By Burcin Yetim
Morocco is a country that stole the hearts of many travellers, so magic and charming is the energy that this place is emanating.
Fertile land for spiritually and creatively inspired events that keep blooming all along the country, making Morocco a favourite destination for holistic entrepreneurs and practitioners, facilitate the organization of mindfulness retreats and lead on wellness oriented projects.
It is very hard to not feel the vibrations in the air and it is fascinating as much as it is scary. Understandably, we’re not able to “translate” these vibrations with our own basic perception but we can’t deny their effect on us.
The Concept of Magic in the Spiritual Land of Morocco
We thought about the topic of magic with Linda during one of the tours we tried out together here in Morocco, when we started talking about how – despite the influence of Islam – magic and superstition is still present in the life of people in Morocco.
It was then that Linda (owner of So Morocco) told me some stories from the desert and using knots as a magic method of control. She went on to tell me how the book “The Caliph’s House”, by the author Tahir Shah led her to Morocco in the first place.
The book narrates the story of him and his family during the time in which they bought a house and moved to Morocco to discover only later that said house was hunted by “Jinns” (entities known to be demons).
Shah is another one of those people that have been charmed, every individual making this step has a colourful and absurd story to tell, but his experience it’s undoubtedly a wicked one worthy to read and learn from if you ever thought to move to Morocco and buy a Riad to renovate! ; )
“Move to a new country and you quickly see that visiting a place as a tourist, and actually moving there for good, are two very different things.” ― Tahir Shah
When walking in the souks, your eyes will certainly wander in every direction – and hanging in some shops – you can see snake skins, tortoise shells or gazelle antlers. By looking down you might see a cage of chameleons or a bucket filled by manta ray eggs.
‘The only way to keep the fire away’ Osman maintained, “is with a frog.”
First you catch a frog, then you kill it, dry it out, rub it in salt and hang it outside the front door. The frog will bring Baraka. ( The Caliph’s House, Tahir Shah)
Ingredients for Making Potions
All around you, there are smells: herbs, spices, pigments, fossils, dried plant roots…and all that could be used as ingredients for special mixtures and potions.
When visiting herbalist shops in Morocco, you will be offered products sold for unique purposes.
You have to be attentive to find a serious professional that really knows their job, in order to buy responsibly.
Many of those remedies are actually really good, and it’s true that the right dose of cinnamon, ginger, cumin or turmeric as an addition to your food and drinks will be a good natural ally for your health.
But this still is the most commercial part of it. Digging deeper in the souks, you can find smaller herbalist shops that sell dry reptiles or turtle shells, padlocks and other magic supplies.
What are these supplies for? Superstition, protection spells against the bad-eye and other witchcraft practices!
The Power of Belief
I believe that Moroccans have stuck to a great manifestation power because of their spiritual education.
Faith is something taught to children as early in their life as possible, since the religion of the country is Islam, based on the faith on the Quran, the words of Allah delivered to the prophet Mohammed.
This is an undeniable concept here, and here comes the concept of powerful belief, followed by the law of attraction.
Obviously, mystical beliefs have deep roots in every country, culture and religion but it is known to be strong in Africa with black magic, where it’s believed to cause injury, illness, impede free will in matters of love and work, besides invoking spirits or demons to haunt an individual.
We happen to be here in Morocco, not exclusively between Muslim people. Some magical practices are common also between the Jewish Moroccan community, and other superstitious customs are present in the Amazigh culture which have been also integrated on how Islam is practiced.
Generally, the problems appear to surface when faith and belief are present but when there’s also a proof of major systemic/general distrust and fear.
Is this Something Possible?
Yes, because we can all believe in our religion but also be scared enough to believe (or want to believe) that something will or will not happen because of magical reasons, unseen forces, out of human control.
This happens also when there is no will to face ill-intentioned or corrupt people/situations.
“Trust in God but tie your camel well” – Tahir Shah, The Caliph’s House
Who Practices Magick in Morocco?
Witchdoctors and healers exist, they’re called J’bbar and even though the activity is not really legalized, they have a faithful and numerous following and are socially accepted.
People queuing since the early morning to get their physical problem treated by this person through touching the parts that need to be cured, blowing air on it, praying on it, cracking it, spitting or putting a warm towel on it…this can be done in the light of day, as there is no secrecy or any particular sorcery.
These healer skills are passed on traditionally from father to son, and each Jebbar is known for specific capacities.
The queue is always there, we guess there must be some results, right? It is worth specifying that one session costs much less than a visit at a conventional doctors cabinet in Morocco.
Chawafa/Chiwafa: Witches/sorceresses instead, are known as such.
Chawafa’s generally operate in the darkest hours of the night, they deal with what we’re calling magic, and most of the times people visit them to solve their problems, mostly romantic, professional or family issues.
