You know that you have arrived at the correct destination when the hotel proprietor seriously enquires whether you would like to sacrifice a sheep the following day in  the grotto of Lalla Aisha.  I had arrived at possibly the  strangest place yet on my travels through Morocco.

The small town of Beni Rashid on the Zerhoun mountain is better known as Sidi Ali,  named after the 17th century sufi saint Sidi Ali ben Hamdush.  His tomb lies in his zaouia in a small gulley at the edge of the town looking out over the fertile valley where Meknes can be seen in the distance.   Of more significant interest is that Sidi Ali is bound by legend to another sufi saint,  Sidi Ahmad Dghoughi,  his disciple and servant,  who is buried in the nearby village of Beni Ouarad,  and that they are both bound by legend to a hostile but beautiful female spirit ( jinniya ) called Aisha Qandisha.

It is a love triangle with a difference;  the legend describes how Sidi Ali’s baraka was transferred to Sidi Ahmed upon his death, how the Hamadsha brotherhood obtained its traditional ‘hal’,  that is ecstatic dance,  how music and its healing role of people came into being,  how the Hamadsha acquired its self-harming behaviours once in trance,   and finally how the she-devil Aisha Qandisha became an integrated and indivisible part of the Hamadsha Sufi traditions.

The legend also describes the genesis of the cultural-medico concept of Ethno-Psychiatry where ecstatic dance and spirit expulsion,  sometimes facilitated  by animal sacrifice,  has traditionally been first choice for treating a range of illnesses in Morocco.

Before I relate the legend,  here firstly are a set of photographs of Sidi Ali taken at dawn on November 30th 2019.  A number of notable mausoleo can be found on Zerhoun mountain including Morocco’s founder Moulay Idriss and of course Sidi Ali and Sidi Ahmed,  and the mountain is considered sacred.  The photographs here include points of interest from the legend as relevant to Sidi Ali and Aisha  Qandisha.


Photographs of Sidi Ali around dawn on 30th November 2019



















The Legend of Sidi Ali Ben Hamduch,  Sidi Ahmed Dgoughi and Aisha Qandisha


Sidi Ali left the Qariwwyyne mosque in Fez and moved to the Zerhoun mountain for a quieter life.  He instructed Sidi Ahmed,  his disciple and servant,  to run errands for him; these are both tests of manhood and worthiness as preparation for inheriting baraka.   He was directed firstly to overcome the fearsome Abdelhaq, the son of Moulay Ismail known as the beheader; then he was instructed to travel to the Sudan to fetch and return the magical Hal  ( ecstatic trance ). Sidi Ahmed remarked that the Sudan was 6 months travelling;  Sidi Ali instructed Sidi Ahmed to close his eyes.  When he opened them again he found he was outside of the king of Sudan’s  palace.  Seeing all the guards were asleep,  he entered the palace and found a wwadf ( flute ),  a doff ( drum ) and Aisha Qandisha,  the king’s wife.  The combination formed the Hal he was instructed to claim.


Sidi Ahmed took them all with him. Then the soldiers and the king awoke. The king asked them where his wwadf, his daff, and Aisha Qandisha had gone. The soldiers said they did not know and assured him that no one had entered while he was asleep. The king guessed that it must have been Sidi Ahmed who stole them and ordered his soldiers to follow the saint to the Ayn Kabir ( the great spring on mount Zerhoun ). Sidi Ahmed sent a message by pigeon asking Sidi Ali to pray for him so that he would not be taken prisoner.  Sidi Ali used his baraka and the soldiers were all turned into frogs. When the king died, his body was taken to the Ayn er-Rjal at Moulay Idriss and buried. After his burial, whenever the inhabitants of Moulay Idriss prepared couscous or tajine, frogs jumped from their plates.


To seek a remedy, a sacrifice was made to Moulay Idriss, who woke and told them that they had brought the sacrifice to the wrong person, that they should go to Sidi Ali Ben Hamdush. The townspeople then went to Sidi Ali and told him that frogs were jumping all over the place. Sidi Ali asked them who had sent them, and when he learned that it was Moulay Idriss, he instructed them to return to their village where they would find a man dressed in a djellaba, sleeping. They were to ask him his advice, and he would tell them what to do.


They found the man, woke him, and asked him if it was he who had let out all the frogs. The man asked them who had sent them, and they they replied it was Sidi Ali;  he then replied that they should perform the Hal of Sidi Ali and the problem would resolve. The people from Moulay Idriss agreed to do this and have followed and made sacrifices to Sidi AIi ever since.


When Sidi Ahmed returned to mount Zerhoun,   he found his master Sidi Ali had died.  He washed and buried his body in the spot where his zaouia now stands beside the spring of Ayn Kebir. Sidi Ahmed then climbed to the top of mount Zerhoun, where he became so upset that he slashed his head with an ax as he called out the names of all the saints.   His followers tried to calm him.  They told him that before Sidi Ali died, he had said “For you Thursday, for me Friday,” by which he meant that Sidi Ahmed had inherited his baraka ( a crucial transfer of saintly energy )  and would be visited first, on Thursdays, at the annual moussem and pilgrimage.


Then Aisha, now without Sidi Ali there to marry or serve, began to undertake miracles of healing. She healed those who would come from afar: the desert, Algeria, Tunisia, and other cities across Morocco. She saw many people before suddenly disappearing. No one knew what happened to her or where she was. Her cave, however, remained and became a pilgrimage site just downhill from the zaouia of Sidi Ali Ben Hamdush. Despite the fact that she was no longer there, the cave,  where a great fig tree grew,  became a place where one could bring a sacrifice, light candles, and be healed. This practice entered the tradition, as people would continue to visit and live within the proximity of her past and continuing miracles. Some consider her to live there though others suggest she has no home and just visits there as one of her shrines. 


A secondary shrine,  at the foot of Ayn Kebir, provides opportunities for bathing in the spring water which flows from the cliff just below Sidi Ali’s tomb.  The water is considered  to contain much baraka and has a healing role to pilgrims.  Her second grotto is just up a few steps beside the baths.


