The Old Gods in American Gods have roots in the past and in mythology. While we might know the ins and outs of the New Gods, like Media and Technical Boy, there’s probably a lot we can still learn about their predecessors. For those of you hoping to get a better understanding of these characters before you continue on with American Gods, we have you covered. Get to know the history that inspires the characters in our American Gods History Primer series.
The Jinn, a.k.a. ifrit, afreet, or Djinn
In the Series
The Jinn appears as part of the “Somewhere in America” interludes as a taxi driver in New York. We saw him for a moment in the second episode; he met Mr. Wednesday at the diner.
Like the other Old Gods we’ve encounter thus far, he’s ragged around the edges. He’s not driving a cab out of a passion for being behind the wheel; the Jinn is doing what he must to get by in a world that no longer pays him tribute. He works long hours, he’s treated like crap, and he has to wear sunglasses all the time because he has flames for eyes. Driving with sunglasses at night has to be a pain—even if your eyes are literally fire.
Things turn around for the Jinn when he encounters Salim, someone who is struggling just as much as him. They connect spiritually and sexually. The Jinn offered complete acceptance to Salim and commiserated with him. Then he walked away after transferring his burden/gift to Salim. Was it a trick so the Jinn could get out of dodge? Or knowing Salim’s unhappiness and family issues, did the Jinn give Salim a chance to reinvent himself?
The inspiration for the Jinn is about as obvious as it gets in American Gods. The ifrits are a class of jinn in Middle Eastern mythology and noted for being among the most powerful kind of Jinn; they are not genies. They’re known for being strong and impervious to mundane items like weapons. Ifrits are usually evil beings.
Fisherman and the Jinni by H. J. Ford, 1898
For example, in “The Fisherman and the Jinni,” a tale from Arabian Nights, a fisherman finds an ifrit in a bottle. When the ifrit appears, he is not about granting wishes. Instead, he asks the fisherman how he would like to die: “Ask of me only what mode of death thou wilt die, and by what manner of slaughter shall I slay thee.” So, that’s the kind of attitude we’re working with here.
Let’s talk about the jinn in a broader sense. They’re supernatural beings, connected to demons. The Qur’an references jinn in its text; in 15:27, it specifically mentions the jinn being created from a smokeless, scorching fire. That origin gives them a certain kind of temperament. They’re not reliable, accused of being mischievous and misleading. They can also take any form they wish, be it an animal, human, or a stone.
In their natural state, ifrits appear as winged creatures of smoke. Like other jinn, they can assume whatever look they wish and could choose to live alongside other desert tribes. Salim told the Jinn his grandmother had sworn she’d seen an ifrit on the edge of the desert and that its eyes were burning flames. With the jinn’s connection to fire and smoke, fiery eyes make sense.
And we’ll wrap with something of note: one ifrit has a tie to the Queen of Sheba, a.k.a. Bilquis. The Qur’an cites King Solomon asking for someone to bring the Queen of Sheba’s throne to him, and an ifrit answers. Translated, verses 38-39 look like this:
38. “(Solomon) said: ‘O chiefs!) which of you can bring to me her throne before they come to me in submission?’”
39. “One audacious among the jinn said: ‘I will bring it to you before you rise up from your place; I have strength for it and I am trusty’.”
Images: Starz, Tumblr/Blake