The ‘Zar’ possession syndrome among Ethiopian immigrants to Israel: Cultural and clinical aspects Academic Article uri icon


  • This article describes a cultural pattern related to altered states of consciousness, observed amongst new immigrants from Ethiopia in Israel. The belief 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.

publication date

  • January 1, 1996