Legends of the Fire Spirits by Robert Lebling by Robert Lebling - Read Online

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Legends of the Fire Spirits - Robert Lebling

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Chapter One

Origins

It is related in histories, that a race of Jinn, in ancient times, before the creation of Adam, inhabited the earth, and covered it, the land and the sea, and the plains and the mountains; and the favours of God were multiplied upon them, and they had government, and prophecy, and religion, and law; but they transgressed and offended, and opposed their prophets, and made wickedness to abound in the earth; whereupon God, whose name be exalted, sent against them an army of Angels, who took possession of the earth, and drove away the Jinn to the regions of the islands, and made many of them prisoners ...

– Zakariya al-Qazwini, cosmographer

Jinn are best known as an Arab and/or Islamic phenomenon. In Arab tradition, the jinn is a spirit creature, often linked to nature, with the ability to manifest itself physically. The jinn have great powers, sometimes miraculous abilities, which humans normally lack.

Jinn are usually divided into five major ‘categories’: jann, jinn, shaitan, ifrit and marid. These terms sometimes overlap and are often not as precise as one would like. Jann is a collective term referring to the masses of jinn of all types; the term is sometimes interchangeable with jinn. ‘Jinn’ is used more often to refer to specific individuals or families or tribes of fire spirits. Jinn can be good or evil, but shaitans (‘satans’ or devils) are the children and servants of the chief devil, Iblis (the equivalent of the West’s Satan), and are always evil. Ifrits are more powerful than shaitans and are most often evil.¹ Marids are evil as well and most powerful of all. All of the above categories have the ability to shapeshift or shield themselves with invisibility, so their appearance varies depending on circumstances.

The various categories of jinn were created separately, according to a creation myth reported by the Arab historian Abu al-Hasan Ali al-Mas'udi (896–956), called by some ‘the Herodotus of the Arabs’. In his celebrated Meadows of Gold, al-Mas'udi explains the sequence of this creation:

It is said that God created the demons from the semoum (burning wind); that from the demon he created his woman, as he created Eve from Adam; that the demon having had relations with his woman, she became pregnant from him and laid thirty eggs. One of these eggs cracked open, giving birth to the qotrobaht, which was, so to speak, the mother of all the qotrobs, demons that have the form of a cat. From another egg emerged the iblises, in whose number must be counted El Harith Abou Murrah and which make their home within walls. From another egg were hatched the maradahs, which inhabit islands. Another produced the ghouls, which chose for their refuge ruins and deserts; another, the si'lahs, which hide in the mountains; the others, the ouahaouis, which inhabit the air in the form of winged serpents, and fly from place to place. From another egg emerged the daouasiks; from yet another the hamasiks; from still another the hamamis, and so forth.²

Most of these types of jinn will be encountered and explained later in this book. The egg motif appears in the earliest creation myths of many peoples, including the Greeks, Egyptians, Hindus and Chinese, suggesting a pre-Islamic origin for al-Mas'udi’s account. But its exact source is unknown.

The Arabs’ belief in jinn long predates Islam and played a role of considerable importance in the seventh-century environment in which the Islamic faith was born. According to this ancient belief, spirits were believed to haunt dark and desolate locales in the desert, and people needed to protect themselves from these beings. ‘It is often assumed that belief in the jinn who were thought to dwell in the desert originated with the Bedouin and was passed from them to the settled tribes,’ notes German scholar Joseph Henninger.³ He says: ‘This assumption does not seem to me to be well founded.’

Bedouin tribesmen who are at home in the desert experience much less fear in those regions than do villagers or townspeople who are often terrified by the desert and are convinced that all sorts of demons and monsters live there. Among the Arabs today, Henninger asserts, ‘belief in spirits is much more intense among the [settled] agricultural population than among the Bedouin’. This is not to say, however, that the Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula disbelieve in the jinn. This belief is very much a part of their everyday lives. But nomadic Arabs are generally less frightened by the jinn than are their settled