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Zar

A Zar is in Middle Eastern lore, a spirit that possesses mostly married women, providing an acceptable opportunity for oppressed women to manipulate men. The zar are malign, man-hating type of Djinn (genie), capricious and much feared.

The zar attack women and demand beautiful clothes, jewelry, perfume, better treatment, and luxurious food and surroundings before they can be persuaded to depart. Such appeasement can get expensive, and many husbands suspect they are being manipulated, but they acquiesce, fearing punishment by the zar.

The Possession and Exorcism of the zar typically proceeds as follows: the victim, suffering from some minor complaint, blames possession by the zar, and other female relatives keep her from seeing a medical doctor, preferring the services of a female shaman, called shechah-ez-Zar.

For a fee, the shechah identifies a zar as the source of the woman’s troubles and interrogates the zar, sometimes in a recognizable language and sometimes in zar language, understood only by the shechah. After repeated conversations, the zar offers to leave once the possessed victim receives lavish gifts and attention from her husband.

On the afternoon of the zar’s scheduled departure, a “beating the zar” ceremony is performed. The victim’s female friends and relatives join her for the ceremony, much like a tea or party, often accompanied by a flute performance. The shechah and her assistants chant the final exorcism rites, with music, and then often sacrifice a lamb. The lamb’s blood is rubbed on the victim’s forehead and elsewhere.

She then dances madly, sways and finally faints. The zar leaves. Zar exorcisms have become part of contemporary urban Islamic culture. In many large cities, such as Cairo, regular public exorcisms have been held. Women from all walks of life participate, whirling and dancing until the spirit leaves them and they return home, exhausted but entertained.

Relief from the possession may be only temporary, returning upon another infraction committed by a husband. Men are expected to believe in the possession, which, in addition to giving women the freedom to ask for gifts, permits them to scold and upbraid their husbands in a manner that would be forbidden under normal circumstances.

FURTHER READING :

  • Ebon, Martin. The Devil’s Bride, Exorcism: Past and Present. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
  • Lewis, I. M. Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study of Spirit Possession and Shamanism. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1971.
  • Oesterreich, T. K. Possession: Demoniacal and Other. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1966. First published in 1921.Zar

Taken from : The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Paperback – September 1, 2007

Zar

A zar is in Muslim lore, a possessing Djinn that usually attacks women and refuses to leave until the victim receives lavish gifts of jewelry, perfume, clothes, and dainty foods. Second-class citizens under male domination, Muslim women rely on the zar to give them some measure of power and privilege. Husbands must provide expensive gifts and sweetmeats to create peace in the household.

Such appeasement raises suspicions of manipulation, but so ingrained in Islamic culture is the belief in spirit interference that husbands dare not tempt fate. Descriptions of zar possessions were recorded in the early 19th century by travelers to the Egypt and the Middle East. The “cult of the zar” continues in areas in modern times.

The usual Possession and Exorcism of the zar proceed as follows: The victim, suffering from some minor complaint, blames possession by the zar, and other female relatives prevent her from seeing a medical doctor, preferring the services of an old woman who is a female shaman, a shechah-ez-zar. For a fee, the shechah identifies a zar as the source of the woman’s troubles and interrogates the zar, sometimes in a recognizable language and sometimes in zar language, understood only by the shechah. After repeated conversations, the zar offers to leave once the possessed victim receives specific lavish gifts and attention from her husband.

On the afternoon of the zar’s scheduled departure, a “beating the zar” ceremony is performed at the victim’s home. The victim’s female friends and relatives join her for the ceremony, often accompanied by food, coffee, and a flute and drumming performance. The shechah and her assistants chant the final exorcism rites, with music, and then often sacrifice a lamb. The lamb’s Blood is rubbed on the victim’s forehead and elsewhere. She then dances madly, sways, and finally faints. The zar leaves, satisfied that the victim has been rewarded.

