Genius Loci

What is it? What does it mean? It can be translated as “spirit of place” and throughout history different cultures have perceived and connected to it in differing ways.

Pronounced (Gene-ee-us  Low-psy)

Every place, be it a park,a forest, a busy city street or your home has it’s own Genius Loci. But what really is it? It is the depth of that place, it’s personality, it’s history, the feel, smell, look, taste, and sound of the place. All of these things together create it’s spirit. It is the sense of calm you feel when you look over a lake at sunrise, the sense of mystery in the foggy woods you wander through, the sense of connection, sadness and respect you feel walking through a graveyard, the feeling of peace within your home. There are many ways to view it, to feel it, to connect to it, to let it fill you and so on.

How to connect to it?

There are many different ways to connect to the spirit of a place. But first you have to be aware of your own spirit and how it fits into the spirit of the place. When you look at a sunset and feel your soul stir, you are passively connecting to the spirit of it. The way I most often use to connect with the spirit of a place is to meditate.

Like any meditation, sit, get comfortable, and start by focusing on your breathing. Then, use your other senses to get a better ‘feel’ for the spirit of place.

  • Listen to the place, breathe in rhythm with how the place sounds. With the breeze, with the animals, with the sound of the water moving (if there is any near). Let your own sounds, your heartbeat, your breathing, your own soul sync up with those sounds. (this can be difficult with people around, though a busy street or park has as much spirit and personality as an ant hill!)
  • Feel the grass or the dirt, the trees or the water, the sand or the couch, the sidewalk… wherever you are. What does the place physically feel like? Is it rough or smooth? Soft or jagged? What do you feel like compared to the place? Do you leave footprints? Indentations? How does your physically being there change it, if at all?
  • Smell the world around you, what scents do you smell? Is there a fresh garden nearby? Do you smell food? Trash? Salty air? Fresh water? Damp earth? Does your own scent stick out or does it match/ belong in the place as a part of it.
  • Look around you! This might seem obvious, but it is probably the easiest way to get a general feel for the spirit of a place. Is it busy and bustling? Is it calm and serene? Are there old buildings or new? What is the history of the place that you can see outright? Is it run down or well kept? What do the things you see about the place make you feel?
  • Taste (perhaps not literally, and definitely only if safe) this is not to say stick dirt or grass in your mouth and eat it…. that’s just silly. But smell and taste are linked, so simply opening your mouth wide and taking a deep breath can allow you to ‘taste’ the air. Is the breath you took clean? Or is it dirty? Was it refreshing, or not? This is the sense that can be most difficult if not impossible to use to get a sense of spirit of place.

Those senses simply give an idea of what the spirit of place is. For simply going out for a quick meditation and finding your place within that space, it can be a great exercise to do all of these and then journal about them. Continuously doing so in the same place can help you get a real sense of the spirit of the place.

Another way to get to know the spirit of a place is to research its history. What has happened in that place? Who lived there? Who died there? If it is a forest, was it always? Was it always a swamp or lake? Were battles fought there? Was it once farmland? Knowing these things about a place before you go out and explore or meditate there can help you protect yourself from lingering negative energies and emotions that still persist in a place.

On top of that even, would be learning weather patterns in the area. What seasons does it experience? What direction does the water flow (and what could that represent?)

Genius Loci In History

The Romans viewed genius loci as a protective spirit of a place, often giving the spirit of a place a physical embodiment. Spirits that walked the world in physical form to protect forests, rivers, mountains, swamps and so on. Fairys, elves, dryads, satyrs, unicorns and all manner of mythical creatures are representations of the spirit of a place. Other times, the spirit of a place (on a larger scale than a single spot next to a river) can be seen in the art style, furniture style, food and home style of an area and the people who live there. Animals, too, are often symbols of the spirit of a place.

Different native cultures around the world have all been highly concerned with the spirit of place. They held sacred rituals in the same locations, and gave offerings to spirits, ancestors and the land itself to bring about manifestations of good harvest, good fortune and the like.

Through myth and tale, the stories of the spirits of these sacred places have been preserved and passed down. Even though times have changed and humanity as a whole continues to change the phsyical face of the world we live in, the spirit of the place persists and often changes with us. Those old spirits still feel, and their pain at the changes we have made can be strongly felt at times. Other times, in gardens or wild places, we can feel their happiness and joy or even rage that we are trespassing in sacred places.

Spirit of Place in the home

In your own home and at work there is a spirit of place. And at home it is especially prudent to keep the spirit of that place ‘appeased’ and protective. It does your spirit no good to be at home and not feel safe or at peace. The general feel of your home is the spirit of place. Do you enjoy a cozy and cluttered atmosphere? Or a minimalist and clean or organized space? Is your home warm and welcoming to others? Or do you more prefer to keep to yourself?

Within your home, the spirit of place (at least I believe) is a very good reflection of your own personal spirit. It is the place your spirit should feel as if it belongs and where it should be able to go to recharge. If your spirit feels out of place there, like a puzzle piece in the wrong spot, then you should try and arrange that space to better refelct you.

For me, my home is warm, welcoming, and my door is always open to friends and family. I’ve always got a teapot on the stove, ready to make a cup for anyone who comes over, candles lit to give light and warmth, a puppy who fills my home and my own spirit with joy and boundless energy, a bookshelf, organized and never covered in dust, my altar where i go to do my spiritual recharging, and a general sense of peace and calm (I feel) permeates my apartment. My table is always set for more than myself, though I most often eat alone, and my spare bed is always open to any friend who needs a place to sleep.

I’d like to think that what I feel in the spirit of place of my home is the same welcoming and warm feeling others get when they arrive. It all boils down to you, here, and what kind of spirit of place you bring to your home.

~If you’re still reading at this point, I thank you, and if you’d like me to ever add to this post, please feel free to message me with info, links, or ideas~

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~Basil~

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