Aisha has pivotal importance in the Hamadsha mythology both for representing and introducing the Hal,  or ecstatic trance, as well as for her dual,  contradictory nature as both a great healer as well as a great antagonist.  The Hamadcha feel a great responsibility for healing those people afflicted by Aisha and have specialised in its treatment of those possessed by Aisha Qandisha.


Sidi Ahmed lived for several years more  –  he would continue to slash his head whenever he was falling asleep as he prayed  –  and when he died he was put on a mule, as he requested, and carried as far as the mule would go. The mule collapsed at Beni Ouarad, a mile from Sidi Ali’s tomb, and it was here that he was buried and that some of his descendants settled.


Sidi Ahmed is considered responsible for the traditional head slashing undertaken by members of the Hamadsha whilst in ecstatic trance.   His trip to the Sudan is also considered to be the most important episode in all the legends of Sidi Ali and the Hamadsha;  it explains the origin of the ecstatic trance, into which the Hamadsha work themselves whilst performing Hadra, their association with music and healing,  and finally the arrival of and their intimate often contradictory relationship with Aisha Qandisha.


Sidi Ali

The town of Sidi Ali ( Beni Rachid ) is a small town on Zerhoun mountain,  just a few miles from Moulay Idress,  where worshipping the traditions of both it’s Saint and associated jinniya ( or female spirit ) is the most important business in town.  Rows of shops selling penned animals for sacrifice,  relics from dead animals and a host of other impedimenta for practicing shawafa  ( witchcraft,  divination or healing ) line its small alleys.  Practitioners of these black arts offer their services in small consultation areas bedecked with prayer beads,  candles,  flower water and other spiritual offerings draws in the unwell,  the not-coping and the superstitious eager for some change within their lives.  Evidence of the co-morbid relationship between Sidi Ali and Aisha Kandisha and its insatiable demand for devotees is everywhere.

The sanctuary of Sidi Ali looks out over the plains towards Meknes.  It is a large zaouia,  with a room containing the mausoleum of the saint himself and an entrance to its mosque at the furthest end.  Many people arrive throughout the day to remember and pay homage to the Sidi,  saying prayers and sprinkling flower water at his tomb.  I met two women who had travelled from Casablanca that day,  by taxi and train,  and were returning there that evening.  Outside the shrine women sit providing a henna service.  There is a special relationship between henna and the legends explored below.

Outside the shrine,  there is a view down to the canopied douches,  or showers, where the Ayn Kabir ( great spring and carrier of baraka from the saint’s tomb ) attracts many people each day.  This is a place of healing,  where it is traditional for pilgrims to cast off their clothing into the little group of trees there and wear new clothing after their shower,  symbolising their new found health.  A covered path of stalls selling shawafa items leads down to the douches.  Beside the douch is a shrine to Aisha Kandisha where candles may be lit,  henna offered and prayers made.  Sidi Ali and Aisha Kandisha are inextricably bound, as are Aisha Kandisha and Sidi Ahmed in the nearby town of the same name.

In Sidi Ali it is impossible to escape the aroma of sacrifice,  the symbolism of the traditions of old Morocco and the presence of the protagonists in a 300 year old legend.  Manifestations of traditions are all around,  and defy modernity and scientific progress.  Entering Sidi Ali is like returning to an earlier time.

However,  as an indication of how much of the spiritual landscape is shared between the Sufi/Trance/Healing confraternities in Morocco,  it is not just the Hamadcha brotherhood that is represented in Sidi Ali.  There is much evidence of Gnaoua influence,  from the music which is played accompanying sacrifice,  the selling of Gnaoua paraphernalia in the stalls and the dress that some of the local people choose to wear.

There is a moussem,  or festival,  once a year in Sidi Ali where the legend is remembered and honoured,


The zaouia and mosque of Sidi Ali looking back into the town. The cliff face leading down to the spring and douches can be seen to the left of the zaouia


Inside the zaouia of Sidi Ali looking towards the mausoleum of the saint through the larger of the 2 archways. No photography was allowed, certainly not in the mausoleum. People sprinkled rose water over the tomb and over their hands.


At the opposite end of the zaouia is the entrance into the Sidi Ali mosque


The view looking out from the arched entrance to the zaouia, both towards the houses from the small town and the distant plain where Meknes is situated.


The covered stepped passageway down to the douches and Aisha Qandisha shrine. Under the covers and all along the passageway are a series of shawafa items which can be seen in the Aisha Qandisha notes below.


Just outside the zaouia are stalls selling offerings to the saint. Rosewater, coloured cloths, milk, rice, candles are common. People take offerings into the shrine on the wicker platters visible in the photograph.


The stalls lead away from the zaouia and down towards the douches and Aisha Kandisha shrine. Here clothing can be seen amidst the other offerings; it is common for clothing to be shed after a douche symbolising healing.


The pathway to the douches leads to some practitioners of shawafa, using all sorts of things including boiling lead to forecast the future, make spells and cure sickness. Here is a ladle to work with boiling lead in water, the steam from the boiling water is considered healing and the formation of the lead following melting conveys clues for the future. People often ask for divination about love interests.


A practitioner of shawafa in an alley leading down towards the douches and Aisha Kandisha’s shrine. He melted lead and had private consultations with clients in the shack beside him.


Examples of a shawafa’s tools.


In the town itself, strips of lead hanging down outside of a Gnaoua shawafa practitioner.


The doorway of a Gnouia shawafa practitioner. The large horseshoe keeps away bad spirits.


Private consultation room of a shawafa practitioner, with prayer beads, flower water, koranic inscriptions and a small book of koranic prayer for healing.


Musical instruments can be seen throughout the town. Here is a Gnaouan drum used to accompany offerings for sacrifice to Aisha Kandisha’s shrine in her sanctuary at the giant fig tree. The hand signifies the Hand of Fatima, used to keep bad spirits at bay. Pens holding animals which can be bought for sacrifice are all around. These are chickens in this pen.


This man is wearing the colours of Gnaoua. What is interesting, and I have not seen elsewhere, is that he carries a ceremonial sword, musket and dagger, all bedecked in prayer beads and colour. He gives the impression of being a ceremonial warrior. He is frequently seen around Sidi Ali, both in the zaouia and in Aisha Qandisha’s grotto.


