There is general agreement among Cirebonese on the existence of spiritual beings, although the details of these beings are perceived differently from individual to individual. The existence of spiritual beings is seen as a corollary of the existence of physical beings. If physical beings exist, why shouldn't non-physical or spiritual  beings? Man Misna (52 yrs), an egg peddler, put the existence of physical vis a vis spiritual beings in a duality conceptual framework; he said:

It is natural that everything be of two matching pairs; night-day, male-female, east-west, north-east, bad-good, physical-spiritual and so on. The physical beings like human beings, animals, trees and others do exist as they are clearly visible; the spiritual beings do also exist, but they are not visible due to their name, as spiritual ones. Men who deny the existence of spiritual beings are the silliest ones.[18]

The commonly known spiritual beings are: malekat (angels), Iblis (devils), setan (satans) and jinn (genies). However, detailed information about these beings is incomplete and speculative. Their nature, essence and actions are described differently by different people. A fairly coherent explanation was given by Fathoni, preferably called Toni (46 years), a hen-and-cock trader. His explanation seems to represent, more or less, the general Cirebonese conception of these beings. He claimed that what he said comes from what he could understand when he heard his Kyai, in Pesantren Benda, explain the subject on one occasion.[19] Firstly, he said that he did not know which spiritual beings were created first, but he felt certain that they already existed when Adam was created. Malekat, Iblis, setan and jinn were, in fact, of similar matter in that they are created from a kind of smokeless fire. Some people said that the malekat were created from sorot (light), while the rest (Iblis, setan and jinn) were created from fire.

Another kind of spiritual being, mrekayangan (ghost), was unclearly defined except that it was a type of setan. A mrekayangan scares people when it appears although it really does not intend to appear nor to scare. Some say that a   mrekayangan is not really a setan because its origin is different from the real setan; rather, a mrekayangan is the bad spirit of a human being who has died improperly, for example, by suicide, by murder, or by accident while committing a sinful deed. Still others say that a mrekayangan is a type of jinn.


In Islam, the belief in angels constitutes the second Decrees of Creed (Rukun Iman).[20] It comes after the belief in the oneness of God, Allah. The other four are belief in His Messengers, the Holy Scriptures, the Day of Final Judgement or Resurrection, and God's Decree for Humanity. The Cirebonese certainly believe in these, but many people do not know that they constitute the Decrees of Creed. The last two decrees are mostly referred to as, respectively, Kiyamat (calamity) and Kresane Pangeran (the Will of God). In relation to the fourth and fifth decrees, Pak Shofie said that Muslims should believe that there are a large number of Messengers of God but every Muslim needs to know only twenty-five of them.[21] Most Cirebonese also know the names of the twenty-five prophets and frequently use them in naming their children. Nevertheless, few can list them perfectly, let alone in precise chronological order. Some put the list into a chant; hence, they can more easily list the names in the proper order. In contrast, there are only four Holy Scriptures: the Zabur (Psalms) revealed to Nabi Dawud (David), Taurat (Old Testament) revealed to Nabi Musa (Moses), Injil (Bible or New Testament) revealed to Nabi Isa (Jesus), and Qur'an revealed to the last apostle, Muhammad. Because there will not be any apostles after Muhammad, the Qur'an, which was revealed to  him, is believed to perfect the three preceding Scriptures, covering therefore, the main things contained in them.

… the Scriptures revealed by God are four in number. First is the Psalm, revealed to his excellency Prophet David, second is the Old Testament revealed to his excellency Prophet Moses, third is the Bible revealed to his excellency Prophet Jesus, fourth is the Qur'an revealed to his excellency Prophet Muhammad, God exalts him and peace be upon him, the seal of the apostles, which concludes all the Scriptures revealed before. The prudence contained in those Scriptures are covered by the Qur'an.[22]

The word malekat known by Cirebonese comes from malaika, the Arabic plural form of malak, meaning angel. The term refers to the heavenly creatures, the servants of God who stand as intermediaries between the divine world and the human world. Toni, seemed to represent a view widely held by many other people when he said that malekat were made of light, never sleep, are not born nor do they give birth, are neither male nor female, can neither eat nor drink, and have no passion nor lust. They are able to assume any form, can move virtually instantly, from one place to another over unlimited distance, and are always loyal to God and do what He wishes. They never forget nor feel tired. “The number of malekat is countless, only God knows, but every Muslim should know at least ten of them. Four are Archangels, each has a specific duty with countless subordinates”, said Man Muklas, a 64 year old tobacco peddler and the imam at the Kedawung prayer house, (adding to Toni's explanation). He then named and described the ten malekat. The first and described at greatest length, including his appearance on earth in the form  of unrecognised human being such as a beggar and a good looking man, was Jibril or Jibra'il or Jabara'il (Gabriel), whose duty it is to convey revelation to the apostles (rusul) of Allah.[23]

Man Muklas said that as far as he could remember from a kitab (book or written source of santri reference) he had read, Jibril had revealed God's words to Adam twelve times, to Idris four times, to Abraham forty times, to Jacob four times, to Moses four hundred times, to Ayyub three times and to Muhammad (peace be upon him), twenty-four thousand times. Jibril is a malekat muqarrabun [one of the angels who (is brought) close to God] and is the best known malekat.

