USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘djinn’

Djinn Attacking a Boat

Item (direct transcription):

So my mom tells me that, uhh, my grandma once told her of a story of something she saw when she was coming back from visiting her parents in their hometown. And this was before the Independence War in Bangladesh, so most of the traveling was done by boat, because Bangladesh used to have lots of water, lots of waterways, and traveling by boat was actually faster than actually going by land.

So, anyway, my grandma was coming back from her hometown, and she was on a boat. And it was, like, around midnight, right? So, dark everywhere and she’s on this boat with some other people who are also traveling. And they’re going along slowly. So then they see this, like, light up ahead. It’s coming towards them. And suddenly it defines itself into, like, a saucer shape. The way my mom said my grandmother described it was that it was like an upside-down pan. You know, something you cook with. Just upside-down. And under it was just fire, just fire coming out.

And, umm, apparently it attacked their boat! And… and like it circled around the boat, and made like waves, like, come up toward the boat, and, like, rock the boat quite a bit. And after, like, harassing them, like, a bit, it, like, flew up into the air, and, like, came down at them as if it was going to crash into the boat and, like, kill everyone. But then it just swerved away at the last second. It did that a couple times, and then it just flew away.

Background Information:

The informant was told the story by his mom, whom was told it by her mom, the informant’s grandmother.

The informant’s grandmother and her fellow passengers believed that they were attacked by a djinn. The informant elaborates that Islamic literature describes djinn as creatures of fire that can fly and assume any form. The informant says that Muslims are more likely to attribute strange occurrences to djinn than to aliens. He believes that what Americans think of as aliens, Muslims think of as djinn. Also, he says the that djinn are believed to come from a separate planet, so they are really quite similar to a modern American belief in aliens.

The informant himself wouldn’t hazard a guess as to what his grandmother saw, though he insisted he believed that the incident did actually happen.

Contextual Information:

The telling of this particular story seems to be mostly constrained to the informant’s family. The informant had not told it to anyone outside his family before, and only thought to tell it to me when I asked about stories of supernatural encounters than he knew of.


This story matches the format of a typical memorate. The informant even seems aware of this, realizing that his grandmother only thought her experience was caused by a djinn because that was a dominant folk belief in her culture.

Folk Beliefs

Djinn and Public Baths

Could you share a story that your father might have told you when you were younger?

“I’m going to tell you about the story, about the ghosts, that my father used to tell us when we were young, and uhh…

We used to have a public bath, which they were underground, a lot of steps to go down there. So, umm…

We always pass from that public bath, and he always afraid of that place. So one time he told me a story about that place that at night…

The, umm… ghosts, they would come over there and have a party! And you can hear the music and everything, you know, and then, he says, one morning, somebody went early in the morning that bath, public bath, and said nobody was there.

So he wanted to be the first one to take shower and go. And he goes in there and sees that there’s a guy sitting there. And he… And then he ask him, ‘What are you doing here?’ You know? And then he says, ‘Well, I just came to wash whoever comes.’

Usually the, the people wash them. And says ‘I just wash him.’

And he says, ‘Okay you can wash my body.’ So he sat there, and he start washing him.

And then he asked him, ‘Oh, I heard there is a ghost in this public bath. And uhh, have you ever seen one?’

And he says, ‘How can you tell that this is a ghost?’

And he says ‘Because my father told me that there is a.. horseshoe on their left foot.’

And he says, ‘Oh! Is that like this?’

And he shows his foot that it has a horseshoe on it, so he just got scared, and run out of public bath, you know nude, in the street-”

Your father did?

“No, no, the guy who was telling the story. Yeah, to my father, yeah. So he just run through the street and he believed there is a ghost in that public bath.”

Do you remember who told your father that story?

“Ehh, probably it was somebody like friend, or someone, because it was everybody they would talk about it. It was something everybody talked about it. It was the neighborhood, the old neighborhood in Tehran… Djinn is something like, like the ghost, it doesn’t really exist, I think it’s mostly in stories, but this one they were saying it’s true.”

Analysis: This ghost story follows a very typical format, down to the acknowledgement that most ghost stories aren’t true, but that this one had certain credibility.
It was shared with Tahereh as a young girl by her father, but she does not know who he heard it from. Nonetheless, she asserts, knowledge of this story was common knowledge in the part of Tehran that she grew up in. Knowing that public baths were not always the safest places, it may well have been that parents told their children stories like this one in order to keep them from wandering into dark places because of something attractive, like music.