by Andrew K. Arnett

In the 1960s, Americans were treated, through the magic of network television, to the wonders of a 2000-year-old pantaloon clad imp capable of granting her ‘master’ any desire he wished, with the mere blink of an eye. The show was I Dream of Jeanie. It was, to say the least, a westernized take on an old Persian trope.

Nonetheless, the opportunity provided an entire generation of Americans a certain familiarity with the concept of the genie, well known to those in Arabic culture.

I Dream of Jeanie was a sitcom which ran on NBC from 1965 to 1970. Barbara Eden plays Jeanie, who is a genie, synonymous with djinn. Larry Hagman plays a NASA astronaut who becomes the genie’s master.

The pilot episode sets the premise for the show. In it, astronaut Captain Tony Nelson (Hagman) of the United States Air Force, is on a space mission. His one-man capsule Stardust One goes off course upon re-entry and lands on a desert island in the South Pacific, far from the planned recovery area.

Eden with husband Michael Ansara as The Blue Djinn (1966)

Stranded on a beach, Tony spots an unusual bottle rolling across the sand. Tony removes the stopper and gives it a good rub. Smoke shoots out and a Persian-speaking female genie (Eden) materializes, kissing a surprised Tony on the lips.

Tony, not understanding Persian, says he wishes Jeanie could speak English, which she begins to do. Then, he wishes for a recovery helicopter. With the blink of an eye, one appears overhead. Tony is overjoyed, tells Jeanie she is free to go. But Jeanie has fallen in love at first sight with Tony. She re-enters her bottle and rolls it into his duffel bag to accompany him home.

Jeanie’s oft-times misuse of magic to help Tony, and Tony’s efforts to cover up her antics for fear of losing his job at NASA, forms a story arc which runs for much of the romantic fantasy series.

Jeanie is a charming, beautiful and good willed genie with a heart of gold, lacking the malevolence often portrayed of the djinn in their native culture. This is, in part, balanced by the introduction of Jeanie’s evil fraternal twin sister, also played by Barbara Eden and also named Jeanie for, as Jeanie explains, all female genies are named Jeanie.

The evil twin, sans the pantaloons, sports a green costume with skirt and brunette hair. She has a decidedly mean streak and repeatedly attempts to steal Tony for herself, with her as ‘master.’

Also, a ‘djinn’ proper, the Blue Djinn (played by Eden’s real life husband Michael Ansara), is introduced as the one who originally imprisoned Jeanie in the bottle for refusing to marry him.

More information about Jeanie’s background is provided in the official I Dream of Jeanie paperback novel, by Al Hine and published by Pocket Books. Here, the reader learns that Jeanie’s real name is Fawzia, her immediate family of genies lived in Terhan, and that Tony had originally landed and found Jeanie in the Persian Gulf, not the South Pacific, as shown on TV.

I Dream of Jeanie was a hit TV show, running for five seasons and 139 episodes. It undoubtedly made a subtle, when not overt, impact on American society. On June 27, 1969, a parade in Cocoa Beach, Florida, where the show was fictionally based, threw a parade for the cast and crew of I Dream of Jeanie. The cast were escorted to City Hall and greeted by officials and fans. Then Eden was taken to Cape Canaveral where she was invited to press the launch button for the Loki-Dart weather rocket. Later that evening, at Lee Caron’s Carnival Club, Eden met and kissed astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the cheek, two weeks before the launch of Apollo 11 and man’s first trip to the moon. A street, I Dream of Jeanie Lane, was designated in Cocoa Beach.

Everyone fell in love with Jeanie and wanted to find their own Jeanie in a bottle. Wouldn’t you?

It turns out you can do just that. A book written in the 1200s by Zakarīyā’ al-Qazwīnī entitled Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing provides the adventurous, if not reckless, the ways and means to summon your own genie. The book is considered the authoritative text on the subject at the time, and claims that the jinn can have a powerful impact on everyday life, from warding off the Evil Eye to inflicting harm upon enemies.

For academic purposes the innovation is provided here:

During any day, before sunrise, one needs to recede into solitude and quiet. During that night, the person that wants to contact a Jinn needs to pray and praise to God. During the next day fasting is practiced. Before one starts to fast, which lasts from sunup till sundown one needs to eat unsalted food out of barley, unsalted olives, dried grapes, Dates and a few pieces of fruit and vegetables. Under no circumstances can one consume anything that is of animal origin such as : meat, milk, eggs, honey, etc. When one breaks his fasting, one needs to consume the same. An hour and a half before nightfall one needs to start summoning Jinn by repeating the following verse a thousand times :

“Beshmasheymahin [x2], Shamihin Ala Kulli Berahin Aksemtu Aleyke Eyyuhel Avnul Muin Biizeti Shemlehin [x2], Shemalehin En Te’tiyne Ve Takdi Hajeti Bihakki Sha’shain Esh’ashin Esh’ushin [x2], Barekellahu Fiyke Ve Aleyke Ve Innehu Lekasemun Lev Ta’lemune Azim.”

After the last repetition, a Jinn will appear in front of the summoner in a human form. If that happens there is no reason to panic, one needs to go to sleep peacefully. During the night, while the man is sleeping, the Jinn will come and wake him. After a short conversation a contract will be made between them and the Jinn will be bound to a lifelong servitude which includes fulfilling realistic wishes and informing the human about the questions that he sets to the Jinn.

The Sufis warn that if there is no response from the Jinn during the first time, that one must persist and repeat the process a couple of times until a contact is successfully made.

Zakarīyā’ al-Qazwīnī