Traveling Spirit Masters [Morocco]

pp. 51, 57-58, 87-88, 108, 117, 119, 203, 240 dreams

p. 51

[authoress describing her own experiences :] "I had ... lucid dreams ... . I heard voices. My dream life was populated with the jnun of the Gnawa pantheon."

p. 57

[biography of a mqaddema :] "she began to be clairvoyant. She would dream things and they would come to pass : "Whatever I saw by night came to pass by day." Her reputation spread, and now she makes her living as a clairvoyant (shuwwafa) and Gnawa ritual overseer (mqaddema), "seeing" for people, guiding them and arranging propitiation ceremonies. People come to her for counsel, and she consults with the spirits in her dreams. Her clients give her money ... and she puts it under her pillow : "kat-bat <ali-ha, you sleep on it ... and the spirit answers your questions in your dreams." ... Spirits often communicate via dreams, especially in what are called "lucid dreams" in the West, where ... the dreamer is aware of herself dreaming ... . This place ... is a particularly fecund and traveled place among the possessed. It marks ... a place of barzakh where the material realm (here the money that is sacrificed) becomes a spiritualized propitiationand the spiritual takes form in images, voices, and sometimes smells ... .

p. 58

The spirit Aisha Qandisha appeared to [a female spirit-medium] in a dream and told her that she was to relieve people who were ensorcelled. ... "... In my dreams I feel people pulling me, saying, jdab, jdab, trance, trance.""

p. 87

[a woman’s description of her own dream :] "I would dream that a tall black man was running after me, black, completely naked. ... I went to him, and he said to me "You have Aisha, you have Mimun." And he began to wrestle with me ... . When I used to go to him, ... I didn’t used to speak. ...

p. 88

He starts talking to me, and nobody answers him. ... They gave him three weeks, until the moon is ... in the sky in a certain place ... because he was going to speak with that Mimun".

p. 108

"In Morocco many believe that the soul leaves the body during sleep, travling to visit other places and other souls. (When I recounted to a Sufi leader in the Boutshishi order, for example, that I often travel to places – houses, apartments, dwellings – in my dreams ..., he explained to me that my soul was visiting other souls, and that the dwellings were symbolic of other beings)."


[quoted from IA, p. 187 :] "a person who is ill, paralyzed, or possessed goes to a saint’s tomb to dream and sleeps there – sometimes for months or years – waiting for a dream that will bring release."

p. 111

[a man description of his own dream :] "I saw ... a gravedigger. He worked by digging graves until one day he died digging a grave. ... He took me to a place where there were ... skeletons."

p. 117

[dream by a woman :] "Lalla Aisha appeared to her in a dream wrapped in a black sheet".

p. 119

[dream by authoress about the city of "Essaouira, ... known worldwide as a pilgrimage center" :] "In my dream, my vision of the city was panoramic, as if I, myself, were boundless, a spirit sailing above the city, a samawiyya or sky-spirit."

p. 203

[a female band leader confided :] "I dream of the Gnawa every night, every night they come to me."

p. 240

[authoress’s own experience :] "Then the dreams came. Lucid dreams of course. One night ... a spirit that I recognized as Sidi Mimun appeared and bound my feet, dragging me off the bed." {a peculiar form of "false awakening" dream}

IA = Stefania Pandolfo : Impasse of the Angels : Scenes from a Moroccan Space of Memory. U of Chicago Pr, 1997.

pp. 19, 89 245 etymologies of /gnawa/ : cloud; muteness

p. 19

The term /gnawa/ may have "may possible derivation from the Berber, igri ignawan, meaning "the field of cloudy skies," a paraphrase ... for the star Aldebaran from which the Gnawa are said to hail".

p. 245, n. 1:8

"the "field of cloudy skies" {cf. [Aztec-Maya] Tamoanchan} is a paraphrase to designate the star called amzil, or "Blacksmith," ... Amzil is the star Aldebaran. ... the Gnawa considered themselves to have come from this star, and ... they believe it to be the "place where the sky and earth unite : this is how the Blacksmith penetrates the sky and through a double tornado makes the two worlds communicate"".

p. 89

"the word gnawa in the Tamazight language means the "mute ones" and ... [a female spirit-medium] is a captive of her possessing spirit who renders her mute. ... Spirits strike their subjects dumb. ... And indeed, [the female spirit-medium] screamed ... a kind of transit ... to the voices of her possessing spirits. ... After the symbolic scream, the muteness disappears and ... his possessing spirits speak".

pp. 15-17 a specific spirit-possession performance

p. 15

"Soon it was the black {iron is "black" in Bon reckoning} pantheon,

Sidi Mimun’s nuba ("turn" or moment to manifest), and soon after

Lalla Mimuna, ... Sidi Mimun’s sister and the mother of Aisha Qadisha ... .

