“The Zar Tales”, Chapter Two

August 31, 2014

Zar Dancer

A Woman possessed by a Zar……

 

Chapter II.

 

Of course there had to be a snake in this paradise.  It was the village mayor. He was not happy with the power Shakira had.  For Shakira was a Sheikha, a ‘wise woman’, trained from her mother’s line in the responsibilities of such a position.  Shakira was consulted by the women over many issues. Marriages, birth names, the problems women had over their troublesome men, all these and much more came to Shakira.  She was wise, and known for her sensible opinion.  She had power in her own right.

And this was irksome to the mayor.   Not enough issues came to his desk.  He was a man, and in this world, a man was the one to consult, not a woman!

No, the mayor was up against a force of nature disobedient to the natural order of life. And besides, he heard the women were having too much fun in the opinion of some of the husbands.  There was talk they were planning to meet and drink and smoke and drum and laugh till late at night, but that was just a whispered rumor.  Ah, life was not in the proper order at all!

He, by the authority of his office, would have to make inquiries into this matter.  The women were showing their heels and who knew what would happen next?  Perhaps they would roll their eyes at the Imam!  Perhaps the women would refuse next to go to the mosque!  Who knows with women?  They could create all sorts of mischief, and he, the mayor, would be called to account for it.  Ah!  He owed it to the men, his brothers under the sun,  to find out what was going on.  He owed it to his own reputation and his position in the village to investigate all rumors.  Perhaps if he put his foot down now, his own wife of many years would quiet her voice and heel to his command like a good Muslim wife.  But he had his doubts.  His wife, after all, was related to Shakira.  Ah! That clan stretched back into time, and making his own wife obey was like telling the wind not to blow.  It was the blood of Shakira that made ill in his own house.  Or, at least, it had a part in his problems. 

Well, whatever to come, he owed it to Allah, the one God!  And He was a Man! He would agree with the mayor. That was the natural Order of things.

So the mayor, whose name was Mr. Nageesh, heard that on a certain Friday, when the men were at mosque chanting their prayers, the women were making their way to Shakira’s house.   Mayor Nageesh sent a young boy, not more than twelve, to count those entering the house and see if he could hear anything of their plans.  This young boy lurked in the shadows of a doorway and watched.  At least twelve women had entered the house, some with bundles concealed under their dresses.  What they were carrying was not clear to the boy, but the sound of drumming and laughter and even the sound of suspicious clinking of bottles could be heard from this house after dark.  Worse, the women stayed there for hours. The sound of their ruckus was shameful, even the men could hear it through their snoring.

A Zar!  The women were holding a Zar! What else could it be?   Ah, this was very bad, very, very bad, for the Zar was now illegal. Everyone knew it was banned as pagan by the illustrious council of religious men in the cities.  This would be the end of his office if word of this spread beyond this village.  It was sure to reach the ears of the district and then he would have his hands full.  Or, he thought with a shiver….they could have his head.  It had happened before.  Allah have mercy!

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010-2014

 

 

“The Zar Tales”, Chapter One

August 28, 2014

 

 

In 2010 I published the novella, “The Zar Tales” with Lulu.com.  It started out as a short story, but had it’s own ideas.  That happens when the characters have more life than was supposed.  The writer loses control and some times that isn’t a bad thing.  This is dedicated to my dear friend of many years, Bill Penrose, who is an excellent writer and believed in my own undeveloped abilities as a writer.

Lady Nyo

Shakira is Sheikha, Wise Woman, leader of the Zar ritual and general organizer of the women  and  women’s issues.  Previously, Ali the Demon has jumped from young Aya to the arms of Shakira, a middle-aged woman. (“A Turkish Tale of A Zar”)  Zars have been outlawed in most Islamic countries since 1983 as pagan worship.  However, it flourishes in rural areas and also in some big cities.  It is considered part of ‘women’s religion’ by the officials and yet it continues in spite of being outlawed.  It is one of the main mental health outlets for women in these countries.  Possession by a Zar usually is a woman’s way of sassing her husband and expressing her unhappiness with marriage and her life.

 

THE ZAR TALES

CHAPTER 1

Shakira, wise woman, daughter of the veil, Sheikha to the village like her mother and grandmother before her…. stood before the window of her small stone house. She could see to the village pump and watch dark clad women like so many black crows, fill their water jugs each morning and again in the afternoon. 

It was still early in the morning, but a sultry wind blew in from the south.  It would be no different than any other day of the season, for the rains would not return until late fall.

Mixing the humble mashed chickpeas, oil and garlic, she prepared the day’s humus. Not a task to try her powers, but one that fed her, important enough. The flat bread was already cooked, the yogurt curdling in the heavy glass jars sitting outside in the sun. 

 She wondered where Ali had gone so early this morning.  Probably lurking around with other Zars on the mountain, playing at knucklebones. 

“Shakira! Have you enough water this morning?  I will draw you some if not.”

A woman walked by the window, her black dress and head scarf no different from any of the other middle aged women.   Except for her voice and that limp from a club foot, she would not be distinguished from any other black robed woman.

“I have enough, Leila, enough for this morning.  Later I will go draw more.”

Leila was Shakira’s relative, their families as mixed as a bowl of wheat and barley. Not much had changed in this mountain village in centuries, except the convenience of electricity, a central, motorized village pump and a few motor cars that brought dignitaries from the far flung cities once a year.   New was old by the time it got to their village, for they were isolated in the mountains of eastern Turkey. 

Shakira’s Ali was a Zar, a demon who came to Shakira for a man’s comfort up under her dress.  He was young, younger than middle-aged Shakira, but he only appeared young. Ali was at least a thousand years old. He was killed by one of his tribesman around the age of thirty. Shakira knew very little about his circumstances, because Ali did not talk.  It was a man’s prerogative to keep secrets, and Ali, though a Zar, was once a man. 

Shakira first saw Ali when he appeared before her a shimmering, golden ghost at the Zar ritual a year ago. She struck a deal with the handsome devil and Ali was glad to jump into the welcoming and much more experienced arms of Shakira.  He had more room to sleep than in the womb of Aya, the young women he formerly possessed. He liked the strong thighs and women’s quarters of Shakira.

At times, when the weather was cooled by breezes blown down from the mountain, Shakira would close her door and draw the curtain over her front window.  In the other room serving as her bedroom she could watch the constellations revolve in the sky from a small window cut high in the wall.  There she would hope to entertain Ali, dancing the slow, sensuous movements, caught in the moonlight from that window. 

“Come, my Habibi, come and comfort me,” Shakira would call out, her eyes closing in expectation, her voice shaking with her need.  And Ali would magically appear, materializing in the room, glowing like a golden shower of tiny stardust. 

 Ali would then sit on her bed, hovering as demons do, a few inches from the woven wool covering.  He would smoke his hookah and his eyes would sparkle through the stardust  as he watched Shakira, now naked, seduce him with her dance.

“My Habibi, I dance for you, I dance with my limbs and my heart and my soul.  Do you like what you see, my dearest?” 

We must remember that Ali was a Zar, a Spirit, and there wasn’t much of flesh on him…or of him.

