Ghost Riders of Upper Mis.r






1. Landscape



2. Religious environment



1. Origins



2. Life-history



3. To the Call



4. Irregular possessions



5. Regular possession



6. Impact of Possessed



7. Character



8. Ghostly spirits


pp. 29-30 the nature of an <afrit




"When an <afrit grows too tall, it bends completely over the man and squeezes him to death ... . As an <afrit grows it makes the sound totototo."


"in the Koptos ruins ... he suddenly caught sight of seven <afrit which had donkeys’ feet and had eyes at the top of the skull."


" "He who has died a violent death becomes an <afrit." These ghosts are thus ... as if a part split off the soul, when it suddenly and unexpectedly is forced to pass into the other world because of that person’s violent death."

pp. 30-32 the nature of the jnun




"But there are other spirits, independent of humans ... . The real residence of these spirits is under the earth. People call these ... jinni (pl. jinun ...)."


"In Qift lives a man to whom a Christian female demon (jinniya) had proposed marriage. However, as a Muslim the man rejected the marriage, but instead took her into his service. She took care of shopping for the man".


"In the village of Jiziriya near Abnud lives and old fellah ... . He was called if anyone fell ill. ... The old man asked for a basin filled with water ... . ... Shortly he could be heard speaking with the underground folk, who appeared to him in or on the water. One could clearly distinguish his own voice and the small, thin voice {cf. "small still voice" (1st Meleki^m 19:12)} of the underground folk."

pp. 34-35 zar cult




"The zar comes ... from the Barabra, in other word the Nubians. {in Hellenistic geography, Barbaria = Somalia} ... These spirits were originally called zarr, and in Egypt that became zar for the first time. ... When a zar enters a woman, she falls sick, she suffers from eye aches, joint pains, deafness , or diarrhea ... . In order ..., someone calls together all the zar members; they drum and sing and recite the names of the different zar spirits, such as Lulubiya, Magharba, Muj al-Bahr, Willad, Umm al-Ghulam, Safina, Mama, or Maruma. ... In addition to music there is also rich and tasty food ... . With the help of this feast and songs the zar spirit is induced to reveal itself. Each spirit has its own tune : When the tune is played it answers through the mouth of the possessed ... . ... However, the zar spirit remains in her or near her. These zar spirits sometimes maintain a love relationship with the women."


A woman may reserve 2 consecutive nights of each week for sexual relations with a male zar; on those 2 nights she must refuse to have sexual intercourse with her human husband. {The same arrangement is known in West Africa and among West Africans in Haiti.}


"When a woman is possessed by a zar or other spirit people say that the zar clothes itself in her".

pp. 38-39 (list of substances, including several spices and fruits, which are believed to be medicinal)

pp. 66-67 initial session with author




Anyone who wants information for the "descent of the shaykh, must give his medium ..., while he is possessed, a token – rih[.]a (p. riyah[.], ‘smell’) – from the person about whom he wishes the information."


"[The spirit-medium] was now someone else altogether. ... He spoke loudly in fits and starts. ... During all this, the possessed one sometimes laughed very unpleasantly."

p. 72 onset of sickness inviting to spirit-mediumship

At Isma<iliya : "the disease ... began there with fever and trembling."

pp. 73-74 biography : of praeternatural sickness into supernatural paralysis




"He returned home sick, with fever and fits of the shivers, then aches ... in the lower end of the anterior thorax and in the legs. ... At night he had heavy episodes of sweating, so that you could wring out his shirt. This illness lasted seven months ... . After these two months, [he] fell sick again. He felt that the sickness was ... ‘from God,’ ‘from the shaykh.’ ... His whole body was paralyzed, and he


could grip nothing with his hand. He felt sever pains ... in the right side of the body. "The Lord God took me. The Lord God seizes from the right and the devil from the left." This illness lasted three months."

p. 79 apparent sweetness of bitter fruits

"the mashayikh, the ghosts ... are what wanders in the desert and make the bitter fruits of the desert appear sweet. This is also what is sung in the zar ceremonies, that the bitter fruits such as colocynth [Citrullus colocynthis (fn. 5)] are sweet to the zar spirits."

pp. 80-81 sudden spirit-possession in a field




"Then ... as he was in the fields with his hoe, the shaykh suddenly took him. [The spirit-medium]


fell into possession and hit himself terribly with his hands, in the face, on the body, on the legs. "The shaykh hit me," said [the medium]. Still in possession he ran home ... . Since then he has stayed home and the shaykh descends regularly."

pp. 84-86 beginning and ending of possession-trance




"On days when the shaykh descends, [the spirit-medium] always yawns an unusual amount, beginning at least two hours before entering into possession. He also yawns in the short breaks between two possession episodes. ...


[The spirit-medium] uses incense to begin each first possession on a day when he expects his shaykh. In [the medium] wakes out of possession ... then sometimes the second or third possession episode is induced through renewed censing ... . Also, when [the medium] wishes to induce a possession outside the scheduled times, the incense helps him do that ... . ... As soon as the smell reached his nose, possession came suddenly and sharply. ... More often than not, the first scent was enough to bring about the appearance of the ghost ... . ... When therefore a breath of incense met his face, he began to tremble slightly. Possession had been achieved. ... .

... at the outset of the possession, [the spirit-medium] ... breathed rapidly and convulsively ... . {so, are breathing-techniques in yoga intended to attract and embody possessing-spirits?} After ... this intrusion of the shaykh, he then recovered this breath and his voice gradually became firm and strong."


"During the possession, one had throughout the impression that another personality, ... or other personalities, other spirits or ghosts, appeared in [the spirit-medium] and spoke. ... But each ghost had his clearly indicated individual traits, which equally distinguished him from the other ghosts or, naturally, from [the medium] himself. Just as the possession began without mediation, so also it broke off in that way. ... It appeared as if a body that had been held upright by another ... was suddenly released ... . ... Now after waking up from possession, [the medium] opened his eyes very slowly and ... the voice shy and weak. ...