Jibril is also known by names associated with ruh or spirit; ar-ruh (al-ruh, the spirit) who, with other angels, descends to the world to spread God's grace to the devotees who pray at lailatul qadar (al-lail al-qadr), the night of power (or blessing) during which a devotion is considered to be equal to or better than, continuous devotion for a thousand months, and is rewarded accordingly. The night of blessing occurs at the eve of maleman on odd-numbered nights after the twentieth day of Ramadhan (that is, the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, and 29th nights).

Jibril is also called ruhuna, (Our spirit, that is, the spirit of God), the nickname assigned when he was sent to Mary and breathed upon her womb, making her pregnant without her having been impregnated by a man. Still another name is ruhul amin (al-ruh al-amin, the faithful spirit), for his main duty is as the angel of revelations. He brought down revelations in clear Arabic, to the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The first revelation was brought down at the cave of Hira near Mecca, signifying the start of Muhammad's prophethood. Jibril came in his original form with wings. This caused a crisis for Muhammad (peace be upon him), who thought that he was possessed by the jinn of the cave. Jibril assured him that he  really was sent by God and then read the revelation comprising the first to fifth verses of surat Iqra’ (al-’Alaq), saying: “Recite in the name of the Lord who created; created man from clots of blood. Recite! Your Lord the Most Bountiful One, who taught man with pen; taught man what he knew not.”[24]

Further it is said that prior to Jibril's full recitation of the five verses, there was a sort of short dialogue between him and Muhammad. Jibril instructed Muhammad to read, and Muhammad answered that he could not read. Jibril repeated the instruction once again but Muhammad repeated his answer; finally, Jibril read the verses for Muhammad. From that time on during Muhammad's prophethood, in response to the ongoing situation and demands, Jibril routinely came to Muhammad with revelations. Jibril also accompanied Muhammad on the night journey from Mecca to the mosque of Al-Aqsa in Palestine, and from Palestine to the seventh heaven up to Sidratul Muntaha (Sidrah al-Muntaha, the final destination). Here  Muhammad received first hand-instruction from Allah to pray five times a day from whence comes the prescribed duty for all Muslims. Muhammad's night journey is known as Isra’-Mi'raj, which all Muslims commemorate annually on the 27th of Rajab, the third month of the Islamic calendar.[25]

The other angels after Jibril are: Mikail, Israfil, Izrail, Raqib, Atid, Munkar, Nakir, Malik and Ridwan. Mikail (Michael), has the duty of controlling rain, and distributing rejeki (fortune) such as food, nourishment and knowledge to all living creatures, particularly to mankind, whether believers or unbelievers. Thus, everything in the seas, and everything on earth that is useful for sustaining life (such as trees, fruits, grains and livestock) is under the control of Mikail. Another malekat is Israfil, the angel who will blow his trumpet on the day of resurrection. Actually, Israfil will blow his trumpet on three occasions: firstly to signal the calamity; secondly, when the earthly world has vanished altogether; and finally, on the day when the dead are resurrected to receive the Final Judgement. Izrail, the angel of death, is responsible for taking the soul away from living beings. When the time comes, no one can escape from death, or postpone it even a second; Izrail does his job strictly. These four malekat, Jibril, Mikail, Israfil and Izrail, are the Archangels (malekat mukorobun).[26]

Two further malekat often mentioned are Raqib and ‘Atid, whose duty it is to record all human activities: words, actions and intentions, whether good or bad. Raqib records all the “good” ones while ‘Atid records the “bad” ones. Everyone therefore has the two angels at guard at their sides. People with good intentions are credited with a minor “good” point; a full point is given when the intention materialises into action. By virtue of God's mercy, there are no minor points for bad  intentions; a full “bad” point is given only when a bad deed is actually done. Still two more malekat are Munkar and Nakir, who come to examine the dead in their graves. The examination concerns God, the prophet and the path the dead followed while alive. The righteous and faithful will be able to answer all the questions, and Munkar and Nakir will release them in peace until the Day of Resurrection; the infidel however, will not be able to answer. Consequently they will experience severe suffering. Neither rationality nor intelligence works in answering Munkar and Nakir's question; indeed given the belief that the brain is where rationality and intelligence reside, these must also be dead when the body dies. In contrast, beliefs which are found in the soul, not in the body, will last forever.

