The Jinn of Middle East and North Africa legend bear little relationship to the Western caricature of a bare-chested figure arising from an oil lamp to grant wishes. Created before the race of man from smokeless fire, the Jinn, like humans, are mortal. They are born, they can marry and bear children, and they die, although they live much longer than humans. They have a societal structure and heirarchy, and follow different religions. Like humans, they face eternal judgement for their actions on earth, and therefore have free will to chose a life of good, or a life of evil.
In Morocco, one of the worst of the evil Jinn is a female spirit known as Aisa Qandisa. According to legend, she was a female shaman, or spirtual healer, who violated the tradition of dressing in white for 40 days after the death of her husband, when his spirit still hovered between the land of the living and the land of the dead. Her punishment was to become one of the Jinn she bargained with to gain her powers. Now a Jinn herself, she was tasked with haunting rivers and streams, taking the shape of a beautiful woman to lure young men to a watery grave.
Sitting beside the dying flames of a campfire, I listened as the director of our tour told me his own personal story of an encounter with this dark spirit. Years ago, as a young man, he left a party late at night to return home. Close to midnight, he crossed a small river, his car rolling over a rickety wooden bridge. His headlights glanced off the figure of a solitary woman, her palm raised up in a gesture to ask for a ride. Surprised that anyone, much less a woman, would be hitchhiking at such an unusual hour, he pulled his car over and invited her inside.
Looking back, he told me that nothing about the woman's appearance seemed out of the ordinary. He chatted with her briefly about her destination and started up the car again, the wheels chattering along the planks of the bridge. After a short distance, he decided some music might make his new-found companion enjoy the ride more. He grabbed for a cassette tape, but it slipped from his hands and fell down in front of the woman's feet. Expressing his apologies, he stopped the car, and reached down to pick the tape up off the floor.
As his fingers closed around the cassette, he froze. Instead of human feet, the horned legs of an animal emerged from below her dress. Bolting upright, he realized that his half-human, half-animal hitchhiker was a Jinn, and an evil one at that. A fragment of story his grandfather had told him flashed through his mind. Aisa Qandisa could be banished if a knife blade was thrust through thin air with only a single blow. Any more strikes, and the Jinn could never be defeated, now matter how powerful the weapon. He reached for small knife near his seat and thrust the blade downward, adding a prayer as he did so. His heart pounding in his chest, he looked over to see that his front seat was empty. The woman who had been sitting there had vanished. Shaken, he turned back onto the road, driving as fast as he could to Marrakech.
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