Knives ... the trancers ... thrust ... . ...


After the black spirits, the blue arrived :

Sidi Musa, the spirit of the sea.

People balanced bowls of water containing anise seeds on their heads ... .


As the Gnawa passed on to the samawiyyin, the sky spirits, ...

women were up ..., their arms beating the air like desperate wings or lifted above their heads as if in ascension, their eyes rolled back in their heads in an attitude of rapture. ...


The spirits in red {fire is "red" in Taoist reckoning} were next – Sidi Hamu, the spirit of the slaughterhouse ... . ... a woman went into violent convulsions. ...

p. 16

Throwing a red veil over her head {the head of a spirit-medium is covered with a red veil while in the process of being taken possession by a possessing-spirit, in Vietnam} and tying a red scarf around her waist, the mqaddema held the woman from behind ... . A Gnawi was passing out bunches of lit candles. The entranced woman accepted a bundle in each hand and passed them under her neck, then under her open mouth. A young man ... was passing his bundle of flames across his chest ... . Hot wax dripped and solidified on his body ... . ...


The dawn was not far away. It was time to invoke Aisha Qandisha, the jinniya of the threshold, the seductress, the demanding dominatrix. ...

p. 17

The mqaddema turned off the lights ... . ... Many woman who had been seated all night now got up to trance."

pp. 18, 27, 33, 38, 205 spirit religion

p. 18

"Spirits in Morocco are called al-mluk – "the owners" (from the verb ma-la-ka, to own). ["The word may also be translated as "kings" or "angel" ... . The term mluk is used in the ritual ceremonies to refer to the spirits" (p. 244, n. 1:4). {N.B. the term /mal>ak/ ‘angel, messenger’ (Strong’s 4397) is not the same word as /melek/ ‘king’ (Strong’s 4429)}] There is a relationship of power within the body of the possessed, which is often a conflicted one until the possessed submits to the possessor. {/>islam/ ‘submission’} Spirits cannot be exorcised in Moroccan belief. They inhabit the host and "rule over the head." Indeed, a possessed person is said to be maskun – "inhabited" by the spirits (also referred to as jinn, s., jnun, pl.). ... These spirits may be benevolent ..., but they are always powerful, and they "follow" {stalk} (taba<) the subject, afflicting her with poor health and misfortune until she acknowledges and "accepts" their power (kat-qabl <ali-hum), placating them with ... music, incense, and trancing. ... by placating the spirit, one also partakes in his or her power. Accommodation is necessary for coexistence, but the possessed person ... may even come to master the spirits that reside within her {mastery of such spirits is also undertaken in Siberian shamanism}, to "work" them in Gnawa idiom. Working the spirits {"working the spirits" also being a phrase applied in West African (Vodun) spirit-possession} is nothing other than learning to master the state of being multiply possessed" {i.e., possessed serially (one-at-a-time, in a regular queue) by a multitude of spirits}.

p. 27

"The Gnawa call themselves the people of the khla, the hidden part of creation where the genies reign. ... Gatekeepers of a counter world, the Gnawa move in the night". "The night is the forge ..., the ritual "night" (lila) or derdeba (as it is also called) ... . ... To enact the derdeba is ... to learn how the soul goes from life to death to come back to life, passing through the seven colors of the Universe. ... The derdeba helps the adept ... Gnawa ... experience ... the transmigration of souls".

p. 33

"Trance is ... from the classical Arabic verb ja-dha-ba [jadaba], to attract. The entranced are majdhubin [ma-jdub-], attracted and attractive (to god, to the spirits)." "An early Sufi ... was said to have "... prostrated himself before God in the midst of the fire without being hurt" ... . Such feats, which seem to defy nature, are signs of being in a state of grace, baraka. In such states ... the body takes on the attributes of the spirit – it becomes invulnerable and protected. Such acts as ... exposing the skin to flames ... are common elements of Gnawa ritual".

p. 38

"The rituals are enacted ... in the form of musical suites (nubat) divided into cuts or numbers (qit.<a) devoted to a particular spirit."

p. 205

"the mqaddema is often a clairvoyant; she sees the invisible, or essential, reality guiding or determining the events on the physical plane ... . ... The spirits may actually use her voice to communicate with others (... she is a medium), or she may receive messages from them in dreams that she then passes on to the appropriate persons."

pp. 28-29, 54, 68, 76-78, 116-117, 205 specific spirits (or groups of spirits) who are invoked

p. 28

"Sidi Mimum is invoked, the gatekeeper, patron spirit of the Gnawa. His color is black."

p. 29

"calling Aisha Qandisha, the genie of threshold and danger."

p. 54

"Lalla Mira rises up to the smell of musk, emanating the color of yellow, producing laughter and emotions of gaiety.

