Arabian spirits, perhaps animistic, but more probably strictly
mythological like the Persian divs. The jinn were said to have
been created out of fire and to have occupied the Earth for several
thousand years before Adam. They were perverse and
would not reform, although prophets were sent to reclaim
them; they were eventually driven from the Earth and took refuge
in the outlying islands of the sea.
One of the number named Azazeel (afterward called Iblees)
was carried off as a prisoner by angels. He grew up among
them and became their chief, but when he refused to prostrate
himself before Adam he was degraded to the condition of a
sheytân (devil), and became the father of the sheytâns.
The jinn are not immortal and, according to legend, are
destined ultimately to die. They eat and drink and propagate
their species, live in communities, and are ruled over by
princes. They can make themselves visible or invisible, and they
assume the forms of various animals, such as serpents, cats, and
dogs. There are good jinn and bad jinn. They are said to frequent
baths, wells, latrines, ovens, ruined houses, rivers, crossroads,
and marketplaces. Like the demons of Jewish traditions,
they ascend to heaven and learn the future by eavesdropping.
With all their power and knowledge, however, they are liable
to be reduced to obedience by means of talismans or occult arts
and become obsequious servants until the spell is broken.
It is far from certain that the jinn of the East were derived
from the mythology or philosophy of the West, and the practice
of translating the Arabic word jinn by the Latin term genius
arose more from an apparent resemblance in the names than
from any identity in the nature and functions of those imaginary
This similarity of name, however, must have been purely accidental,
for the Arabs knew little or nothing of the Latin language.
Demon—not genius—is the word they probably would
have used if they had borrowed this part of their creed from the
West. Jinn appears, moreover, to be a genuine Arabic word derived
from a root signifying ‘‘to veil’’ or ‘‘to conceal’’; it therefore
means properly ‘‘that which is veiled and cannot be seen.’’
‘‘In one sense,’’ states Frús-àbàdí (Câmús, vol. 3, p. 611), ‘‘the
word Jinn signifies any spiritual being concealed from all our
senses, and, for that reason, the converse of a material being.
Taken in this extensive sense, the word Jinn comprehends devils
as well as angels, but there are some properties common to
both angels and Jinn; some peculiar to each. Every angel is a
Jinn, but every Jinn is not an angel. In another sense, this term
is applied peculiarly to a particular kind of spiritual being; for
such beings are of three kinds; the good, which are angels; the
bad, devils; and the intermediate, comprehending both good
and bad, who form the class of Jinn.’’
Thus Arabs acknowledged good and bad jinn, in that respect
agreeing with the Greeks, but differing from the Persians.
The ‘‘genii’’ so long familiar to European readers through the
Arabian Nights are not the same beings, but rather are the divs
and dévatàs of Indian romance dressed up in a foreign attire
to please the tastes of readers in Persia and Arabia.
The principal differences, therefore, between the genii of
the West and the jinn of the East seem to have been as follows
the genii were deities of an inferior rank, the constant companions
and guardians of men, capable of giving useful or prophetic
impulses, acting as mediators and messengers between the
gods and men. Some were supposed to be friendly, others hostile,
and many believed one of each kind was attached from
birth to every mortal. The former was called Agathodemon, the
latter Cacodemon.
The good genius prompted men to good, the evil to bad actions.
That of each individual was as a shadow of himself. Often
the genius was represented as a serpent. His age also varied. He
was generally crowned with a chaplet of plane-tree leaves. His
sacrifices were wholly bloodless, consisting of wine and flowers,
and the person who performed the oblation was the first to
taste the cup. The birthday was placed under his special care.
Roman men swore by their genius, the women by their juno.
The genius of the reigning prince was an oath of extraordinary
solemnity. There were local as well as individual genii, concerning
whom many particulars may be found in De Idolatria liber
of Dionysius Vossius (editions 1633, 1641).
The jinn, on the contrary, who seem to be the lineal descendants
of the dévatés and rakshasas of Hindu mythology, were
never worshiped by the Arabs nor considered as anything but
agents of the Deity. Since the establishment of Islam, indeed,
they have been described as invisible spirits, and the feats and
deformities that figure into romance are as little believed by
Easterners as the tales of King Arthur’s Round Table are by