[The spirit-medium] toward the end of a lengthy possession episode pulled nervously on the point and wings of his nose ... . The meaning of this gesture became clear when he once pressed on the wings of his nose and said, "Ruh[.]" (leave)."


"the entry of the [possessing-spirit] causes [the spirit-medium] to catch his breath and his breath simultaneously bursts out ... . Most often [the medium] begins to breathe in and out as if the muscles of the mouth were paralyzed. The tongue then jumps around in the flow of inhaled breath vibrating in the mouth and produces a gurgling sound, and the exhaling breath blows past the slack lips of an almost closed mouth. The lips


are vibrating as when we imitate a snorting horse. ... It is not improbable that the gurgling and snorting ... is a representation of the kneeling camel."

pp. 92-101 (list of various ghosts of dead men who, on various occasions, take possession of the same spirit-medium)

pp. 101-102 simultaneous possessions of two spirit-media by spirits




"Suddenly [the usual spirit-medium] became possessed again. He shot straight up on his knees, making guttural noises with his tongue, and the lips trembled. ... Meanwhile he laughed in his unpleasant manner. ...


[The 2nd spirit-medium] began to sway strongly, moving his torso backward and forward. The accuracy of the rhythm was extraordinary, as if timed by a metronome. ... Then he began to sing. The movement of his body became a rotation, from right forward to the left, that is counterclockwise. He was singing a legend about the gazelle who kissed the hand".

p. 104 clairvoyance during spirit-possession

"This clairvoyance encompasses two areas :

the ghost ... can have insight into the unspoken thoughts of a visitor ...; moreover,

he can see situations and events that are unknown to the visitor himself.

... the ghost requires a stimulus in order to infer these pictures and provide this performance. If the visitor wishes information about a circumstance that is important to him, such as a trip and its chances of success, it is enough for him to take [the spirit-medium]’s hand when he is possessed by [the ghost].

However, if one wants to learn something about another person or an animal, then he must put something into the hand of the possessed that was in physical contact with this person or animal ... . This token is called rih[.]a (scent, pl. riyah[.]). The possessed one holds this sample in his hand, and by touching it there appears in the sight of the ghost the person, animal, or situation which is invoked here; and furthermore the ghost sees this person or animal in causal interconnection with its past and future, so that he can advise how to act in order to achieve a good outcome."

p. 113 the nature of possession by a ghost

"When [the medium] first began to display the characteristic traits of possession – running into the desert and hitting himself, then returning home with a vacant look, and speaking as another, as a stranger to his own people in obscure language – his relatives thought that he had gone crazy, majnun. ... . ... majnun ... can only be taken to mean ‘possessed by jinn’ (demons). ... . ... the attendants ... were taught that a ghost had selected him as mount. They let themselves be persuaded, and now think that the ghost ‘clothes’ (libis) himself with the body of [the medium]. During this ‘clothing’ [the medium]’s soul is ‘absent, hidden’ (ghayib)."

pp. 114-116 motives of ghosts




"A ghost is ... frightening for the relatives, whom he threatens with illness and death in order to force the accomplishment of his wishes."


"These ghosts are frightening because of their demands and because of their power to send illness and death if no one listens to them."


"Ghosts can send illness. So those who are afflicted turn to a medium who mediates ghosts ... . For a ghost to appear and transmit clairvoyant information and advice is somehow a grace from God. So it is natural that when an ill person turns to someone possessed, ... he sees that person as sent by God. The ghosts are between the living and God, but they are nearer to god than to people, which may make them able somehow to help from the far side".

pp. 129-131 a dream by a darwis`




"Once a Yemeni dervish came ... . ... This was a lad of fifteen to seventeen years. ... [Concerning him the possessed spirit-medium said,] "This one here, this Yemeni, had a dream. ..." The lad was quite taken aback by [the possessing-spirit]’s insight into his dream life ... . He really had this dream. [The possessing-spirit] continued, "This boy ...


will never return to his home, but will die on the way." The Yemeni nodded in agreement".


"When he wants to see his relatives in a dream, before going to sleep he performs ablutions and prayer with this wish in mind, then he sees his people in a dream and speaks with them. The dream that [the possessing-spirit] had unexpectedly attributed to him ... came about in this way."

pp. 145-147 call-dream; dream about cemetery




"[The spirit-medium] experiences the onset of possession as falling asleep.

When he awakens, he feels his heart beating strongly and a pounding in the temples. Everything around him – the walls, the people – spins. ... In particular he can sense the aftereffects of the pressure of the ghosts on his shoulders and the front thorax ... and in the knees. ... In spite of the imprint that the ghosts sitting on his shoulders leave ... [the medium] maintains that


ghosts enter into him themselves and are in his body during the possession. ... . ... the great experience of [the medium] that changed everything was the call-dream in which the [possessing-spirit] appeared and held out to him a flag."

"[The medium] sees [the possessing-spirit] every Tuesday eve (the evening before Tuesday)."

"One Friday eve, [the medium] saw Aswan cemetery in a dream, surrounded by a high wall. There were innumerable shaykhs’ shrines ... . All the shrines were lit up in a wonderful soft green light. A broad beautiful street led up from the Nile to this cemetery."


"[The main possessing-spirit] is together on the far side with twenty-four saints (awliya) {cf. 24 harpist-angels in Apokalupsis of Ionannes}; he is their leader. All of them can descend on him, [the spirit-medium]".

Hans Alexander Winkler (transl. from the German by Nicholas S. Hopkins) : Ghost Riders of Upper Egypt. American University in Cairo Pr, 2009.