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Culture-Bound Syndromes: Zar

Zar is an ancient healing practice based on a folk belief that possession by alien spirits can cause disease and that disease can be managed by the ceremonial placation of the possessing spirits. The word zar is used in reference to the type of possessing spirit, the illness it inflicts on humans, and the rituals performed to pacify it. Believed to have originated in Ethiopia, the cult currently prevails under different names (sar, bori, tumbura, dastur, red wind, shaitani), in many countries of Africa and the Middle East, including Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, the Arabian Peninsula, and Iran. Although it has unmistakable pre-Christian and pre-Islamic features, contemporary zar is strongly influenced by these two religions.

Zar spirits constitute a broad ...

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