Unfortunately there are also those Chawafa’s who practice black magic, by preparing unreliable and sometimes dangerous potions.
These figures are often caricatured and made fun of, and therefore, the secrecy of their work is essential. This is unfortunately also one of the reasons why is easy for many people with the wrong intentions to take advantage of others.
Sorcerer – Faqih:
These are men who are religiously well educated on the Quran just like an Imam, but that decided to use their knowledge in an evil way or collaborating with bad Jinns. In fact, like many Chiwafa’s, they create black magic talismans for people who try to get to a selfish outcome that often times harms other people. The difference between A chiwafa and a sorcerer Faqih is their spiritual education.
There are also a religious brotherhood that perform musical rituals in spiritual ceremonies called lila’s.
Those ceremonies could last for the whole night for several nights. Aissawa’s practice and brotherhood has originated in the Méknes area, and that whole part of the country is rich with spirituality and well known for that.
Finally, there are Raaqi’s and Imam’s, unshakeable believers and men of religion that work to defeat spirits and Jinn’s possessions through prayers (Ruqyah in Islam is the recitation of the Quran), the use of Quranic water, laxative plants and in some cases, cupping and bee stings.
Followers of the Saints
Another “niche” is the one of the followers of the Saints.
Shrines (known as Qubba or Zaouia) all over the country, small and big, are the destination of pilgrims that travel to have their wishes for healing and protection fulfilled. By confessing, praying, bringing offerings at the Saint’s tomb they try to get blessings and healing.
Every Saint have a special gift: the Saint of Rissani cured infertility, the one in Ouezzane cures all bad illnesses, others protect the blind.
A popular destination for local spiritual pilgrims, is the shrine of the marabout Sidi Chamharouch, located on the way to mount Toubkal (the second highest peak in Africa).
The shrine is not actually a shrine, in fact this big white-washed boulder is located in an Amazigh village, where the saint inhabited until his death.
Until these days, since pre-Islamic times, pilgrims travel to Sidi Chamharouch to cure themselves or their loved ones from illnesses or exorcism, bringing animals to sacrifice.
A real story of witchcraft in Morocco
Obviously whoever visits any of these practitioners – especially those who claim to make magic -prefer to keep it private for several reasons, therefore I have to tell this story by keeping some details in the dark.
This is a true story about a man that strongly believed he’d been cursed, and that’s the reason why – by talking about it – he came across the opportunity to visit a witch/chiwafa to discover if he was actually cursed and eventually how to get rid of it.
1) The man had to present himself at the designed location way before the sunset, and once there, wait to be selected.
2) Once selected, the man had to go and bring some eggs with him.
3) When his turn came, he was introduced through an anti-chamber to the room where the witch was operating her magic, and sit there. Before he even started saying anything, the witch did a curious sign with a finger of the hand on her own face that meant “you’re the kind of man who has several problems with women, and that’s why you’re here”.
4) She then proceeded with her rituals, and one of them stayed impressed for a long time in my mind.
With the intention of breaking this curse/bad eye, the witch took the eggs that the man brought, and she started breaking them one by one, by doing some of her recitations.
What is incredible, is that the first egg that she broke had a black liquid inside, and so did the following eggs. The liquid in the eggs was lighter each time, and she repeated this ritual until the egg that she broke, was a simple egg, which meant the curse was broken.
After this encounter, the man was disoriented and showed some signs of confusion, however he apparently learned something about the person who cursed him and wasn’t disappointed for having tried an alternative solution to fix one of his problems.
What Does the Quran Say
In Islamic culture, magic is widespread and pervasive but in Islamic teachings, all that is associated to magic is “haram” which means prohibited/sinful. So the line is a little blurred.
Even though the risk of being accused of sorcery is big, many people rely on mystical beliefs.
In the eastern world, Moroccan women are known and feared to be able to cast spells (“sHour“ is the word used for spell) and practice witchcraft to steal or keep husbands at bay.
Magic sometimes is used as an excuse for having sinned, for having bad luck and for living in problematic situations.
As an example, sometimes people refer to mental health problems as the consequence of being possessed by a demon or of result of an evil-eye spell.
Other times is the desperate last resource of people that want to find love, get a job or a self-esteem boost.
The Quran clearly states that “Nobody can tell the future except for God” but the book doesn’t deny the existence of the jinn’s (which can be good and bad), which are actually mentioned and therefore reflect the belief in the unseen and unknown.
This brings me to one final conclusion: wherever there’s a wavering sense of trust and faith, there will always be those who will feast on other people’s weaknesses and fears but also those who will keep sharing their healing power.
One’s purpose is to take advantage and to self-celebrate themselves while the other one is a giver of value, and believes in a common humanitarian good.