Juno Genius (if you met them in the street)?

Juno, Genius, Lares and Penates and say nothing of Dis Pater (not a dissipater – but a chthonic god and wealth accumulator – as his wealth is the dead – which gives a whole new slant to ‘plutocrat’. Oh and he is possibly derived from the Sabine god Soranus. Where Soranus got his wealth from is unknown, and the rumor that it was from selling a primitive form of Preparation H is on the whole a base slander.)

That’s to name a few of the rabbit-holes I’ve been running down. Soranus was a bit of bummer, as the Hirpi Sorani (the wolves of Soranus, fire-walkers who carried about the entrails of sacrifices during their rituals. It took a lot of guts to do it.) sounded promising. I was looking at the ‘brothers of the wolf (luperci)’ as part of a story I had been toying with. I just felt the name would make it hard for the reader to suitably appreciate the meaningful nature of the tail. Heh. When you’re stuck, fruitless research is at least not as pointless as political arguments on facebook. The fruitless research will eventually, possibly, find its way into a story. I know: a story with two bands of naked young men running around the streets spanking women with furry thongs… but then 50 Shades of Gray was popular, so you never know…

So: what prompted this particular digression – and what does it have to do with writing? I mean besides giving you the story seed for a Roman S&M fantasy? Actually it did relate to the book in hand and started with looking up genius loci (protective spirit of place, to give it one interpretation) – which lead onto genius (which one hoped wasn’t mad as it was the individual’s protective spirit, later interpreted as a soul) and thence into Lares and Penates – the household gods.

The fascinating thing about ‘household gods’ and indeed genius loci, are just how widespread similar myths are – whether you’re talking about Slavonic domovoi or various incarnations of genius loci – from Chinese Tudi or the Landvaettir of Norse mythology – these are concepts that cross a huge number of cultures. Yes, when you read up on the rituals and details, they’re fascinatingly alien. I mean I hardly ever sacrifice more than some veggies to Greenmould, the tutelary deity of the refrigerator… I don’t give him a piece of every meal as one would to a Lar.

What I am doing here – not just wasting time (I can do that with freecell or facebook) is picking up on a concept which has appeal – both broad and enduring, and that re-evolves and repurposes old superstitions and myths. Which – if you’re a story teller, is like a dvergr finding an ore-rich vein. This is where the stories are. Humans predisposed to accept and believe them (or at least suspend disbelief in them). It’s rather beyond the scope of this post – but look at people’s reactions to different houses or localities. “This house feels welcoming.” “This place gives me the creeps” Now- there may be good psychological reasons or even physical cues to these reactions — but a large proportion of humans have them. They’re well over 2/3 into believing in genius locii. You don’t have to work hard to make this suspend disbelief – even if you, the hard-nosed rational writer, who never propitiates the cistern-troll* with the required libations, think it is nonsense.

It’s kind of like the art of war – the writer attacks at the point least likely to resist – in fact likely to welcome him as liberating explainer of things which otherwise conflict with the rational. Jim Butcher does it brilliantly. As a writer you can make it hard for yourself – or you can exploit the ‘weaknesses.’ This is just one.

Another joy of ‘household gods’ and genius Locii (besides a rich mythology to mine and play on) is that they are in a way the perfect foe (or friend) because, oddly, the last thing (as Diana Wynne Jones pointed out in her ‘Tough Guide to Fantasyland) is the supernatural item or being that is omnipotent, which the hero or villain spend the entire book not using – although it would make 1000 page novel a great piece of flash fiction. They’re literally ‘small’ gods – powerful in their setting, but nowhere else, and usually with clear limitations. It’s those limitations that make the story, not the vast power.

This brings me onto my final point: and I’m guilty too. As sf-and particularly fantasy writers, we’re conditioned into the final battle, the ultimate enemy or cataclysm. And some of those make great stories. But you might notice that even in those, it’s the personal and often (looked at dispassionately) relatively irrelevant ‘small’ character-to-character interactions that bind readers to the ‘big’ story (Tolkien does this so often – and yet so many imitators don’t notice.) But great stories don’t actually HAVE to be the saving the universe or the kingdom from destruction. Great stories are simply defined as ‘entertaining’ (and preferably to a lot of readers) which is why many successful authors are rather like household gods – the story they weave is important to the characters in it, not to the world – Louis L’Amour to Maeve Binchy, or Heyer Regency Romance – very satisfying as a read. Important to OUR universe (which is really our families, friends and homes) and not THE universe.

It’s a door to endless stories.