Somehow Ali would answer her, but not in words.  He would speak into her heart, into her soul and Shakira always heard this unspoken language.

“You are my heart’s delight, my beautiful and wise Shakira.  Your movements would inspire the dead to rise and dance in the streets, so lovely are you to my eyes.” 

 Shakira’s body was mature and ripe, her skin the color of turkish coffee filled to the brim with rich cream.  Her hair was still black as the night, with just a few strands of silver, and when she danced, freed of the day’s covering, it swung in waves down her back to her full, muscular buttocks.  Her belly was rounded and jiggled when she laughed, not like the slim, flat bellied girls like Aya before her baby, but full like the clay jugs made to carry the precious water from the village well.  Her hips were strong and fleshed out like ripe fruit from a sacred and ancient olive tree.  

Shakira had some vanity about her, and since Ali had appeared and taken up residence, she rubbed scented oils into her skin.  In the dim light of the oil lamp, Shakira’s skin rolled and wavered like watered silk.  She raised her strong and muscled limbs above her head, snapping her fingers like zils to her humming.  Her breasts swayed and pushed themselves out proudly, and if they sagged a bit with age, Ali didn’t mind.  She was a woman after all, and the scent of her body and the oils rubbed in her skin put him in a narcotic trance.  Her dark eyes rolled back in her head as her shoulders rolled forward, and her hips gyrated in the age-old movements of seduction. 

Ali was enchanted.  Their nights were filled with  strange lust and if Shakira woke in her bed alone, she was not deserted.  Ali had climbed into her woman’s garden to sleep, folding himself and resting in the warmth below her womb.  She would rub her belly, and say: “Good morning, dearest”, smile and start her day. Some mornings she would feel Ali rush out of her like a warm fart and disappear into the day, off to converse and argue with other Zars around their mountain village.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010-2014

A Chapter from “The Zar Tales”……

August 20, 2014

*”All the carpets of Persia cannot match the softness of her hands

The roses of the Sultan’s garden have not the bloom of her cheeks

The trees blown by a gentle wind have not the sway of her delicate gait

And my heart travels with speed to lie at her feet.

Ah! She steps on my heart, invisible beneath her flowery foot,

And trots upon my senses, scrambling them like eggs for the breakfast.”*

…..poem of Ali, a former student of Rumi. A thousand years ago.

In 2010 I published “The Zar Tales” with Lulu.com.  This was a novella about women in modern Turkey who were bedeviled by ancient Berber (and Persian) Zars…..spirits who had done something to displease the mullahs of Paradise and were sent back to suffer for a thousand years or so in the form of spirits.  Now Zars are djouns….without material substance, rather like talking vapors.  They like to inhabit married women and they cause martial conflict.  In the form of the Zar ritual, they are also an important element in social and mental health for women in Africa and the Middle East.  Ali was the leader of these zars who have now (through a particular event) have become mortal men:  Spirit made into Flesh.  Ali is soon to be married to the Sheika Shakira. (Sheika is loosely translated as ‘wise woman’.)  The setting of this novella is in a mountainous village in Turkey in 1983.

Ali was sitting on the bench early one evening when the village men gathered outside the baker’s shop. They lit the hookah and passed the hoses around. He was enjoying the mixture of babble and smoke rising like spirits above their heads.  Eyes half closed against the blue haze circling his head, he basked in the fading sunlight.

There was a lot more energy needed to be a mortal, Ali thought.  Being a Zar was easier. That Shakira was insatiable.  Now she would grab his hand and lead him to bed, and she would stay there, full of demands and little shame for a woman!  On top of that, she was feeding him too much and he was getting heavier.  She told him he needed the weight, but he thought she just was in love.  Ah! Women acted differently in love.

This was something he had forgotten over the past thousand years.  He was adjusting to a diet of rich foods he had not tasted before.  The foods of his Berber clan were simpler.  The woman was making flaky walnut and honey pastries and stuffing dates with sugared almonds and tempting him with candied ginger, orange and lemon peel.  Also, wheat salads with golden raisins and garlic and herbs from her garden.

And he was eating too much meat.  This goat and lamb was not stringy, as he remembered in the desert, but stuffed with lard and fat and served with stewed apples and apricots and more delightful than even her sweetbreads. Ah, he was going to get fat and slow!  But he had a thousand years of nothing on his stomach, and Shakira was sure to kill him with all these rich dishes!  Or, he supposed, her demands in bed.  One or the other was going to shorten his life.

So, the smoke and silence this evening was a restful time for Ali.

But it wouldn’t last long.  The murmur of men made him open his eyes. Walking towards them was Emir and Hasan.  Ah! Two old Zar friends now as flesh and blood– thanks to mullah kabobs!

Hasan wore the indigo blue turban. There was always a kinship between them, and if nothing but their hooked noses and the colors of their robes and turbans showed this, well it was enough.  Emir was Persian; his robes were white and black.  Ali stood and embraced both men, and kissed each on both cheeks as was custom.  He introduced Hasan as a kinsman from a village in the mountains and Emir as an old friend.  How old, Ali didn’t reveal, but they had been Zars together for many centuries.  Ali called for more of the strong Turkish coffee and the baker came out with the tiny cups and the long ladled copper coffee pots.  The village men, as in all regions of Turkey, prided themselves in their hospitality, and welcomed the two strangers. Besides, they might bring gossip or news and that was better than reading weeks- old newspapers dealing with city issues and rarely those from the mountains.

Hasan and Emir were passed the piping of the hookah. They filled their lungs with the sweet scent of dried apple tobacco.  After a while, Ali mentioned Emir was a poet, and a wonderfully inventive one at that!  Emir beamed with pride and delight and looked at Ali, a broad smile wreathing his sun darkened face.

“Ah!  My Brother Ali here is a fine poet in his own right!  I cannot hold a candle with my poor verse!  I have heard Brother Ali expound at length and his verse is prodigious!  The angels in heaven get dizzy with the beauty of his lyrics. They spiral almost to the ground and Allah sucks them back up with his breath!  Ah! The Great Rumi would have treasured the verse of Brother Ali had he but heard it!”

Ali laughed to himself.  Emir knew well Ali had been a student of the great Rumi almost a thousand years ago.  It was not in his mortal flesh he sat as Rumi’s student, but a time when he was condemned as a Zar,  without purpose or a woman to possess.

When Ali was a young Berber chieftain, and still with mortal connections to this earth, he was taken by the beauty of verse and was a very good Berber poet.  This was unusual for his region, for the women of the tribes were known to be the poets and the literate ones.  But Ali was a favorite amongst the women, and they loved to have him around as a young boy, before he was of age where he would not be welcome company with the women.  His dark eyes shone hearing the verses the women chanted while washing at the river. He learned how they took from the beauty of nature and the joys, sadness of their lives and wove them into carpets of verse.  The knots and threads of these beautiful verse-carpets were full of color and the softness of dreams, not sheep wool.

He learned to stroke the phrases, to rise to the lushness of the Berber language.   When he was older, he would sit on his horse in the desert and roam the dunes until he lost himself in lyrics and sand.  His horse knew the way home, and Ali could compose his poetry away from the chatter of wives and children, growls of camels, the bleating of goats and the general noise of the camp.

