The 'Zar' possession syndrome among Ethiopian immigrants to Israel: Cultural and clinical aspects

Eliezer Witztum, Nimrod Grisaru, Danny Budowski

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    25 Scopus citations

    Abstract

    This article describes a cultural pattern related to altered stales of consciousness, observed amongst new immigrants from Ethiopia in Israel. The beiief in possession by Zar spirits is one of the most common possession phenomena in Africa and in other continents. Possession by Zar is expressed by a wide range of behaviours, such as involuntary movements (often resembling epileptiform convulsions), mutism and incomprehensible language. Such behaviour can be misinterpreted as representing symptoms of neurologic or psychiatric disorders. Such misinterpretation has led to inappropriate psychiatric admissions and to misdiagnosis of such cases as major psychiatric disorders. The article illustrates the Zar phenomenon by three clinical vignettes and discusses its cultural and anthropological aspects, as well as its clinical implications within a Western society.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)207-225
    Number of pages19
    JournalBritish Journal of Medical Psychology
    Volume69
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    StatePublished - 1 Jan 1996

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