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Observations placeholder

Dr William Sargant – Zar healing



Type of Spiritual Experience


Dr William Sargant was born in Highgate, London, in 1907 and educated at Leys School and St John's College, Cambridge.  Up to 1972 he was Physician in Charge of the Department of Psychological Medicine at St Thomas's Hospital, London. He was Associate Secretary of the World Psychiatric Association and on the staff of the Maudsley Hospital, London for many years, He was also Registrar of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association, Rockefeller Fellow at Harvard University and Visiting Professor at Duke University. He was also the author of Battle for the Mind, and The Unquiet Mind.

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A description of the experience

The Mind Possessed  - Dr William Sargant

On my first visit to Khartoum in 1963, Dr Basher took me to see a very ancient form of mental treatment called Zar healing. Until I persuaded Dr Basher to take me to one of these ceremonies I believe he had never seen one nor had he been particularly interested in this method which is used in large areas of the Middle East.

 The theory behind it is that the atmosphere is full of Zars, which are good or evil spirits waiting to enter into a person. In Ethiopia, which is a Christian country, the Zars are often called Satans. Elsewhere, as in Kenya, they may be called Pepos. But it does not matter what they are called, they may have the same function of causing illness in the human being.

The aim of the practitioner is to find out the particular type of Zar possessing a sick person, and either to drive out the spirit, replace it by a more suitable Zar or to reconcile the patient to having a particular Zar within him; the possessing Zar and the patient may have to learn to live together in harmony rather than disharmony……

The first step for a person supposedly possessed by a Zar is to go to a healer. By means of questions and long discussions about the patient's symptoms, the healer gets some hint as to which particular Zar is possessing him. Then there may have to be a period of dancing, and if the patient goes into trance with certain rhythms this will confirm the type of Zar.

The ceremony for casting out the Zar may be a long one, perhaps lasting two days, with continued dancing to the point of repeated exhaustion, followed by the ceremonious killing of an animal. If the person is poor it may be a comparatively cheap animal, such as a chicken; but in the case of a wealthy family even a camel may be killed as part of the formal ritual. I was not able to see one of the prolonged rituals, but I learned that when the patient goes into trance, perhaps several times, he is covered with the blood of the killed animal.

After trance, dissociation and collapse have occurred, the patient may wake up freed from the possessing Zar, or he may feel in greater harmony with it.

I did have occasion to see Zar healing in three or four different settings. The first was in the Sudan, others were in Cairo and Ethiopia. A patient at Dr Basher's clinic put us in touch with the Zar healer so that we could study his methods. This patient when deeply depressed …. found that attendance at the Zar ceremonies was sufficient to relieve her. The tempo and rhythm recorded at the Khartoum drumming ceremony were also found to be effective in putting ordinary people into trance when tested out later in England.

When I was playing this recorded music at one meeting, a woman doctor told me that it was very like the old Greek iambic rhythm, a rhythm that was thought to be so powerful in its effects that some say it was forbidden in ancient Greece except under the control of priests.

The source of the experience

African tribal

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps


Music therapy