The last two malekat are Malik and Ridwan. The former is the terrible angel responsible for controlling Hell which, generally, is kept by a large number of subordinate angels of hell called Zabaniyah. In contrast, Ridwan guards paradise and does his duty with thousands of subordinates called the angels of paradise.

Iblis, Setan and Mrekayangan

In Cirebon the term setan (satan) is used as a general term referring to any kind of bad spirit being who leads people to sin. When it appears to humans, it becomes a weweden or memedi (spook). But when the term is further elaborated upon, Cirebonese often classify setan into: Iblis, setan, and mrekayangan. The first two are species which can be vaguely distinguished from each other, but both were created, by God, from a kind of fire.

Iblis and Setan

At a public speech (pengajian) routinely held every Sunday night at Kalitengah desa mosque, Pak Ubeid (49 years, engaged in construction) said that, early on during creation, Iblis lived in heaven with the malekat, but was then cursed and  banished from heaven because of his arrogance, disobeying God's order to bow down before Adam when the latter had been completely created. The reasons for disobeying were firstly, Iblis thought that compared to Adam, he was the senior dweller of heaven, had been created and came earlier than Adam; secondly, Adam, who was created from the soil of earth must be lower in rank than Iblis, having been created from fire. Bowing down before Adam therefore, according to Iblis, was unfair, beneath his dignity and did not make any sense. Despite cursing and banishing Iblis, God still granted Iblis’ request when he begged God to postpone his punishment until the Day of Resurrection, prior to which he would lead astray his rival Adam, and his descendants. God also deemed that those who stray and fall into Iblis’ trap would become his followers, and after resurrection they would stay with him in Hell. Iblis did not waste any time and immediately started working. The first victims were Adam himself and his wife Eve, who were tempted when they were still in paradise.

In another pengajian, Kyai Fu'ad Hasyim from Buntet Pesantren interestingly dramatised the episode of how Adam and Eve fell into Iblis’ trap. Coming in front of Adam and Eve, Iblis told Adam and Eve confidently that God's scenario of the universe put Adam and Eve in a bad position. Iblis told Adam and Eve that God did not really want them to stay in paradise forever; this was clearly evident when God prohibited their approaching a tree in paradise, the “eternity tree” (syajarah al-khuld), whose fruit, if eaten, entitled the eater to stay in paradise forever. God instead wished for them to leave paradise and to stay on earth where life would be hard. Adam, and particularly Eve, felt that Iblis’ words were sensible and asked him if there was any way to stay in paradise forever and to avoid staying on earth.

Iblis was pleased that his deception had worked, but he did not show it. On the contrary, he pretended that he was very sad and deeply concerned about their problem. He then insisted that the only thing that might help would be to pick and to  eat the prohibited fruit secretly, without God noticing. Tempted by his insistence, Eve and Adam approached the tree, picked its fruit, and then ate the fruit. But before they had fully swallowed the fruit, they found themselves already thrown onto the earth without clothing. One fruit eaten by Adam became stuck inside his throat; this turned into his “Adam's Apple”, a sign of a mature male. The two fruits eaten and swallowed even earlier by Eve became stuck inside her at breast-level and they turned into breasts, a sign of a mature female. Adam was thrown to earth away from Eve. Only after a long search did they get together again. They repented to God who granted His forgiveness, but time could not be turned back; Adam and Eve had to continue living a hard life on earth.

After being banished from heaven Iblis generated descendants. Iblis’ descendants are called setan, whereas Adam and Eve's descendants are called menusa (human beings). In turn, both setan and menusa, also gave rise to descendants, but, unlike human beings, none of Iblis, setan, or their descendants are mortal. Both Iblis and setan still exist and their number has multiplied tremendously. It is unclear whether Iblis and setan are differentiated by gender; but they are generally conceived to be hermaphrodites and to lay eggs. From the time Iblis succeeded in tempting Adam and Eve to follow his advice, Iblis and setan have been more and more zealous, working together hand in hand using all their power, intelligence and experience to lead Adam's descendants (human beings) astray. They rarely harm or scare humans as their only business is to tempt and trap human beings and jinn (see the next section) to follow their path and finally to lead them into being their companions in hell.