And now, the fridge is making strange noises at me…

Certain rituals must be performed.

 

*Ever wondered where that supply of cubed carrot and green peas (which you haven’t eaten for three years, you’ll swear) comes from when you throw up? They’re actually warning from the cistern-troll, who is not pleased by your lack of observance.

 

67 comments

  1. Second attempt:

    This sends me down the whole genius loci rabbit hole. The idea of gods as local is ancient, as well as the idea that if one god doesn’t work, try another. But why? As early “Don’t ask, don’t tell” when your tribe encountered another with a different god? And does the whole Greek and Roman mythology thing come from this? Going down that rabbit hole, at what point does the appeasement of local gods become appeasement of national gods, which is where the Romans were about two millennia ago?

    Then, with all this, where does the idea of one god come from? It’s contrary to the whole thing. It’s one thing to be completely in allegiance with one genius loci, whether the locality is the neighborhood or nation, but quite another to hold that only one is true and all the others are minor or non-existent. Yeah, I know the knee-jerk is “Oh, that’s intolerant,” but what I’m looking at is how it went against the grain, so much so that when things didn’t work out like they wanted, people start looking at the genius loci on the sly. And that’s why those who attend church on Sunday would slip off to see a “root doctor” about a spell, or slip into the woods to leave an offering of money on a tree.

    And … the rabbit hole runs deeper. Gotta go.

    1. Are the conqueror’s gods are stronger, or did you just do the ritual wrong and irk the city deity so he turned his back on you?

      One old theory about the Indus Valley Culture (Harappans) was that they had local city gods, plus nature spirits, while the Indo-Aryans/Indo-Europeans [it is a pre-WWII book and uses the first term] had sky and element deities that could travel with them and were universal.

      1. College PE golf class. Finals was to play a round at the local country club. At a water hazard I decided to be a smart alleck. Crossed myself before hitting the ball.

        The ball didn’t loft. I swung like swinging an ax, so that wasn’t a surprise. The ball rolling across the top of the water and up the other side was.

    2. I strongly disagree with that assessment.

      Animism strongly (and ironically) implies monotheism.
      If everything has a spirit, then there is a spirit of everything.

      To illustrate, you have a spirit. Your family has a greater spirit that encompasses yours. Your tribe has a more potent spirit that includes the spirits of many families. And on and on, to greater and greater classifications. Up until you have a spirit of the Universe, multiverse, reality, or whathaveyou that approaches omniscient and omnipotent.
      Not that such a deity would be benevolent, just, or merciful! This is straight up Lovecraftian stuff.
      Even something much closer and relatable, like the spirit encompassing the Platonic ideal of “predator” or “scavanger” would make most of the murder cults in recorded history look like poseurs.
      There’s a reason why any spirit powerful enough to be considered “godlike” was traditionally something to appease.

      Monotheism itself isn’t really a novelty. That the all powerful God would be benevolent, is. People tend to lose sight of this with modern life so removed from “red in tooth and claw”. (And don’t get me started on the so-called neopagans.)

        1. Eh. (Waggles hand) I’d put some form of ancestor worship as more common.

          But the central premise of your question holds.
          Why appeal to a power that isn’t relatable or interested in your well being?

          1. Yup. Most of the polytheism I’ve glanced at asumes the gods aren’t at the top of the heap. But nobody, for example, prayed to the Fates. They didn’t care, they wouldn’t listen. And whoever was above *them*? Fuggeddaboudit.

      1. Interestingly, Korean anamism/paganism had “Hananim, the God who Made Everything” and whose son (Tan Kun, IIRC) both fathered the Korean race (with a bear) and lead the Koreans out of China into the land of Korea and away from a wicked ruler.

      2. Maybe that’s an illusion from a more mathmatical mindset?

        That is, the model isn’t “more and more power,” it’s “people who are stronger.”

        So you’ve got babies, and you, and whoever is stronger than you– your kids look to you, you look to your leaders, your leaders look to allies, and you all look to the local powers. The spirits aren’t really that different in kind, just degree– a baby can’t lift stuff, and I can’t make a tree bloom. Maybe if I had the right strength, I could, but I can’t, and I don’t want to try because it might piss off the Tree Spirit for no good reason.

        Just like you’ll have “those who made me” you’ll have “those who made that” all the way up to ‘everything,’ however that ends up being framed.

