Are you old enough to remember the TV show “I Dream of Jeannie”? It’s still on one of those classic 60s TV channels on cable too. Loved that show as a kid. Barbara Eden was such a babe. But I liked her more evil brunette sister, the Ifrit. Had to love the idea of a beautiful, scantily clad blonde waiting on your every wish. That was the male fantasy of the 1960s. Well, it still is.
But what about real Jinn? No, not Gin — Jinn. The plural of Jinni is Jinn. A little confusing to English speakers but you get used to it. I was wishing that I could do something magical to help my car the other day. It needs repairs and, of course, as a 12-yr old Cadillac, it could use a nice binding spell to keep it from popping apart at the seams and simply wearing out. If I may digress to magical theory for a moment, the use of magic on automobiles is not, practically speaking, a matter of creating a flying Ford Anglia. Far more practical to start with would be spells to, for example, keep the engine from wearing out, prevent rust, increase fuel efficiency, reduce pollution, stay polished, stay clean inside (about as easy as the flying spell), and stay out of accidents.
Contemplating whether it would be sensible for me to work out all these spells and do them myself, I asked the advice of my house Brownie. It is a strict rule that one never divulge the name of one’s astral servants, as the name gives mastery, so I won’t name names. Let’s just call him Mr. Brown. Brownies are helpful “spirits” (the name comes from the British and Scottish traditions). They are generally helpful if you make friends with them because they like to serve. Not, I may add, in a subservient or slavish way. They are not slaves, nor are they obliged to serve. If they don’t like you, or even if you refuse to acknowledge their existence, they are perfectly happy to live their lives in your house, and borrow your stuff. Especially their children. Brownie children are as mischievous as any children, and delight in knocking things down or tripping you up. They are easily amused.
Take for example yesterday. I was ironing a shirt, in a bit of a hurry, and suddenly the ironing board gave way and dropped down about a foot. Scared the begeezus out of me. And, of course, Mr. Brown’s children love to get me to swear. I raised up the ironing board again and proceeded with the job, when, not a minute later, the iron took a dive off the front of the ironing board, pulling its plug right out of the wall behind it. At this point my swearing was mixed with laughter. No harm done.
It is funny how people are always so bewildered when socks go missing or other things disappear inexplicably and then turn up weeks later in plain sight. Our culture in the U.S. does not teach about Brownies, so people are left gobsmacked and unable to explain the inexplicable phenomena; yet they are certain there is a “perfectly logical explanation” that excludes the “supernatural,” if only they could figure out what it was. Well, it is perfectly logical and natural. It’s Brownies.
That whole idea that there are things that are “supernatural” (literally, above nature) is hilarious to young Brownies. They cannot understand how humans can be so amazingly unobservant and believe in some sort of “spirits” or whatever. The idea that there are demons messing with the humans to try to lead them into sin — that one will usually put them rolling on the floor laughing. As I said, Brownies are easily amused.
But I digress. I asked Mr. Brown about the car and queried whether he could protect and preserve my car as he does the house. He said, “No sir, I’m sorry to say I can’t. My powers and jurisdiction only cover the house.” (N.B. insurance policies were invented in an attempt to replace Brownies when people stopped believing they were real.)
“What you need,” says Mr. Brown, “is a car Jinni.”
Needless perhaps to say, I was surprised at this idea. “What,” I asked, “is a car Jinni?”
It turns out that Jinn, those quasi-angelic, quasi-demonic beings of Arabian legend, like cars. They like big powerful cars. I asked Mr. Brown if a car could serve the same purpose as a lamp — a vessel to contain a Jinni. This led to a conversation about Jinn, which taught me a lot of things I did not know.
In the Islamic literature (particularly the Quran), Jinn are considered to be “spirits” who can be bound to a material object and so forced to grant the owner of the object (the lamp is classic) wishes. There is a lot of literary license taken with the whole Alladin’s lamp etc., etc., but in reality, Jinn are social creatures just like us. Their society is every bit as complicated as ours — indeed more so. They have tribes and clans and power struggles, towns and cities, and territories. It struck me at once that the Jinn were pretty similar to Elves in Northern European culture. The Fair Folk, like the Jinn, are only visible to humans when they want to be. Occasionally, people with the Sight, catch a view of a procession or a lone Elf. This ability to “disappear” and “appear” at will, is what makes people suppose that these beings are “spirits.” The Middle Eastern religions, especially Christianity, really only had the term “spirit” to apply to such beings. Angels or demons — take your pick.