Ali had a hunting hawk, as had most of the Berber men, and he would put his beautiful girl on the leather pad at his wrist, gently pull off the hood and launch her into the desert sky.  She would wheel and soar high and turn into the sun, and Ali would lose sight of her.  But before he did, he would compose verses in praise of his bird.  Her wings, her grace, her sharp eyes that saw from high on the wind.  She would fold her wings and plunge like a daytime falling star, and stretch out her claws.  Make short work of desert rats.

She was fast as the sandstorms that carried the wind up to the foot of the mountains, and a fierce as any warrior on his steed.  Her coat sparkled with a million colors, like a piece of bronze mirror, or like pearls glistening fresh from the sea.

Ali could never stop praising his hawks.  They lifted him into the wilds of their heaven and left his human travail behind.  Ah, his birds made his soul soar!

Ali was as proud of his hawks as he was of his poetry. His father and most of his kinsmen would sew shut their bird’s eyes shut and release the strong thread before they launched them. But Ali saw many hawks blinded this way, and what good is a blind hunting hawk?  So he patiently molded hoods of new lambskin, sewed and decorated them with dyed feathers.

Hasan’s voice cut into his thoughts, and Ali shook his head to clear.  He hadn’t thought about the hawks in many years, centuries actually.  Now, with his feet again mortal, he could capture and train young tercels and hunt again like his ancestors.  This promise brought tears to his eyes, and opening them, saw the compassionate gazes of both Hasan and Emir.  They had suffered as much as Ali, and now, thanks to the good mullahs, they had their chances at life again.

“Give us a verse, Brother Ali!” said Emir, with a broad smile.

The men of the village perked up with his words, for there was nothing that men loved more than the soft, lulling words of a poet.

Unless it was the soft moving hands of a woman.

The men had hard lives in the mountains, tilling the stony earth for their grain crops, but they made time for any poet.  It was music to their ears without instrumentation.  It was the fine music of human voice and colorful words.  It gave precious beauty to their routine lives.

Ali shook his head, and said for Emir to give them a poem, but Emir insisted Ali give them a verse of his own making.

“Ah! You ask the impossible, my dear brother.  It has been long since I thought of any verse. Life had glued shut those pages of inspiration.”

Ali smiled to himself and took up one of the mouthpieces of the hookah, sucking in a long plume of smoke smelling of apple.

“If marriage next month to the Sheilkha Shakira doesn’t open those pages, my friends, then all the poets of Persia have lived for naught!”

This from one of the men in the village made them all laugh.  They were curious how this stranger had been able to attract the affections of their desirable Sheikha. But their eyes, even the eyes of men, could tell he was handsome enough to attract a woman’s gaze.

Better he marry the Sheikha now.  The women would have no claim on him then.

Ali stared at Emir through half opened eyes.  They spoke volumes, were masked by the heavy smoke he expelled from his lungs.  Ah, brother Emir would push him, but perhaps he could think of something.  Surely the men would want a love sonnet or a verse of the beauty of mortal life.  Make that Paradise, for these men were jaded by their mortality.  It was new to Ali, Emir and Hasan, and precious and confounding to them daily.  After being a Zar for centuries, feet on the earth were heavy but strangely comforting.

*”All the carpets of Persia cannot match the softness of her hands

The roses of the Sultan’s garden have not the bloom of her cheeks

The trees blown by a gentle wind have not the sway of her delicate gait

And my heart travels with speed to lie at her feet.

Ah! She steps on my heart, invisible beneath her flowery foot,

And trots upon my senses, scrambling them like eggs for the breakfast.”*

At this last line, the men guffawed.  Even they, in their isolated village, could discern good verse from bad. Ali was having his fun with them.

“I warned you I had nothing to say,” he said with a bemused look on his face.

“Ah, Friend Ali!” said one of the men loudly.  “If you think you have nothing to say now, marriage will shut up your mouth then.”

The others laughed, for the truth of the matter was so.  Marriage changed both men and women.  It made one side more quarrelsome and the men more silent and fearful of the wrath of the other.  Ah! Men could not win in this battle.

Ali had been married, with a number of wives.  His eyes glazed over as he blew out more smoke from the hookah.  The first one was Lela, when he was 20 years old.  She was young and so shy, she wouldn’t look him in the eyes for two months after the wedding.  She cried most of the first month.  Ali was aware she missed her family, but a marriage is a marriage and it must be endured.  He would take his horse and his hawk and ride out and hunt.  Only when Lela had her first child, luckily for her a boy, did she perk up.  She became right bossy, too.  The older men would laugh when Ali made a hasty retreat from their tent, usually followed with a string of invective from his young wife, and sometimes wooden stirring spoons and knives.  Ah! This was not a good situation, and his father decided Ali had suffered enough and gave him another wife. Sela was a cousin of Lela and at first; she was as shy as Lela.  But she soon overcame that and became a favorite wife.  There were two more, but one died in childbirth.  All in all, Ali had four sons and four daughters. Sela was killed in the arms of Ali, when Ali was murdered making love to her.  Their second child died with them, for Sela was very pregnant.

“Ah, my wife will be angry if I don’t return home soon.”

The words of one of the men cut into Ali’s thoughts.   The sun was setting, and the sky was red from its fading luster.

“Soon, my friend”, answered another, putting his hand on the shoulder of Ali in a compassionate gesture.   “You will be yoked like the oxen in the fields to our Shakira and you too will watch the hours like the rest of us, knowing they are linked to the tempers of women.  Ah Allah! You had many wives, but we have just one each, and our lives are made miserable still!”

The laughter went around the benches where they sat in the fading sunlight. Men all over had the same issues, and now that Ali and the others were mortal again, they faced their own temperamental women.  Perhaps it was easier before as Zars, for they could just float out of earshot of women and gather in the forests in the mountains to share the hookah with other Zars. But the good outweighed the bad, for the cooking of the women went a long way in filling appetites that had been lost for centuries.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2010-2014

Defense of Lilith…..a continuing poem

August 17, 2014

"Viriditas", wc, janekohut-bartels, 2000

“Viriditas”, wc, janekohut-bartels, 2007

 

DEFENSE OF LILITH

From the beginning

You are defiled

By all who would

Call your name.

-

From Mesopotamia,

Between the two rivers

The Tigris and Euphrates,

Your two white breasts

That fed the soil between

The mountains and deserts–

You were demoness.

-

They gave you

The head of an owl

The feet of a bird,

But not just any bird,

But the malevolent Zu-bird

Eater of man-flesh–

A chaos maker.

-

In the Bible

You were Adam’s

First wife,

But he put you aside,

And you were deemed unclean.

-

In the Talmud

You fared little better,

Cast out into the desert,

Again a demon, a sorceress

Filthy,  to be shunned.

-

In Sumerian myths

You were a succubus

Sucking dry the seed of men,

Belaboring the birth pangs of women

Killing infants you caught unseen

From the birth canal.

-

Your breasts gave forth no milk

Nor your womb fruit

Your mouth gave off howls of obscenity

And your hair?

