In pre-Islamic and Islamic lore, a Djinn. The term genie is an English translation of Djinn, which first appeared in print in 1655 and is probably also related to the older Latin term genius, a type of guardian or tutelary spirit of people, places, and things that was Demonized by Christianity.
Genie became the popular English term for Djinn, primarily because the French translators of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Arabic folktales, used it in place of Djinn. One of the most familiar tales, “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” features a genie released from a magical lamp that fulfills wishes. In Roman mythology, the genius (pl. genii) is present at the birth of a person, remains with him or her throughout life, and shapes the person’s character and destiny. If a guardian of a place, the genius serves as the animating force that gives a location its unique power and atmosphere. In Assyrian lore, the genie is a guardian spirit or minor deity. In art, it is often portrayed as having a role in royal rituals. Genies are anthropomorphic, with animal heads (and sometimes wings) and human torsos and limbs. They guard and purify kings, members of royalty, supernatural figures, and open doorways against malevolent Demons and the disorders they cause. In art, they are shown holding a pinecone in the right hand and a bucket of either water or pollen in the left hand. Both bucket and cone have associations of purification. Portrayals of genies were placed in buildings as guardians.
– Black, Jeremy, and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. London: British Museum Press, 1992.
Find a mysterious, antique oil lamp and rub it. A fabulous, powerful genie will emerge and be beholden to you. This classic fantasy is the beloved subject of fairy tales, movies and television shows alike. Variations on the theme exist: the lamp may be ornate and precious or plain, old and dusty. The enchanted object may not even be a lamp: stories also tell of rings containing trapped genies. The genie may be a willing slave or obligated to fulfill a certain number of wishes, usually one or three.
It’s a popular fantasy but genies don’t exist only in bottles waiting to serve. Genies are Djinn. Djinn is an Arabic word: there are tremendous variations in colloquial spoken Arabic and so pronunciation of the word Djinn varies depending on location. In some regions, “Djinn” is pronounced “jinni”. Genie is a European attempt at transliteration of that word; Genie was already a familiar word as it is the French variant of the Latin genius, meaning ‘spirit.’
But the spirits are the same. Genies and Djinn: the words are technically synonymous. However, in popular culture, the words possess different connotations: Djinn are depicted as threatening monsters while genies are helpful, whether willingly or not. Thus the main character on the American television series, I Dream of Jeannie is a genie but her big, mean, blue enemy is the Blue Djinn although it is never implied that there is anything different about them other than temperament.
Genies first came to popular Western attention through the collection of fairy tales known as the One Thousand and One Nights (also called The Arabian Nights), which features the story of Aladdin and his lamp. This legend of the genie in the lamp was conflated with King Solomon’s Seventy-Two Spirits (see entry) who were trapped in a brazen vessel so that they would be on-call whenever Solomon sought their power.
Genies became extremely popular fantasy figures. The 1940 movie, The Thief of Baghdad stars Rex Ingram as the genie. The hit television series, I Dream of Jeannie, which aired from 1965 until 1970, featured Barbara Eden as a sexy, headstrong and willful genie: not out of character for this species of spirit. Once she determines that Tony, the astronaut who liberates her from her bottle is hers, there is little he can do about it. (
Lalla Malika; Lalla Mira.) Genies came to the popular forefront once again with the 1992 Disney animated film, Aladdin, featuring Robin Williams as the big, blue genie. (The Disney genie can only use his power when his master wills it; some may find this fallacy comforting but it’s not true.)
Rings, lamps and bottles allegedly containing genies just waiting to be commanded are frequently available for sale or auction on e-Bay The word genie has also come to mean anything with allegedly miraculous helpful powers thus the existence of products like the Diaper Genie or the Genie Garage Door Opener. (Whether true genies would appreciate these associations or be offended is subject for debate.) Perhaps because of the many popular misconceptions of genies, serious students of the occult and traditional spirituality tend to use the term Djinn exclusively. See the entry for Djinn for practical information regarding working with these spirits
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.