One of many pens of animals awaiting their ceremonial demise.


Sidi Ahmed

Sidi Ahmed is just a short walk from Sidi Ahmed.  I have read there is a trackway which leads between the two small towns,  but I reached Sidi Ahmed by following the road beyond Sidi Ali and turning first right,  entering the town after a few hundred yards of walking.  The donkey which,  according to legend, carried Sidi Ahmed following his death as far as possible before collapsing could not have been very healthy.

Sidi Ahmed is much smaller than Sidi Ali and there is very much a focus of the spiritual role of the town around the zaouia of Sidi Ahmed.  Whereas in Sidi Ali the shawafa stalls and animals were pretty much throughout the town,  in Sidi Ahmed there were only a few and localised just outside of the zaouia.  Also there were no external shrines to Aisha Kandisha and it would be understandable to initially believe this was much more much low key and the significant shrines were in Sidi Ali.

In fact the shrine to Aisha exists inside the zaouia,  in a room beside the mausoleum of Sidi Ahmed,  where sacrifices are conducted at the heart of the Saint’s shrine.  On the opposite side of the room from both of the shrines is a caged off area where a clairvoyant ( moqqadema ) sits next to an alter of lit candles.  She receives the offer ( in case of an animal for sacrifice ),  says blessings and invokes the mluk ( spirits ) through prayer.  In the case of a cock or chicken, she holds the animal at the back of the supplicant’s neck whilst the prayers are made.  Money is given to the clairvoyant and the pilgrim takes the offering to the small room where the sacrifice is made.

I spoke to someone outside the temple who said this is the primary shrine for Aisha and I can only assume its sharing of the zaouia with Sidi Ahmed is a symbolic reflection of their close relationship within the legend.  It was Sidi Ahmed who stole her from her husband the king of Sudan,  and in several versions of the legend I have seen it was suggested that Aisha and Sidi Ahmed were due to marry.  The shrines of Aisha and Sidi Ali are separated,  joined only  by the baraka filled waters of the Ayn Kabir,  and Aisha also has her own separate shrine entirely under the giant fig tree.  Symbolism is everything in these old legends,  and the joining of the two shrines in one building cannot be accidental.

It was interesting to watch some devotees attend either Sidi Ahmed’s or Ahisha’s shrine only,  and some paid respects at both.  Both will confer healing and protection from potential djinn interference.

I asked one woman after she paid her respects to Aisha,  whether this was Aisha’s home.  Her short reply was that Aisha has no home,  she visits shrines across the Islamic world,  from Baghdad to Morocco.


The zaouia of Sidi Ahmed containing both his mausolem, a shrine to Aisha Qandisha where offerings and sacrifices are received, blessed and the jinn invoked and a separate chamber beside Sidi Ahmed’s mausoleum where animal sacrifices are made.


Stall directly opposite the entrance to Sidi Ahmed’s zaouia selling offerings for Sidi Ahmed and animals for sacrifice as well as shawafa products to honour Aisha Qandisha


According to legend, one of Aisha Kandisha’s favourite offerings is hens and cocks. Again this stall was close to the zaouia.


A pilgrim who told me he travels across north Africa visiting and living at Hamachda zaouias. He was reluctant to have his photograph taken but did agree for to photograph his shell rimmed hat. He also had a small collection of other possessions, all colourful, organic and congruent with the Sufi philosophy,. He lived off alms.


A follower of the Hamachda brotherhood providing a demonstration of him playing his clay drum. He showed me the self inflicted scars on his scalp obtained whilst undertaking Hal ( ecstatic dance ). Such self harm is far less prevalent today. He too was hoping for alms by sitting beside the zaouia.


Entrance into the zaouia. I was intrigued by the little bands of light playing on the balustrade. The patterns of tiles are different at every zaouia, but architectually the use of tiles is ubiquitous.


Looking out into the street from inside the zaouia.




Taking photographs inside the zaouia was extremely difficult; photography was officially not allowed but I managed to discretely take several photographs but none of the mausolem of Sidi Ahmed or the shrine of Aisha where sacrifice occurred. Both rooms were busy and I was ( rightly in all honesty ) regarded with perpetual suspicion.


A devotee with an offering approaching the caged area where the clairvoyant ( seen sitting down ) received the offerings,  provided blessings and invoked the djinn.  All for a little money.  She approached me,  asking me to pay her some money for a blessing.  I graciously demurred.


This beautiful area is to the left of the clairvoyant and directly outside of the mausoleum of Sidi Ahmed and the sacrifice room of Aisha Kandisha. It was impossible to navigate further into the zaouia without greater scrutiny.


A close up view of the caged area with the clairvoyant. The devotee lights some candles to Aisha and receives the blessing from the seated clairvoyant.


Leaving the small town of Sidi Ahmed, the adjacent town of Sidi Ali can be seen across the ravine. It is just a 20 minute stroll between the two towns.


Aisha Qandisha

In Sidi Ali,  Aisha Qandisha has 2 separate shrines.  The first is under a great old fig tree.  This is quite a large area,  with a separate sacrificial area behind iron bars,  a raised dias where the male clairvoyant sits and a raised alter under the fig tree roots where henna is scattered and candles lit.  There is another area beyond this where shawafa appears to happen;  a bucket of coals is kept alight and incense burnt for people to inhale.  Across the walls here on one side words are written in dried henna;  on the opposite side candles are lit and the wall is blackened with constant candle fire and smoke.

The second is at the foot of Ayn Kabir,  the baraka invested spring which flows from the cliff under Sidi Ali’s tomb.  Her shrine here seems exclusively orientated towards healing as devotees bath in the waters of the spring,  discard old clothing in the trees there and then,  wearing new clothing,  walk up the several steps to Aisha’s shrine,  covered in henna and candles.

In Sidi Ahmed,  Aisha Qandicha’s shrine is an inclusive part of Sidi Ahmed’s zaouia.  Inside there is firstly a caged area with a shrine and candles where a clairvoyant receives offerings,  says prayers to invoke the djinn and prepares for animal sacrifice.  The animal is then taken across the inner space where sacrifice occurs in a room next to the tomb of Sidi Ahmed.

