I Dream of Djinni

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Close encounters with ‘the intermediate realm’ are no situation comedy


When I was 10, I desperately wanted Major Tony Nelson to ask Jeannie to marry him. Could he not see how his captive genie was so right for him? She knew it; we young girls in their television audience knew it.  Why was it taking him so long to see it?

The American sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, which ran from 1965 to 1970, taught me that gentlemen wait. It also taught me genies are blonde and curvy and obey whoever uncorks their bottle. By the time I learned about the original genies, the Jinn, I couldn’t appreciate the fear and awe they invoke in those who believe in them. A pal of mine from Pakistan, now living in the U.S. tells me, “Some people will give their soul to have the earthly goods the Jinn can offer.”

In Hollywood’s version, you need only uncork the genie’s bottle. In I Dream of Jeannie, Major Anthony (Tony) Nelson finds a bottle on the South Pacific beach where his one-man spacecraft has landed. He uncorks the bottle and by doing so becomes Jeannie’s master. More often than not he forbids her from using her powers. Major Nelson didn’t have to give his soul to enjoy the earthly goods Jeannie offered, though I like to think he gave his heart when the two eventually married in season five.

The Jinn are said to be able to take on human form and tempt humans with gifts and riches. So could Jeannie. The Jinn are supernatural beings who can grant wishes and curses. Jeannie too! The Jinn rank lower than angels but higher than humans. Here our genies part ways. Jeannie called Major Nelson “Master,” making her subservient status clear. As a genie, in Hollywood anyway, she was below humans on the status ladder. She would have to clear a very big hurdle to get any closer to the angels supposedly above humans.

Jeannie didn’t start life as a genie; a Blue Djinn turned her into one. The Jinn also didn’t start out as genies; they weren’t always supernatural troublemakers. Early on, in their angelic form, they were acknowledged to exist in a realm between humans and the divine. That intermediate realm was (is) as real and objective as ours, according to Sorbonne professor Henry Corbin in his book, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi.

Major Nelson is kind of like Ibn ‘Arabi, a mystic born in 13th century Spain who explored this intermediate realm. Ibn ‘Arabi encountered beings from that realm a little earlier than Major Nelson, and Ibn ‘Arabi’s life’s work demonstrated his direct line to the divine. His influences included both Plato and Avicenna, a lesser-known philosopher who lived in Spain about a hundred years earlier.

Ibn ‘Arabi had an admirer named Averroes. In contrast to Ibn ‘Arabi,  Averroes embraced Aristotelian thinking. In that rational approach, humans had no touch of divinity and were limited in their ability to apprehend the divine. This thinking caught on while both Averroes and Ibn ‘Arabi were alive. Even so, Averroes remained open to Ibn ‘Arabi’s less rational approach which allowed him to connect directly to the divine beings existing in the intermediate realm.

In the first meeting between the two men, Ibn ‘Arabi demonstrated his facility with the intermediate realm, communicating mostly psychically with Averroes, according to Corbin.  Ibn ‘Arabi wowed Averroes. However, that was not enough to stop the rising tide of Aristotle-everything.

It got so bad that anyone who believed in this intermediate realm had to either move east or stop speaking publicly about their beliefs. Eventually, those who made the rules about which cosmology would make the cut left out the intermediate realm, its inhabitants, its role in keeping heavenly bodies spinning and its ability to connect directly with humans and transform them as a result. However, the realm and its inhabitants didn’t languish, like Tinkerbell in need of the sound of children clapping. Instead, the philosophy took root and flowered in cultures to the east.

I feel ripped off. I could have used some guidance when I was 10 years old and beings from some other-worldly realm found their way into mine. Maybe 10-year-old girls in those current-day cultures know exactly what to do when beings from the intermediate realm reach out to them. They live in cultures practised in knowing the unknowable. Imagine:  the day comes when you get your first visit from a being from another realm. You may have already been initiated into this practice, or perhaps you will be now that you’ve been visited. You are ready to hear what the beings have to say, and therefore what they say comes across clearly and is understandable. Would your parents pretend nothing has happened and, when pressed, say you had “a bad dream?” I’ll bet not.

No one asked about my “bad dream.” I didn’t talk about it, anyway. I knew what I was encountering didn’t exist, according to the rules. I didn’t want to pursue that line of logic, because I intuited where it could end.

Perhaps such illogical, intellectual resistance requires beings from those other realms to ante up on the props. “Wardrobe!” they shout; “Makeup!” For me, they donned cartoonish suits made of red and black metal and, in a fit of drama, communicated only telepathically. Others wore monkish hoods to hide their faces and tucked their hands in the pockets of plaid aprons. One, dressed in a smart black suit and a bowler hat, carried a briefcase and gazed at me with phosphorescent green eyes; another appeared as a bronze giant on the side of Virginia State Highway 58; and another as a giant but gentle reptile in a swamp in South Carolina. Though the red and black metal beings just sat across from me at a table and communicated telepathically to me, I don’t recall they zinged any messages into my brain. Only once did one friendly little beige being give me a clear directive: “Get to know the lizard men of revelations; we need more of their kind.” Right. Got it. I’m on it.

Our intermediate realm friends were equally showy when they made their bid for Major Nelson’s attention. Even so, Jeannie was bound to help make the message clear: as the one who uncorked Jeannie’s bottle, Major Nelson could wish for anything and Jeannie had to grant it. But he was a man with a full life: a demanding job, good friends. An in-home genie was a nice-to-have. What would such a man wish for? Perhaps he wished for indifference and, in that way, tamed his more animal instincts that must have prowled the perimeter with a buxom blonde in the house. He could have taken advantage of Jeannie’s entrapment and had his way with her. Instead, he took his time getting to know her, establishing the rules, and, when the time was right, married her. Gentlemen wait and make the rules, even when the object of their love is a woman of power with supernatural connections.

karencavalliFreelance writer Karen Cavalli has published extensively online and in print magazines and books. Her fiction and non-fiction have won awards.  Cavalli lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and her current writing project focuses on the hidden state of spirit in America. Contact:  karen@karencavalli.com


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