Genies (also called jinn or genii) are spirits in cultures of the Middle East and Africa. The term genie comes from the Arabic word jinni, which referred to an evil spirit that could take the shape of an animal or person. It could be found in every kind of nonliving thing, even air and fire. Jinn (the plural of jinni) were said to have magical powers and are favorite figures in Islamic literature. To the Mende people of Sierra Leone in Africa, genii are spirits who occasionally try to possess living men. The Mende use magic to fight genii who enter the living.
In ancient Rome, the term genii, the plural form of the Latin word genius, referred to the spirits that watched over every man. The genius was responsible for forming a man's character and caused all actions. Believed to be present at birth, genius came to be thought of as great inborn ability. Women had a similar spirit known as a juno. Some Romans also believed in a spirit, called an evil genius, that fought the good genius for control of a man's fate. In later Roman mythology, genii were spirits who guarded the household or community.
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.