    3. Greeks has the interpretatio graeca, by which Greek gods were identified with foreign ones.

      Roman ones, you know. But there are others. Like, Thor was Zeus, and Odin was Hermes. Thoth also was Hermes, Osiris was Dionysus, and Ptah was Hephaestus.. Krshna was Pan, according to one Hellenistic offering that appeared to be by an Indian in Greek lands.

  2. Nammu, the Sumerian Goddess of the oceans and the Mother of the Gods…

    …may have been, according to some tales, the kick-ass Queen of the beach ten thousand some odd years ago, due to being an alien AI with a penchant for surfing storm waves with Her boyfriend. Among Her many feats, She may have dispatched an immortal demon in the desert by the Hotan River with a staff of wood. And an orbital ion cannon.

  3. Some places are more pleasing to the eye. Architects, interior designers, gardeners, and landscapers . . . All reach for it, some achieve it. Some achieve incredible ugliness. Feng Shui was quite the thing for awhile.

    The last time we house-shopped, it was with a rather well-behaved not quite two-year old. He was well behaved, but clingy through about four houses. The fifth house? He trotted right off to the living room and sat down on the couch like he’d just come home. Which was a large factor in our buying it.

    Spirits of the place? I’m an agnostic, but I have to work at it, as “things” keep dragging me toward belief.

      1. Or impracticality.

        My sister and her husband rented a house on the California coast and invited us out. Award winning architecture. From the entry, two steps up to the living room. three steps down to two friggin’ triangular bedrooms. The living room had built in bench seating, so your back was to the ocean view. Tiny kitchen. Flight of stairs up to the master bath, three more steps up to the master bedroom (try that at three am!)

        Incredibly beautiful site. House needed to be gutted and the interior rebuilt.

            1. The ones that I heard were that it was amazingly hard to stop drafts and leaks– or even TRACE them– and basically that nothing fit right. You put your couch in– great, either there’s a big empty area behind it were folks can’t even walk, or your head hits the wall when you sit.

              And just imagine bookshelves…..

              1. Basically, they’re all roof. You know what roofing costs. And lots of little changes in pitch, in seemingly random directions–with all the custom work that implies.

                They work better as size increases. If I were going to live in one, I think I’d dome over the whole lot, greenhouse style, and live in the climate-controlled garden. Furniture under canopies, tents where you need privacy, so leaks don’t matter much. It would probably take more engineering that it’d be worth, but it might be a fun project for a bored billionaire.

            2. Off the top of my head is odors and noise. Especially noise. The shape naturally reflects and focuses sounds. Not to mention that almost all of your rooms have a curved wall. That leaves one wall for a door and two walls for regular, flat-backed, furniture. Once you factor in how that outer wall curves up toward the roof, you find you don’t have the space you think.

              1. I took my SAT exam at the U-of-Illinois Chicago Circle campus; built around a circular amphitheater. It’s most unnerving to stand in the middle of the circle and speak. I suspect the central point in a dome would be worse.

                Back when they were a bit of a fad, an article mentioned that for all the money you saved with the basic framing (dubious at that), by the time you got the roof/walls set up, and framed the walls and cabinets, you’ve spent far more on labor than you’d want.

    1. I once remarked at work that I was a little superstitious, which caused much laughter. Our house has an unfortunate history. Everyone said they wouldn’t have moved into it. OTOH, it might be why we got a good price on it.

      1. I am unsure… but I have a suspicion that a lot of “supernatural” stuff ceases to manifest in my presence. As to if that is deference or observational skill or just sheer weirdness of the universe, I cannot claim.

        Some weird still happens, but it’s odd how things get logically explicable around me… Me! That… seems Odd. Or Off. Or yes.

          1. Weeeeeel, that went two ways. A lot of Greco-Roman mages, cursers, and diviners thought that using divine names from the Jewish and Christian tradition was perfectly cromulent for working magic.

            OTOH, it was notoriously true that the Sign of the Cross tended to ruin pagan sacrifices or magic spells (as did the presence of Christians). And the Sign’s effects were so well known that the young St. Athanasius invited pagans to try it out while walking through the temple district, as a way of convincing them through experience that Jesus was God.

            But St. Saturninus got martyred, because the locals in Gallia blamed him for ruining their sacrifice by walking down the street next to it.

            1. “I abjure you by Jesus, whom Paul preaches!”

              “Jesus I know. Paul I know. WHO ARE YOU??!!!”

              Acts somewhere:or-other

    2. Listen to a wine aficionado talk about terroir. You can freely substitute the term genius loci with no loss of accuracy.

      And it really annoys the pretentious gits when you do.