In some ceremonies, the questioning of the zar is done after the victim and others dance and enter trance. The shechah asks for a remedy to the malady, and the zar specifies gifts. The ecstatic dancers may be shown silver rings and bracelets and other objects, which pacify the zar. On a day fixed by the zar, another fit can occur, which can be relieved only by the satisfying of a wish.

Zar exorcisms have become part of contemporary urban Islamic culture. In many large cities, such as Cairo, regular exorcisms are held in a public building as often as once a week. The length of the ceremony, from three to seven nights, depends upon the fee that can be paid.

Women from all walks of life participate, whirling and dancing until the spirit leaves them and they return home, exhausted but entertained. Relief from the possession may be only temporary, and it may return with another infraction committed by a husband. Men are expected to believe in the possession, which, in addition to giving women the freedom to ask for gifts, permits them to scold and upbraid their husbands in a manner that would be forbidden under normal circumstances.

Nineteenth-century accounts of zar possession in Abyssinia describe a different cult that affected men as well as women, blamed on the zar, or bouddha, evil spirit. The victim typically was afflicted in the middle of the night. He would run out, roll on the ground, and scream until exhausted and still. The remedy consisted of taking a hen, swinging it around the head, and smashing it to the ground. If the hen died immediately, it meant the zar had passed into the body of the fowl and the victim was cleared. If the hen survived, the remedy had to be repeated until a bird died.

FURTHER READING :

  • Ebon, Martin. The Devil’s Bride, Exorcism: Past and Present. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
  • Lewis, I. M. Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study of Spirit Possession and Shamanism. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1971.
  • Oesterreich, Traugott K. Possession and Exorcism. Secaucus, N.J.: University Books, 1966.

Zar
The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley -a leading expert on the paranormal – Copyright © 2009 by Visionary Living, Inc.

Zar

Zar

Also known as: Asaid; Asyad; Sar

Zar names a type of spirit, the spiritual tradition focusing on them, and the ceremonies that summon and honor them. Although these spirits may derive from ancient and once public spiritual traditions, in the twenty-first century, Zar is essentially a woman’s secret spiritual society. Although men participate in Zar—especially in the capacity of musicians but as devotees, too—Zar is dominated by women. (There are exceptions: in parts of Somalia, local Zar reputedly despise men. They are purely women’s spirits.)

Few written records of Zar’s history exist. Few will discuss it openly as it is illegal or persecuted in most of the countries where it isprevalent. At best, it is considered disreputable. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970) actively attempted to eradicate Zar. Zar devotees try to be discreet or at least as discreet as seven-day rituals involving lots of incense and ecstatic drumming can be. Attitudes and prejudice against Zar are reminiscent of those commonly expressed against African Diaspora traditions like Santeria and Vodou but even more so.

Zar may be a sub-species of Djinn. However, in Egypt as elsewhere in the Islamic world, it’s very important to avoid associations between Djinn and Zar because consorting with Djinn is strictly forbidden. An Egyptian euphemism for Zar spirits is Malayka Ardiyya, “underground angels.”

Considering it is a secret spiritual tradition, Zar is extremely widespread, celebrated throughout East Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and wherever North Africans and Ethiopians have settled. The earliest written records regarding Zar derive from 1870s Egypt. It is generally believed to have originated in Ethiopia.

• Zar may have been brought to Egypt by Ethiopian slaves in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

• Zar may have been brought home to Egypt by wives of Egyptian soldiers following Egypt’s early-nineteenth-century conquest of Sudan.

From Egypt, Zar radiated through North Africa and the Middle East. But these are mere theories: Zar may have taken other routes, too. In the polarized Middle East, Zar transcends boundaries. Devotees are mostly Muslim—if only because they are the majority of the population—but also include Christians, Jews, and those adhering to traditional African religions.

Origins of the name Zar are mysterious and subject to debate:

• It may derive from the Arabic za’er meaning “visitor.”

• It may derive from Amharic or another Ethiopian language.

• It resembles Sar a Semitic root word meaning “prince,” as in the Hebrew Sarim (a synonym for “angels”) or Sarkin (Hausa title of respect for the heads of Bori spirit houses).

