An Exerpt from “The Zar Tales”, Chapter III

I know this drives some of the readers of this blog crazy when I do this, so I apologize up front. This jumping from one story to another.  But this blog is a writer’s blog and I confess I use it for feedback for the writing. Readers always give me the goods on things that work and don’t.  Things that sing or sink.

I am test driving the rewrite of “The Zar Tales” for publication later this fall, and put up this chapter.  I do it for a couple of reasons, and one is I have a couple of impatient private readers of “The Zar Tales” and this chapter was rather important for the novel.  I am not sure if it makes it’s mark.

The other reason is my belly dance students.  I was having lunch with one yesterday, a woman who has many multicultural experiences  in life and is old enough to sum up the important lessons.

We talked about why it was so hard to get back into the physical swing of life in the South in the summer.  She thinks it’s something in the DNA…the heat is withering to  flesh and spirit. Dancing is suspended in all forms because there just isn’t enough air conditioning to allow survival in this heat.  Anywhere, in studio or house.

She is familiar with Hyperarousal Trance, and we talked about the problems with that.  I can write long passages where I feel transported:  I can enter into the spirit of the piece, and I believe H.T. takes me there.  It’s a developed technique, and not a mystery at all.  I have been using it for about 5 years.

However, since the heat of the summer, all physical movement is a chore.  I can’t tap into H.T. with the dance right now, and that got me worried.  H.T. first came to me with Belly Dance, and I rely on it for patterning (not choreography) of movements, in fact, movement throws me further into trance.  It’s that tap into Muscle Memory, and any person who is ‘in the zone’ will recognize what I am writing about here.

Talking to other women, writers and dancers, we tried to explain our own avenues to the ‘zone’ and we generally agreed that music AND the resulting movement is the path.

I am hoping this chapter of “The Zar Tales” expresses some of that, but I am sure I will hear from them if it doesn’t.  Perhaps it’s just getting off our asses and moving and throwing it all up to fate.

Lady Nyo

“The Zar Tales” is set in a Middle East country around 1980’s when the Zar (which is a dance of exorcism of demons, a communal gathering of women) was threatened by religious authorities for their ‘pagan’ and un Muslim behavior.  A zar is also a demon, a devil, that possesses a woman.  They are handy little buggers because you can blame things on the zar and your husband can’t blame you.  It’s actually a very old ‘mental health’ solution used in many countries, especially   Egypt and Africa and some M.E. countries.

Wmen have been jailed for holding the Zar dance, and it’s practiced in secret in some countries, like Egypt, but it’s a popular event, even amongst rich Egyptian women.  It also must be practiced in Morocco and parts of Spain because I have met a couple of Moroccan and Spanish flamenco guitarists who were very knowledgeable of the ayoub beat…which they called the zar beat.

This chapter is rather self explanatory, except for the history of the Zar dance.

(Note:  The word “Ayaaaa!” is  an exclamation used on the floor to encourage the dancers, to introduce them, to create excitement.)


Chapter III

Shakira looked at the women sitting on the floor. Some were smoking, most talking and the sound of clinking bottles could be heard though the women’s  robes muffled most of the sound.

Aliya, don’t be so stingy with that bottle. Pass it over here, woman.”

You will guzzle it, and then we will have to clean up the mess.” Laugher sounded throughout the room. Some of the women sipped from the hidden and forbidden bottles of their husbands. They were not the young ones.

Give them time, thought Shakira, the wine will flow as easy as their tongues and their laughter.

It was not often they could gather, and each yearned for a time where inhibitions would lessen and gossip, the companionship of women, was allowed.

Jassa”, called Shakira, “come spread the cloth on the altar. We must do this properly if

we are to catch a Zar tonight.”

Perhaps cousin we catch two Zars tonight. My Farah has been complaining of stomach troubles and maybe a Zar has gripped her middle.”

Shakira shook her head and laughed. “Farah eats too many dates and she is fat as a ewe. No Zar would have room to lodge in her stomach. Too much food in there.”