Ashia Qandisha is a she-demon, sometimes called a jinniyya or female jinn, sometimes an afrita, or giant jinn-like creature, and sometimes she is considered to be quite different from either of these. She is said to appear sometimes as a beautiful woman and sometimes as an old hag, but always with the feet of a camel or some other hoofed animal.

Despite a widespread belief in Aisha Qandisha among the northern Moroccan Arabs, the Hamadsha are her special devotees.  Following her abduction by Sidi Ahmed they hold her responsible for their trance,  capable of both healing devotees and terrorising her victims.

Although her Sudanese origin is almost universally accepted, it has been claimed that she was in fact a woman and Sidi Ali’s slave/helper and that when he was buried she suddenly disappeared and was heard laughing. “I am here,” she called out “I am dead. I’ve been carried away by my numduk (jinn).”  The myths overlap.

Some tell that she is the daughter of Sidi Shamharush, the king of the jnun;  others suggest that her mother was human and that Ather Ighud, the shepherd of the wind,  carried her mother off to the forest. This suggests

One theory is that she is among the most powerful and renowned of all Djinn. Another is that she is Astarte reduced to hanging out at hot springs now that her temples are shut, enlisting her own devotees and supplying her own human sacrifices. She may be Kadesh, the sacred harlot. Aisha may have been brought to Morocco by Jews or Phoenicians, or she may be an indigenous Berber water spirit.

Those evening encounters at springs aren’t random. She knows exactly who she’s looking for. The standard Aisha Qandisha legend suggests that if a man runs from her, she calls him by name. She knows who he is. If he can reach the company of others, he’ll be safe. If she catches him, she may drag him into the river to drown. Alternatively, she’ll ask him to make love to her. If left unsatisfied, she may then drown him, but sometimes if a man pleases her, she bestows generous gifts and spiritual protection.

Some though not all men who survive encounters with Aisha Qandisha pine for her, losing interest in human relationships. They may be treated and healed by the various Brotherhoods who venerate Aisha Qandisha. Aisha Qandisha engages in three types of relationships:

  • Very brief relationships in which she causes harm
  • Warm relationships in which she offers assistance. Maintain a home altar for her or offer an annual lavish offering or pilgrimage.
  • Very intense relationships, especially with men whom she may marry.

She can be a very demanding spirit who insists that devotees dress only in her sacred colors or that male devotees never cut their hair or fingernails. She may order that men wear only old, worn, dirty clothing (essentially isolating them from conventional society). No need to volunteer any of this. If she wants something, she’ll tell you.

Should one already possess a human partner or hope to have one in addition to Aisha, it is very crucial that this be brought up and negotiated when she first proposes marriage. Terms may be negotiated. Both sides may request giftsand lay down rules for the relationship. Aisha Qandisha may impose sexual restrictions on male devotees:

• They may have sex only with her.

• They may have sex only with her and a human spouse.

• They may have sex only with her and her female devotees.

Aisha Qandisha is associated with mud, Earth, springs, and rivers. She may render a man impotent, control his virility, or conversely bestow superhuman sexual powers. She preserves and enhances good health, good fortune, fertility, and virility when she chooses. She causes and heals the following:

• Paralysis, especially if sudden or unexplained

• Sudden deafness, blindness, and/or muteness

• Children’s illnesses

• Menstrual problems or infertility

Aisha Qandisha may cause any of the above ailments if annoyed or displeased. She may also be petitioned to remove and heal them, whether or not she is the cause. (She has dominion over these ailments and can undo another spirit’s damage or curse.) If she fulfills a request or petition, make sure to pay her what was promised and quickly or she will attack. She’s a temperamental, volatile spirit, quick to scratch, strangle, or whip those who displease her or don’t obey her commands fast enough.

Manifestations:  Aisha Qandisha usually looks like a gorgeous woman, but typically with some little giveaway that she’s more than that, such as one goat, camel, or donkey foot. She wears long robes as camouflage; the animal leg may not be immediately apparent. She also appears as a wizened hag with pendulous breasts. Alternatively she manifests with a woman’s head, breasts, and legs and a goat’s body, or as a pregnant goat with a woman’s legs. Her hair often forms snake-like curls. When Aisha wishes to travel incognito, she takes the form of a wasp. Apparitions of Aisha tend to occur near water or fig trees.

Colors: Black, red, chartreuse green

Incense: Black benzoin resin (Styrax benzoin)

Birds: Black, red, and multicolored (“seven-colored”) hens

Animals: Wasp, pig—a subversive animal for a spirit haunting the fringes of the Muslim world. Those entranced by her sometimes roll around in mud or squeal like a pig.

Sacred sites: Caves, forests, freshwater springs, rivers, and the seashore; Aisha Qandisha has a grotto beneath a giant fig tree near the tomb of the Moroccan holy man, Sidi Ali ben Hamdush. It is traditional to light candles for her before sleeping in the grotto in attempts to establish contact with Aisha or receive a healing dream.

Sacred trees: Fig; henna shrubs

Consort: Hammou Ukaiou

Elements: Water, earth (especially watery earth: mud, marshes, the shore)

Offerings: Amber, honey, cowrie shells, bread, olives. Burn candles for her. Adorn yourself with henna in her honor. When making vows to Aisha, it’s traditional to tie bits of fabric to a tree (preferably fig) as testament.

Aisha Qandisha: Paths

Aisha Qandisha may be one single spirit who demonstrates different sides of herself to different individuals or groups of people. Alternatively, there may be a family or sisterhood of Aisha spirits, similar to the various Vodou Fredas or Simbis, who may or may not all be the same spirit. Another theory suggests that the various paths of Aisha Qandisha are actually her daughters.

Lalla Aisha’s different paths are distinguished by the time of day preferred for outings. Some paths of Lalla Aisha only venture out at twilight or after dark. Others prefer the cool of the morning. While the standard description of Aisha Qandisha classifies her as a Berber or Semitic spirit, some paths emphasize her origin in sub-Saharan Africa.

Each path of Aisha has a slightly different personality, responds to different songs, and expects slightly different offerings. Each Aisha has a Moroccan saint whom she favors; she may reside or be invoked near that saint’s shrine. Devotees of the saint propitiate her. In this context she is almost inevitably addressed as Lalla Aisha, literally Lady Aisha.