In the British Isles and in the countries of Scandinavia, however, there were these other beings who didn’t seem to fit into heaven or hell. They lived on the Earth (or in it) alongside human society, sometimes helpful and sometimes malicious or mischievous. In Scandinavia, these beings came to be called “trolls.” In Sweden they also have Tomten and in Norway Nissen, but it is fairly clear to a wizard (well, me anyway) that a Tomte or a Nisse is a Brownie. Trolls, on the other hand seem to parallel the Elves, the main difference being that trolls are ugly and Elves are sometimes beautiful. The fact of the matter is that they are beings that don’t have a single form. They are not stuck with the way their body looks, as we humans are (I mean, excluding plastic surgery and make-up). Brownies and Elves share the ability to alter their appearance. So too the Jinn.
The Quran is explicit about Jinn — they are fire spirits. This is no doubt why it makes so much sense to keep them in an oil lamp. It is a vessel for making fire. If you know the film “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Miyazaki, you will remember the fire elemental name Calcifer. He’s in the same line as a Jinni and the castle is the vessel containing him. This gets us reasonably close to the car Jinn. I have my doubts that a Jinni would have much interest in a tiny compact car, but who knows? Remember Herbie, the Love Bug? The thing is that Jinni are very proud and grand, even the ones who are not kings and princes. So, it might be hard to get them to take up residence in a four cylinder engine.
The key is the fire. The internal combustion engine is a modern version of the oil lamp. And, of course, humans have long seen the taming and harnessing of fire as magic of the first order. Probably just about the oldest magic there is. That is, the oldest magical working of a human. Fire is often associated with the spirit world — particularly angels — and as the only source of light in darkness, it came to be associated with spiritual Light. That Light from which all things are formed. Photons. The particle-wave at the root of all materialization. It is crucial to recognize this aspect of fire, for Jinn are not fire “elementals.” The elemental “spirits” of fire are Salamanders (that is the name in the West anyway), and they are not thinking, self-directive beings. Elemental spirits are primal forces, the moving aspect of each of the four elements — Air, Fire, Water, and Earth.
It is my belief that the beings we call Elves (from the Norse “alf”) or the “Good People,” are beings of Air. Again, not elementals of air, but beings with the distinct nature of Air, as the Jinn have the distinct nature of Fire. I have placed the word “spirit” in quotation marks earlier because I find the word misleading. “Spirit” originally came from the word for breath. It was used to give a name to that invisible Life that exists in the body and which departs when the body ceases to function. Early on, our ancestors thought the spirit or soul would pass out of the dead person’s mouth. You can see that the makers of the Harry Potter movies follow this tradition. In “Prisoner of Azkaban” Sirius Black almost dies and the Dementors try to draw out his spirit as a tiny white ball of light, coming out of his mouth. This is an old tradition and may have some practical merit, but essentially it is rooted in the fact that dead people don’t breathe. The breath stops — respiration, spirit.
So, anyway, I did the only thing one can do. I went to Astral Arabia. I think it was the Sahara because the Jinn I met was from Somalia. Or thereabouts Astrally. The Astral plane is considered to be the realm of spirits and mythical beasts. That is one way to look at it, certainly. However, to consider it as a dreamworld completely separate from our ordinary material Earth would be a mistake. It is another plane, meaning that it is part of a unified reality, part of the same cosmos we think we inhabit. I’ve talked about this elsewhere in the Weekly Owl, so I won’t go into the details. Suffice to say, Astral Arabia is both in our world and beyond it. It is the part of Arabia and the Sahara that is in the Astral plane as well as the material plane. Deserts seem to be particularly susceptible to dimensional shifting. Maybe the severe heat, dulls or confuses the material senses enough to allow our Astral senses to open.
In any case, passing through a mirage, I came upon a caravan of Jinn riding on magnificent camels and horses. These camels must have been the camel equivalent of the Arabian horse because they were almost beautiful and their voices were like a combination of French horn and baritone sax. I am a bit fuzzy on how the introductions were made but I had wisely remembered to don my Shriner’s fez and with much salaaming and ritual greetings, I met my Jinni. He was tall (about eight feet), broad, muscular, and had a huge brown beard — practically black. His skin was very brown and the turban on his head colorful and bejewelled. He was a person of wealth and pride, clearly.
