>I recorded the four ‘Joanna Lumley’s Nile’ programmes over the Christmas break and have just got round to watching them. I was intrigued by the conversation Lumley had (through an interpreter) with a felucca owner on the Nile near Aswan, southern Egypt. Echoing many a new age/Von Daniken style fantasy, the boatman told Lumley:
‘The ancient Egyptians used to levitate a stone by pointing a wand at it … each stone was as big as this boat and they would lift them with incantations. The stones would fly up on their own and stack one on top of the other.’
Lumley looked highly dubious at this information but listened politely while the boatman, who has fished the Nile for more than 50 years, told her about the demons haunting the river.
‘There are deep whirlpools which are haunted,’ he told her. ‘Yes, I saw demons with my own eyes. They appeared to me not once, not twice, but three times. One of them attacked this boat, while I was holding the rudder, and set fire to it. My boat went up in flames.’
Lumley asked him what the demons looked like, and he replied: ‘He could look like anything. He could look like a rabbit. He could look like a horse or a very big wild cat. He can even appear in human form. He dresses in clothes but, guess what, this demon’s feet look like a donkey’s.’
The similarity of belief in such djinn with the pwca etc of Celtic Britain and with appearances of the Devil in British folklore is striking. The only difference is in the eyes, which the felucca owner indicated were set vertically in the face rather than horizontally.
It’s worth remembering how many people in primarily Muslim countries earnestly believe in the djinn. After all, many of the strange spooks from our own folklore, and weird things still reported today, such as poltergeists and Black Dogs, may have the same origin – entities created of smokeless fire who inhabit a parallel world which sometimes intrudes on our own.