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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mythological Species of Humanoids # 36 – Djinn and # 37 – Demons – Part 1

During these snowy winter months in the northeastern U.S. my thoughts turn to the opposite climate - hot dry
deserts - and the mythological species of humanoids that live there, the Djinn or Jinn (singular Jinni.) The popular terms for these humanoids is genie.

Since I am designing several humanoid races for my YA fantasy series similar to elves, fairies, dwarves, goblins, trolls, werewolves, vampires and mermaids, I need to research as many mythological humanoids as I can. The Djinn, a favorite humanoid of Arabic and Muslim cultures, are a great source of ideas.

I find the overlap between the role the Djinn fill in Middle Eastern mythology intriguingly similar to the role filled by elves in Northern European mythology.

Pre-Islamic folklore describes Djinn as ugly, evil demons. Let me stop here, because the average Christian reading this will be thrown into a tizzy at the mere mention of the word demon to describe Djinn. Since these are Middle Eastern creatures, we must look into the Middle Eastern understanding of the word demon. It is not quite the same as the modern Christian meaning. So, in order to discuss Djinn I need to discuss another closely related mythological species of humanoid # 30 – Demons. [I'll continue with Djinn in my next post.]

The word “demon” comes from the Greek word “diamon” which literally means “divine power”, “fate” or “god”. “Diamonia” in Greek also included deified heroes. These creatures were intermediaries between the gods and mankind. [Similar to Celtic fairies or elves.] They could act as guardian spirits giving luck, guidance and protection. Socrates claimed to be guided by a diamon his entire life,which warned him of danger and bad decisions, much better than omens and portents from bird flights and animal entrails.

In pre-Christian and non-Christian cultures there were good and bad demons, defined as “replete with wisdom.” The good ones were called eudemons and the bad ones were called cacodemons. Bad demons were sometimes exorcised by sorcerers and healers as causes of disease, misfortune and possession. They were often captured by sorcerers in this way for later use.

The Christian interpretation of the word “demon” continued to evolve through the Middle Ages where it became synonymous with evil, devil worship and possession by Satan. Being a Catholic Christian myself, I won't explore the demonology of the Middle Ages, too much negativity. [I find C.S. Lewis's Screw Tape Letters a little disconcerting too: well written, insightful, but ultimately leaving me looking at the world through negative lenses.] I'll leave the massive amounts of folklore from the Middle Ages about demons to somebody else to explore.

This brings me back to the Djinn. I'll explore them in part 2. Suffice it to say, Djinn are not always bad. In fact in later Islamic folklore some Djinn were allowed to become beautiful and good-natured. Understanding this is essential to understanding Djinn mythology.

1.  Does thinking about warm places make the cold easier to bear for you?
2. Does reading C.S. Lewis's Screw Tape Letters make you feel a little twisted in the way you see the world for a while?
3. Do you think it was the general difficulty of life, an increase in the number of wars and the Black Plague or just fanaticism that lead to the dramatic rise in negative demon mythology during the Middle Ages?

1 comment:

KC Trae Becker said...

On Dec 13, 2015, Sharon Fehr posted to The Wonders of the Fae google community:

Got to get this book! Any bookstore info? Thank you!!❤

For anyone else with the same question I responded:

It's a great book to lose a couple of hours in anytime you pick it up.

It's called The Illustrated Encyclopedia Eastern Mythology, by Rachel Storm, published by Lorenz Books in 1999-2001 (odd copyright date?) ISBN # 0-7548-0864-5

Hope you enjoy it!