others, compelling a few to greatness and/or notoriety. Our modern conception of genius – a unique talent or skill – stems from this notion.
Before the Romans, though, the Greek word daimon was used to describe god-sent spiritual guides. According to Hellenic tradition, each of us has a daimon who gets stuck with us as the result of a cosmic craps game – for better or worse. The word itself has Proto-Indo-European roots that mean “to divide lots.”
Often, these daimons were the spirits of great heroes given an invisible afterlife extension by the gods. Their main function was to be of service to humans. According to the Greek writer Hesiod, they were “good beings who dispense riches.”
Now, this gave me pause.
Imagine being a heroic ghost whose newly appointed life mission is to hang out with some randomly selected n00b human. Suddenly, the old saying, “Fortune favors the bold” makes a whole lot more sense.
At least, it does to me. Because if I was the spirit of, say, Calamity Jane or Anne Bonny, and I got stuck with some stay-at-home who never takes any risks, I’d be pretty miffed. Perhaps even mischievous. I might cause all sorts of trouble just to get my kicks.
If, on the other hand, I lucked out and found myself the guardian spirit of Laura Dekker or Emma Gonzalez, I’d be bringing out all the riches. I’d shower on the good luck to keep her epic quest on course.
Tell me you wouldn’t be whooping and hollering and laying down the gifts if you were Gonzalez’s heroic muse!
P.S.It’s valid to point out that a busted piñata falling on your head could give you a concussion, amnesia, or any other number of problems. Them’s the breaks. Sometimes, your genius falls asleep at the wheel or your daimon turns devilish. In that case, you’ve got to rely on your powerful neurological equipment to get you both out of trouble and back on track.