In parts of Sudan, where Zar has been illegal since 1992, Zar refers only to the ceremonies, while the spirits are called Asaid or “Masters.” (Asaid is often translated as “Demons,” but that is not its literal meaning.) Some Zar are renowned, at least within Zar circles and may have countless devotees, similar to the most famous orishas. Others are comparatively anonymous, known only within small circles, perhaps only to those they possess, similar to a Spiritualist medium’s private spirits.

• Among the renowned are Sultan Siad el Bihar, Master of the Seas, and his sister. Saydah.

• In Somalia, Isis and Osiris—called Aysitu and Azuzar, respectively—survive as Zar spirits. Pregnant women make offerings to Aysitu for blessings of safe childbirth.

Zar announce their interest in a person via what is called possession in English, but the Egyptian term for the phenomenon literally means “covered” or “clothed.” The Zar is envisioned covering the individual, not within her. Symptoms of Zar possession include any or all of the following:

• Infertility

• Extreme apathy, malaise, or lethargy gradually increasing to the point of illness

• Seizures or convulsions

• Increasingly accident-prone behavior

Illnesses caused by the Zar will not respond to conventional medical treatment. In other words, if someone having these symptoms is successfully treated by a physician so that the condition is truly healed (not just temporarily contained), then their case did not involve Zar spirits.

A shamanic Zar specialist is consulted to determine whether the person is possessed. Ritual specialist and victim are both most likely to be female. Depending on location and language, the specialist may be called a Kodya, Sheikha, or Ba’alat Zar. (In parts of Ethiopia, the word Zar refers to the spirits, their ceremonies, and the ritual specialist who mediates with them.) If so, the spirit’s desires must be determined so it can be propitiated and transformed into an ally. Once appeased, negative symptoms like illness, pain, misfortune, and infertility will dissipate and disappear.

Zar spirits crave. They hunger for luxuries: fine perfumes, fabrics, clothing, jewelry, and food. The way they get them is through people. Zar also like blood, especially menstrual blood, one reason for their fondness for women. Zar themselves are female, male, and transgender but all tend to prefer married women, especially bored, frustrated, unhappily married women. Divorced women are popular, too. Zar have little interest in men and even less in children or virgins.

• Anthropologists who study Zar without accepting the reality of spirits suggest that the whole phenomenon is a bid for attention, prestige, and goods by these women—a tacit way of making demands without doing so directly

• Alternatively, Zar choose those who mirror their own emotions and desires. Craving spirits are attracted to craving humans. They are sympathetic and empathetic to them.

A Zar spirit must be identified before it can be propitiated. Different Zar have different desires and needs. Similarly, orishas Oshun and Oya receive different offerings. Each Zar spirit possesses signature colors, fragrances, numbers, songs, and rhythms.

Zar must be propitiated to prevent them from causing harm. However, the desire also exists to please the Zar, to go beyond mere propitiation, because then the Zar is transformed into a powerful ally who grants wishes and good fortune, heals, and provides oracular information.

The identity of the Zar spirit may be established via different methods:

• The spirit identifies itself during ceremonies incorporating ritual possession.

• The Zar, speaking through its host’s mouth, negotiates its desires, promising to vacate the woman’s body on a specific date providing that demands are met. Demands usually involve gifts and/or ceremonies.

• The Zar may identify itself to the shaman in a dream. The ritual specialist places an item of clothing belonging to the possessed woman under her pillow, an invitation for the spirit to communicate with her.

Because the Zar is a disembodied spirit, the gifts are given to the possessed woman who serves as the Zar’s proxy:

• If the Zar wants an expensive green silk dress, the woman must wear it for the spirit.

• If the Zar wants French perfume, the woman accepts it on the Zar’s behalf.

• If the Zar wants champagne or beer, it receives it via the woman’s mouth.

Zar tend to seek finery. Their victim is adorned and enriched, not humiliated. (Hence anthropologists’ suspicions.) Zar spirits may demand that the woman wear a certain perfume or smoke certain cigarettes. They may commission jewelry bearing their own image, which the woman is then expected to wear. Zar are rebellious spirits, demanding that their hosts be given what is not usually permitted women in conservative Islamic societies: cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, cosmetics, and wild parties.