Paths of Aisha Qandisha


Lalla Aisha Dghugha, also known as Lalla Aisha Dghughiyya, is associated with the Hamadsha Brotherhood and their presiding saint, Sidi Ahmed Dghugli, whom she served. Some say she was his spirit wife. She strolls after afternoon or evening prayers. Lalla Aisha appears at her small muddy pit in the corner of Sidi Ahmed’s tomb in Beni Ourad, especially during dance rituals. Black hens are vowed to her at this shrine. Do not kill the chicken! (These are her sacred birds; she can be very protective of them.) A live black hen is given to the shrine keeper at this particular shrine. He kills the hen: the blood is poured out for Lalla Aisha, and then the chicken is cooked and distributed to the poor.

Colors: Black, red

Incense: Harmal (Peganum harmala); red benzoin

Animal: Horse

Attribute: Cowrie shells


Lalla Aisha Gnawiyya is Lalla Aisha as venerated by the Gnawa Brotherhood, who consider her a Djinn or Melk. She strolls at night.

Colors: Black, yellow


Lalla Aisha Hasnawiyya is associated with Beni Hsen, near Rabat. She walks only in the early evening (the first few hours after evening prayers).

Colors: Black, red

Incense: Tar (Qatran), which allegedly ban ishes Djinn, although clearly not Lalla Aisha


Lalla Aisha Sudaniyya literally means “Sudanese Lady Aisha.” “Sudan” does not refer to the modern East African nation but to Africa south of the Sahara. She is venerated by the Hamadsha Brotherhood and has a grotto at the shrine of their saint, Sidi Ali ben Hamdush, in the village of Beni Rachid. Sidi Ali lived (and the Hamadsha emerged) during the reign of Moulay Ismail,who imported countless black slaves to labor on building projects and serve as his private guard, creating a profound sub-Saharan African influence and presence in Morocco. Lalla Aisha Sudaniyya may or may not be the same spirit as Lalla Aisha Dghugha:

• She may be a spirit from sub-Saharan Africa.

• She may be a woman who worked for Sidi Ali ben Hamdush as a servant or slave, then disappeared after his death.

• She may be the daughter of Chemharouch, King of Djinn.

• She may be the child of a spirit, Ighud, Shep herd of the Wind, and a human mother.

Her grotto near Sidi Ali’s tomb is banked on one side by the root system of an enormous fig tree. Pilgrimage to her grotto, especially in conjunction with pilgrimage to Sidi Ahmed and Sidi Ali’s tombs, allegedly provides miracle healings of infertility, children’s illnesses, and diseases caused by Lalla Aisha herself. Tie bits of rags, ribbons, or fabric to the tree as testament to vows made to Aisha. (The traditional vow is to promise to return and offer a black hen if she fulfills your request.)

See also: Aisha Qandisha; Chemharouch; Djinn; Lalla; Melk

From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes



Covered pathway leading down to the douche of Ayn Kebir, the spring of healing water which rises from the cliff beneath Sidi Ali’s tomb, alongside the shrine to Aisha Qandisha. The corridor is lined with stalls selling shawafa items.


Examples of shawafa items for sale in the corridor leading to the douche and Aisha Qandisha’s grotto. The smaller animals are boiled in water and the steam used to bring about change, either healing or attempts to communicate and appease with a spirit.


Examples of shawafa items for sale in the corridor leading to the douche and Aisha Qandisha’s grotto. The smaller animals are boiled in water and the steam used to bring about change, either healing or attempts to communicate and appease with a spirit.


Examples of shawafa items for sale in the corridor leading to the douche and Aisha Qandisha’s grotto. The smaller animals are boiled in water and the steam used to bring about change, either healing or attempts to communicate and appease with a spirit.


Candles in the rear chamber at the cave of Aisha Qandisha underneath the roots of the fig tree. Animal sacrifices to Aisha is made in the anterior room; in this space shawafa occurs with incense being burn on a brazier. Henna is spread thickly on the walls turned mostly black through candle flame.


Henna writing on the wall of the rear chamber of Aisha Qandisha’s cave beneath the roots of the fig tree. Someone at the shrine said this particular part of the shrine was to do with blessing a marriage; I have no idea of the veracity of that.


Incense being burnt in the rear room of Aisha Qandisha’s shrine beneath the roots of the fig tree. This is an example of shawafa ( divination/witchcraft ) where a person stands over the brazier and breathes the incense deeply.


Again candles in the rear room of Aisha Qandisha’s cave under the fig tree roots at Sidi Ali.


Again a candle in the rear room of Aisha Qandisha’s cave under the fig tree roots at Sidi Ali.


Again candles in the rear room of Aisha Qandisha’s cave under the fig tree roots at Sidi Ali.


A small shrine and henna writing in the rear room of Aisha Qandisha’s cave under the fig tree roots at Sidi Ali.


The entrance to Aisha Qandisha’s grotto next to the douche from the Ayn Kebir spring water. There is an alter on the right of the grotto where henna leaves are spread and candles lit, as prayers are offered.


A photograph from Sidi Ali’s zaouia of the covered corridor leading to the douche from the Ayn Kebir spring of healing water rising from beneath Sidi Ali’s tomb.


The douche where people bath and receive healing from the spring water infused with the baraka of Sidi Ali. The grotto of Aisha Qandisha is just yards to the left, up several steps.


The tree where clothing is deposited as a symbolic gesture that healing has occurred. Dispensing with clothing can either suggest the healing is instantaneous or will occur as the clothing in the tree degrades.


Inside the grotto of Aisha Qandisha, this is the chair and collection tin used by the clairvoyant who sits in the shrine receiving offerings, saying prayers and generally managing the shrine.


Candles and candle wax at the grotto of Aisha Qandisha besides the douche and spring water infused with baraka of Sidi Ali.


