Ask an Uncannologist: Abracadabra

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Do you think there’s any historical basis for genies living in lamps and granting three wishes?

— Tommy Gielgud, Nashville, Tenn.

Oh, if only I had a genie in my life. I would be six inches taller, naturally redheaded, and coordinated enough to throw a decent game of darts.

You may be aware that “genie” is an anglicized corruption of “djinn,” the mythic Arabian creatures. Depending on the djinn, some are like sprites, others like demons, but in traditional Arab lore, the djinn do quite a bit more than sit around in lamps waiting for a good rub.

My mind is far too earthbound to believe that a goateed man will emerge from a cloud of smoke, cross his arms, and offer me whatever three things I want.

That said, I have heard convincing accounts of “flames” in the desert, which supposedly spoke to people. Sane-sounding men have told me about finding mysterious flares of red or blue flame, which seemed to emanate human voices. The voices were low and recited a rhythmic incantation in a language unknown to any witness. The encounters have occurred across the Middle East, from Muscat to the Levant, and their telling is too consistent to rule out entirely. If there’s any truth to the stories, it might explain a messiah or two. I hope to poke around there, once the post-Ottoman politics simmer a bit.

Actually, scratch the darts. I think I can spare a wish on a little peace and prosperity over there.

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