Posts Tagged ‘The Zar Ritual’

“The Zar Tale”, a novella, Chapter One.

June 3, 2018

It’s almost summer and nothing delights like a engrossing book to read.  My husband started to read Chapter One and kept going.  “You should post this on your blog”.  “But people have such little attention span these days.”  “It’s a short book.”  He’s right.  And this will free me up for other things.  After all, story tellers love to entertain, but even these folk need a vacation.

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”) 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. 


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 breeze and disappear into the day, off to converse and argue with other Zars around their mountain village.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2010-2018


“The Zar Tales”, published by, 2010



Short Story: ‘A Tale of a Zar’

June 22, 2016


“The Zar Tales”, published by, 2010


The Zar is a ritual of exorcism.  It is also a Demon.  In parts of Africa and the Middle East, Zar ritual is an important ‘mental health clinic’.  Women hold this ancient  ritual when sorely oppressed by life.  There are few mental health alternatives in these areas, and the ritual is a way for women to gather and deal with internal problems: men, marriage, family, especially mother-in-laws.  Of course, these oppressive governments have come down hard on the Zar rituals and have tried to outlaw them. Women in these areas continue to practice the ritual, even in the cities of Egypt, etc. where upper class women hold them in secret.  This short story came from my years as a belly dancer when I met women from these countries and they clued me into this complex and exciting ritual.

Lady Nyo


“Woman!” yelled  Ahmed. “We are married a year. You behave like a child! You don’t speak to my mother. I did not get married for this treatment. You are a terrible wife!”

Ahmed had a reason to be angry with Aya. She did not act the spouse he believed he deserved. He expected a paradise on earth, a wife pliable to his wishes and prepared to serve his wants. But Aya was young, only sixteen years old at the wedding. She came from across the mountain, from a village no different from where she was now. No village in this part of the country was much different, and the mountains bred people repeating the same traditions and habits.

Aya was very young.   She was a daughter born in the middle of ten children, not noticed by many. Plus, she was only a shy girl, and not expected to shine. When a matchmaker came from Ahmed’s parents, Aya’s were relieved to marry her off. Both sets of parents, with the matchmaker in the middle, bargained for Aya much as her father bought sheep in the market. Aya was married and packed off to Ahmed’s parents, and that was the last Aya’s family saw of her that year

Aya drooped. Deprived of the only people she knew and thrust into a family of strangers, she became even more timid. The excitement of the honeymoon had passed, and living with Ahmed in only a room apart from the large, noisy family was not much of a change. All brides have hope and expectations, and though she said nothing, Aya still was a bride.

Ahmed’s mother smelled trouble. She could tell by the scowl of her favorite son he was not happy. Peace on earth depended upon the contentment of men, and Ahmed’s mother had tradition to uphold. She knew the trouble gossip could cause, she had been the generator of much of it during her life.   Soon Ahmed’s sadness would be common discussion around the well, and the family would lose face. Something had to be done

Ahmed’s mother went and cornered her in the courtyard while she fed chickens.

“Aya, why the long face, my daughter?” Ahmed’s mother showed little attention to her daughter- in- law, for she did not understand her. She was quiet, which was proper for a good Muslim woman, but too quiet. She had grown listless and preoccupied with spending time on the roof looking over the dry and rocky countryside. Many times Ahmed’s mother caught her up there, a strange look in her eye, and seemingly deaf to her calls.   At first she had hoped for a grandchild, but Ahmed was spending more time with the men and less with his wife. Surely the girl should be able to charm her new husband. She must not be trying! Ahmed said little but all in the house knew something was wrong

Ahmed’s mother could get nothing from her. The silly bride bowed her head, and cast her eyes downward, looking at her dusty sandals. Well, the peace of her household was at stake, and if Ahmed was unhappy, Ahmed’s mother was prepared to do battle

But not with the girl. That would be beneath Ahmed’s mother.

So in the time honored tradition, Ahmed’s mother made a formal visit to the local Sheikha. She would know what to do. Ahmed’s mother would at least have the satisfaction of doing her duty by her son. If the Sheikha, named Shakira, was successful, Ahmed’s mother and father would be able at least to keep all of the bride price. To return it, or even a part, would be a terrible burden. Anyway, most of the bride price was already spent.

