The Holy Woman
Pronounced: A-eesh-ah Kahn-deesh-ah
Beautiful Aisha Qandisha lingers near deserted Moroccan springs after dark. Men sometimes mistake her for a lady of easy virtue, but beware: that can be a fatal error. The clue that sheis not an ordinary lady of the evening lies in her feet. Allegedly, even when appearing otherwise human, one foot or leg still resembles that of a camel, donkey, or goat.
Aisha Qandisha is as adored as she is feared. She is a great spirit venerated by Algeria’s Ouled Nail, a Berber tribe who are famed for their beautiful and independent female dancers, as well as by various Islamic Brotherhoods, including the Gnawa and Hamadsha. Aisha Qandisha reveals herself through ritual possession, prophesying and answering questions via entranced mediums. Aisha Qandisha causes death, illness, and madness but also restores health and bestows wealth, abundance, fertility, and luck. She is a Lilith-like figure, simultaneously dangerous and benevolent.
Running from Aisha Qandisha rarely works. Thrust a steel knife into Earth instead. This halts her so that you can banish her or hold her and negotiate. Ask her for anything: safety, protection for you and yours, health, wealth, occult knowledge, or supernatural skills. She will name a price. Moroccans traditionally bargain in the marketplace. Aisha may expect to spend some time negotiating. If you don’t like her first price, make a counteroffer.
Who is she? Good question. One theory is that she is among the most powerful and renowned of all Djinn. Another is that she is Astarte reduced to hanging out at hot springs now that her temples are shut, enlisting her own devotees and supplying her own human sacrifices (self-ser vice!). She may be Kadesh, the sacred harlot. Aisha may have been brought to Morocco by Jews or Phoenicians, or she may be an indigenous Berber water spirit.
Those evening encounters at springs aren’t random. She knows exactly who she’s looking for. The standard Aisha Qandisha legend suggests that if a man runs from her, she calls him by name. She knows who he is. If he can reach the company of others, he’ll be safe. If she catches him, she may drag him into the river to drown. Alternatively, she’ll ask him to make love to her. If left unsatisfied, she may then drown him, but sometimes if a man pleases her, she bestows generous gifts and spiritual protection.
Some though not all men who survive encounters with Aisha Qandisha pine for her, losing interest in human relationships. They may be treated and healed by the various Brotherhoods who venerate Aisha Qandisha. Aisha Qandisha engages in three types of relationships:
• Very brief relationships in which she causes harm
• Warm relationships in which she offers assistance. Maintain a home altar for her or offer an annual lavish offering or pil grimage.
• Very intense relationships, especially with men whom she may marry. (See the Glossary entry for Marriage.)
She can be a very demanding spirit who insists that devotees dress only in her sacred colors or that male devotees never cut their hair or fingernails. She may order that men wear only old, worn, dirty clothing (essentially isolating them from conventional society). No need to volunteer any of this. If she wants something, she’ll tell you.
Should one already possess a human partner or hope to have one in addition to Aisha, it is very crucial that this be brought up and negotiated when she first proposes marriage. Terms may be negotiated. Both sides may request giftsand lay down rules for the relationship. Aisha Qandisha may impose sexual restrictions on male devotees:
• They may have sex only with her.
• They may have sex only with her and a human spouse.
• They may have sex only with her and her female devotees.
Aisha Qandisha is associated with mud, Earth, springs, and rivers. She may render a man impotent, control his virility, or conversely bestow superhuman sexual powers. She preserves and enhances good health, good fortune, fertility, and virility when she chooses. She causes and heals the following:
• Paralysis, especially if sudden or unexplained
• Sudden deafness, blindness, and/or muteness
• Children’s illnesses
• Menstrual problems or infertility
Aisha Qandisha may cause any of the above ailments if annoyed or displeased. She may also be petitioned to remove and heal them, whether or not she is the cause. (She has dominion over these ailments and can undo another spirit’s damage or curse.) If she fulfills a request or petition, make sure to pay her what was promised and quickly or she will attack. She’s a temperamental, volatile spirit, quick to scratch, strangle, or whip those who displease her or don’t obey her commands fast enough.
Manifestations: Aisha Qandisha usually looks like a gorgeous woman, but typically with some little giveaway that she’s more than that, such as one goat, camel, or donkey foot. She wears long robes as camouflage; the animal leg may not be immediately apparent. She also appears as a wizened hag with pendulous breasts. Alternatively she manifests with a woman’s head, breasts, and legs and a goat’s body, or as a pregnant goat with a woman’s legs. Her hair often forms snake-like curls. When Aisha wishes to travel incognito, she takes the form of a wasp. Apparitions of Aisha tend to occur near water or fig trees.
Colors: Black, red, chartreuse green
Incense: Black benzoin resin (Styrax benzoin)
Birds: Black, red, and multicolored (“seven-colored”) hens
Animals: Wasp, pig—a subversive animal for a spirit haunting the fringes of the Muslim world. Those entranced by her sometimes roll around in mud or squeal like a pig.