My conclusion is that these are the strangest and darkest set of shrines I have seen yet in Morocco.  As I have said previously,  it is like stepping back in time,  to an era where a different set of assumptions about religion,  spirits and spirit possession continues to exist.  That a town can exist on the premise that animal sacrifice can appease angry and solicitous djinns and other spirits,  and also bring about significant healing, all within a supposedly modernising country is almost beyond belief.  But old, dark Morocco continues to surface and surprise.
I have little doubt that the residents of the two towns who participate in the rituals,  routinely slaughter animals on a daily basis and continue to offer shawafa modes of intervention for health issues and to remedy difficult life circumstances,  as well as to offer protection from potential psychic attack by spirits,  believe absolutely in the rituals and practices they perform.  I also have no doubt that the hundreds of Moroccans who flock to these  services from all over Morocco also continue to believe in their power,  influence and benefits.
I have encountered manifestations of Aisha Qandisha throughout my stay in Morocco,  from the Rif mountains,  to in and around Meknes,  to the Atlas mountains and most recently to Essaouira.   Aisha Qandisha,  the enigmatic jinniyya who legend has it both heals and destroys people at will, continues to live at an almost unconscious level and be a controversial figure within Moroccan society. At both Sidi Ali and Sidi Ahmed she has shrines where those beliefs appear to come to a focus,  often in the most macabre of ways.  Also she seems to occupy a similar elevated status as those saints she is associated with.  At times it was difficult to discern whether pilgrims were coming to honour the shrines of the Saints or to pay their respects to Lalla Aisha.
That she has such a fundamental role within a Sufi Brotherhood,  who historically has seemed more intent on its rituals of self-harm whilst in states of Hal ( ecstatic trance ) and healing rather than following more conventional Sufi traditions of metaphysically becoming one with God,  is another contradiction which cannot be answered readily.  She represents the Brotherhood’s Hal,  its ecstasy, in which state members routinely self-injure and draw their own blood.
Where does she live,  other than in the minds,  hearts and souls of her followers?  In the grotto under the roots of the giant fig tree?  Or,  as the woman said in the shrine of Sidi Ahmed,  she lives nowhere but may be found from Morocco to Baghdad,  travelling from dark shrine to dark shrine.  Perhaps she enjoys a greater permanence in the minds and imaginations of those who believe in her powers and limitless capacity for healing those afflicted.


Addendum :  Further Information regarding the relationship between Henna and Aisha Qandisha,  and a explanation of the Saint’s mystical powers of Baraka

Role of Henna in contact with Aisha Qandisha

This information is taken from here

Morocco is home to several Sufi ‘brotherhoods’ or ṭuruq (singular: ṭariqa), including the Tijaniyya, the Qadiriyya, the Shadhiliyya, the ‘Issawiyya, and the Ḥamdushiyya (or Ḥamadsha, as they are commonly known). The last two are particularly known for their work with the jnun, as are the Gnawa (an ethnic minority with a Sufi-inspired religious tradition, famous for their musical lila ceremonies). Lalla ‘Aisha is one of several named jnun with whom the Ḥamadsha and Gnawa cultivate a relationship. She has a special shrine, l-ḥufra dyal ‘Aisha, ‘the grotto of ‘Aisha,’ under a fig tree near the grave of Sidi ‘Ali ben Ḥamdouche, the founding saint of the Ḥamadsha.
Henna and wax on the walls of
‘Aisha’s grotto.
How does henna relate to all this? As I mentioned, henna wards away negative energy, so it makes sense that it would appear in the context of saint veneration. When visiting saints’ tombs, one ritual activity is to apply henna there (solid application is fine) as a means of absorbing the baraka, or spiritual power, of that place; the henna is often prepared and applied by the muqaddim [guardian] of the shrine or his wife (Vonderheyden, 1934, pg. 49; Crapanzano 1973, pg. 175-176). 
Similarly, a pilgrim might rub earth or dust on their face and arms — earth from a shrine was sometimes known as l-ḥenna dyal s-siyid, ‘the henna of the saint’ (Westermarck 1926, pg. 199; Ma‘ruf 2007, pg. 144-145). When we went to the shrine of Muḥammad ben ‘Issa, the founder of the ‘Issawiyya, I saw people reaching under the tomb structure to smear dust on themselves and get close to the saint.
Understandably, the application of henna for baraka is also done at the grotto of ‘Aisha, near the shrine of ben Ḥamdouche. When I went to visit the grotto of ‘Aisha, in fact, the first thing I noticed was the familiar smell of henna. The walls were coated with a thick of layer of dried henna paste, and henna leaves and powder were scattered everywhere. 
While I was there, the guardian quickly mixed up some henna paste (there was a box of henna powder lying around, which he mixed in an empty half of a plastic bottle with water from a well in the centre of the grotto) and told me to smear it on the walls (which I did, of course!). Outside the shrine, pilgrims can purchase trays of offerings for Lalla ‘Aisha with henna, candles, incense, milk, and sweets.
Trays of offerings for Lalla ‘Aisha in Sidi ‘Ali ben Hamdouche.
But henna can also be demanded by a jinniyya of her followers, especially if they have done something to anger her (she can also demand other things, including clothes, cosmetics, incense, music, food, or animal sacrifice). The henna is usually done in an evening ceremony known as a lila, which can be dedicated to the jnun in general or to one jinniyya in particular. Three jinniyyat are especially known for their love of henna: Lalla ‘Aisha, Lalla Malika, and Lalla Mira (Butterworth and Cartier, 2010, pg. 18).
Lalla ‘Aisha is the most important and the most feared, and the Ḥamadsha consider themselves her special devotees (hence her grotto at the Ḥamadsha sanctuary). She has many manifestations, some of which have their own names (Lalla ‘Aisha Sudaniyya, Lalla ‘Aisha Dghughiyya, Lalla ‘Aisha Ḥasnawiyya, Lalla ‘Aisha Baḥriyya). She is associated with the colours black and red, and is attracted to blood and jawi incense. She often appears to men and tries to seduce them; if they recognize her and plunge a steel knife into the ground, they gain control; but if they sleep with her, they become ‘married’ (mzawwaj) to her and must always follow her demands. Crapanzano writes (1973, pg. 143):

She is always libidinous and quick-tempered. She never laughs, and she is always ready to strangle, scratch, or whip anyone who insults her or does not obey her commands… She may appear to believers either as a beauty or as a hag with long pendant breasts. Usually, even in her beautiful manifestations, she has the feet of a camel, a donkey, or an ass.

