23 January 2013
As you read this I am on my way to an odyssey that has me both nervous and excited. I wrote an article about this for Travel and Escape back in December and so I’m going to borrow heavily from it here. I’m on my way to get a dose of Gnawa Morocco Mind Medicine.
Gnawi chanting and the Atlas Mountain music known as Ahidous form the backdrop to a spiritual celebration that pilgrims flock to every year for a deeper understanding of life, faith healing, trance healing and, perhaps most importantly, to ask for favors from saints and djinn.
I’m one of those flocking to it! I’m part of an artists workshop and retreat that is heading to Sidi Ali. Tonight, I will meet with the other participants for a dinner and then we will head to where the madness errr…Mind Medicine…happens.
Key to these gatherings and pilgrimages are Sufi brotherhoods such as the Gnawa, the Aïssawa and the Hamadcha, with their trance-like music and bizarre (to us) ritual behaviour. One of the most famous but least witnessed (by outsiders) is the celebration connected with Sidi (Saint) Ali Ben Hamdouch, the founder and patron saint of the Hamadcha brotherhood. This particular brotherhood provided much of the basis for Gnawa’s music, which is much more widely known for its trance-inducing rhythms. Hamadcha trance music is known as ‘medicine for the mind’ by many Moroccans.
Sidi Ali is about 70 km from Fez where we meet for dinner tonight. From Fez we will trek to Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch and absorb the energy and wonders of music, trance,possession ceremonies, prayers and sacrificial slaughters dedicated to the spirit world. We will be among the thousands of pilgrims filling every available bed, couch or tent space as Moroccans come to entangle themselves with the supernatural aura of a place where spirits and humans join together to honor God.
I’m terribly excited as I write this and very happy to be joining in on this. Much thanks to my friend Jessica who is the coordinator of this group of artists gathering and who has thoughtfully asked me to participate.
From ritual baths in the spring of Aisha Ben Hamcoucha to the music and sweet incense that continue without stop, this is a celebration of the mystical—and whether you are there as an observer, a performer or a pilgrim, chances are you will be brought into the ritual as the feeling of trance wraps its way around the crowds.
It’s not that my mind needs the medicine as I feel like my time in Morocco is coming to an end. February 2nd will mark four years since I arrived and I feel in my bones that like a Presidential term – my time is almost up – in Morocco (I’ll still live for another 60 years). This is a chance to really feel it, dig it, live it, breathe it, because it does not get any more Moroccan than what I am heading towards.