Serpent’s nests, foul.

-

Amulets and prayers were worn, exchanged,

Sacrifices made for your banishment.

Your name was whispered in curses and threats

By the insane,

And women were burned in your name

On bonfires of male and church vanity.

-

Enough, Lilith.

This madness will stop

Your worth and value has been weighted

Only by a part of humanity.

The rest of us know,

Embrace you,

Welcome you.

-

We are your inheritors

Without the deceit of mankind.

As you squat to the earth,

Your genitals revealed,

We know you strike fear

Into the faint hearts of men.

We know your beauty sullied,

Your power reached to the Sun

And your eyes reflect

The tides of the Moon.

-

You bear the hatred and fear of Men.

But We Women have opened our eyes

.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014

How much of mythology is defined, written from a male perspective?

A Good Country Woman…a Short Story, but true.

August 11, 2014
North Carolina Stream, watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2006

North Carolina Stream, watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2006

I was born and raised in the North country. I came to the South after running away from home, and landed in a totally different culture. I was so ignorant of this region I didn’t bring a coat and the first week of October that first year, the temperature fell to 11 degrees.

I knew nothing about the south. I was fed on stories of the KKK, of lynching, of brutal police with billy clubs and water cannon during the years of integration. This was all we heard from TV news. I remember in the mid 60’s when a tall and exhausted black man came to our front door, quite a ways out into the countryside of New Jersey. He asked my mother to call the police. He had walked from Georgia. She immediately told me to go upstairs and hide in a closet. I was her only daughter and she was no racial liberal. I don’t remember whether she called the police or not, but I hope she did. He didn’t look like he would survive much longer as he sat quietly on the bottom front step. Blacks called Negroes then, were something we never saw much of out in the countryside. Those people were in the cities and this rural area hadn’t changed in over 300 years. Small dairy farmers, corn and soybeans, a river and a long Raritan canal built in the 1830’s was the staple environment of my childhood. The Dutch had moved over the land more than a century before the Revolution and any other color of skin was a rarity.

Years later I met a woman, an old white country woman in the mountains of North Carolina. She made quilts and lived in a three room shack in a pasture surrounded by rolling meadows and ringed by mountains. I remember the water barrel under a tin roof, and I remember her pointing a shotgun out of the door when two of us, a girlfriend and myself, came to see her. I don’t know whether it was proper to call her house a shack: The outsides were covered with tar paper and unskinned logs, the inside with tongue and groove boards. The entire structure rested on piled up stones and you could see through the bottom of the house down the valley. She had an old iron bedstead in one bedroom, with a red and white quilt covering the board wall behind it. She made quilts all around the year and women from Asheville and Atlanta would come and buy them for their boutiques. I doubt she ever got what they were worth, but it was a major part of her living.

Once she recognized my friend, she was friendly enough. It was rare she had visitors and Mary was hungry for news. Living up in the mountains, even if it was in an open meadow with spectacular views on all sides, was a pretty lonely existence for any woman. She had been to Asheville once, taken by her daughter, but she said it was too busy, too many people and she felt lost. There were beautiful mountains in Asheville, too, but she was glad to get home. Other than going down the mountain to the small town that sprung up against the banks of a river, she didn’t travel. Her needs were small, and those trips to the town below her mountain only happened a few times a year.

She boiled coffee in an old coffee pot on a small wood stove, got out canned milk and canned peaches. I had never met a woman like her and listening to her history, her stories, knew the Mary’s of the world were disappearing from the face of the mountains. She was welcoming, interested in what was going on in the world. Her hospitality was heart-felt, and I thought of other isolated cultures I had rubbed up against and recognized the pride she took in making us welcome. Whether the mountains or the deserts, the hospitality was the same.

She had been married, her children moving away for jobs into the cities that had nothing to do with mountain life. Her husband died one winter, there in the cabin with her. She rolled him outside in the deep snow and hiked down the mountain to ‘inform the authorities’. It took her two days to stumble down the mountain and another day for the police to get up to her cabin.
I asked to use her bathroom, not thinking. Mary was a bit embarrassed and said that she used a corner of the ‘barn’ for that business. The barn was an open shed, with a corn crib. Somewhere she had a few milk cows, but they were scattered down the cleared mountain side and would come home of their own accord when dusk fell.

I remember an ill-fitting back door, where she had an enameled basin and some yellow soap on a shelf above the basin. She saved cooking fat and ashes from the woodstove to make that soap. Money was scarce, in spite of her beautiful quilts, and making your own soap was easy enough. She showered under the gush of water from the eaves when it rained. In the winter I imagined she heated water on the woodstove.

It was beautiful out there, looking at the huge sky that would be unhindered by city lights: the stars would be in full possession of the night. Everywhere I looked was the complete isolation only possible in the mountains, now mostly abandoned by people. Land was sold off, or remained unused for generations. I wondered how long Mary would be able to live up there by herself. She looked to be in her early seventies, but it was hard to tell with mountain people. She was a thin old woman, and the winters were rough. I wondered how she managed to heat that woodstove. She said neighbors, men from around the area, would drop off fresh split wood, and this was how it was done up there. People took care of each other when they could. She had some aging chickens and though they were what we now call ‘free range’, she had found their nests and was able to get most of their eggs. I noticed a couple of rabbit skins hanging from the roof. Mary was a pretty good with her old shotgun, but picking the pellets out of the rabbit was a bother. Rabbits and some venison dropped off periodically by far flung neighbors was the meat she ate, but cans of spam were what she liked most. She suffered from the usual lack of dental care so spam didn’t bother her as much as tough meat. It was hard to grow many vegetables as the deer came right up to the cabin and cleaned out her patch. She bartered her quilts and eggs for vegetables and spent the summer months canning on that old wood stove. Years later I canned one summer on an electric stove, but with no air conditioning in the kitchen. You can go faint from the heat.

Mary had no electricity, so she had no refrigeration, except in the winter when she could put food in burlap sacks suspended on the roof. Raccoons were pests and would raid whatever stores she had. She could hear them in the night, climbing the water barrel to get to the sacks, their nails tapping a raccoon Morse code on the tin roof. She said she didn’t mind much, as over the years she had gotten to know generations of them. She would take her broom and go out there and argue with them, they chattering and cursing in raccoon talk. She didn’t mind, because the raccoons sometimes were the only things that talked to her for a month at a time.

It’s been three decades since I visited Mary on her mountain. I’m sure she’s long gone, and I wondered how a woman could survive the isolation of her existence. Her beautiful quilts, patterns passed down from generations of mountain women must have sustained her in the dark and lonely months of winter. She proudly listed the patterns she used: “Wedding Ring”, “Harvest Home”, “Grandma’s Flower Garden” were some of those I remember. But she was an artist, though she wouldn’t have called herself such a pompous name. She delighted in taking those patterns and sewing them with her own variations, as she shyly said. That red and white quilt behind the head stead of her iron bed is what I remember most. Although it was on a white, cotton background, the red swirls and leaves and birds were thickly patterned over its surface. It was a labor of love and must have taken a long time to sew; of course the sewing was all by hand and stuffed with boles of cotton, piece by piece. And done by kerosene light.