Sacred sites: Caves, forests, freshwater springs, rivers, and the seashore; Aisha Qandisha has a grotto beneath a giant fig tree near the tomb of the Moroccan holy man, Sidi Ali ben Hamdush. It is traditional to light candles for her before sleeping in the grotto in attempts to establish contact with Aisha or receive a healing dream.
Sacred trees: Fig; henna shrubs
Consort: Hammou Ukaiou
Elements: Water, earth (especially watery earth: mud, marshes, the shore)
Offerings: Amber, honey, cowrie shells, bread, olives. Burn candles for her. Adorn yourself with henna in her honor. When making vows to Aisha, it’s traditional to tie bits of fabric to a tree (preferably fig) as testament.
Aisha Qandisha: Paths
Aisha Qandisha may be one single spirit who Demonstrates different sides of herself to different individuals or groups of people. Alternatively, there may be a family or sisterhood of Aisha spirits, similar to the various Vodou Fredas or Simbis, who may or may not all be the same spirit. Another theory suggests that the various paths of Aisha Qandisha are actually her daughters. (See the Glossary entry for Path for further information on this concept.)
Lalla Aisha’s different paths are distinguished by the time of day preferred for outings. Some paths of Lalla Aisha only venture out at twilight or after dark. Others prefer the cool of the morning. While the standard description of Aisha Qandisha classifies her as a Berber or Semitic spirit, some paths emphasize her origin in sub-Saharan Africa.
Each path of Aisha has a slightly different personality, responds to different songs, and expects slightly different offerings. Each Aisha has a Moroccan saint whom she favors; she may reside or be invoked near that saint’s shrine. Devotees of the saint propitiate her. In this context she is almost inevitably addressed as Lalla Aisha, literally Lady Aisha.
Paths of Aisha Qandisha
LALLA AISHA DGHUGHA
Lalla Aisha Dghugha, also known as Lalla Aisha Dghughiyya, is associated with the Hamadsha Brotherhood and their presiding saint, Sidi Ahmed Dghugli, whom she served. Some say she was his spirit wife. She strolls after afternoon or evening prayers. Lalla Aisha appears at her small muddy pit in the corner of Sidi Ahmed’s tomb in Beni Ourad, especially during dance rituals. Black hens are vowed to her at this shrine. Do not kill the chicken! (These are her sacred birds; she can be very protective of them.) A live black hen is given to the shrine keeper at this particular shrine. He kills the hen: the blood is poured out for Lalla Aisha, and then the chicken is cooked and distributed to the poor.
Colors: Black, red
Incense: Harmal (Peganum harmala); red benzoin
Attribute: Cowrie shells
LALLA AISHA GNAWIYYA
Lalla Aisha Gnawiyya is Lalla Aisha as venerated by the Gnawa Brotherhood, who consider her a Djinn or Melk. She strolls at night.
Colors: Black, yellow
LALLA AISHA HASNAWIYYA
Lalla Aisha Hasnawiyya is associated with Beni Hsen, near Rabat. She walks only in the early evening (the first few hours after evening prayers).
Colors: Black, red
Incense: Tar (Qatran), which allegedly ban ishes Djinn, although clearly not Lalla Aisha
LALLA AISHA SUDANIYYA
Lalla Aisha Sudaniyya literally means “Sudanese Lady Aisha.” “Sudan” does not refer to the modern East African nation but to Africa south of the Sahara. She is venerated by the Hamadsha Brotherhood and has a grotto at the shrine of their saint, Sidi Ali ben Hamdush, in the village of Beni Rachid. Sidi Ali lived (and the Hamadsha emerged) during the reign of Moulay Ismail,who imported countless black slaves to labor on building projects and serve as his private guard, creating a profound sub-Saharan African influence and presence in Morocco. Lalla Aisha Sudaniyya may or may not be the same spirit as Lalla Aisha Dghugha:
• She may be a spirit from sub-Saharan Africa.
• She may be a woman who worked for Sidi Ali ben Hamdush as a servant or slave, then disappeared after his death.
• She may be the daughter of Chemharouch, King of Djinn.
• She may be the child of a spirit, Ighud, Shep herd of the Wind, and a human mother.
Her grotto near Sidi Ali’s tomb is banked on one side by the root system of an enormous fig tree. Pilgrimage to her grotto, especially in conjunction with pilgrimage to Sidi Ahmed and Sidi Ali’s tombs, allegedly provides miracle healings of infertility, children’s illnesses, and diseases caused by Lalla Aisha herself. Tie bits of rags, ribbons, or fabric to the tree as testament to vows made to Aisha. (The traditional vow is to promise to return and offer a black hen if she fulfills your request.)
See also: Aisha Qandisha; Chemharouch; Djinn; Lalla; Melk