As part of their efforts, Iblis and setan often try to force information from laukh-makhfudz by spying on the scenarios of the universe,[27] especially those  relating to individual human's lives, and using them effectively to establish co-operation with tukang cempad (fortune tellers) to lead their clients astray. Against such efforts, the guardian angel may take harsh measures and beat Iblis and setan severely. As a result, Iblis or the setan concerned has become weirdly shaped and is called by some people as mrekayangan.


Of the spiritual beings in which the Cirebonese believe, mrekayangan is one of the most vaguely defined. Unlike the terms such as malekat, Iblis, setan and jinn, which come from Arabic, mrekayangan is a local term, but no one knows its precise meaning. Its root is probably yang, which in Javanese means spirit. Mrekayangan is therefore a constructed word, referring to spiritual beings other than malekat, Iblis, setan and jinn.[28] According to Ki Hanan, what mrekayangan do is only to scare people when they appear to humans in the form of memedi or weweden. Different opinions persist on the origin of mrekayangan. Some say that they are really the beaten setan, who spy on human life. Others say that mrekayangan are the spirits of the dead who, for one or another reason, have difficulty or have lost their way in reaching their proper place (roh kesasar).[29] Still others combine these opinions saying that mrekayangan are of either origin. Reasons for the mrekayangan’s difficulties are by and large attributable to extremely bad conduct such as suicide, nyupang (profiting from contracts with setan or bad jinn), sudden death or being killed in an accident while committing the ma-lima (five sinful deeds: smoking  opium, gambling, womanising, becoming intoxicated, stealing). In a state between consciousness and unconsciousness, a person may see memedi unintentionally, particularly when that person's mental condition is unstable. When consciousness returns the appearance of the memedi instantly disappears.

Memedi, be it mrekayangan, or jinn may take various forms. Some of the more widely acknowledged are: setan gundul, wewe gombel, genderuwo, blegedeg treng, puntianak, jrangkong, kemangmang, wedon, kecik and many others. Setan gundul is a spirit in human shape with all its hair shaved off. The wewe gombel or just wewe is a huge female spirit who hides children under her armpit, under her breasts or on huge trees). One way to release a child hidden by wewe is that a group of people must go around haunted places, bringing anything they can beat rhythmically in order to provoke the wewe to dance, thus freeing the hidden child from her control. The Genderuwo is a male wewe, whose name may be derived from gandharva, masculine embodiments of celestial light which, in Hindu belief, are musicians who accompany the dances of their female consorts.[30] Blegedeg ireng is a gigantic totally black figure; puntianak are female spirits, who eat babies’ blood while they are being born by posing as a dukun bayi (a specialist who helps women giving birth). The jrangkong is a human skeleton; kemangmang is a fire haired figure, who walks on his hands (Central Java: banaspati); wedon is a ghost in white garments, wrapped like a corpse; kecik is a small spirit, who steals money for his master (Central Java: tuyul).

For some people, these spirits may cause some problem but for others, especially those who are acquainted with the Holy Qur'an, they may not. To avoid being scared (‘diwedeni’) is easy enough. By memacaan, literally meaning reciting anything (verses or Surah of the Holy Qur'an), the appearance of these spirits can be  avoided and their power can be nullified. Ki Hanan, for example, said: “… for anyone who is willing to perform memacaan, there is no way for being scared nor possessed.”[31]

Among the verses and Surah for memacaan which are considered most effective are: Ayat Kursi (the verse of the Throne, QS 2:55), Qulhu (Al-Ikhlas, QS 112), Qul a'udzu birabbil falaq (Al-Falaq, QS 113), Qul a'udzu birabbinnas (Al-Nas, QS 114) and Alhamdu (Al-Fatihah, QS 1). For this practical purpose, it is advisable that everyone have some acquaintance with some of these verses or Surah. Ricital of the “Bismillah” (in the name of God) before doing something or going somewhere is one way to avoid the possible interference of these spirits.[32]


The jinn are another species of spiritual being created from fire. They may be either male or female. They eat and drink, need a dwelling place, occupy space and can have children. Jinn also live in an established society and have a king. Azrak is referred to as the jinn's country although no one knows where Azrak is. On earth, jinn occupy haunted places, such as hills, caves, rivers, rocks, trees, certain lands, long unoccupied houses, certain bath houses, wells, bridges, lakes, mosques, ruins, cemeteries. When a person stays at a jinn-occupied place, especially if alone, the jinn may cause disturbances by producing unidentified sounds, making doors or windows close and open, moving articles or even a sleeping person from one place to another, making things disappear; causing strange incidents, etc. People who experience these  kinds of incidents usually feel scared, and they call it diwedeni (being scared). In these cases the jinn probably does intend to frighten people so that they will leave and will not return to occupy that place again so that the jinn can claim the place for itself. Persuading jinn to leave an occupied place can be done by specialists, or indeed by non-specialists, through negotiation or by force. Intentionally or unintentionally disturbing or destroying the places occupied by jinn can be treated as serious offences to them. If so, they may lose their temper and take revenge; as a result the person concerned will suffer from some kind of illness (physical or mental). If appropriate measures are not taken to persuade the jinn to stop their action, the illness could end in death. Again, these measures can be taken by a specialist or by any one who can negotiate with, or force, the jinn to stop their action. Some informants told me about Man Makiyo who fought to exhaustion with jinns.[33]