Shakira met with Ahmed’s mother and told her to send the girl. She would find out the trouble between Ahmed and Aya. She would fix what was broken.

At the appointed time, Aya showed up with her mother- in- law and a very quiet Ahmed. Shakira of course knew the young bride on sight, her family name and that she was a new bride, but she had never reason to notice her.   She sometimes saw her at the village well, washing clothes, or feeding the chickens outside the door of Ahmed’s house. But she didn’t seem remarkable to Shakira.   Just a young bride, nothing special.

Aya was very young, with not much meat on her bones. She would not give much heat next to Ahmed when the winter winds blew down from the mountains and turned the air raw and bitter. Better had Ahmed’s parents find him a bride who would fill his bed and warm his feet with her flesh. One could see there was bigger problems than too- thin Aya. The girl looked haunted to Shakira’s eyes.

Sending Ahmed and his mother home, Shakira prepared to question young Aya. First she had her sit and served her the sweet tea they brewed in the village and drank on all occasions. Aya was quiet, which wasn’t out of line for a young Muslim girl, but she noticed that she kept her eyes cast on the floor. This was more than a normal shyness. The girl appeared deeply disturbed.

“Come, Aya. Do not be shy. You know why you are here. Your husband has made complaints about your behavior in the marriage. Is something wrong, my daughter?”

Aya sipped at her tea and shook her head, but did not raise her eyes to Shakira’s face.

The Sheikha Shakira could tell many things by the shine of the eyes, by the carriage of the head, by the shoulders, by the sheen of the skin. Although thin, Aya did not appear sick, just unhappy.

“Aya”. Shakira thought a direct approach would get some answers. “Does Ahmed do what a husband should? Do you know what a husband does for his wife?

Aya blushed, and her hands shook as she put her small glass down.

“Tell me,” said Shakira with an encouraging smile. “Does Ahmed put off his own pleasure for yours?” The look on Aya’s face told Shakira that Ahmed did not

Aya’s blush increased, giving her dusky skin a bloom of beauty.

“Tell me, Aya.” Shakira’s voice was gentle and low, a conspiracy brewing between two women against all men.

“Does Ahmed touch you in your holy woman’s place? You know after you are married, it is right and good that he should? He should use his male member and his fingers and even his tongue.” Shakira sat back and looked closely at Aya. Her hands shook and she didn’t pick up her glass

Ah, thought Shakira. Another stupid man that doesn’t know how to stroke his wife into bliss! Allah punish these men who are so selfish!

Shakira thought a different approach would be more fruitful. “Aya, do you touch yourself down there in your holy place? Did you know God has given you a body with all the pleasures of paradise on earth? You can touch and stroke and push your fingers in there and have lovely feelings. Perhaps you need to show Ahmed how to arouse you? You are married a year, and if your husband doesn’t understand, perhaps you need to give him a push. Do you understand, daughter?

Suddenly Aya started shaking violently and a great sob escaped from her throat.

“Aaaiiiyee! It is like a man is already in there…in my holy place, and he strokes where Ahmed puts his flute. I try to resist him, it is a demon inside of me! but I am not strong enough. Ah, Mother Shakira, help me! I have thought many times as I go to the roof of the house I would throw myself over the edge!”

This burst of words shocked Shakira.   She sat there blinking, watching the young girl sob out her shame and fear. Ah! Now she had something to work with!

A demon. In bed between an ignorant girl and an even more ignorant husband!

But! This was something most interesting, something Shakira encountered at times among women. From the narrowness of their lives, in their isolation from the cities and from the stupidity of the men, a demon popped up frequently in the lives of married women. And thank God only married women. They seemed to scorn the virgins, which was good, for if they didn’t, it would mean the murder of many young women by their fathers and brothers, thought Shakira.

These spirits were helpful to women as Shakira knew well. They could give a woman a certain liberty to sass their husbands. If a word popped out, she could blame it on the Zar, the demon. It was not her fault, and punishing her would do no good. Something just came over her and she didn’t know where it came from. It was the Zar’s fault. He needed to have his power ‘reduced’. He needed a good talking to, to be placated, given new marching orders.