Sidi Mimun rises up to his music, to the odor of black benzoin".

p. 68

"In one section of the trance ceremony, ... called rijal al-ghaba (the men of the forest, though "men" is a euphemism for spirits here) ... possessing jnun oblige the possessed to enact animal movements (and often to eat raw meat ...). But these movements are always the same – the possessed is on the ground on his side, the upper leg bending back and forth at the knee, the arm motioning as if scratching the waist. Later the possessed gets down on his belly and eats a mixture called zmita (made of grilled flour and chick peas ...), his arms back at his side, his mouth bent down to the dish. This section, associated with the color black, is often enacted by men. ... men become lions and other wild animals without the mediation of speech".

p. 76

zuwwaq (lipstick) & mirror are attributes of goddess Malika. {cf. the "lipsticks" collected (PHSE, p. 256) and "mirrors" brandished (PHSE, p. 244) by women possessed by the goddess Mangu among the Hausa in Niger}

p. 77

"To say that someone is possessed by Lalla Mira (literally fi-ha Lalla Mira or Lalla Mira is in her) ... is to map the attributes of this jinniyya – her frivolity, humor ... – onto the possessed. ... The possessed woman embodies these qualities ... – as the body of the possessed woman becomes an icon of the jinniyya, laughing her laughter ... . ...

p. 78

Like now, Mira takes hold of me I start laughing, laughing ... . I can laugh for a whole hour."

p. 116

"Sidi Mimun ... is the Moul al Sieff (the "Master of the swords") ... . Those possessed by Mimun (especially in his incarnation as Ghumami, "the storm") often "take up the knives"".


A woman "became possessed by ais^a al-bah.ariya, Aisha of the Sea; she began throwing water around the house".

p. 205

"Aisha Qandisha ... comes out at night just like a woman, but when you look at her feet, she has the feet of a camel." {the goddess Mangu’s "feet are those of a donkey" (PHSE, p. 252)}

PHSE = Adeline Masquelier : Prayer Has Spoiled Everything. Duke U Pr, Durham (NC), 2001.

pp. 39-41, 58, 66 working the spirits

p. 39

"The ability to go into trance at will is called "working the spirits.""

"Over the next several years it is common for more spirits to inhabit the host, though one (usually the first to arrive) "rules" over the head. ... They [the spirits] ... give her good luck (rzaq), and they give her

p. 40

health, and they stand by her (kay-waqfu ma>-ha). ... And they protect her. ... They’re surrounding her. She’s in the middle and they’re all around her. ... the mluk are all standing there (waqfin), they’re all encircling [you]."

"the jwad rule over her. .. They rule. The one who is reasonable (ma<qol) in her rules over her. ...

p. 41

There’s one who inhabited her first. The one who got there first, he’s the one that is meant for her".


Over the years, "As the possessed woman becomes accustomed to her spirits, she slowly ... may learn to "work the spirits," to divine them in others, to "see" as a clairvoyant, to help younger and less experienced women (and men) manage their possessions."

p. 58

"Women who are destined to be mqaddemat (pl.) learn to control their possessions. They "work" the jinn. ... they are favored by the spirits, ... they are not simply possessed by them but are able to enter into their ranks, so to speak, to "work" them instead of being worked over by them".

p. 66

"Falling to the spirits, one is subject to them. Working the spirits, one has achieved a certain mastery over the same forces".

pp. 56-57 miraculously being protected by spirits

p. 56

"eating sharp objects like glass".

p. 57

"I fell from the roof, from the top to the bottom, ... and was unharmed due to the protection of the spirits."

pp. 58, 63, 70, 79, 106-7, 109-110, 115-116 paralysis; "absence"; numbness & tingling; heartbeat; false awakening; vision immediately at awaking; sleep-paralysis

p. 58

"One of the symptoms of being "struck" by the spirits (mad.rub) is the inability to move. ... paralysis ... is common."

p. 63

"Arabic ... "presence" ( and "absence" (al-gha>ib). ... Presence is a term from Islamic mysticism defining a state of communion with divinity. "Absence," on the other hand, is the term applied to those who leave their bodies in order to cede place to a possessing spirit or to travel as prophets and visionaries travel to "sites" where they may receive revelations."

p. 70

"the Gnawa need only put the incense on the brazier, and she falls into trance : ... "it’s like, I become numb and tingly. My whole body starts to work. ... My body is pins and needles from my head to my toes (det-i kat-t-s^uwwak-ni min ar-ras h.ett.a r-rjlin)," she elaborated. The horripilation (goose-bumps) ... is here attributed to olofaction."

p. 79

"Now I only have to hear that beat of his and my heart starts to beat, beat ... . It’s like a mortar and pestle beating in my heart. ...