When ‘Aisha demands henna, it must be done right away. Her favourite pattern is rows of large symmetrical dots (Spadola, 1992, pp. 81, 94; Vázquez, 2010, pg. 325), and she prefers her henna to be darkened to black (with traditional methods like double application and an ammoniac soak, not PPD!).
This woman identified her henna as l-ḥinna dyal ‘Aisha, ‘the henna of ‘Aisha.’
See another example of henna for ‘Aisha in this post.
Another jinniyya who can demand henna is Lalla Malika. She is regal (her name means ‘queen’), modern, and playful; it is said that she never attacks her followers. She prefers Gnawa music to that of the Ḥamadsha, and is associated with the colours pink and purple. She loves cosmetics, perfume, and fine clothes, and her presence inspires romantic feelings and even sexual attraction. Crapanzano writes (1973, pg. 146-147):

Lalla Malika is very beautiful and dresses, as they say, with a lot of chic. She demands the same elegance of all her followers. She is a flirt and quite promiscuous, and she especially enjoys relationships with married men. I have been told she speaks only French… She likes to laugh and tickle [her followers], and she is responsible when a group of women suddenly start giggling.

Lalla Malika, as befits her personality, likes elaborate and delicate henna patterns, and in particular the traditional Fassi style (this is similar to what my colleague Kree Arvanitas found years ago in Morocco). I was told by several henna artists that while Lalla ‘Aisha likes the older style of dot-fill, Lalla Malika prefers the tree fill (shajara). It’s still unclear to me whether there are specific patterns that are done for Lalla Malika or whether any elaborate henna pattern can be associated with her. An area for further research…
This woman told me she had done this henna for Lalla Malika.
The third jinniyya who can demand henna is Lalla Mira. She is said to be an Amazigh jinniyya, and is associated with the colour yellow. She is mirthful and loves perfume, amber jewelry, sweets, and dance, but she can quickly lose her temper. Crapanzano writes (1973, pg. 148):

She lives in houses and takes her walks after afternoon prayers… She makes people laugh, but also attacks and takes possession of them. She is unmarried… Lalla Mira can attack someone who is laughing or crying a lot. Sometimes a woman who is crying is suddenly paralyzed. She continues to cry as long as she is paralyzed. You must then put henna in her hands, in her mouth, and in her nose.

Lalla Mira prefers rural-style henna, without designs, but applied solidly on hands and feet to the wrists and ankles.
I came home one day to find that my host grandmother (also
from a small Amazigh village!) had hennaed her hands
to help with her joint pain, and also ‘just because’.
So let’s say you need to do henna for a jinniyya — how does it happen? The person who is affected hosts a night-time ceremony called a lila [‘evening’] or ḥadra [‘trance’] with invited musicians (usually Ḥamadsha or Gnawa). A henna artist comes and adorns the patient with the particular patterns necessary for the ceremony (sometimes this happens the day before). The musicians recite invocations to Allah and the saints (ḥizb), short religious mantras (dikr) and special chants for the jnun (riḥ). Offerings are made to the jnun — milk, dates, henna, incense; sometimes an animal sacrifice is made. The music and dancing continues until the participants fall into a trance (ḥal) and collapse. Eventually the ceremony winds down, and the participants eat and go to sleep; if the ceremony has been successful, the patient recovers over the following days (for more complete descriptions and analyses, see Crapanzano 1973 and Kapchan 2007).
North African Jews had a similar system of interacting with the jnun, which were also known by the Hebrew name shedim or euphemisms like t-tḥata dyalna, ‘our counterparts underground’ or j-jarin dyalna, ‘our neighbours.’ The shedim were generally not named as individuals nor did they have individual personalities as among the Ḥamadsha; nonetheless, they shared many of the same properties and could be mediated the way.
Jewish hennaed dancer, Algeria,
early 20th century.
Jewish communities shared the belief that henna was an effective way of averting negative interactions with the jnun, and like the Ḥamadsha, Jews would use henna to placate spirits who had been offended or angered (Stillman 1983, pp. 492-493). Henna was also offered to the jnun at transitional times, including weddings and housewarmings (Malka 1946, pg. 59; Zafrani 1969, pg. 123).
Moroccan and Algerian Jews also held a special ceremony, like the lila, known as sulḥa or salḥa (Allouche-Benayoun, 1999: 208-209). It was explained to me that when someone was very ill, it was believed that they had offended one of the underground spirits. They would keep the ill person in the house for eight days, and have them drink a special herbal beverage called sulḥa [sarsaparilla]. 
After eight days, they brought a troupe of non-Jewish musicians [Gnawa?] to play and dance and the ill person would be hennaed on their hands and feet (I don’t know whether it was solid application or particular designs). 
The patient would then be brought to a place with naturally flowing water, where they would throw in the sulḥa drink, cakes made of semolina and honey, and the dried henna paste; they would ask G!d to protect and heal the afflicted person, and to forgive them any wrong they may have done. The musicians would play fast-paced music and the women would dance themselves into a trance: “We would lose everything. We didn’t know where we were, really, not at all… And this black man would [also] go into a trance, and dance, and then he would faint. When he fainted, we would say, ‘This is it, the jnun have left.’”
SO: what does this mean for us as henna artists? While we may not follow the Ḥamadsha path or even believe in the existence of jnun, I think there are lessons here for all henna artists. When I think of the jinniyyat, I think of different ways of bringing them into our henna work. 
Lalla ‘Aisha for me is a symbol of power in henna — bold henna, henna with a purpose, henna that jumps out and demands that you pay attention to it. When I need to do henna with a forceful energy, to stand out in a crowd or to protect me in a moment of transition, I channel Lalla ‘Aisha and invite her presence in the design. 
Lalla Malika for me is a symbol of beauty in henna — delicate henna, flirtatious henna, henna that showcases the artist’s skill and delights the eye. When I need to do henna that will captivate and seduce, that will make people ooh and ahh, I channel Lalla Malika and invite her presence in the design.
And Lalla Mira is my favourite, a symbol of simplicity in henna — henna that isn’t striking or beautiful, henna that isn’t powerful or fancy, just henna for the sake of henna, henna that is satisfied with itself. When I do henna for myself, for no reason other than the joy that henna brings me, I invite Lalla Mira, and I feel her presence.
Thank you, Morocco, for all the wonderful experiences, and thank you, dear readers, for following along! The travel is over but the journey continues…
Allouche-Benayoun, Joëlle. The Rites of Water for the Jewish Women of Algeria: Representations and Meanings. In Women and Water: Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law, ed. Rahel Wasserfall, University Press of New England, 1999, pp. 198-216.
Butterworth, Lisa Kenzi, and Nic Tharpa Cartier. Moor: A Henna Atlas of Morocco. Self-published, 2010.
Crapanzano, Vincent. The Ḥamadsha: A Study in Moroccan Ethnopsychiatry. University of California Press, 1973.
Crapanzano, Vincent. Tuhami: portrait of a Moroccan. University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Kapchan, Deborah. Traveling Spirit Masters: Moroccan Gnawa Trance and Music in the Global Marketplace. Wesleyan University Press, 2007.
Ma‘ruf, Muḥammad. Jinn Eviction as a Discourse of Power: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Moroccan Magical Beliefs and Practices. Leiden: Brill, 2007.
Malka, Elie. Essai d’ethnographie traditionnelle des Mellahs: ou croyances, rites de passage, et vieilles pratiques des Israélites marocains [An attempt at a traditional ethnography of the mellahs: or beliefs, passage rituals, and old customs of Moroccan Jews]. Rabat: Imprimerie Omnia, 1946.
Maréchal, Brigitte, and Felice Dassetto (eds). Hamadcha du Maroc: Rituels musicaux, mystiques et de possession [The Ḥamadsha of Morocco: musical, mystical, and possession rituals]. Louvain University Press, 2014.
Pandolfo, Stefania. Impasse of the Angels: Scenes from a Moroccan Space of Memory. University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Spadola, Emilio. The Calls of Islam: Sufis, Islamists, and Mass Mediation in Urban Morocco. Indiana University Press, 2014.
Stillman, Norman. Women on Folk Medicine: Judaeo-Arabic Texts from Sefrou. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 103, No. 3, 1983, pp. 485-493.
Vázquez, Araceli González. La henna y la sangre de las mujeres: Antropología del cuerpo e Islam en Marruecos [Henna and Women’s Blood: the Anthropology of the Body and Islam in Morocco]. In Desvelando el cuerpo: perspectivas desde las ciencias sociales y humanas, ed. Josep Martí and Yolanda Aixelà, Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2010, pp. 317-322.
Vonderheyden, Madeleine. Le henné chez les Musulmans de l’Afrique du Nord [Henna among the Muslims of North Africa]. Journal de la Société des Africanistes, Vol. 4, no. 1, 1934, pp. 35-61.
Westermarck, Edvard. Ritual and Belief in Morocco. London: Macmillian, 1926.
Zafrani, Haïm. Pédagogie juive en terre d’Islam [Jewish pedagogy in the Islamic world], Paris: Maisonneuve, 1969.
An Explanation of Baraka,  the Saint’s Mystical Energy
An understanding of baraka is key to understanding the complicated nature of ‘Saintliness’.

