Zar amulets: an introduction

Zar amulets

On these pages you will find some examples and their explanations of zar-amulets. These can take the form of round, square, or rectangular amulets, as well as bracelets, rings and jewelry to be hung in the headveil. Because of their importance, zar amulets are often sewn tightly on to clothing or face veils. This ensured their continuous presence close to the wearer and helped to underline her identity. More pictures of zar jewelry can be found in this collection. The zar-bracelet shown below is of the type worn as upper arm bracelet by the Rashayda on the Red Sea Coast. The bracelet is decorated with depictions of the female spirit Sitt and the male spirit Sidi. The zar is thought to originate from Sudan and to have come to Egypt in the 19th century. In Nubia, very specific spirits are encountered. Another scene on the zar-amulets is that of the camel carrying the Mah’mal or litter that held the coverings for the Ka’aba in Mecca. These coverings were made in Egypt and carried every year in a festive procession to Mecca. The mah’mal itself was seen as a relic with great powers, hence its depiction on zar-amulets.

Zar amulets can also take the form of writing boards. These were used in Qur’an schools to instruct children in reading the Qur’an. As the carrier of the holy verses, they were also used in the preparation of certain rituals. Words written down on the writing board were to be washed clean with water, after which the patient would drink the water and thus litterally would take in the power of the words. This aspect of writing boards and their close connection to the Qur’an made the shape in itself a powerful form for an amulet.


The photograph on the background is taken by Carol J. Riphenburg. Read more on her blog here.