Her shotgun gave her a certain security I would imagine, but she faced bears and puma, mountain lions, rattle snakes, copperheads and water moccasins, those thieving raccoons, beasties we have no heart to contemplate, let alone face off.

We are overwhelmed by the frenetic pace of our modern days. Her life was full enough with the struggle just to survive in that cleared mountain meadow. When I think of how overwhelmed Mary would be today, I think of how overwhelmed I am also. Perhaps the solution is far from us, but I like to think that the lessons and memory of Mary gives a peace and an alternative to our existence. It’s out there, and is possible to touch.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2014

Revolutionary Communist Party, The Cult of Bob Avakian and other bad memories…..

August 9, 2014

fed0b-turkey_vultureontree

Very recently I had coffee with a ghost from the past. I’ll call him David, and I haven’t seen him in probably 40 years. David was a dyed in the wool Socialist, a student radical or something like that and attached in some way to the radical activity in Atlanta of the 70’s and 80’s in Atlanta.. We are talking pre-history, friends. Your Lady Nyo was also a radical in those days and a member of SDS and other sundry radical organizations. And then went on to a personal slavery in the RCP. Until 1980.

I had to laugh. David hasn’t changed in these almost 40 years. He is still a bright eyed idealist, a liberal’s liberal, and to me, though it was interesting to chew the fat of those years….mostly….I am suspicious of people who haven’t changed in 40 years. It’s one of my few failings. I probably have grown cynical, but I have scars that remind me of the ‘bad old days’ and start to act up when people speak in glowing terms of that era. David is someone stuck in the past, but there are some ‘men’ who have come out of these radical organizations who are  nothing but misogynists.  I know, last week I met one after many years.  Any respect for women, including his wife, went right past this bastard.  I lay the blame for this behavior on the internal male cult in these organizations that dismissed any women’s rights and issues….regardless what their party propaganda said. Or perhaps some men never grow up.

 

What is said to the public and what is done internally are two different things.  And perhaps it’s the aging process of some of these men who are more concerned with their loss of sexual abilities.  This one hadn’t  changed  in 40 plus years, except to reveal himself to be even more of a predator.  Ugh.

I guess, depending upon your position in these organizations, you can sum up these years with joy or despair. Especially according to your gender. As to woman, the RCP was pretty stupid about feminism, women’s rights, etc. To say stupid lets them off the hook. RCP were some of the very same radical/students from SDS and other satellite organizations and the ‘line’ on women ‘comrades’ was pretty bad. The Feminist Movement was boiling around the country, yet women in SDS were seen to be sexually available to the men, office personal and other demeaned positions. A few women, like Bernadine Dohrn, Diana Oughton occupied positions of ‘leadership’ but these women in this leadership were few and far between. And they did little to support the role of other women. They were chained to the standard male concept of women in these political organizations.
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The presiding attitude was something along the lines of “women should remain prone for the Revolution”.

In the RCP you were to bypass that feminist silliness and throw your heart and soul to the proletarian’s right to rule the world. Unfortunately, the ‘leadership’ of the RCP was NOT made up of this class, but of the upper middle class, or petti-bourgeois. The vast majority of the members were the children of the rich, college educated and possessed with ego beyond their abilities. They were determined to be the ‘new’ rulers…of course, all in the name of the proletariat.

Does this sound harsh? Well, there are triggers and triggers. Watching last night a program (Frontline??) about this sort of Mormon cult with the leadership of men and two (self-proclaimed) prophets and all these women who naturally were not of any leadership material…they were the breeders of the cult…well, triggers being triggers….it worked for me. Memories came flooding back and they were not of the benevolent kind. In fact, they were pretty much a condemnation of the whole era for me.

I was in SDS, from 1968 to the 70’s. I had a quasi national position as Political Something or other and travelled much of the country doing the bidding of SDS. I knew, as fellow-travelers, many of the top leaders, Bill Ayers, Diana Oughton,( who blew herself up in a brownstone attempting to load a bomb to be delivered that night to Fort Dix and to maim or kill soldiers) Bernadine Dohrn of the thigh boots, etc. I landed in Atlanta in 1970 as a camera woman (with no real training) for Newsreel Films. In 1970 I met and married my husband, Mark a student at Emory University.

It wasn’t a marriage made in Heaven. It was Hell, at least for me. As we proceeded with our ‘revolutionary’ activities with other middle class boys and girls, we thought of ourselves as very smart: sort of like the Smart Asses I have written about here in Atlanta. Some of these party members were nothing but budding sociopaths. The vast majority were privileged middle class children from privileged parents. Mark’s father was a doctor and wealthy. Avakian’s father was a Judge in California. Bill Ayers father was CEO of Consolidated Edison in Chicago. It goes on and on. These ‘radicals’ were the children of privilege and of the times. My father was a sheetmetal worker and a French horn player, but my mother, a nurse, had greater aspirations. In any case, none of us were of the working class. Except probably me. However, for many of those years…from 1970 until 1980….I worked in factories, General Motors for 5 years, and other sundry jobs. A total waste of my time, but I was caught up in the thrill of all this political crap. I had never really gone to college, but reading the collected works of Mao/Stalin/Lenin was basically my education. When I was allowed to do so.

A major problem was this, looking back: I was not of the leadership, I was a worker bee. Constantly selling “The Revolutionary Worker”, working long hours, and attending meetings that I was ill prepared for, being placed in dangerous positions with no safety net. I missed the whole feminist movement in a real sense because we were supposed (I guess) to suppress our feminist desires to serve a “higher” calling. However, some of the most abusive leadership came from women…one in particular I remember. Her name was Lawrence and she thought she was a baddddd ass. Actually, she buckled a lot when she was defrocked in the Party. Her base for ego was pulled out from under her. I left soon after.

And the kicker was this: My husband Mark….who didn’t work after the first few years of our 12 year marriage, no, he was too important to work at any job, (after he left the RCP he was a perpetual student and I still was supporting him)….was also my ‘boss’ when I got home. So I had a boss at work, and I came home to a very abusive boss at home. This was my life from 1970 – 1983 when we were divorced. Plus I was told by him that “I was shit” and ‘the Party didn’t think I was capable of anything except bringing money to them.” In other words: “I was too stupid to be considered for anything else.” And I did give all my wages to this damn group of idiots. Perhaps I was stupid. I did have the sense to leave in 1980, but mentally clearing the slate took years. I have to laugh. The ‘leadership’ of this branch of the RCP in Atlanta I hear was a federal agent. People would have died for him, because a cult of a personality is the fallback of stupid people. And there were very stupid and abusive people here in Atlanta. Trotskyites, Maoists, they are all of the same substance under the flesh. I’m not parsing arguments any longer for these fools. Last night I tried to read some of Avakian’s excerpts but my eyes crossed and my brain wouldn’t go: I had a hard time keeping awake back then, and his dogma puts me to sleep faster than ZZZquil.

