One late night in August 2008 I was enjoying dinner at the home of a college friend in Tehran when I received a worried phone call from my research assistant. Mehdi was breathless and wanted to know if I was ok. A few hours earlier that same day, the two of us had interviewed a fortune-teller and prayer-writer (do‘anevis) in a cafe on the Western fringe of the city. Mehdi had been both disturbed and fascinated by the encounter, especially after the young woman performed a surprisingly accurate tarot reading for him and subsequently calmed his nerves through a kind of hypnosis. In hushed and anxious tones, Mehdi now explained to me over the phone that when he had returned home, he had met up with a university friend to talk about the day’s events. The two young men were in the heat of conversation when, suddenly, a tall glass door on a bookcase nearby shattered to pieces. The glass cracked down the middle and fell to the floor in three explosions of fragments and noise. Amazingly, Mehdi told me, there were no shards left in the bookcase itself, and the bolts that had formerly secured the glass door slid out cleanly without damaging the wood. It was as though someone or something had punched the glass from inside.
This made absolutely no sense. Could it be, Mehdi asked himself, that some ominous presence had followed him home from the meeting with the fortune teller? Perhaps one of the jinn that she claimed to control had broken the glass? ‘I have a very bad feeling about her,’ Mehdi told me. He suggested that I should immediately pay some alms and slaughter a rooster to ward off any harm from my family.
I was excited by Mehdi’s phone call, thinking it would make for excellent material for my research. But I also felt frightened, as though my sense of the familiarity of the world had been disturbed, some part of the world itself receding into darkness. I stood at the threshold of my host’s bedroom, staring through the window curtains into the night outside. For a moment, it occurred to me that the curtains would move at the behest of an unhuman presence. I felt a chill run down my spine. Immediately I took two thousand tomans from one of my back pockets and slipped the cash into another pocket to pay later to someone in need.