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Making Trance Public

Since the 1980s, many confraternities of the ‘Isāwa and Ḥamadša have videotaped their trance rituals on VHS. With increasing digitization, local video studios started to develop a particular editing style for the title sequences of these recordings. In the selected example, the ritual principal advertises his ritual services. Pictures are shown of processions to the saints’ tomb and of the brotherhood invoking the blessing of the founding saint. By invoking different referents (“blessing”, “tradition”, “culture”, “trance”), the opening sequence addresses different publics to win over “allies” for future cooperation. Usually, the recordings of trance rituals remained restricted to certain audiences. But since cell phone recordings have become ubiquitous during rituals, these practices may be exposed to a wider public and are likely to become “issues of concern” in at times fierce controversies.

In November 2007, a visitor filmed a ritual festivity with his cell phone in the city of Ksar al-Kbir. Four days later, film clips with the title “Wedding (uors) Ksar al Kbir” was uploaded to YouTube. It depicted a man in women’s garments preparing himself for a ritual ( and dancing to popular music (( Other film clips showed young men consuming alcohol and dancing with seductive body movements. While the transgression of gender roles during trance nights is a “public secret” in Morocco, the circulation of these images triggered not only heated discussions on homosexuality and proper government, but were also used by local opposition groups to organize demonstrations in the streets against the “corruption of Islamic values”. The tumult culminated in an attack on the home of one of the participants depicted in the video still. Finally, the government intervened to contain the turmoil. During a press conference, the prime minister restored order by re-framing the festivity as a possession ritual.

Taking the brotherhoods’ activities as an example, I am interested in media and mediations to make things public and to generate – or contain – issues of concern.


Participant: Martin Zillinger
Dept. of Social/Cultural Anthropology & Graduate Center a.r.t.e.s. | University of Cologne
Presentation: "Mediating Trance - Crafting Publics among Moroccan Sufi-Brotherhoods"