Posts Tagged ‘Zar rituals’

The inners of “The Zar Tales”

October 21, 2009
A Zar ritual, photo by nicolas nilsson, in northern Africa

A Zar ritual, photo by nicolas nilsson, in northern Africa

Someone wrote and said it was rude not to talk a little about what was in “The Zar Tales”.  I guess I just was so tired when I posted the cover that I couldn’t think of what came next.  I’ve been pulling long hours on this book  because I wanted it to get it ready for Bill Penrose.  He is doing the real formatting and he is also publishing his own book right now…”Anne the Healer”.

Bill writes BIG books….real books.  Novels with complex plots and characters.  Next week, I think, I am doing more of an interview with Bill and his writing muse.  And more explanation on his newest book.

“The Zar Tales” is actually a collection of stories, two short stories, a few poems and a very short story, actually a ‘flasher’.  And a small novella.  The book all wraps up with an essay on Hyperarousal Trance.

They all are of one continuous theme: this issue of a Zar, or The Zar and the havoc a Zar wrecks on mortal life.

I explain this in the book….but a Zar is a couple of things.  First, it’s a ritual, a very old tradition in Africa, North Africa, Egypt and parts of the Middle East.  It’s NOT an exorcism, not in the way we in the West understand exorcism.  A Zar in these countries is a gathering of people who support and encourage and add to the proceedings of the ritual in various ways.  They can be drummers, chanters, participants, and other musicians.  They can lead and prepare the animal sacrifice, usually a goat or chicken.

In the functioning of a Zar ritual, a leader (called Sheikha in many countries….a wise woman) will ‘call out’ the Zar….who also just happens to be a demon…or djinn.  This Zar possesses married women (mostly) and actually has an important function in a repressive society.  A woman can not be held accountable for her behavior when she is under possession of a Zar.  In other words, she can sass her husband and blame it on the Zar.  As in: “The Zar made me say that.”

She can also ‘get things’ through the Zar.  “The Zar wants me to have that red shawl”…(The Zar demands it)

But beyond this, the Zar ritual is a very important mental health issue in these countries.  A woman dances out her possession in wild and wilder steps, movements in the ritual to the frenetic beat of drums and the wailing of neys (flutes) and the general singing and chanting and she collapses in exhaustion, and at this time it is thought the Zar leaves her body.  She has tossed her hair around and around and the Zar is hanging on to dear life there and POP! He flies off into the arms of the Sheikha, who herself is also in a trance.

The Sheikha ‘communicates’ with the Zar, negoiates new orders for the peace of the possessed….and the Zar (Spirit) is rejoined with the flesh of the possessed.

Everyone is happy.

One does not want a stray and homeless Zar scaring the children and the chickens.  And a goat will not do.

The Zar ritual can last up to 7 days, but usually it’s done in a day or overnight. In Cairo, there are “Zar houses” where rich Cairo matrons pay for a ritual, even though it is usually repressed by the government and the religious authorities.  Anyone, even tourists, can stop in a observe a Zar in progress, but you have to have connections to do so.

As to the mental health side of it, it is logical.  A woman, perhaps a young, married woman, is ‘possessed’.  She is away from her family, living within the household of her husband’s family, and she is a stranger.  Her status could be low.  But during the Zar ritual, all attention and care is taken that she and her fears are attended to.  Perhaps for the first time in her life she is the center of attention, and this seems to be enough to ‘heal’ what is hurting.

The Zar ritual is under attack in many countries because it harkens back to pagan rituals and goes against the present religious  beliefs.

My short novella, “The Zar Tale” speaks directly to this issue.  This tale is set in southeastern Turkey in the early 1980’s.  There a wise woman, a Sheikha, Shakira Arsan, is hauled in by the religious authorities and sentenced to 10 years in prison.  But the local Zars are long dead Berber warriors, and some how they have floated from Morocco and Algeria to Turkey and have taken up camp in these mountains…the Taurus mountains I think is where they reside.  Most of them are poets, and one, Emir is an especially bad poet but he keeps trying to rewrite the same 6 line verse for a 1000 years without much progress.  It’s not exactly ‘writer’s block’ that stops him…it’s the hashish that they all indulge in.

They become Zar-fruits and are pretty funny fellows…to a point.  They are also fierce warriors and out to revenge their ancient Gods and Goddesses.  In this case, Ammon and Isis.

Goes against the grain of the Mullahs, though.  I will have to put a warning somewhere because human cannibalism makes a bow here.  And bad Persian poetry.

There are seven pieces in this book….and most of them short ones. They all are of the main theme.

I had a lot of fun writing “The Zar Tale”  and the essay “Hyperarousal Trance and Creativity” explains some of the…..connections.

Mysticism inside and out.

Lady Nyo

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