Wizards, however poor and humble they may be, learn to put on a good front when dealing with Astral beings because the first sign of weakness or fear and such beings will write you off as a fool and be gone. Sometimes leaving you lost in the desert or the forest. Somehow I knew well enough that to speak to Jinn, one must be extremely courteous. I addressed him as Jinni and he addressed me as Wizard. Now, I neglected to mention that I took a friend with me. She and I are both of Elvish extraction and have been together for quite a few lifetimes. She is in a position to keep her form, power, and wits when moving between the worlds (planes), and was much more obviously and Elf than I appeared to be. So, she vouched for me and told the Jinni who I really was.
He was skeptical nevertheless, but willing to talk since I had been so polite. Above all, Jinn want respect. They deserve respect. Oh, there are some who are bad, of course, just as with humans or Elves for that matter. Not all the “Good People” are good in their behavior. But it is their ability and their desire to serve others which earns them their name. Jinn, contrary to what the imams might say, are not all bad. I mentioned Jeannie’s sister was an Ifrit. The Ifrit is considered to be a mischeivous or malicious being. I asked my Jinni about that.
He said that, naturally, there were some of his people who liked to make mischief, to steal, and to get revenge more than the liked to serve others. This is also true of humans, is it not? They share characteristics of the tribal Arab culture and the cultures of the other peoples of Northern Africa and the Middle East, which means they are nomadic and love to defend their rights and make battle. In fact, so do Elves, because they have the characteristics of the old Celtic culture of two thousand years past. They love a good cattle raid. Stealing enchanted objects is also a national passtime, and who can doubt it? When someone else has invested the enormous time and effort to enchant an object, another person can save a lot of time by just stealing it. Of course, we know that doesn’t often turn out happily.
On the whole, however, Jinni, like Brownies, derive great pleasure from taking care of humans. We are, to them, a bit like the pet cat, and when a wizard (or adventurer) comes upon a Jinni, the situation is a little like if a human comes across a stray cat. Some humans will take the cat home and pamper it and love it. Some would just kick the cat or worse. But the difference is this: we humans are a lot more complex than cats and so a lot more attractive and fascinating to Jinn. But the level of superiority is about like master and pet, simply because they can do things for us that we cannot do for ourselves (and if we did do such things magically we might do it badly). It is easy for Elf, Brownie, Tomte, or Jinni to cause things to happen with Astral causation rather than material causation. For example, let us take the car. A Jinn could merely by thinking the thought make a car use less gas per mile. It is like the ever-burning oil lamp trick. For a wizard to do that trick, he must first get good at entering his own Astral dimension — his own spirit in the spiritworld, if you like. Then, from that vantage point, his thoughts and dreams will have causal efficacy upon the material world. But it takes a lot of practice.
For Jinn, whose focus of consciousness is already in the Astral plane, it is nothing at all to think and imagine something and make it causally effect the world of matter. What would be a useful analogy? Let’s see. Well, it is a little like if you had no knowledge of how to cook or bake, and furthermore, you lacked hands and had your eyes closed. In that state, if you met a person who could mix up batter and bake a cake as quick as anything, you would be amazed and astonished, and utterly unable to explain how it was done. But the cake would be delicious.
My Jinni (and I’m using the possessive advisedly) told me that Jinn serve humans of their own choice. When humans cast binding spells on them and bind them to an object (a ring or a lamp typically), their service is coerced, and if the human abuses the relationship or is disrespectful, the Jinni might play tricks or even torment the annoying human creature. The old stories tend to represent Jinnis in lamps as captives, which hardly makes sense, given their superior power. The belief that a Jinni can be tricked into a lamp and trapped there is very annoying to Jinn. The fact is that it is not the human’s trickery or magical power that “traps” the Jinni; it is his own nature and the rules of behavior to which he adheres with punctilious pride.
