Women, Zaar, and Magic

I am particularly interested in the relationship between Zaar ritual and magic as roles within society that lie between the borders of what is acceptable and what is restricted. Zaar possession, although men play a role, is a distinctly feminine area and, like the magic tradition, incorporates elements which are not sanctioned by Orthodox Judaism, such as the use of alcohol, communication with evil spirits, and unauthorized animal sacrifice. Zaar possession gives women a sense of empowerment spiritually, in that a distinctly feminine spritual discourse exists counter to mainstream male-dominated orthodoxy, and also domestically in that the Zaar possession entitles a woman to certain dietary and behavioral privledges, justified by the need to placate the Zaar spirit. Similarly, magic also empowers women economically, by allowing them to participate in market discourse and performance, and by enabling the majdub to embue ordinary objects with magical properties that then have economic value in the marketplace. In both cases pre-existing traditions, which lie outside the usual realm of patriarchal control and orthodoxy, are utilized by women to empower them economically, spiritually, and domestically. I think this indicates that one of the roles of folk religion is to extend the boundaries of what is permitted to a larger sphere that includes women, as well as the lower classes and the underprivledged.

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