Jinn: Spirits of Fire and Wilderness
When we were kids, we were amazed at Aladdin’s blue genie voiced by the amazing Robin Williams. Who didn’t want to have these three wishes and make all their dreams come true? Of course, we all did it. However, when studying the history of genies, and more precisely genies, they are not all that charming, especially in pre-Islamic times.
Spelling and type note
First, I want to state that pre-Islamic Arabs recognized both male and female versions of these creatures. You can find different spellings of the same word depending on the author, so I decided to use the version used by Robert Lebling in his book Legends of the Fire Spirits. (1) The author explains that “jinn” is plural, while “jinni” is the male singular and “jinniya” is the female singular. While there are many variations, I’ll use them in this article and future ones if I ever bring up the topic of genies, for the sake of simplicity.
While there are many theories about the origin of the word genie, Irving Zeitlin (2) believes that it is derived from Aramaic ginnayewhich was commonly seen in Palmiren inscriptions and is often translated as “good and rewarding gods.” The term was used by Christians to denote pagan gods reduced to the status of demons, and was not introduced to Arab folklore until the end of the pre-Islamic era.
An interesting fact is that the document “Revelations of Abdullah Al-Sayid Muhammad Habib” says that there were also two genie-like creatures: air “hinn” and water “binn”. extinct according to the document. I encourage the reader to read more about it, because it is really interesting, but it differs from the essence of this article.
What are the genies? What are they doing?
Jinn (الجن) is often used as another name for demons, but it is not. They can be similar, but you can put a limit as genies can be both bad and good, while real demons are only bad (3) and therefore angels are only good. According to the Koran (55:15), the genies arose from marij min nar, which means “a smokeless flame of fire.”
These creatures were seen as earth spirits in pre-Islamic times, “primordial earth spirits who functioned as lesser gods below the rank of angels who ruled desert wastelands and abandoned places,” says Amr-Athtar Yunajjam. They were seen as personifying the forces of nature, guardians of sacred places and intermediaries between gods and humans, and they could appear as wild animals, especially snakes that were sacred to these creatures.
Whenever someone thought that he had offended a genie for some reason, usually because he suddenly fell ill, he would throw a stone at a bush or body of water considered sacred to the genie. Animal sacrifice and the worship of baetyls, idols by which pre-Islamic Arabs believed that deities and beings would temporarily interact with humans, were also common forms of honoring genies.
Witchcraft or sihr (سِحْر) are often associated with genies, so a sorcerer can summon a genie and make him obey an order, usually with talismans or by satisfying genies, in order to make a deal. Since their life is longer than human life, the jinn are also considered helpers of soothsayers who reveal information from the past and present.
It would be impossible to list all the significant genies, but among the best known they are originally ginnaye, “Good and rewarding gods.” The first is Ashar, the North Arabian god of war whose cult was popular near Palmyra in southern Syria, depicted as a horse-mounted archer with a bow and quiver. The second is Sa’d, the West Arabian god of fortune, worshiped mainly by the Bedouin tribe of Banu Kinanah who visited his idol, a large rock on the Jeddah coast of Hijaz, to obtain God’s blessing.
We also have Azazil (“Mighty Allah / Il”), the ruler of the genies in Arabic and Hebrew mythology, who was sacrificed goats to atone for a grave sin committed by a tribe member. Azazil was believed to rule over mountainous and rugged desert areas that were inhospitable and inhabited by satyr-like jinas, known to the Hebrews as se’irim, of which he was their leader.
Jabal Qaf is a legendary mountain made of green olivine located at the farthest point in the physical universe, reportedly inhabited by genies and other supernatural beings. The mountain is ruled by Jan ibn Jan, the oldest of the genies from whom all genies come. You also have the Seven Genie kings who rule seven days a week, as mentioned in Lebling (2010, p. 87). I give the first name or names first, with others in brackets; I think these are more informal names while the common ones are more respectful or more powerful:
- Sunday: Al-Mudhdhahab / Al-Mudhhib / Al-Mudhhab; المذهب – Golden. (Abu ‘Abdallah Sa’id).
- Monday: Al-Abya; الابيض – White (Murrah al-Abyad Abu al-Harith; Abu an-Nur).
- Tuesday: Al-Aḥmar; الاحمر – Red (Abu Mihriz; Abu Ya’qub).
- Wednesday: Būrqān / Borqaan; بورقان – Two Thunderstorms (Abu al-‘Adja’yb; Al-Aswad).
- Thursday: Shamhursh; شمهورش (Abu al-Walid; At-Tayyar)
- Friday: Zawba’ah; زوبعة – Cyclone, whirlwind (Abu Hassan)
- Saturday: Maymun; ميمون – Dostatni (Abu Nuh)
You may also be interested in Qarin, the invisible creature compared to the genies. He is a constant spiritual companion of people. Depending on who you ask, he or she has an equal chance of being good or bad, or is an utterly benevolent being who acts like a Christian guardian angel, protector, and guide.
How to work with them?
If you are drawn to the genies, I recommend that you first have experience working with other deities and know how to cleanse and protect yourself. Remember that these creatures can be both good and bad. It is also a good idea to first establish cooperation with other pre-Islamic Arab entities, Manatee being my personal favorite before I start with them.
Since they are fiery creatures, kindle a fire in their honor to show them respect for their presence if they let them know, or simply ask them to do so if you think someone is close to you. Don’t play with fire or add anything but wood, just let it be there and wait for any sign, be it in flames, smoke or ashes. If you receive a message asking for something else to be added, consult a deity, an oracle, meditate on it, and if you get positive responses, go ahead.
I would also suggest using sympathetic magic. Since animal sacrifice is out of the question for most of us, why not sculpt animals out of clay? It’s fun, it’s easy, and no one will ask why you do it. Later, when no one is watching, throw the sculpture into the fire as an offering to the genies. As I said before, wait for any signs.
Stones are a good option too, mostly peridot. Have a few ordinary stones that form a pyramid or a grid and an olivine at the top or in the middle, or only have olives if you want to show respect and a willingness to interact with the genies.
Finally, I must admit that I lack the knowledge of creating Arab talismans, but I am inclined to believe that since beings superior to humans are not portrayed with human form in the Arab world, the written words should work well and if you know their name, write a poem on hello the genie or genie you’re trying to work with. As I mentioned in the previous article, use Arabic when possible and be honest and straightforward.
The genie left a mark on the world, anyone can recognize it in a movie, cartoon, TV series, but remember that you are not dealing with a funny blue-skinned creature that fulfills three wishes. If you are going to work with them, be careful, do as much research as possible and always have the main deity on your side.
1. Lebling, Robert. Fire Ghost Legends: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar, IBTauris, 2010.
2. Zeitlin, Irving M. Historical Muhammad. Polityka, 2007, pp. 59-60.
3. El-Zein, Amira. Islam, Arabs and the intelligent world of the genies. Syracuse University Press, 2009. p. 100.
Article originally published in Spiral nature. Edited.