Aladdin, and genies, djinn, and jinn in folklore and pop culture

(Originally published on IGN)

If you’re hoping to find a magic lamp containing an all-powerful genie, be careful what you wish for.

Despite what Aladdin, I Dream of Jeannie or modern paranormal pop culture promise, tapping into phenomenal cosmic powers – contained in an itty-bitty living space – can lead to a world of hurt. Like the song says, you ain’t never had a friend like a genie, but millennia of folklore suggest you probably will wish you didn’t.

In modern entertainment, such as Disney’s new live-action Aladdin based on the 1992 animated film, genies are powerful beings trapped within a lamp, and relegated to granting wishes to masters. Jafar’s fate in the animated film also suggests a human can be transformed into a genie. But that’s not at all how things started for genies…

The Origin of Genies

What we see in Aladdin doesn’t reflect the pre-Islamic Arabian origins of genies, or “jinn,” and “djinn,” which date back to at least 2400 BCE. Although their precise beginnings are unclear, they are mentioned multiple times in the Quran. The word (meaning “to hide”) may be rooted in an Aramaic label for pagan deities that were downgraded to demon status, but Muhammad’s teachings said the jinn were created of smokeless fire.

As opposed to angels, and existing long before Allah created Adam, the jinn were entirely separate entities.

“The jinn are neither angels nor demons,” said paranormal author and researcher David Weatherly, who writes about jinn in his book Strange Intruders. “According to Middle Eastern lore, they are something in between, a third race of beings created by Allah.”

Within Islam, they are not inherently good nor evil, and can live a life of free will that involves eating for sustenance, getting married, having children, and observing social customs. Though possessing magical abilities, when they die they’ll face judgment for their sins.

Paranormal Investigator Lorraine Warren Dies at 92

A legend in the world of ghosts, on this plane of existence and perhaps the next, has passed on.

Lorraine Warren, purported medium, ghost hunter, and author involved with cases popularized in paranormal pop culture films The Amityville HorrorThe Conjuring, The Haunting in Connecticut, and Annabelle, has died at age 92. According to her son-in-law Tony Spera, Warren passed away in her sleep last night. 
Lorraine -- along with her husband Ed, who died in 2006 -- founded the New England Society for Psychic Research, and claim to have investigated more than 10,000 paranormal cases. The duo became celebrities who appeared on talk shows, and gave lectures on the topics of ghosts, and demonology. 
Born January 31, 1927, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and raised Roman Catholic, Lorraine stated she could see auras around people from the age of seven. Along with Ed, she said she relied on her faith as they worked with clergy on cases involving spirits of those who passed on, as well as demons who possessed people, homes, and objects. Though they did not charge for investigations that took them across the United States, and to Europe, Asia, and Australia, they gained notoriety through books, speaking engagements, film consulting, and at one point, tours of their Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut (which contains the actual Annabelle doll).
The Warrens were most famous for their involvement with the 1976 Amityville case, and the haunting allegedly experience by the Lutz family in Long Island, New York. The “spook sleuths,” as they were called in one newspaper cover story, did not appear as characters in the 1979 film The Amityville Horror,nor in 2009’s The Haunting in Connecticut -- loosely based on their version of the Snedeker House case from 1986. They were, however, portrayed in the 1991 made-for-television movie The Haunted, based on the Smurl case in Pennsylvania. 
Although she appeared on television discussing their cases (and both took part in series such as Road Rules: All StarsScariest Places on Earth, with Lorraine appearing on Discovery Channel’s A Hauntingand on A&E’s investigative series, Paranormal State), they became famous for 21st Century audiences as fictionalized characters in 2013’s The Conjuring
Directed by James Wan, the film adapted the story of the Perron family, supposedly tormented by the ghost of a witch who had killed her infant, and pledged herself to the devil. Portrayed by Vera Farmiga (with Patrick Wilson playing Ed), Lorraine’s psychic abilities are used to stop the entity, and assist in an exorcism.
The massive success of the film (which earned $319 million on a reported $20 million budget) launched the The Conjuring Universe, which involved a sequel based on the Enfield Poltergeist in England, and the Annabelle doll spin-off franchise. 
As far as their personal history, Lorraine and Ed met when they were 16, and he was working as an usher for The Colonial Theater in Bridgeport. After entering the Navy at 17, Ed’s ship sank in the North Atlantic in 1945 during World War II. He had saved the life of a fellow sailor, a moment Lorraine later told was the proudest moment of her life. The couple was married on his 30-day survivor’s leave, and later had a daughter, Judy. Together they sold Ed’s paintings, which (literally and figuratively) opened the doors to haunted houses owned by those who bought his work. 
Although Lorraine and Ed Warren were the subject of criticism, and accusations of fraud, their impact on the field of paranormal investigation is vast. From a paranormal pop culture perspective, Lorraine and Ed will be remembered alongside other famous ghost hunters such as Harry Price, Hans Holzer (and yes, even Zak Bagans). Their legacy within the field continues with nephew John Zaffis, who was a protégé of theirs and is now a paranormal celebrity in his own right, and demonologist David Considine.

Project Blue Book's Aidan Gillen, aka J. Allan Hynek, on the Season 1 Finale

[A previous version of this story was published at IGN]


At the end of the Season 1 finale of Project Blue Book, J. Allen Hynek is a man on his own. Following the Washington Flap -- a series of famously well-documented real-life UFO sightings in 1952 fictionalized on the show -- he is warned by mysterious allies they can no longer protect him. But as Hynek looks to the stars from his observatory, Aidan Gillen, who portrays the UFO researcher, is looking ahead to the second season of the History show.

