The supernatural, religion and art

Some Moroccan beliefs came before Islam, but today they sit alongside each other side by side. This is probably one of the most fascinating things about Morocco, the new religion living alongside the older more traditional beliefs of the rural Berber communities. Some of the Berber beliefs are frowned upon by those who have embraced Islam over the years, but they have continued to exist despite this. One of the most fascinating Berber beliefs is Animism: the belief that animals and objects can be animated by spirits. Much of Moroccan art has been influenced by Berber rural beliefs and traditions; while Islam has had more influence on urban art. The representations of animals and humans, although not necessarily approved of by Islam continue to feature in some artwork today, although perhaps less so in the work created for the tourist industry. There is great faith in the supernatural powers in Morocco today as there is faith in Allah, and there is a heritage of artistic traditions that live alongside the Muslim faith.

Berbers believe in the existence of Baraka and this is deeply entrenched in Moroccan religious beliefs and goes some way to in understanding some Moroccan art. Baraka is related to the power of the Sufi brotherhood and their Saints. Baraka can be found in jewellery, talismans, ceramics and textiles. It can often help an artist reach a higher and deeper level of understanding while he is working and help him to express himself creatively. Through his art the Berber artisan can help ward off dark spirits through potent symbols and motifs. Younger Moroccans no longer truly believe in the Baraka apart from some of the older Moroccans and the Berbers themselves.

Numerology also has a large part to play in Moroccan beliefs with the numbers 3, 5, 7, 9 and their multiples being significant as they are believed to have magic properties. Magic squares come with vertical and diagonal lines in them with numbers that add up to the same answer whichever way they are counted up and give protection against the evil eye. Those considered the most vulnerable and impressionable to the evil eye are babies, pregnant women and new brides. The evil eye is given out in the form of stares and glances from people that can cause bad luck, artists incorporate preventative measures into their work so as to ward off the evil eye and the djoun.

The djoun is an evil spirit that can come in the form of an animal and they are also known as “Those Others,” they come from underground dwellings to haunt humans and to wreak havoc. They can take the form of cats, dogs, and the djoun can be seen represented in weaving, embroidery, jewellery, and leatherwork. The hand and the eye can also offer great protection from the evil eye and djoun. The hand represents the number five and both the hand and eye are also featured heavily in embroidery and jewellery.

So although some artwork created for the tourist industry may not necessarily incorporate some of these more ancient and potent symbols, Islam and Berber beliefs still act as a catalyst for Moroccan art and give a fascinating insight into the beliefs and traditions of Moroccan people.

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