In a small leafy village outside of Isfahan, a 67-year-old sorcerer with thinning hair and deep wrinkles deploys his supernatural powers in service of Iran's government.
wsj )- Seyed Sadigh, an alias he goes by, sits cross-legged on the floor dressed in loose gray pants and a long shirt. He recites Quranic verses in a low hypnotic voice and rubs his fingers together. He is summoning Jinn, invisible creatures who, according to Islamic teachings, live in a parallel world, can shift form, travel at the speed of light and know the unknowable. The Jinn who communicate with Mr. Sadigh are visible only to him.
Sorcerers, fortune tellers or Jinn catchers, as they are colloquially known, have existed for centuries in Muslim lore. Ordinary people in Iran and elsewhere flock to these men to get spells and prayers, and to communicate with Jinn in order to discover the whereabouts of a lost loved one or stolen property.
Government officials, on the other hand, aren't known to consult with sorcerers. Or are they?
Mr. Sadigh is considered the top sorcerer among Iran's ruling elite, according to associates, clients and government officials. He says dozens of officials call on him regularly and that he has met President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad twice, the last time two years ago, but has stayed in contact with the president through members of the administration.
"Officials seek me out because I can help untie some difficult knots," says Mr. Sadigh in an interview at his summer home. "We have had a long battle to infiltrate the Israeli Jinn and find out what they know."
Indeed, Mr. Sadigh says he doesn't waste Jinn powers on trivial matters such as love and money. Rather, he contacts Jinn who can help out on matters of national security and the regime's political stability.
His regular roll call includes Jinn who work for Israel's intelligence agency, the Mossad, and for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Occasionally, he says, he beckons Jinn who are in the service of Arab Gulf countries.
Some typical questions his visitors ask of the Jinn: What does Israel have on Iran's nuclear program? Is it planning to attack Iran? What is Washington's plan for a soft war on Tehran? Are Arabs polluting Iran's waters? What is Saudi Arabia's contingency plan for when Shiite Islam's 12th Imam, the Mahdi, re-appears from hiding to save the world?
Mr. Sadigh's work with government officials comes as his profession is at the center of a controversy that threatens to bring down Mr. Ahmadinejad's administration. Since late April, more than two dozen officials in the president's inner circle have been arrested on charges of practicing sorcery and black magic. The accusations are part of a larger struggle for power by conservative clerics and rival political factions.
Mr. Ahmadinejad's detractors have accused the president and his advisers, including the Presidential Palace's top imam, of belonging to a cult-like ring that promotes superstition and mystical fanaticism. Some have said that Mr. Ahmadinejad is under a spell cooked up by his chief of staff, Esfanidar Rahim Mashaie. Mr. Mashaie is already a controversial figure for promoting nationalism over religion, and for his alleged affinity for astrology and mysticism.
The president was acting "strange" and "irrational" during a recent dispute over dismissing a minister, said the Ayatollah Mohamad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi in a magazine interview. The former spiritual leader for Mr. Ahmadinejad said it appeared the president's "free will has been taken away."
Mr. Mashaie has denied the allegations, jokingly challenging the clerics to use their Islamic teachings to remove his spell on the president, according to the official Iranian news agency IRNA.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has also denied the allegations. "Those who have spoken in recent days about the influence of fortune tellers and Jinn on government were telling jokes and it made us laugh," Mr. Ahmadinejad said last month, according to Iranian media reports.
But the controversy hasn't gone away. Opposition websites and conservative newspapers continue to carry articles poking fun at the president's inner circle. One cartoon depicted Messrs. Ahmadinejad and Mashaie as two Jinn with horns and tails standing side-by-side.
Some of the most outlandish allegations have been against Abbas Ghaffari, a member of Mr. Ahmadinejad's office, recently arrested as a ring leader of sorcery in the government and deemed influential on the president. Javan Online, a news site linked to the Revolutionary Guards, accused him of hypnotizing and raping 360 women, as well as defiling the Quran to obtain demonic powers. Mr. Ghaffari is in prison and can't be reached for comment.
Iranians have had a mixed reaction. In interviews, some say they get a dark satisfaction from the smearing of Mr. Ahmadinejad after a disputed reelection and his administration's crackdowns on the opposition. Others are embarrassed, saying they wished the government would focus on resolving economic and social problems.
Still others think consulting Jinn is legitimate. "All countries have enemies, sometimes you have to use every option to stand in front of them," says a man who would only identify himself as Iraj, a taxi driver who has occasionally sought spells and prayers for his family disputes.
On a recent spring afternoon, a small group of clerics traveled from Isfahan to consult with Mr. Sadigh, the sorcerer. He received them in a garden dotted with tall cypress trees and jasmine on a wooden daybed covered in cushions next to a shallow blue pool.
Mr. Sadigh, who says he doesn't see walk-in clients or accept money for his work, read from an old Islamic manuscript and in neat Persian calligraphy wrote spells and prayers on a thin piece of paper.
He says he worries about Mr. Ahmadinejad, and thinks the president has surrounded himself with the wrong kind of sorcerers, specifically Mr. Ghaffari, who might do him more harm than Israeli or American Jinn ever could.
"I have information that Ahmadinejad is under a spell and they are now trying to cast one on [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali] Khamenei to obey them blindly," he says.
One way to ward off the evil Jinn is to wear a silver agate ring or to tuck one of Mr. Sadigh's special spells under a rug. He says he sends Mr. Khamenei prayers every month with a messenger, although he doesn't know if he uses them or not.