Gillen didn’t know about the Season 2 renewal when the finale ended on that cliffhanger, which also showed Hynek – in a move worthy of the actor’s character Littlefinger from Game of Thrones -- apparently doublecrossing his partner Quinn (Michael Malarkey), only to reveal he was actually pulling the wool over the government’s collective eyes.

Paranormal Conventions 2019: Best UFO and Supernatural Conferences

[An earlier version of this list appeared on Den Of Geek]

At most comic cons, and fan events, one expects to run into people dressed as supernatural entities, extraterrestrials, and mysterious creatures. But at paranormal, cryptozoology, and ufology events, fans are discussing the existence of them – and often gather to actively go looking for them.

And as much as I move about in the world of comic cons, for the past decade or so, I have spent weekends traveling the world to talk as a journalist and researcher about ghosts, demons, curses, aliens, UFO, and monsters. During the day, the world of paracons closely resembles most fan events, and there is quite a bit of cross-pollination between them. There are panels, vendor rooms, and signings by notable authors, television personalities, and occasionally actors from paranormal pop culture. But at night, the activities continue with a skywatch, ’squatch hunt, or ghost hunt in supposedly haunted houses (or asylums, penitentiaries, hospitals, and hotels).

Many paracon attendees skew towards the belief end of the spectrum, but most are an overwhelmingly curious balance of Mulders or later-season Scullys in the “I Want To Believe” or “The Truth is Out There” sense. While there are certainly eccentric characters, they are no more so than the most ardent comic con-goer – which is to say things can get delightfully weird. And though I could tell stories about times I was accused of being a reptilian from another planet, I rarely encounter tinfoil hats or (hardly ever) meet anyone possessed by the spirit of a dead president.

With that in mind, I wanted to offer a breakdown of some of the best paracons out there, worthy of a fantripping adventure. I have not attended all of these, but based my recommendations on reputation, location, or guest list. Whether you’re new to the scene, or the paranormal is an old haunt for you, give these a chance. Enter with an open mind, and an appetite for fun. And if you see me at any, come up and say, “Boo!”

David Bowie shared his UFO experiences with Creem Magazine, 44 years ago

More than four decades ago, and just shy of three years after Ziggy Stardust was introduced to the world, David Bowie talked about his flying saucer sightings.

In a story for Creem, "America's Only Rock 'n Roll Magazine" -- home to music critic icon Lester Bangs, and the same publication that coined the term "punk rock" -- the publication had incredible access to musicians. And it shows in the 1975 story by Bruno Stein, "Flying Saucers, Hitler, and David Bowie: World problems solved in U.S. hotel room."

The music writer joined David Bowie and company "in a little town in Missouri." The intimate gathering was called a "soiree," but it really seemed like a loose collection in a hotel suite, consisting of musicians, a newspaper reporter, a handful of crew members, and Bowie himself, exhausted after performing just an hour earlier.

Stein captured the moment perfectly, as Bowie appeared concerned about why his roadie had mysteriously resigned. He aimlessly stalked the hotel room, alternating between engaging in various conversations, and spending time on his own. But he perked up when the topic turned to UFOs, and a supposed flying saucer repair shop in an empty field in Missouri.

Stein quoted Bowie as saying he has a metal pin in his body, and added the musician revealed he worked with an English UFO magazine. Bowie said he witnessed significant UFO activity from an observatory up to seven times a night, over the course of a year. He explained the interaction between craft, and it is frankly bonkers:

The Myths Behind Jordan Peele's 'Us'

The filmmaker is the latest to play with doppelgangers, which date back thousands of years.

[A condensed version of this story was published in The Hollywood Reporter on Feb. 4, 2019. This is the longer, deep dive, waaaaay nerdier version.]

By Aaron Sagers

Despite what the Netflix movie The Princess Diaries may have you believe, meeting your exact double is not all wacky hijinks, or romance. The Vanessa Hudgens-starring Christmas film — where a young lovelorn baker swaps places with a Duchess who craves the quiet life — is closer to the lighthearted approach pop culture takes with regards to meeting your doppelganger.

But Jordan Peele's upcoming horror Us suggests there are darker consequences to meeting your exact double.

The film revolves around a family setting off on a beach vacation to a woman’s childhood home. Played by Lupita Nyong’o, Adelaide Wilson begins to relive trauma from her past, and notices eerie coincidences. She becomes certain something bad is going to happen to her family. According to the official synopsis, she’s right:

“When darkness falls, the Wilsons discover the silhouette of four figures holding hands as they stand in the driveway. Us pits an endearing American family against a terrifying and uncanny opponent: doppelgängers of themselves.”

According to Peele, the concept behind the monsters of Us, called The Tethered, comes from the idea that “we’re our own worst enemy.” He said he wanted to explore duality, and the connections between characters, and their counterparts. The title itself is as likely to refer to the relationship between twin spirits as the relationship between family members.

Us differs greatly from the entire internet subculture of people who look like, or believe they look like, Kendall Jenner. Last year Scarlett Johansson met a 72-year-old double of her, took the woman to a movie premiere, and joked they got trashed together. The end of 2018 was seemingly spent with everyone sharing photos from PopSugar’s Twinning site, which pairs selfies with a person’s celebrity lookalike (like the TwinStrangers site that also uses facial recognition software to compare images in its database to find a user’s lookalike).

But Us is closer to folkloric, mythological, and paranormal pop culture evolution of doppelgangers.