Shakira thought about the demon. She knew she could never can purge a Zar, these troubling spirits, she would have to cajole, puzzle, confuse and ultimately, placate them. But! She would have to restore them with their powers reduced.   No one wants a Zar wandering around scaring the children and chickens. It was bad enough they sat under the trees in the woods on the mountains and woe to anyone who cast their eyes on a bodiless Zar! Shakira knew that to be immediate possession. The Zar needed a human body.   That was where Zars lived comfortably.

Ah! An excuse for a Zar ritual!   Shakira rubbed her hands in glee. The price of the feast and the sacrifice was less important than the chance to get the women together for some fun. And Zars were fun in a life that was black- clad, dusty and under the thumb of Allah and the men.

On the day of the Zar ritual, Shakira placed a tray of nuts and fruit on an altar in the middle of the room. The drummers came in earlier and were sitting together talking, laughing and drinking tea. The ney player, a young man, was sitting apart from the drummers, all women now. Incense was heavy, and the smell of it was hypnotic even before the drummers started beating their rhythm.

Shakira spent some time with Aya, talking to her, helping her ease herself into the ritual soon to take place. Aya had suffered some nerves, thrown up, and then seemed resigned to her fate, though she remained pale.

More women straggled into the room, waddling like black crows in a field.   They sat in a rough circle, breathing in the heady perfume wafting from the burning incense. Some were praying to themselves, others beginning chants, and the combined sounds were like a hive of bees in the sunshine, dipping into the honey. Shakira was trying not to slip into her own trance, but the warm weather and the sunshine conspired to lull her senses. She looked over at Aya sitting with her mother and mother-in-law. She was dressed in a white cotton gown, her hair loose down her back. The hair was the last place that Aya’s demon would hold on to as she tossed her head around and around, throwing him into the arms of Shakira. She wondered what this demon would be like. Would he be a hard one to cajole? Would he demand a price for his obedience? Would she be strong enough, without rallying her own demons, to take him on?

None of this could she know in advance. Allah Provide, she prayed to herself.

Then the drummers started their different rhythms. Each part of the body was capable of possession and a different rhythm beat out on the stretched goat skin drums would find them out. The rhythm would call out to the soul of the demon, and he would have to answer. It was heartbeat to heartbeat.

The first rhythm was the ayoub, ‘dum-tec-a dum-tec-a’ becoming more and more intense. Shakira could not help begin her own trance. It was a necessary part of the Zar ritual. She would catch the demon when he was tossed from Aya’s hair, wrestle him in her own arms and give him a good talking to.

Aya had risen, fear distorting her pale face as she walked around the room, her eyes like big dark moons. A blind man could see how frightened she was!   Then, allowing herself to feel the rhythm that seeped into the blood of all there, she started to nod her head, back and forth, little nods at first, as if she were tentatively allowing the heartbeat of the drums to enter her body. Her eyes glazed and she started to change the gait of her walking, as if she was swaying to some internal rhythm set up as a counterpoint to what was heard by all others. Her hips started to jerk and her head rolled on her neck in little circles, hair flying in gentle waves around her. The ney player picked up the tempo a bit, the drums followed. Aya’s movements around the circle increased in speed. She started to whirl around as she walked, her face upwards to the ceiling, now her hair flying out like a whirling Dervish’s skirts. Faster and faster Aya twirled and jerked around the room, throwing her arms outward and upward. She uttered little shrieks, unheard with the general chanting and drumming and the shrill music of the ney.

Shakira knew that if there was a demon inside of Aya, he would soon appear. She swayed back and forth in her own trance, standing with her arms outward towards the spinning girl.

There! Something hit Shakira in her chest! Something solid and hard enough to almost knock the wind from her. Aya sank down in a heap, shuddering with spasms. Women moved to chant over her, and ever the drums and ney player increased their frenzied rhythms.

Shakira slipped into full trance and talked to the Demon standing there, hovering with a scowl, a male Demon of course! His aura was powerful, and he shimmered before her with a golden glimmer. Shakira saw him clearly in her mind’s eye, and saw how beautiful and arrogant this demon was.

“In the name of Allah, the One God! Demon. Tell me your name!”

Shakira spoke in the tongue of the tranced, unintelligible to the women around the room.

He scowled at her, but bidden he was commanded to answer.

“My name is Ali”, and his voice was sweet and seductive, in spite of the grimace.

