Genius Loci: comment
The inspiration for this story came from several sources: a television programme whose subject was Father Adam, the monk who supervised Coptic Christian hermits in the Egyptian desert; a programme about a nun who dwells as a hermit at the foot of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s sacred mountain; the book “Deeper Into God” by Brother Raoul, who lived for a while as a hermit in the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales and whose experience of praying at ancient Christian and pagan sites led to the key idea that something of the character of a site lingers in places; and the Gospel of Luke, which tells the story of the temptations of Christ, though the order of the temptations is the one used by Matthew’s Gospel. The story was also inspired by “A Ring of Bright Water” which gave me the setting on the remote coast of the Knoydart Peninsula.
It deals with the spiritual experiences that come along with isolation and the dangers that accompany them. This has been a constant problem for the eremitical life.
The title is a word play. Genius loci means in Latin the spirit of the place, but it plays on Loki, the name for the Norse God of evil. It is clear that we are dealing here with an evil spirit, a devil in fact. The name Antony is intentionally spelt in the traditional way without an h, as this links the hero with Antony the Abbot, the fourth century Egyptian Christian hermit who had so many challenging experiences of evil spirits, which in his case were “hallucinations born of his privations” to quote Saint Athanasius. Note that I purposely use the Egyptian spelling of Antony rather than the modern one.
The devil in the story carries darkness with him. This shows that there are different levels of darkness, the mere darkness of a lightless night, but also there is a deep spiritual darkness of the soul that links to evil. This is the darkness of Hell. Note that the visitor has no need of fires, he sees enough of them where he comes from. Note also the lie. He is dressed as a hiker, but his boots are too clean. This suggests that he is a fake.
The whole tale is an allegory which follows the temptations of Christ. These took place when Jesus retreated into the wilderness after his baptism, where he was challenged by the Devil. The first temptation is to use his power for material gain. Note that the Devil tries to seduce Antony into seeking wealth and fortune. The next is to seek power by fame and spectacular miracles, just as Antony is tempted to be a tv star. Note that the Devil says that he has good friends in the media! The third is to achieve power by evil means. Antony is urged to struggle to advance in the church and strive to become pope, a temptation that he rejects by pointing out that those who seek to be pope never make good popes.
Finally, Antony turns the tables on the devil by asking him to pray. The devil cannot stand this and departs, leaving Antony free of the evil presence and darkness that have oppressed him. He finds his explanation in the gospels, but the story finishes with a warning, the Devil left him to return at the appointed time. Antony has won this round, but the Devil is not finished and will be back again. Antony must be careful, for the Devil must disrupt the work of the saints.
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