Dried fruit, stuffed dates, nuts and sweet breads were passed around on large trays. A large brass one was placed on the altar, made of a high stool in the middle of the room. This was for the spirits who happened to come wandering in during the drumming. No mortal would dare touch that offering.

A number of women had drums, smuggled under their voluminous robes. The tamboura , an ancient lyre-like instrument, was already in the hands of Leila, and she busy tuning it to suit the mood of the evening. Leila usually started with sad songs, and as the wine made the rounds, the tempo of the tamboura , followed by the drums, would increase and the women would make little effort to confine their happiness.

Ah! Life could be good! It was just a matter of side- stepping the men.

Tonight Shakira had an idea, something she had been thinking about for a while. The festival of the Goddess Nut was approaching, and though no longer celebrated openly, Nut was a Goddess close to the heart of women. Protector of the dead, Nut was also beloved by the living, for she spread her body over the Universe and fed and comforted them from her teats. There was always enough milk from generous Nut and she was beloved by mothers, and most of the women in the village were mothers. So many babies now in the arms of Nut, resting like stars in her bosom. She had lost her only babe, along with her husband many years ago. So Ali was both to her and tonight she would dance in celebration. Allah was the men’s god, but Nut had the heart and devotion of women.

Leila started to play her tamboura, and slow, sad chords and plaints tumbled from her fingers. Women around the room hushed, listened with their ears and hearts, heads nodding. This was the music reaching up to their wombs and lifting the sorrows of their lives off their bosoms. Shakira could imagine the ghosts of children and husbands long gone floating like wisps of smoke in the center of the room. Tonight they would join together, still part of the village though no longer in corporal form. The magic of Leila’s fingers drew forth tears along with these invisible spirits.

Then her playing changed and the drums picked up a faster tempo. Gone was the mourning of the women, to be replaced by joy. Voices were lifted in song and personal chant, and shoulders swayed and hands clapped out a counter rhythm to the drums. She felt a trance take over her body, slip up her loins and envelop her mind.

Ahhhh! It was a warm embrace, and it wasn’t Ali! Warm enough to make her hips and breast start to move. Shakira rose to her feet and discarded her outer garment. She shook out her arms and rolled her head around. Her white cotton undergown was loose over her swelling breasts and haunches. She kicked off her sandals and her long black hair streamed down her back, unplaited, flowing like dark waves. She paced around the circle, her body picking up the rhythm of the drums and tamboura, her hips defining a pattern of movement, her arms held out from her body. She was dancing the age-old dance of women, for women, to greet the cares and concerns of their tribe. For, men aside, women were the heart beat of the village, they were the blood coursing through the alleys and up to the well. They were the waters of Life and they lived it.

Shakira stalked the room, now a tigress, the drums following her, she commanding the rhythm. Shaking, bowing, swaying, each movement mirrored in the watching eyes of the women. She danced alone, but the movements were blood, flesh and muscle of each woman that sat before her. Heads nodded in time with the drums, hands clapped, some women pounding the floor in counter rhythms, swaying with their own bodies in imitation of Shakira’s dancing. She moved around the room, hips shaking, belly rolling, shoulders thrown back and forth, hair cascading outward like the whirling skirts of the Dervishes of Turkey as she turned in circles, feet pivoting beneath her body in time to the drums.


Sheikha Shakira dances in the river of life! The Sheikha captures our hearts and lifts them to the Goddesses’ lips!”

Ayaaa! We dance with you, Shakira!”

Voices were raised in chants, joined together in different harmonies, rising up to the ceiling, taking wing in the nighttime air. Shakira’s feet pounded out rhythms deep into the earth. Her hands and flinging arms commanded the winds, and the women’s chants rose to the ears of heaven.