Ah! Thought Shakira. What a lovely demon to possess a woman. His hair was black and lay in curls over his brow. His lips were full, the color of pomegranate seeds. His nose was like an arrow, straight and elegant. His eyes were two black and shimmering pools, his cheeks like halves of apples. Ah! Shakira was shaken by his beauty. She cleared her throat and her thoughts before speaking again to him.

“Demon. Listen to me. You disrupt the marriage of Ahmed and Aya. You must stop your demonic ways and let Ahmed have back his wife.

“Ahmed is a fool and doesn’t know what to do with Aya. She is afraid of him, he plays his flute for himself, and ignores his wife.” Demon Ali’s voice was a low, honeyed growl, seeded with contempt.

“True, true enough, Demon. But you could help here. You could teach Aya things to please Ahmed and perhaps dense Ahmed will become a proper husband.”

“Why should I help Ahmed? What is Ahmed to me?” Demon Ali spat on the ground, a golden stream of honey.

“Ah Demon! You are too young or stupid yourself if you don’t think here. You could teach Aya where to place her hands on herself and Ahmed. You could take your own pleasure between them. How much more it would be if you brought them together as man and wife! You could tickle Aya’s womb and love chamber and she would toss her hips like a proper wife at Ahmed. You could stick your tongue on Aya’s button and make her think of love. You could torment both and what Demon isn’t happiest when he is tormenting two instead of one?”

The Demon Ali pulsated and quivered with her suggestions. Shakira could see he was considering her words.

(Demon Ali thought it over and could see her point of argument.   If nothing else, he could torment Ahmed in some particularly pleasing way to demons. Perhaps he could be an irritant in more ways than one. Perhaps he could make Ahmed’s cock fall off–

“I hear your thoughts, Demon. Consider the case. Either Aya acts the proper wife to Ahmed, or Ahmed sends her back to her parents. She will disgrace her family, they will suffer needlessly because of a silly and selfish devil.”

Shakira could tell that Ali the Demon was considering his choices. He glimmered and glowed and vibrated and fairly danced in the air. Shakira noticed too that his male member was vibrating along with the rest of him. An impressive piece of anatomy for any man or demon. Ah! Ali the Demon was wasted on that little fool Aya!

Shakira, a wise woman with quite a number of years of experience with Djinns, decided she would have compassion for this pretty demon standing before her in all his glory. Perhaps this alluring devil could entertain her, Shakira, and leave Aya alone.   She had an eye for a good looking male, and knowing the nature of demons, she could take some pleasure for herself under her chador at times. Perhaps something mutually pleasing to both could be arranged. It was worth a thought.

“So, Demon…what will it be? Will you help Aya become a wife and be a good demon, or do I have to call forth stronger Spirits to make you think about your behavior? It is your choice.

Ali the Demon sighed, and it was like a sweet wind blowing from the east up Shakira’s skirts. Her eyes widened, in spite of her trance, and a smile came over her face. The Demon slyly looked at Shakira from under the fringe of his black lashes. A smile exchanged between them.

A bargain was struck!

Ahmed and Aya became a happy couple. Yes, Ali the Demon still tickled Aya in her love passage, and sat smoking his hooka crosslegged up by her womb. Ahmed was pleased with Aya now as his wife, and eternally grateful to the Sheikha.

And as for Shakira, she and Ali the Demon enjoyed many hours under Shakira’s chador. He tickled Sharika around the ears, and she spread her legs when she was busy at her kitchen fire, preparing food or just standing at the window, watching her neighbors outside. Peace reigned in both households.

Blessings on the head of Sheikha Shakira!

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008=16



“The Zar Tales”, Chapter VIII

September 24, 2014
"The Zar Tales", published by, 2010

“The Zar Tales”, published by, 2010


Mayor Nageesh called to the women clustered around the door. Four entered and seeing Shakira lying in a black, formless heap, uttered loud cries. The chief Mullah raised his voice over the women moans and admonished them sharply.

“She is not dead. She has just swooned. Do not be stupid women. Take her to her house and attend her there. Do not let her out of your sight. I command you in the name of the Ankara Authorities to do this.”