It has been described in the following way :   “Literally, “baraka” means blessing, in the sense of divine favour….  It encloses a whole range of linked ideas: material prosperity, physical well-being, bodily satisfaction, completion, luck, plentitude, and, the aspect most stressed by Western writers….. magical power.  In broadest terms, “baraka” is not, as it has so often been represented, a para-physical force, a kind of spiritual electricity  a view which, though not entirely without basis, simplifies it beyond recognition  ……  it is a conception of the mode in which the divine reaches into the world, implicit, uncriticised, and far from systematic,  it too is a doctrine.”     Clifford Geertz 1968

It can also be considered as a mode of construing—emotionally, morally, intellectually—human experience, a cultural gloss on life. And though this is a vast and intricate problem,what this construction, this gloss, comes down to, … is the proposition ( again, of course, wholly tacit )  that the sacred appears most directly in the world as an endowment – a talent and a capacity, a special ability – of particular individuals. Rather than electricity, the best (but still not very good) analogy for “baraka” is personal presence, force of character, moral vividness. Marabouts [saints] have “baraka” in the way that men have strength, courage, dignity, skill, beauty, or intelligence. Like these,  though it is not the same as these,  more even thanf all of them put together, it is a gift which some men have in greater degree than others, and which a few, marabouts, have in superlative degree. The problem is to decide who (not only, as we shall see, among the living, but also among the dead) has it, how much, and how to benefit from it.   Vincent Crapanzano in The Hamadsha: A Study in Moroccan Ethnopsychiatry

There are considered to be two types of baraka:

  • institutionalized baraka, which is inherited by descendants of saints and of the Prophet Mohammed; such baraka cannot be diminished, but it can be transmitted to others.   A surrogate form of this transfer is for the saint to take a student and cultivate a relationship of subservience and duty thereby emulating a paternal relationship.  In this way, baraka is transmitted and inherited over a period of time.  This is how Sidi Ahmed received baraka from Sidi Ali.


  • personal baraka, which is acquired/earned in one’s lifetime through personal merit and depends on character, piety, spirituality, moral fiber, and natural gifts (such as the gift of healing); such baraka is not inheritable, but it can be transmitted. Personal baraka is not something that one can hoard and use at a later date; rather, it manifests itself immediately in good health, fertility, or good fortune. Baraka can be received/acquired directly or indirectly by contact with someone or something possessing a lot of baraka.

Sidi Ali was believed to have obtained his baraka by surreptitiously drinking all the water from the water bag of Bu-abid Sharki, another saint, who had previously bestowed baraka to others by allowing 40 people each year to drink from his bag. Following discovery of the theft, Sharki ordered his men to chase Sidi Ali to Marrakech where, after he performed some miracles,  he was considered a Saint.

  • Henna has intrinsic baraka that benefits those who apply it to their skin or hair. Repeated application of henna is required to continue the transmission of baraka. The use of henna for important events such as weddings and circumcisions ensures that participants, who may be in a vulnerable state during these events, are endowed with baraka to protect and bless them.