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The Zār Music and Cult – Dancing to Freedom

The  Zār Cult, a sort of healing ritual mostly practised in Islamic countries like northern Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt and Iran. The Zar, is a spirit, a demon, a spiritual wind. This air elemental is a supernatural creature which may possess a person causing illness and abnormal behaviour. In the Qu’ran this class of elementals are called jinn. Zar cult practitioners believe that anyone can become possessed by a jinn. They also believe that a jinn can fall in love with someone. If this happens the jinn enters that person’s body and the person becomes ill. So, the Zar ritual is a sort of dance exorcism, the dancer tries to get rid of the air spirit making him/her ill. Usually, the person dances until exhaustion. The dance is a negotiation process to try to pacify the jinn. The ritual involves special drums and music played, processions, special clothing and ornaments. Most of the jinn’s ‘victims’ are women. Many scholars suggested that the zar is a process of women empowerment in places where the sharia law exists. This is so because once a woman is possessed by the zar, unorthodox behaviour becomes accepted and women may do things and behave in ways she was not allowed under normal conditions.

This video explains the Zar cult and how women dance day after day until exhaustion, in the rhythm of drums:

“for centuries women in Africa and the Middle East have used this music to cure pain in times of stress or illness. Followers of the Zar cult believe that sometimes their illnesses are caused by “red spirits” – the Zar – who use human bodies as hosts….” Zar-Trance Music for Women, Al-Gheit, Awlad

 

Image cover – Christie’s Mahmoud Saïd (Egyptian, 1897-1964) | El Zar | 1940s, Paintings

 

 

Artistic Performance of Zaar

 

 

Written by

Erica Georgiades MRes Religious Experience (Candidate) UWTSD; PgD (Merit) Ancient Mediterranean Religions UWTSD; BA (Honours) in Philosophy and Psychological Studies (Open). Erica is the Editor of the FOTA Newsletter, a researcher on Theosophical History; secretary of the International Theosophical History Conference since 2018. She is the Director of the European School of Theosophy since 2016; and a member of the Theosophical Society since 1991. Recently she started practising archery where she lives, in Athens, Greece. She is also a deep ecologist, animal-rights activist, pro-non-human animals personhood.

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