iron as amulet
Why do jinn fear iron?
Jinn are believed to be afraid of iron. But why is that? What is it about iron specifically, that makes it into such a widely used material for amulets and charms? The answer to that question may go back far in time, to the moment that iron was first discovered and turned out to be a material that changed the world. Let’s look at universal association of iron with the supernatural!
Where do we find this belief that iron has power?
The belief that jinn are scared of iron is rooted in various cultural and folkloric traditions of North Africa and the Middle East. And not just there: this belief is also found further afield across the Islamic world.
Beyond that, in many parts of the globe, iron is associated with supernatural beings such as fairies or goblins. It is important to keep in mind that, like with any popular belief, the uses of iron and the beliefs associated with it differ widely across cultures and regions.  But first: let’s look at jinn.
Is there a relation between jinn and iron?
Jinn are created out of fire, and that may be one of the reasons they dislike iron: it is forged in the same surroundings, it changes shape in fire just like jinn can change forms, and perhaps this makes iron into a formidable opponent of sorts. Who knows…?
Apart from jinn, there is a lot of ambivalence towards iron in the human world as well. That is visible in the contradictory nature of sources when it comes to its uses and status.
One of the hadith states that the Prophet Muhammad wished for his personal signet ring to be made of silver. An iron ring was inacceptable to him, as it was ‘emblematic of souls condemned to eternal fire’. 
But on the other hand, king Solomon wore a ring said to be partly of brass and partly of iron. Solomon, widely seen as a wise and just king, used the ring to command all jinn: the iron however was used to seal orders for evil jinn. 
Jinn, fire and iron are associated, that much is clear, but we come across conflicting statements: jinn are scared of it, yet they wear it as adornment, they use it as weapon themselves but can be harmed by it in turn.
So, let’s look beyond jinn and related tales, and turn to the invention of ironworking itself.
The invention of iron working
In the Qur’an, sura al-Ḥadīd states that iron was ‘sent down’ to the earth by God. This brings the earliest form in which iron was available t0 mind: meteoric iron.
Smaller and larger lumps of iron, remnants of meteorites, can be found all over the Sahara for example. You can see several of these meteoric iron lumps in the image above. The key pendant is from Oman: keys allude to iron, and that is one of the reasons they are used as amulets. (click here to see more about keys as amulets)
This type of iron was easier to work than iron ore that had to be mined, and so may have been the first type of iron to be worked. One of Tutankhamun’s daggers, dating from around 1350 BCE, was confirmed to have been made of meteoric iron. 
And not only was the first iron to be used by humans literally from out of this world, and so may have installed itself in our collective memory, the invention of ironworking had a profound effect in virtually every culture where it was first discovered. 
Myths and legends around blacksmiths worldwide
Because when you zoom out, you’ll find that around the world the working of iron is surrounded by myths and legends.
The person of the blacksmith or ironmonger is as ambivalent as the material itself: in many societies, blacksmiths exist on the fringes of their community, both literally and metaphorically.
Literally, because ironworking requires the use of fire. Workshops were often located at the border of a settlement, and preferably downwind. That would minimize the risk of the settlement catching fire: a necessary precaution in times when buildings as well as temporary structures were made of materials that would easily go up in flames.
And metaphorically, because those blazing fires were often associated with otherworldly realms. Any person working in those circumstances, withstanding the extreme heat, seemingly bending fire to their will and creating things of a previously unmatched hardness and durability surely had to be in league with invisible forces!
Because, just picture it: there’s a person emerging from the furnace on the edge of your community, black as the devil, or a demon, or any frighting supernatural being one believes in, surrounded by unpleasant smells of sweat and dirt, and holding something only a few could create but many wanted, like a sword or a tool…that goes against all manifestations of cleanliness and purity you could imagine. Blacksmiths were highly suspicious, but much-needed people.
And so, they were both admired and feared. Edmond Doutté writes for Algeria that ‘son of a blacksmith’ was intended as an insult and records how blacksmithing across the Maghreb was widely regarded as a profession that was looked down upon and associated with magic.  The same fate befell blacksmiths across the Arab Peninsula. 
It would seem that both the material itself as well as the persons working with it have been treated ambiguously, ever since the use of iron was first discovered.
Iron: a supernatural material
That universal and ancient ambivalence towards iron may well underly the common notion of jinn fearing iron.
I think it is quite likely that this association of iron with the supernatural is much older than any of the three monotheistic religions, and is something that has lingered in our collective memory for as long as iron has been forged by hand.
Iron is something we can defend ourselves with against very visible enemies, but also a mysterious commodity associated with the supernatural: perhaps it could be used to defend ourselves against invisible beings, too?
The historic roots of iron as amulet
There does not seem to be a single, clear explanation for the belief that jinn and other beings fear iron, and I think that in itself points to a very long history. A technological advancement that created ripples across the world, reflected in popular beliefs: once again, magical beliefs point to actual events in the past, and to me that really is their greatest power!
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1] Ruska, J., “al-Ḥadīd”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 02 October 2023. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.leidenuniv.nl:2048/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_2588
 J. Allan, D. Sourdel and Ed., “K̲h̲ātam, K̲h̲ātim”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 02 October 2023 <http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.leidenuniv.nl:2048/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_4232>
 Walker, J. and Fenton, P., “Sulaymān b. Dāwūd”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 02 October 2023 <http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.leidenuniv.nl:2048/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_7158>
 D. Cornelli et. al. 2016. The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger blade, in: Meteoritics & Planetary Science Vol 51, issue 7, pp 1301-1309
 Doutté, E. 1909. Magie et Religion dans l’Afrique du Nord, p. 42.
 Doutté, E. 1909. Magie et Religion dans l’Afrique du Nord, p. 42-44.
 Chelhod, J., “Ḳayn”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 02 October 2023 <http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.leidenuniv.nl:2048/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_4063>
Sigrid van Roode
Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. Her main field of expertise is jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, as well as archaeological and archaeological revival jewellery. She has authored several books on jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Turquoise Mountain Jordan, and many others. She provides consultancy and research on jewellery collections for both museums and private collections, teaches courses and curates exhibitions. She is not involved in the business of buying and selling jewellery, and focuses on research, knowledge production, and education only.