      1. It’s sort of amusing.
        I’ve become rather picky about beer (that I buy. Unless it’s Truly Gawdawdul, a free beer is always a good beer).
        I’ve become picky about spirits. (Ditto)
        I’ve become a bit picky about coffee (and ‘Charbucks’ earned that moniker).
        And tea.
        But wine? Once you eliminate “bum wine” (Mad Dog, Night Train, etc.) I don’t much care. Does it go with the food? Yes? Then it’s good wine.

    3. When we were looking at our current house, someone asked me what was interesting about it. I’d meant to say “I just like it”, but what came out was “It likes me!”

      Been in here three years now. 🙂

  4. While there is not a ‘tax’ per se, on free association. There are fees and penalties. Which leads me to my next concern:
    Do fish scientists warrant a more exotic fish than carp?
    Maybe, I dunno, coelacanth?

  5. “Genius loci” brings up an interesting Latin issue. (As many here will know,) the word “genius” in Latin does not mean “smart person” at all. We use the word completely wrong. If fact it means something like “filled with the breath of the Gods.”

    The ancients thought that if a great orator moved a crowd, it wasn’t that person’s own cleverness and inventiveness that moved the people. It was literally the breath of a deity, which filled the words with divine power. It was the divinity that moved the crowd, not the mortal that stood there speaking.

    Which is a much more humble view of one’s place in the cosmos than ours. The great orator is nothing but clay from the soil, the people listening are dull beasts, it is the Divine which uplifts them and makes them great. So the speaker was gifted with “genius” by Apollo. Hence the pretty temples. You’d be grateful, right?

    We’re a bit snotty, we think the ideas and the genius are ours. Our mighty buildings are built for us, these days. The notion of a divine spirit uplifting the merely human is completely alien to the Modern aesthetic.

      1. That is exactly the idea behind the word. Inspiration is literally the breath of the divine, filling the speaker and making his words power-full.

        Thank you Commodore Taylor. Sea Dog was my Latin teacher back in the mists of time, and he was extremely good at it. Inspiring, one might say. ~:D

    1. Interesting when some writers talk of themselves being gateways, or “hearing voices”. I think you have struck a part of the human condition.

      1. It happens to me all the time, when I’m writing. Things occur to me, in the true sense of the word. Like, they happen. Kind of like weather happens. I don’t do them myself.

        I’ll have a problem for the characters, and they stumble around dealing with it for a while, and then a -solution- will occur, fully formed, as if dropped on me like a pebble from Olympus. Boing! “Wow, what a great idea!”

        I’m essentially a bystander.

        Now, I’m not saying that is a great thing. It can be really great, but it is a bit trying waiting for the Gods to get around to dropping that pebble. Also, the pebble may end up being rather small and unimpressive, so the story is a bit meh. Upside, I can blame my brain for not coming up with something better.

        But that’s just how it is here, inside The Phantom’s brain. Its a bit like farming. You plant the seeds, you do a bunch of work, and you wait for something cool to happen. Then you have to do a bunch more work to gather in the coolness.

        1. My experience is that there is an element of training my mind and my thoughts. I reward off the wall nutty ideas for crossover fanfic? I get more of that.

          I’ve recently found that I’m not happy with how my brain is trained, and I’ve been identifying what specifically I want to retrain. (‘More creativity’, ‘flexibility’, ‘better at stopping, stepping back, and looking from another angle’ aren’t readily actionable. ‘look for what might drive a character to resolve this’, ‘improve specific measurable skill area’, ‘make a habit of always checking the math after I solve a problem’ are.)

  6. And as for writing the “we don’t admit to ourselves” beliefs into our characters, we need only have them give names to their cars and computers. To find refuge from the stress of the day in a peaceful spot. To have no idea why they go two blocks out of their way to avoid walking down that street. It makes them human.

    1. If I had a better Classical education and fewer inhibitions, I might try to see if there’s an erotica market for this. Under a suitable pseudonym, of course.

      Priapus Satyrus Maximus, maybe?

      1. I did the ‘but minor goddess, why not using all power at her disposal?’ as an exercise in character playing for an RPG. (because if she did the entire population of Tokyo would probably be lessened by a few hundred thousand at a time?)

        Of course, there were the inevitable “But she’s so powerful, we can’t defeat her!” complaints, but the irritating thing was, nobody even tried to come up with an attempt.

  7. I hate to break it to you, but that’s not carrots you’re throwing up. It’s bits of stomach lining. (In the category of Things I Only Learned When I Became a Parent.)

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