In general, Zar are not exorcised, they are accommodated. Most Zar cannot be exorcised. Ignoring them may lead to debilitating physical or mental illness and ultimately the host’s death. Once arrived, Zar rarely leave. They can make life miserable, or an alliance can be forged. The Zar will loyally protect its host providing its stipulated demands are met.

Dealing with the Zar is more than just a one-time crisis intervention. It is not a matter of just paying them off so they will disappear. Zar spirits generally don’t want a ransom: they want an ongoing relationship:

• The spirit is transformed from pest to guardian.

• The person is transformed from victim to devotee.

A Zar spirit enters into a lifelong contract with its host. (Zar devotees are sometimes referred to as brides.) The woman may be expected to attend weekly meetings intended to honor and communicate with Zar spirits. (Not all who attend are possessed. As in Vodou or Santeria, many never experience possession.)

Common elements of Zar ceremonies include dancing, drumming and the dedication of a bird or animal to the Zar, which is sacrificed and then cooked and eaten by participants. Ceremonies may last a few hours or days. A full Zar ceremonial may last for a week: seven nights (and days) of dancing, drumming, and ecstatic ritual possession. Each Zar spirit has its own rhythm, tone, or song with which it is summoned.

A vivid description of a Zar ceremonial is found in Albert Memmi’s autobiographical novel Pillar of Salt.

Zar spirits may be received and served via methods other than possession. Zar that are transformed into guardian spirits may be passed down from mother to daughter. (In parts of Ethiopia, a distinct word—Weqabi—names this transformed spirit.) Zar manifest somewhat differently in different places. In Sudanese cosmology, Zar are divided into ten main tribes or societies, not dissimilar from the Bori houses, at least in terms of organization. Each consists of a family of individual spirits with unique personalities. Like lwa, orishas, and Bori, Sudanese Zar arrive at ceremonies in specific order.

Zar, like Djinn, have religion. There are Pagan, Jewish, Muslim, and Coptic Christian Zar, but unlike Djinn, they do not stick to their own kind when it comes to humans. A Pagan Zar may visit those of any of the monotheistic faiths and vice versa.

The Zar’s own religious affiliation does influence offerings and treatment, though. For example, Muslim Zar are not offered alcoholic beverages, but others demand it. Muslim Zar are also vulnerable to Koranic exorcisms. As opposed to other more recalcitrant Zar, they will, theoretically anyway, cooperate and leave in response to proper rituals.

Ritual: Candles are crucial to Zar ceremonies. Rituals must be held by candlelight even if electric lights are available.

Altar: Zar altars usually include henna, incense, and flowers, especially roses.

Offerings: Each Zar has personal preferences, so the following are generalities:

• Zar usually like fruit, cheese, olives, and beer plus perfume and incense, especially frankincense.

• Ethiopian Zar are allegedly inordinately fond of coffee.

• Muslim Zar demand soft drinks, as do most female Zar.

• Non-Muslim Zar may demand alcoholic beverages.

• Ethiopian Zar like magical scrolls and talismans, even those traditionally used to banish spirits. (This may also be their way of bragging about their inability to be exorcised.) A scroll is made from skin of an animal dedicated to a Zar spirit, then slaughtered and eaten. Once created, the scroll must be worn by the devotee.

Koranic healing is sometimes prescribed for Zar (and Djinn) but the goal is exorcism, not propitiation. The possessing spirit is perceived as a Demon, not a potential ally. Although based on the Koran, not on Christianity, methods used are not dissimilar from traditional Christian Fairy exorcisms in Ireland, including beating the possessed human in an attempt to drive out the spirit.

See also: Bori; Djinn; Fairy; Kel Asuf; Lwa; Mami Waters; Orisha; Oshun; Oya
Zar

From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.

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This post was last modified on : Jun 21, 2019 @ 16:27

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