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Trance, possession, the zār, the Self, the Other

“What is [the ceremony’s] real aim? Is it to drive out the genii (…)? Or is it to make them come? (…) To use Luc de Heusch’s terminology, is it exorcism or adorcism? This question, which is posed by so many possession cults, is by no means new (…) Michel Leiris makes the following observation: <<It is improper to apply the term exorcism to the practices of the 𝘻ā𝘳 brotherhoods; their goal is in fact to make a pact with the spirit rather than to expel it.” (…) Before the <<genii leave the women in peace,>> as Monique Brandily puts it, the women must first publicly identify themselves with them, for by reproducing the genii’s outward behaviour in dances that imitate them, the women, in fact, become identified with them (…) [It is] something like this: I am sick because a genius is tormenting me, I become that genius; satisfied because he has possessed me, he ceases to torment me, I am set free. Is this exorcism? Broadly speaking, it could be, since ultimately, the sick woman has exorcised or chased out her illness. Strictly speaking, it is certainly not. “(Gilbert Rouget – Music and Trance)

Depending on the certain plane of reality one is referring to and speaking from, the spirit possessing the possessee could very well be regarded as an other. This, however, only holds from a relative point of view. Ultimately, everything is an aspect of the Self. In my own trance experiences I felt as if I was possessed, but not necessarily by something external – I was possessed by an aspect of my Self.

As for exorcism, one way to look at it is a psychoanalytical session. If one is possessed by aspects of Self, in the case of such-called exorcism (I am here referring only to possession cults), those aspects may only be aspects of one’s shadow, where “shadow” doesn’t necessarily refer to what one normally terms “negative” aspects, but simply aspects of the Self that are not in your consciousness awareness. And, for sure, some of these aspects may be related to trauma. Also, meeting one’s shadow doesn’t only entail the expulsion of certain aspect of yourself, but, rather, their conscious integration in the Self – this may be one way to read the ambiguity of the exorcism/’adorcism’ dichotomy.

Below, an excerpt from “Wind of Jinn” (“Bad-e Jen,” Naser Taghvai, 1969)


Featured image: still from “Wind of Jinn” by Naser Taghvai