The Zaar Ceremony –by Joseph Hunwick

The phenomenon of Zar can be best described as the “healing cult”. It uses drums — a tambourine and a tabla– and dancing to cure an illness thought to be caused by a demon though it is technically prohibited by Islam as a pagan practice.

The purpose of the Zar ceremony is to cure mental illness through contact with the possessing spirits which cause maladies. Though there are several methods for dealing with psychological disturbance, the Zaar is the last resource which is supposed to have powerful therapeutic effect for several kinds of maladies, which is most prominent in Southern Egypt.

The Kodia –or leader of the ceremony– becomes possessed herself. She has come to terms with her Jinn, or spirits, and is therefore able to help the patient with the altar in the center of the room. The patients appear with the eyes half closed, abandoning themselves completely from their surroundings, moving increasingly with the intensity of the drumming, moving in circles around the altar freeing his or her body from the inside out. The spirit is drawn into dialogue by the Kodia, and an animal sacrifice is used as an offering to the offending spirit being its main purpose to please the deity and to secure his favor.

The group attending the Zar might go in procession to the Nile with the remnants of the sacrificial meal and the instruments in order to dump them all in the river. Afterwards the patient must be attentive to the spirits, avoid dirt and refrain from negative emotions.