Regarding Bob Avakian? It’s now pretty clear that many of these folk live either on the side of paranoia or narcissism. Some very well live on both sides. Avakian answers this for me. Well, he had his good points, like passing me a box of chocolates during a meeting when I was under extreme fire…but I did look him up on Wikipedia and there is the charge of “Cult of Personality” thrown at him by numerous people. Ok, that is the death knell for a Commie, and at first I wondered what he thought about it. Interesting what he said about that in the article on Wikipedia. Fits the general attitude of so many puffed up people back then. But of course, Avakian is still blowing smoke. Somewhere in France, self-exiled I hear.
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IF I can trust the source (and I do….) Avakian says this about his cult of the personality: “I certainly hope so— we’ve been working very hard to create one.”

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Say it ain’t so, Bob…..But there’s more. What has happened to this man? Power go to his head? I think with all the adulation from dull minded robots in the old RCP, Bob has come to believe his own press. And Bob? No one is chasing you. You know and claim that all the charges against you were dropped in 1982. So…..you like France? Saw your photo against the Communards Wall and you with your beret and serious scowl….well….France is lovely…and if you can keep it going (and building the cult) not a bad way to end life.
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And he IS promoting himself as a ‘cult of the personality”. He says he has worked very hard to do this over the years. Interesting. Perhaps because he remains in France in self-imposed exile, he needs this ‘frisson’ to keep the members of the RCP on their toes? To keep their collective eyes on him…sort of like a figurehead on the mast of a boat? And since he talks about the ‘glorious’ days of Mao, and is rather soft on Stalin (I am sure that those in the gulags would disagree) cult of the personality would fit very well here with him. Sad.

One other minor point: It is shocking when you are in a situation, know what was going on because you were participating in the situation and then reads a revisionist history of what happened. Perhaps this ‘shock’ only comes decades later when you are far away from the danger and have thought seriously and critically about your own actions. Reading about the 1979 demonstration in Washington, DC led by the RCP, Avakian claims the police attacked the demonstrators first. Bull. We were well armed with bricks and a few even better armed with Molotov cocktails. It doesn’t matter squat who attacked first. The intention of the demonstrators (and that would be me, also) was clear: Many of us were beaten and arrested and thrown in jail. These stitches in the back of my head don’t lie. However, interesting enough, none of the Party leadership was there (though Avakian was arrested for attacking a cop), including my husband Mark, who wasn’t even in DC. We were fodder (again) for a ‘statement’ against the bourgeois…in this case, the Chinese revisionists after Mao.

My ‘new’ husband of 30 years doesn’t know much of my previous ‘revolutionary’ activities. But when I left, rumors were spread that “Jane was a cop anyway.” This is the fallback of slavish people who will follow anything when they think it will give them an ‘in’ to power. Hah! Some of these people you could lead off a cliff and they would salute you as they fell.

The people that are now writing books, lecturing on ‘those good old days’? They make the cocktail circuit and frankly they disgust me. People died, and not just the idiot bomb making folk. Bill Ayers writing is an apology for violence and it’s pathetic. He soft pedals the violence of those days, but there are stupid people out there who were not part of this era and get their thrills believing his revisions of history. Federal crimes were committed, Federal buildings were bombed, innocent people died, yet for some reason these tales are still a draw somewhere. People living vicariously through the violence of others, I guess.

I hadn’t a word for the behavior of many of the people in SDS, RCP, etc. until recently. Narcissistic personality disorders. Ego sodded people who had very little creativity in their thwarted, twisted minds. People who assumed their position in history would be one of power and control under ‘serving the proletariat’. Our lives and works can stand for either creativity that is a blessing on the Universe, or destruction of untold lives. We have a choice, but we have to choose wisely. Most folk back then were pleased to be led around by the nose. Thinking further of consequences took too much energy I suppose. I was one of these oxen.

I think this comment that some exist either on the side of paranoia or narcissism, and SOME exist very comfortably with both sides is the ticket for many. Certainly is my experience with the RCP.

Paranoia is the spur and Narcissism is the heart of the matter. And perhaps hysteria is the fuel.
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It has taken me a couple of decades to get my feet under me. I was a painter and then fell to writing and poetry. I am decidedly now NOT political, but I know right from wrong. I also know the power and control that others can throw over anything and make people abject slaves to their ‘desire du jour’. Perhaps I have become cynical, but so what.
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Something that Churchill said I heard years ago fits here:
“If you aren’t a liberal when you are young, you have no heart. If you aren’t conservative when you have aged, you have no head.”

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I placed myself for many reasons into that slavery to others. They were unworthy of all of my ‘service’. I know those past lessons, summed up, and the agony of those times will hold me in good stead. People that don’t question much of their political beliefs really aren’t growing. You don’t have to change them completely, but you do have to put them through a fine sieve from time to time.

And my friend David? He is a good fellow at heart, but I do wonder if his ‘principles’ have blinded him to reality. But then again, we had very different experiences within the politics of yesteryear, and I do attribute a lot of that to the difference in gender. The politics of the RCP, et al….have a very bad track record on the ‘woman issue’. But perhaps the sins of the RCP, SDS, the Weathermen, etc….over whelm any consideration of the treatment of women in general. Nothing progressive here at all to me.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2014

“Bhava Yoga” and the resiliance of life….

August 8, 2014
PItcher of Moon, available from Createspace, Amazon.com

PItcher of Moon, available from Createspace, Amazon.com

Giant English Hollyhock

Giant English Hollyhock

I am amazed. Two weeks ago I lost my dear 102 year old Aunt Jean. She was the most influential person in my life. Warm, compassionate, wise, witty, when she died, I didn’t feel much. Now I know I experienced a numbness of emotion, afraid of what would happen when I ‘let go’ in grief. When my father died 24 years ago, I suffered criticism for ‘head nodding’ during this staged memorial service. That stopped me up and I was afraid. I gave too much power to a cold, self-centered woman who used power and control even at a funeral. I know now that grief, even over something so natural as (any) expression of grief….should not be corralled, denied, or controlled. I have learned something important here, and I have a lot of gratitude for those people in my life, especially the dead ones, for their support and compassion. I am grateful. Not so grateful for some still living….

I am also amazed at how the body and mind heals. It takes time, and I have had a particular arena to observe this: I am diabetic and my insurance (Humana) has informed me that I am in a ‘donut hole’. In other words, unless I pay a couple of thousand dollars and then the uninsured price (monthly) for these meds, I am on my own. Until the first of next year. In other words, the public is held up by pharmaceuticals and insurance companies who work hand in glove with them. Including the doctors that get kick backs.

At first I wondered what in hell I would do? And then, over the course of only a week, I realized the long term depression I felt had lifted. I wasn’t so damn numb anymore. And it could be traced back to the Victoza I was taking. Now? I am on my own, but it’s sort of a welcome challenge. Very tight control of what I eat and a lot more exercise. A LOT more exercise.

Last night my husband of 30 years brought home a leaflet advertising Salsa/Mambo classes. For years we both have wanted to take Argentina Tango, so we are still on the search here. But what a lovely gesture of my sweet husband to remember this! For the past week I have been working with 3lb weights and back to some belly dance movements: this has loosened me up, and my body feels better. A month ago I had a serious fall, and didn’t move much, afraid to, because of it. Now? Tango looks good. Even flamenco again, but I think that’s down the road. But I have the red shoes waiting!

As a poet, I exist in the realm of philosophical implications. I don’t think many of us can get very far away from that. My dear Aunt Jean was always so, and her letters express so much of this mindset, even to the very last one I received from her at 101 years old. I have so much to be grateful for. I have such gratitude for the presence of this stellar woman in my life.

Lady Nyo

Bhava Yoga

Morning’s roseate sky
Has been blasted away,
Branches now whirligigs
Swirl with a fierce southern wind
As windows rattle in frames.

A tattered umbrella
Shades from a relentless sun.
I listen to Bhava Yoga
The vibration of Love,
Where imagination meets
Memory in the dark.
Yet surrounding these soothing tones
The world outside this music
Conspires to disrupt, sweep away
Any centered down thought, reflection.

The fierce wind demands my attention.

Still, the pulse of Bhava Yoga
This Vibration of Love,
Draws me within,
Feeds imagination with memory,
Calls forth something as enduring as the fury outside,
And I feel the pulse of the infinite.

Our lives are lived in the spheres of
Inside/outside
And we are like birds,
Clinging with dulled claws to
The swaying branches of life.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2014, from “Pitcher of Moon”, published by Createspace, Amazon.com

Musings On A Closing Day….

August 4, 2014

mount fuji, 2

MUSINGS ON A CLOSING DAY

I move my chair
to observe Mt. Fuji-
monstrous perfection
topped with the cooling crust
of spring snows.

Languid movement
of a branch,
like a geisha
unfurling her arm
from a gray kimono,
makes petals fall,
a scented, pink snow
covering my upturned face
with careless kisses.

Timid winds caress
my limbs,
a fleeting relief
to tired bones
brittle now with
a sullen defeat of life.

Raked sand of garden
waves barely disturbed
by feet like two gray stones
as grains flow
round ankles.
I realize once again
I am no obstacle to
the sands of time.

My heart is quieted
by the passage of nothing
for in this nothing
is revealed the fullness of life.

Jane Kohut-Bartels,
copyrighted, 2011, from White Cranes of Heaven, Lulu.com

Mrs. Jean Kohut, 1912-2014 and the poem “Gratitude”

July 28, 2014
was to be the cover painting for "Pitcher of Moon" but didn't work out.

was to be the cover painting for “Pitcher of Moon” but didn’t work out.

(UPDATE: Pam, Aunt Jean’s daughter called today just to see how I was. Pam shared her dear mother with me for years. She knew how attached I had become to this wonderful and compassionate woman. That was so sweet and I appreciate this so much. Pam has the full weight of the funeral arrangements (along with her husband) but she told me Aunt Jean had previously picked her burial outfit. She was being buried in her lavender pants suit and her USA teeshirt! I think that wonderful, that an almost 102 year old woman would want to do such. She was dignified to the max, a woman with great influence, the head of this Kohut tribe. Originally from Hungary, she loved this country dearly.

Brava, Aunt Jean!)

My Aunt Jean, almost 102 years old, died today, July 28th. Aunt Jean was a remarkable woman with tremendous history behind her. For many years she encouraged me, basically the only person in my family besides my husband, to write and to develop my poetry. The last two books have been dedicated to this remarkable woman and she will always be first in the dedication of any future book. I started this blog exactly 6 years ago with a story about Aunt Jean. Later, when I can collect my thoughts, I will write more about this brave woman who at 24, faced down a Nazi court in Hungary. She was a prolific writer of letters and her autobiography, and came to this country wanting to be a journalist. Over the past 10 years we wrote each week, and sometimes I received two or three letters a week from her. She was such a marvelous example for all women. She was my Anya…Hungarian for Mother…and she will be missed by so many.

Jane-Elizabeth (as I was to her)

Gratitude

What are these lights?
They shine into the heart even
As I shade my eyes,
Pierce my soul with exquisite pain!

Ah! The blessing of the Universe,
Whose stars are shooting messengers
Come to claim my heart, my soul,
Come to knock down walls of
Loneliness, isolation.
.

Who am I to argue?
Is there not a web, gossamer as a spider’s
Silver wire crossing from bush to bush,
Shining with prisms of light falling from
The morning dew?

Does not this silver thread, so fragile, eternal
Bond us together in Humanity?

The ways of the heart are mysterious.
They triumph over cold logic.
The ways of the Universe are greater
With mercy when least expected.

Oh, sing my heart with gratitude!

If we would listen to the music,
Would let the stirrings of a grateful heart move,
We would dance in rebirth each day!

Let pride be destroyed,
The soul made new,
Resurrected each day
To meet the morning with song, hope;
To dissolve law into love –

Paradise enough for You.
Paradise enough for Me.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2014

The Desert Zar, a short story

July 23, 2014
"The Zar Tales", published by Lulu.com, 2010

“The Zar Tales”, published by Lulu.com, 2010

I need a break. It’s summer and my garden looks horrid, the grass uncut, the brown spots courtesy of the three dogs need tending, the chicken coop cleaned out and the chicken manure used to best advantage. I’m posting this short story here, in part because I am trying to get back into the mindset of finishing “Tin Hinan” and I did lose (or forgot to save) the last long chapter. So….I am looking forward to going back into that ‘space’ of Hyperarousal Trance where all things slightly spooky gives some inspiration.

I’ve written before about the Zar ritual, still an important ritual in many North African and Middle East countries and what the demon Zar represents.

I just got in the mail (bless you, Amazon.com) a new Berber group, Tianiwen, and their music I already know will throw me into that place where things connect and efforts are effortless.

See you on the other side.

Lady Nyo

A DESERT ZAR

The dust settled from the desert. All day it howled and swirled around the souk, a locust plague of stinging matter, a towering and maddened djinn. Now the sky over the sands was fading pink, as daylight filtered through the violent storm resolved into a dark blue night.

The roiling sea of sand, shifting like high waves of water, was now placid. Off to the east, bells of a caravan mixed with the groans and protestations of camels, floated over heavy air. Jasmine and bougainvillea scented the night along with dung fires from Bedouin camps.

Dusk was settling in, this narrow ribbon between light and dark, bridged by a few soft breezes. The djinn of night inhaled deeply, holding the memories of the day close, then blew to the desert, to repeat at each dusk into eternity.

This was Tunis, a hundred years ago, before the awnings of the souk now woven reed mats, were replaced with sheet tin, and the trampled dirt paved beyond cobble.

Somewhere a drum begin a steady beat, sounding like a heart beat, drawn from the village core. Then the soft piping of the ney flute floated out over the souk, it’s sweetness rising like a descant over the measured beat of more drums.

Black clad shadows moved down the length of adobe walls to the center well. Bundles of jasmine, tuberose, bougainvillea, red poppies and lavender were placed on the steps of the well, seeming to scent the still water.

An old Negress, her back twisted by life, took a few coins from women as they passed. Her hair twinkled like dull stars from the pierced coins strung from her dull dreadlocks.

This was the price of the Zar. Each woman would exorcise her demon, her hysteria or her bad luck. And with hope, perhaps a mean husband.

As more and more women came around the well, it seemed the drums became louder and the ney flute shriller. The bleating of a goat near by could be heard.

Still, black figures moved in the settling darkness down the cobbles to the well and placed their few coins in the Negress’ hand.

Around the corner and halfway down the street was a doorway. A curtain was drawn over the opening but the incense within puffed out with each opening. It scented the nighttime air, dueling with jasmine growing up walls. The shrillness of the ney increased and the drums picked up rhythm.

Go through the curtain and you enter a room heavy with smells. The incense–powerful, but there were undercurrents of tobacco from a hookah being smoked in the darkened room. There was something acrid, like the smell of fear or sweat. The raw smells of a crowded humanity perfumed the room.

Wooden benches placed far back upon the walls were already filled. Men and women, but mostly women, were sitting in the smoky fog. Most were still clad in the black chadors, but here and there were sparkles of an elaborately beaded head scarf. One women sat like a princess with a camel’s saddle beneath her feet. She was dressed in embroidered robes with silver jewelry over her forehead. She was the youngest wife of the local warlord and woe be to anyone who accosted her. Black eyes, two ebony moons dulled by the poppy, looked out from a face veil. The heavy sandalwood perfume coming from her robes scented the air, mingling with other scents.

In the middle of the floor a high wooden stool was placed where a large tray of sweets and fruits were offered to the spirits of the night. No mortal hand or mouth would partake of such offerings.

The drums beat varying rhythms, and all combined into a gigantic heartbeat, or perhaps many heartbeats reflecting those within the room.

Suddenly a woman appeared and walked around the altar, muttering something in a sing-song voice. Her hair unbound and tossed with the rotations of her head, she nodded back and forth in time with her pacing. As she walked and muttered, her eyes rolled back in her head. She was deep in trance.

The Sheikha! The power of a demon catcher, the handler of the Zar demons! The Wise Woman, for who but such could demand anything of the invisible and dangerous Zar?

She paced the room, muttering to herself, her body now expressing violent movements. Off to the side was a younger woman sitting on her haunches, covered with a white cloth. With the shrill call of the wooden ney, the woman was helped to her feet, uncovered, where she stood with bowed head.

She was the possessed. Perhaps her husband had brought her to the ritual. Perhaps she could be healed.
But perhaps the Zar that possessed her could overcome all the magic of the Sheikha and possess her!

Each woman had a story behind her. This one was a very young woman, now married to a much older man. He lurked in the background, anger hard in his eyes, his mouth set in a grimace. He had paid a good marriage price for his wife and she had not given him what he expected. A son was what he demanded and she had only produced one stillborn in the two years they had been married. Something was wrong with her. Perhaps the ritual he paid for with heavy coin would answer to his concerns. If not, perhaps he could ship her back to her parents and demand the bride price back.

The Sheikha’s voice called out, her arms raised towards the woman, and this woman began to pace around the altar. At first her head just nodded back and forth as she slowly moved around the room. Then her body began to twitch, her arms rose upwards, jerking with her movements. Her hair was unbound, and with each violent movement of her head, it swung around in great, undulating waves.

Still the drums increased their tempo. The drummers were off in their own trances, their faces blank, their eyes unfocused. The ney player, his wooden flute dark with age and the stains of fingers, was answered with finger cymbals and an undercurrent of chants. The room seemed to pulsate within another dimension as the incense and drums took over the senses. The chants increased in strength and sweat poured down the face and breasts of the Sheika and the possessed young woman, making transparent their white cotton dresses. Dark tipped nipples and golden breasts, the sheen of skin heated to match the frenzy of all around them, they danced on, now uttering incoherent growls and high pitched exclamations. Other women sat in place and tossed their bodies back and forth and a few stood up and joined the young woman, their own bodies beginning to mimic hers. Shrieks and groans were heard from different corners of the room and still the drums increased in rhythm, exciting the senses to a fever pitch.

Suddenly the Sheikha stiffened, her eyes rolled back as the young woman passing before her collapsed at her feet.

She had caught the Zar! He had released hold of the ends of the hair of the young woman and flown into the arms of the Sheikha! He had hit her with enough force that she staggered backwards and only the support of the women behind her kept her on her two feet.

Now the Wise Woman talked in a low, unknown language. She berated, cajoled, implored and threatened the Zar. She grasped at the air and shook it violently. She brought the Zar to her breast, seemed to stroke it, this unseen matter, and then push it from her, chiding and scolding.

For those in the room who knew about Zars, knew one never could get rid them. No, he could be appealed to, reasoned with, but who but one equal to a Zar can reason with a Demon?

A man brought forth a white cock and with a quick flash of his knife, cut its throat. With a bow he presented the dying cock to the Sheikha who began to sprinkle the warm blood about the now still woman. Again low guttural chants rose all around but the drums remained silent.

The Sheikha would threaten this Zar with her own spirits. She would threaten with her own history of wrestling with past Zars, and call upon their power for her to subdue this one.

Silently she prayed the demon before her would attend. It would be a fierce battle to the end, and onlookers watched for signs of who was winning; who was more powerful.

Ah! There always was signs of the battle within. Exhaustion threatened to overtake the Sheikha. She would have to bargain hard with this Zar. He was a powerful one; not about to give up his berth without a fight.

But, slowly, slowly….there were signs she was winning, and those who knew of these things would see renewed energy on the part of the Sheikha, a renewed passion for what she was facing. If she was coming to victory, her voice would soften, her appeals would be as to a child and perhaps this Zar would listen.

But success was never assured. These Zars were thousands of years old and wily creatures. They may be made of air and malevolence, but they were a force outside Nature.

No victory over a supernatural force could be guaranteed. It always was a battle to the end. For you never get ride of a Zar, the possessor. You only give him a good shakeup, new marching orders, and you send him back into the possessed.

No one wants a Zar running around scaring the children and chickens. And a goat for possession will not do.

The Sheikha looked down at the woman at her feet. Ah! There was a change in her face, a smoothing of her brow, a peaceful countenance. She could be restored to her husband and the Sheikha prayed that he would see his wife in a new light.

The Sheikha knew what was wrong here. It was the same old story over and over. A man, too old to give his wife the pleasure she was made for, would demand from her what he could not give. So the senses were imbalanced, the forces of love were destroyed, the woman would suffer unless….

The Sheikha’s eyes snapped to the husband and with a gesture she had him approach. She stared deep into his eyes and held them. She muttered in her strange and frightening language and still she did not drop her eyes. Then she sprinkled his white robes liberally with the cock’s blood.

She had the satisfaction of seeing the fear in his eyes.

Perhaps this time the Zar will behave. And better, perhaps so the husband, too.

*******

Outside the walls of the souk, outside where the night wind rested, camels complained and the dung fires scented the air, where the moon looked down on the sea of sand, other Zars were gathering to float over the walls.

The food on the altar would not last long. Again Spirit would invade Flesh and the drums would call out demons into the arms of some Sheikha.

In this part of the world, the Zars were part of human destiny.

They were a part of life as much as the desert sands, the groans of camels and the dark eyes of beautiful women.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2012-2014


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