Like human beings, jinn are subject to the temptations of Iblis and setan. There are some jinns, therefore, who are good, pious and faithful (jin Islam), and some others who are bad, sinful and infidel (jin kapir). Bad jinn may be malevolent to human, whereas good jinn may be benevolent by helping people do some hard work, or produce magical acts. Jinn can also assume many forms including that of human beings; but most usually they assume the form of an animal, for example, a snake, a lion, a donkey, a cat, or a dog. [34] A jinn who assumes the form of a cat may either have only one colour (totally white, brown or black) or have a combination of three colours (belang telon, meaning three stripes of different colours). Killing or beating such a pseudo-animal, (that is a transformed jinn) is risky because the jinn, its  friends or its kin may take deadly revenge. The risk is more serious than when merely disturbing or destroying their places.[35]

The original shape of a jinn however, is thought of as a human-like figure of gigantic size. Its fingers, to illustrate size, are as big as gedang ambon (a type of large banana). Some people suggest the possibility of co-operation between humans and jinn for special purposes such as making friends, even marrying jinn and taking jinn as servants, in the case of benevolent jinn. This is possible for anyone who masters the mystery of jinn and learns ilmu ghaib (knowledge of the mysterious world). Some kyai are certainly known to have that mastery. There are a number of ways to acquire this mastery, one of which is by doing an exercise (riyadlah), aiming to gain the marvel and secret merits of the Verse of Throne (ayat Kursiy) of the Holy Qur'an (QS 2:255) as elaborated by al-Syeikh al-Buny.[36] The procedure of the exercise is as follows:

  1. Cleanse the body by bathing and ablution, and the heart by generosity.

  2. Wear clean clothing and surrender totally to God.

  3. Find a quiet place such as a room, a cave or a place in the bush or mountain for seclusion where contemplation can be well performed.

  4. Stay there for a couple of days from Tuesday morning before dawn on until dawn on Thursday (Friday morning).

  5. Burn incense, then perform a dawn prayer (salat fajar). The incense should be kept burning all the time during the stay.

  6. Recite a du'a of the ayat kursiy repeatedly 72 times after doing the five prescribed  daily prayers and recite it also during contemplation.[37

If everything is done well, according to al-Buny, on the first quiet night, around midnight, there will be a sound of a donkey. The performer must not worry, be scared, or nervous, as the sound will produce no harm. On the second quiet night, also around midnight, there will be a roar of a running horse. Again, the performer must not worry, be scared or nervous, as it also will produce no harm. On the third night, around midnight there will be three cats, brown, white and black in colour, coming from the entrance of the niche where the contemplation is done. They will disappear mysteriously but again, the performer must not worry, be scared, or nervous, as the virtue of the du'a protects the performer from probable harm caused by them. Keep the incense burning and steadily recite the du'a facing the Qibla (Ka'ba in Mecca). On the fourth night, around midnight, there will be a smell of something. Soon there will come a servant made of light. Again the performer must not be scared, nervous or worried; but must make sure that the incense keeps burning, until a voice of greeting is heard. It says: “Assalamu ‘alaikum ya wali-Allah” (Peace be upon you oh the friend of God) to which the performer has to answer with: “Wa ‘alaikumus Salam Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh” (Peace be upon you, and upon you the mercy of God and His blessing). Eventually, the servant will say: “What would you like to have from me oh the friend of God?” The performer should answer him by saying: “I do not expect anything from you, except that I hope you would like to be my servant during my life-time.” Then the servant will give a gold ring carved with God's great names (al-ism al-a'zham). Probably he will also say: “Take this ring and wear it on your right hand finger as a sign of a pact between you and me. If you want my presence, recite the du'a three times, then say, oh king  Kandiyas, I need your presence.” The servant will come and can be asked to do what one wants.[38]

This procedure is said to be the way for a devout person to make a lawful pact with a good (Muslim) jinn. This pact must only be used for righteous and non-commercial purposes. Another pact, a condemned and unlawful one made with a bad jinn, is also said to exist. It is said that this pact is made by sinners through mediation by a dukun for unlawful and commercial purposes.