The four women, Leila amongst them, gathered up Shakira from the floor and carried her from the room. Other village women stood outside and their cries rose up like a flock of startled birds. They quickly carried Shakira home and lay her down on the bed, chaffing her wrists and putting wet cloths on her brow. She revived and looked around in confusion. Trying to sit up, she was kept from doing so by hands holding her down. The women’s soft murmurs sounded like the clucking of worried hens to her ears. Then, within a moment’s revival, she remembered why she had swooned, and fell back stunned, too shocked even for the mercy of tears.

The women’s sound became like a hive of bees to her ears, irritating, annoying and she tried to cut out the noise by tightly squeezing her eyes. Then the tears came, and they rolled down her face in a steady stream. Seeing her distress, the others close to her started their own moans and tears and before long, like a nursery where one baby starts to cry, all the women were giving vent to their own personal grief.

Aiiiiiyeee! Our beloved Sheikha is to be taken from us. Our days of laughter are over. The blessings of the Zar are to be crushed into the dust. Our tears and wails are for all women, for our future is doomed!

Word passed quickly throughout the village as to the Sheikha’s sentence. There was shock and disbelief, and even those men who didn’t like the fact that their women disappeared to Shakira’s house to smoke and drink and laugh, were distressed at the severity of the sentence.

Ten years!

That evening, when the Mullahs left for the long trip back over the mountain and through the valleys and forests, the men gathered. They talked amongst themselves, sharing the hookah, the sweet scent of their tobacco rising amongst their soft babble like vaporous ghosts.

This did not portend well for their village, what the mullahs had done this day. No, it was not good at all! Their women would make lives more difficult until time had quieted and dulled the emotions.

Aiyee! Allah! In your greatness, could you not have done something else here? Could you not think farther down the road to what the men now would suffer? Ah, the fury of the women would be subtle, but constant.

Each man thought of how his life would suffer. The silence, at other times welcome from the babble of women, would be heavy with accusation. First there would be tasteless dishes, then angry words, then no comfort in bed from their heavy thighs and perfumed hands. No, all they could expect were turned backs and mouths of bitterness. The men would be punished along with Shakira, and though her sentence was long, theirs would be heavy, compounded by each house and by each torment that an angry wife could conceive.

They talked through the soft summer evening, each afraid to go home. They knew what they would face. They even talked about recalling the Mullahs and protesting the sentence on the Sheikha, for now, Shakira seemed to become even their Sheikha, not only the women’s. It was funny how things worked, but something deep in the fabric of the village had been disturbed. And now, their lives would be made less comfortable because of it. But what could they do? They had never questioned the authority of the Mullahs nor those in religious power.

Ah! Allah! Restore the peace to our lives! Restore our mundane routine with our wives! Give us back the solitude we threw to the winds when we complained of our women’s frolicking with our Shakira Sheikha!

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2010-2014

“The Zar Tales”, Chapter VII

September 20, 2014
"The Zar Tales", published by, 2010

“The Zar Tales”, published by, 2010

Zar Dancer


“You have been accused, Shakira Arsan, of holding the zar in this village for the women. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Shakira sat on a chair in front of the three visiting Mullahs. This was no investigation. They had jumped to a fast trial. The mullahs sat behind a long, covered table, and she was like a specimen displayed in front of their dark, accusing eyes.

She was dressed in black robes and covered her head with a scarf, something she did only when required. She knew the charges were serious and she could be imprisoned for violating the religious laws.

It was whispered the mullahs were concerned with how the women would react. Already Leila had been listening to her husband talk to the visiting men through the door, her ear pressed firmly. They were aware the Mayor would have his hands full if proceedings went hard on Shakira. The women would show their heels and the men would suffer. How much, was not known, but the men’s comfort seemed a factor in their concerns. As to the women, well women were made to suffer, blessed be the one God, Allah! He restored the balance on Earth and ruled the Universe with his wisdom, Shakira thought sourly.

Shakira talked with Ali before this encounter with the Mullahs. She was nervous and agitated and Ali did what he could to placate her nerves. He told her if she was stoned to death, he would claim her spirit and together they would ride the clouds and float over mountains for eternity. This was little solace to Shakira, and she rolled her dark eyes at him in disgust. Ah! Men were a torment in life, but Demons reached far beyond with their needling.

Ali was little comfort to her and she did not raise his anger with more questions. She saw how he reacted when she pressed him, and avoided discord where she could. He seemed pre occupied, spent hours smoking his hookah, silent except to answer her stares with a wry smile. He disappeared frequently, coming in at dawn. The smell of hashish was like a vaporous ghost clinging to his own wavering spirit. He was plotting something, but Shakira finally had the good sense not to ask what.