Again, let us take the stray cat analogy. If you are bound by a code of honor to help stray cats, and you are rather soft-hearted about them, and drawn to them as cute and cuddly, or whatever — then you will take in the cat, but the cat will think it has captured you. Indeed the cat believes it has tricked you into becoming its servant. At first it may rub on you and sit in your lap to lull you into a false sense of contentment with the relationship, but in time the cat may just start ordering you around, jumping on your head to wake you up in the morning, and getting in your way every time you want to work on your computer or read a book (activities the cat cannot begin to understand). That is how we stand in relationship to Jinn.
The result is that a patient and virtuous Jinni (which is many of them) will not toss the cat out into the snow. It will respond to its meows and talk to it and smile at its little ways. Why? Not because the Jinni is bound by magic to serve its cat. Not at all. It is bound by its own code of behavior and affection. Fortunately for Jinn, very few humans wander into their lives. But those who do choose to serve a human understand the human’s limitations just as we humans understand the limitations of a cat. The ring or lamp is simply a means of communication because humans usually are not very good at seeing and hearing Astral beings. They only use their material senses and if they “hear voices” or “start seeing things” they dismiss them as hallucinations or madness because they have not been educated into the use of their Astral senses. So, a handy object can be helpful to allow the human to focus his or her attention on the Jinni and imagine its appearance. It makes us feel less insecure to see Astral beings appear in a cloud of purple smoke rather than just suddenly be there in front of us as if they were there the whole time and we just didn’t notice.
I am trying to think up an analogy that includes a cat and a laser pointer….
Anyway, the Jinni is not “trapped” in the lamp any more than a person with a cat is trapped in the house by the cat, or a person with a dog is bound to the other end of the dog’s leash. Just remember, in the dog analogy, you are the dog. Moreover, it may be worth noting that rubbing a lamp does not summon the Jinni unless that’s what you have arranged. I suspect that the phrase “rub the lamp” derived from a typographical error and was originally “rub the lap.” (In fact, come to think of it, the whole Jinni in a lamp story might have been corrupted from a story of a human in a Jinni’s lap.)
So, there is a little illusion involved in believing a Jinni is serving you and making your wishes “come true.” Funny idiom that: wishes come true. Thoughts manifest in matter. The Jinni thankfully gave me another analogy that was a little less humiliating than the cat idea. This analogy was that the Jinni is like Jeeves the butler and I am like Bertie Wooster. If you have read P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories, you will know that the butler is more in charge of things and more able to get things to happen than the master, who is actually a bit dim and helpless. In fact, in his behavior Jeeves is more of a gentleman than his master. Like Jeeves, a Jinni will correct you if you are engaging in any sort of behavior that is “bad form.” Tradition is very important to Jinn. When I suggested that my Jinni stop addressing me as “Master” (a bit uncomfortable to a Liberal), he said he could not do that. It was traditional. Similarly, it is not considered offensive to address a Jinni as simply “Jinni.” It is no more offensive that addressing God as God. It is customary.
I might feel that decorum was not satisfied if my cat addressed me as “Human” or “Man” but really would I expect the cat to tall me by my name? Actually, I would expect her to address me as “Lap.” In any case, with Jinn we have tradition to guide us in our etiquette.
There is a lot more to say, obviously, but let me end this article by returning to the theme of the car Jinni. After some negotiation, and after he had checked my references and met some of my other associates, my Jinni did condescend to serve me, and once he had consented, he told me his proper name and entered freely into the master-servant relationship. Jinn like being masters too, no doubt, but serving others is not considered in the least degrading to their social status. Quite the opposite. While serving a cat is not considered a big boost to the status of a human, having a human to serve, and the act of doing good in the world are seen as very laudible in the world of Jinn. It is only a Jinni who has time and wealth at his disposal, who will take the trouble to help humans. It is a sign of virtue and good taste. If the human master is worthy and behaves himself. If he is a bad master, he is likely to reap the vengeance of his servant, whose own honor has been betrayed and besmirched.
So far, I am not aware of all the help he is given with the Cadillac. The main effects I have clearly observed are (1) protecting me from crashing or being run into by other cars; (2) materializing $500 to do some repairs, and (3) finding me a parking space right in front of wherever I am going when I remember to ask. If you don’t ask for help, you cannot really blame the Jinni for not giving it. But as the relationship grows, I have every reason to believe he will, like Jeeves, come to anticipate my needs. Now if we can just work on keeping the car from falling apart and acquiring enough treasure to replace some parts that need replacing. About $5000 would do it at the moment, I think. Yes, that would about do.