The music makes her heart beat, beat, beat. It is a prelude to possession".

p. 106

[authoress’s description her own experience :] "I woke up to find myself in ascent, as if my soul were detaching from my body and rising up. ... Almost immediately I was in the clouds. Standing close to me was a woman of immense stature. She was a giant dressed in white robes. There were other robed beings in the vicinity, ... but of human scale. Only this woman was gigantic. ...

p. 107

When later I recounted my dream to the Moroccan professor who had first introduced me to the Gnawa, he ... pronounced : "That was Lalla Malika."" {this is a dream of "false awakening"} {I myself have seen I gigantic woman in a dream of mine; it was, however, at the beginning of sleep, which I had entered without losing awareness, and the dream was entered with initial swift movement (of my visual field) in the dream-world, just above ground-level}

p. 109

[authoress’s description her own experience :] "I awoke suddenly. To my immediate left a huge dark head was looking straight at mine. ... it reminded me of a gargoyle ... . I knew immediately that this was Sidi Mimun. In the Gnawa ceremony Sidi Mimun wears the color black, and black benzoin in burned for him. ... I could not move, locked as I was in an encounter ... . Paralyzed, I felt terror. {this is known as "sleep paralysis"} "Henaya n-subqu," the head said to me in Arabic. "We will win out.""


[According to >al-Gazzali,] "And, therefore, did al-Khadir, when he was asked in the dream concerning Hearing, say, "It is pure slipperiness, there stand not fast upon it save the feet of the learned.""

p. 110

"Hearing is different from listening, or sama<, the Sufi ritual ... audition in a musical context. Hearing ... voices may come from anywhere – the angels, the jnun".

p. 115

[experience of a man, described by him :] "Aisha visited me. She was sitting on my legs when I was in bed and I couldn’t move. ... I couldn’t move, and she was sitting on my legs stopping me ... . ... Then finally she went away." {is this what is known as a "hag-ridden" case of "sleep paralysis"?}

p. 116

[description by a woman of her being visited at night by a praeternatural visitant :] "I was wide awake, not sleeping. I felt him come towards me. Then, I felt a tongue lick my neck, all over my neck. ... It was Mimun." {Is the "tongue" of Mimun ever aequated with his "swords"? If so, cf. "Out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword" – Apokalupsis of Ioannes 19:15.}

pp. 76-77 colors & foods of the spirits



Mhalla (group of spirits)

ritual foods



ftuh. (opening)





bread, figs



Sidi Mimun; Lalla Mimuna




Sidi Musa & his musawiyyin




as-samawiyyin (sky-spirits)




Sidi Hamu




s^orfa (plural of s^arif ‘noble ones’)




rijal aG-Gaba (men of the forest) = al-Gabawiyyin (foresters), viz. :

(see below, a-d)



(a) Briandu

duGnu (milk, cinnamon, coriander)



(b) Ulad sorGo

zammita (watermelon-seeds, anise)



(c) Ju-ju nnama

raw pigeon



(d) Bala dimma

raw eggs


(see below)

al-layilat (the women), viz. :

(see below, a-c)



(a) Malika

raisin juice



(b) Arbiya; Mira




(c) Aic^a

olives, honey

pp. 85-86 the jnun & their spectral sacred bundle

p. 85

"The jnun are often though to inhabit al-qawadis, pipes, drains, and waterways."

p. 86

"Al-jnun [the spirits] Al-jwad [the generous ones]. They come and appear to me all the time. They burned [ceremonial] incense for me and one [woman jinn] brought me a bundle [rizma], that bundle of theirs ... . ... It was mixed colors, ... all the colors. ... The bundle ... is the assemblage of different colored cloths ... . ... Each color corresponds to a different ... repertoire of jnun, as there are several spirits in each color".

Deborah Kapchan : Traveling Spirit Masters : Moroccan Gnawa Trance. Wesleyan U Pr, Middletown (CT), 2007. [authoress hath "a daughter, born to a Moroccan father from the Ben Izznasan tribe" (p. 119).]