Since word had gone out that she was to be called before the Mullahs, many women would walk past her house with their eyes cast to the ground. Only Leila, her kinswoman, would visit her and commiserate. Leila was the best source of what was planned, but had very little knowledge. What Shakira did know was from the gatherings of eavesdropping, and that was little enough for comfort. She had never felt so alone and abandoned, and the disembodied spirit of Ali did not give her enough substance to placate her fears. He tried to comfort her in the usual ways, but his efforts in bed did not calm her.

She was brought back to the present by the voice of one of the mullahs.

“Shakira Arsan.”

Shakira’s eyes focused on the mustache of the speaker. It looked surreal, like a snake had crawled up under his nose, twitching with his words.

“Allah the One God is the Merciful One. It is not our intent to destroy you but to reclaim you for the One true religion, which is Islam. These villages in the mountains have a long history of pagan gods. You fall into their hands when you hold the zars. Plus, you corrupt the women in the village and turn them from the true face of Allah. Your crime here is far reaching, but we are merciful men, thanks be to Allah, who guides us in our work and judgment.”

There was a moment of silence before the mullah spoke.

“Do you have some final words before we pass sentence upon you?”

Shakira’s eyes were studying the floor before her. She was scared, because, regardless the tone of the mullahs, they represented the religious authority of the country.

Oh, Goddess Nut! Protect me in my hour of need! Save my life and let me continue the work among women! We are besieged upon all sides by their One God and the men. Give me your blessing and protection I beseech you, Blessed Mother!

Shakira shivered, though the room was hot and the flies circled her head like she was already a dead carcass in the sun. What could she say to these men? How could they possibly understand the needs of women? How could they be sympathetic to the status and comfort and dignity of women who were less than donkeys to these men?

Mother Nut! Give strength to my tongue. If these men refuse to see with their eyes, let them feel with their hearts. Let my tongue give truth and grace to my words. If nothing else, let these words live after my death.

It was not clear to Shakira whether the Goddess Nut heard her words, but her tongue was made bold. She took a deep breath, and trance-like, narrowed her eyes and let them unfocus. No longer were four old men before her, but the wall opened up and she saw the valleys and mountains. She heard the comforting babble of the brooks as they ran into the river, and smelled the sweet smell of grasses in the valley. The caressing fingers of the evening wind surrounded her.

In a trance, brought both upon by fear and comforting habit, Shakira spoke.

“The women of this village have many problems. We toil in the fields for long hours. We keep house and bake the bread and prepare the meals. We weave the cloth and make the clothes that cover our families. We give birth to children with only an old midwife to attend us, with no medical help when things go wrong. The mountains isolate us from our relatives and many of the younger people have left for the cities for a better life.”

The men seemed to be listening carefully to her words.

“Ah! Life is hard for men and women, but especially hard for women. We have little to sustain us. The weddings, births, funerals are all we have. The Zar rituals are a time for us to find joy in life, to find song and laughter in our souls. These rituals fill the holes deep within our hearts. They answer the pain we women feel. They sustain us for further life. They answer to the suffering that is the lot of all women, even if only a little part of it. These small Zar festivals lift our souls to Heaven and reunite our hearts with our dead children.”

Shakira spoke from the authority of her many years in this village, and though she did not focus on their faces, at least the Mayor’s heart was moved. Tears formed in his eyes, and his features softened. Ah! This woman before them had the heart of a poet!

Though she be just a woman.

The visiting mullahs were not so impressed. They had no connection with Shakira Sheikha and to them, she was a bothersome woman. The lead mullah spoke with some impatience in his voice.

“Shakira Arsan. You have turned the eyes and hearts and minds of these women from the one source of comfort, the One God, Allah! For this, you have not only disregarded the law, but you have also encouraged the other women here in this village to do the same by your example.”

Shakira fell back in her chair. Ah Goddess Nut, soften the hearts of these men! If not to save my life, save the lives of the other women who stand accused as I

“Stand and hear your sentence, and remember that Allah is the Merciful God!”

Shakira stood on her feet, but felt she would swoon. The words came to her ears, but they seemed so far away.