Sweat dripped on the face of Leila as she played the tamboura, her fingers flashing on the lyre-like instrument and the drums beat different cadences, creating multi-layered sounds. This drone of music underlaid the vocals of  women singing in strange harmonies. Pagan magic filled the room and Shakira’s body radiated the energies of an older culture. Gone were the cities, the stuff of modern life, the mullahs, the chadors and berka that veiled the beauties of women and in their place were the teats of nourishing Goddess Nut, spreading her body over the universe, the stars coursing through her body, the planets, the moons, the comets, too. The sun crept up her holy woman’s place at night, to be born out of her mouth at dawn. The moon too, came forth from her body, and the passage of the hours were marked by her Houri, the original women of the night, dancing with lessening veils till they lay under her belly at daybreak, sleeping.

Praise Nut! Goddess of women. Goddess of our own, time before time, Goddess before any God!

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009

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4 Responses to “An Exerpt from “The Zar Tales”, Chapter III”

  1. shia1 Says:

    Hi Jane,

    I really liked this entry. The dance was vivid and I could see it and hear it. I loved the fact that it was a group of women, it brought them so close together.

    Of course your descriptions of things are so touchable, one can reach out and grab your visions. Excellent and VERY hard to do.

    Keep writing, it is in your soul



  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi shia!

    Thank you for reading this excerpt. It’s very helpful having feedback on these things, because some times we feel writing is written in the dark.

    I have learned a lot from the comments on the writing…and frankly, the negative ones, too. Maybe more so.

    Just this week, a woman who doesn’t have a background in literature but is college educated …said she found my book “A Seasoning of Lust” confusing to follow. Trying to draw her out further, she said that there was ‘too much in there’. Too many changes in themes.

    I think that might be true. I do know that people who DO like it are better read in classical literature, like Bullfinch and Robert Graves: they understand the basis for the mythological flashers: those aren’t easy for people who don’t have a background to like.

    I ranged across cultures in that first book: Japanese, German, Italian, French, and American cultures. I think if I had a chance to do it over again…(and I do…) I would contain the writing to themes and not throw so much in there. It makes it hard to read through. And throw in the Shibari Series and you have more resistance….bdsm themes which are not of mass interest.

    So I am putting together “The Zar Tales” with pieces that just have one, or a similar theme to avoid the above. I will always love that first book but I can see where the problems now are. I guess the point is to improve on the first doings and go on.

    It is so good to see these pieces…chapters, etc. through the fresh eyes of others….and I thank you, shia, for your observations.

    There is a short story, called “A Zar Tale”…I will have to change the title obviously…that is the setting of “The Zar Tales”… gives the basis of how Shakira and Ali came to be, and really starts the novella.

    But I think I have enough of short stories and a few poems and this “The Zar Tales” to make up a small book.

    Thank you, again, shia. Your observations here and privately mean a lot to me.



  3. Margie Says:

    I love this woman, Shakira. And I love these particular stories, Tin Hanan and The Zar Tales – the culture speaks to me somehow. I find the japanese themed writing very interesting and I like it very much – but, Janie, these are fabulous. More, more and more!


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Margie,

    I am so glad these works speak to you. They speak to a number of women I am finding out…and a few sensitive men….LOL!

    I am wondering how we generate these pieces….I have friend, Angie Cameron, who writes Vampire novels…she’s in the top five sellers of this genre on

    We were talking about this very thing the other night: Her “Jonah” character is such a full bodied man (Vampire) with amazing characteristics….human in poignant ways that make you draw near him.

    How do we tap into these characters, settings, stories? Angie isn’t a vampire, and I’m not a Berber or Middle Eastern woman, but perhaps what has happened here is that the human condition is the same: over the centuries, and across the waters. I just don’t know, but I do know that their lives seem to reflect the same issues that women all over the world have….regardless culture.

    Now, Angie believes in Spirit Guides….guiding us in our writing. I don’t know….I have no experience or opinion on this…at least none that I am willing to talk about in public.

    My only experience is the Hyperarousal Trance issue, and that I believe brings some of the details and settings to me from some source. Of course, you lay the basis of the stories with research, but you get to be open in ways you didn’t imagine.

    I am so glad they speak to you, Margie. If they do, then I am creating a world that has some connection to readers own imagination…which, to me,…is the whole point of writing.

    Thank you.



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