The Story of the Giant Horse and Djinn

Ancient sites anywhere in the world, particularly when they are full of caves and tombs, give rise to fantastic stories of spirits that haunt them. Petra is no exception to this rule, but Bedoul mythology differs in this respect from other Bedouin mythology.

In Arab / Muslim lore, particularly in the Mashreq, the spirits that haunt are called Djinn, which are mentioned in the Kor'an as creatures made of fire, who include the good and the bad. Sometimes they manifest themselves to humans, often with malicious intentions; but it suffices for the human to mention the name of the God for the Djinn to disappear, and for its spell to be broken. The Bedouls, by contrast, discourage you from mentioning the name of God when a Djinn appears. Instead, they believe that its presence is dispelled by the lighting a fire, or by the barking of a dog.

Abou Awwad, an old man of the Judeilat who lives in Petra, claims to have had an encounter with the Djinn. He was on his way to home late one night when suddenly the horse he was riding froze in fear. Out of no where there appeared a giant black horse which started running in all directions at an incredible speed. Abou Awwad's horse panicked and took to flight as fast as it could. As it galloped away it was fearfully champing at the bit so hard that the sound of its teeth against the metal was more audible than the beating of its hooves. Abou Awwad maintains that giant horse is a Djinn that haunts Petra, and which appears to people frequently, a belief shared by many Bedouls.

His wife, Umm Awwad, relates another story that frightened her. One day while she herded the sheep alone by the caves, there appeared before her a very handsome man ''with a face as beautiful as the full moon'', wearing equally beautiful clothes. She did not recognise him as one of her tribe, so she asked him who he was. He did not answer. Instead he walked into a cave never to come out again.

Another element of Bedoul mythology is the belief that the ruins contain buried treasures that surpass all imagination. This also explains the bullet marks on the crucible of the treasury, which were made in the course of the Bedouins' frequent attempts to get what they thought was hidden gold. However, the legend states that the treasure is guarded by Djinn and magic spells which have to be broken. Umm Awwad relates another story that is supposed to have taken place in the time of her father. A Jew came seeking the treasure in Wadi Sabra near Petra, and the spell which he cast succeeded in opening the doors of the treasury, but his magic was not powerful enough, so when he entered, the door closed on him and he never came out again.

    *Written by Rami Sajdi, Copyright © Rami Sajdi 1997 All Rights Reserved