“Shakira Arsan, you have been condemned before the authority of the Mullahs, representing the Religious Laws of Islam, the Shari’a authority, which charges and condemns you for following false gods and influencing other gullible women. Your sentence is merciful, for we take into account that you are a woman and not to be judged with the severity of a man, for you are ignorant and weak as Allah has made you. Therefore, you will be taken within three days from this village and you will be imprisoned in the Women’s Prison in Ankara for the duration of ten years.”

A buzzing filled Shakira’s ears. It seemed time had stopped.

“May Allah have mercy on you!”

It was too much. Shakira’s eyes rolled back in her head, and she fell in a dull, black heap before the Mullahs. The only mercy in the room was this, and it was small comfort.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2010-2014, “The Zar Tales” published by, 2010

‘The Zar Tales’, Chapter Three…..

September 8, 2014
"The Zar Tales", just published.....will be on very soon.

-“The Zar Tales”,  published….. on




Shakira looked around at the women on the floor. Some were smoking, most talking and the sound of clinking bottles were heard though the women tried to muffle it with their robes.

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

“You will guzzle it, and 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 welcome companion 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 dumbeks, brought to the house 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 dumbeks, 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 dreamed of for a while. The festival of the Goddess Nut was approaching, and though no longer celebrated openly Nut was the Goddess closest 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 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. Perhaps they would eat from the sacred tray of sweets. 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, perhaps, invisible spirits.

Her playing changed after these sad songs. Gone was the mourning of the women, to be replaced by joyful tunes. Voices were lifted in song and chant, shoulders swayed and hands clapped out a counter rhythm to the drums.

Shakira felt the trance take over her body, slip up her loins and envelop her mind. 


It was a warm embrace, and it wasn’t Ali! Warm enough to make her move with an internal rhythm apart from any conscious intentions.

She was possessed by the Zar trance. 

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 .

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 every woman who sat before her. Heads nodded in time with the drums, hands clapped, some women pounded the floor in counter rhythms, swayed 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, those feet beating out an tattoo that went straight into the earth. 


“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, deep into the soil of the floor. 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 underlay the vocals of the women singing in now- 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 was 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 2010-2014, The Zar Tales published by, 2010



“Before the Zar”, posted for Oneshotpoetry….

May 17, 2011

"The Zar Tales", published by, 2010



The “Zar” is three things:  It’s a ritual exorcism (but not really, you never get rid of a Zar (Demon) you just give it new marching orders, or placate it);  The Zar is a Demon Spirit, or a collection of Spirits; and it’s also a female bonding dance.  It is a very old ritual and one of great importance in the Middle East and Africa for numerous reasons.

Presently, it is under attack in the Middle East and parts of Africa as being outside the bounds of Islamic religious belief.  However, it is a very important ‘mental health’ issue for women in these countries:  It is also a ‘social time’ where women from a village or town can get together and communicate with other women without restrictions.  I wrote my second book, “The Zar Tales” about the struggle to continue the Zar rituals.  I have been present during two Zar rituals and it is something errie and unforgetable.  Powerful stuff, indeed.

Lady Nyo


I am ready for the Zar.

Bathed, perfumed, hennaed,

my hands and feet tattooed

with proper designs,

silver amulets encircle my

arms, throat, ankles.

I have made

ritual prayers.

dance to open paths–

sweet incense bathes my soul.

This is old country,

possessed with Zars,

Selfish demons who

demand and torment

belabor and befuddle,

Creep up by our side

when we toil by day

sidle into our thoughts

when we pray at night for rest.


The Zar never purges

these troubling Spirits,


beguiles, baffles, bothers,

hopefully placates

and ultimately restores

Spirit to Flesh.

I beat out the rhythm:

DUM (space) teka-tek

DUM (space) teka-tek

gird my loins with faith-

prepare to do battle.

But hear my cry!

If my demon refuses

to quiet his Hell within,

then throw the stern net

of  reason over me.

Pin me down with  lucidity.

Use strength and increase it again

lay  your weight upon my twisting limbs,

nail me to the Earth

with your body and power.

And if I still dance out of control,

twisting under your hips,

stiffen your cock and pin me down

and growl into me:

“Woman, be still,

And know I am Man!”

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008-2011

%d bloggers like this: