Les Amours Sorcières by Tahar Ben Jelloun is a collection of 20 short stories on the theme of love, passion, betrayal and friendship. What I found interesting about these tales was the embedded richness of Morrocan traditions and rituals. He intertwines his love stories with the use of sorcery, superstitions, and old wive tales. As the characters evaluate their relationships and the possibility of old superstitions controlling their situation or partner’s behavior, the author continually evokes the question: Can truly rational beings believe in outside forces controlling their destiny/fate?
In the short story L’Amour Sorcier, Hamza, a confirmed bachelor, falls for an independent woman: Najat. After being in a relationship with her for a while, he realizes that he has lost his edge and “freedom”. Not before long, he yearns for his independence and confides in a friend who tells him— she must have seen a charlatan to cast a spell on him why he can’t get rid of her like the other girls. After hearing this, he begins to question whether that is indeed possible. How could modern, rational women have recourse to such practices from the Middle Ages? He concludes that Moroccan society can’t escape its old demons and that they approach modern life keeping one foot deeply rooted in in the Middle Ages. He even goes on to suggest that these beliefs and practices is precisely why Morocco is “behind” compared to the West.
“Comment était-ce possible? Des femmes apparemment modernes, cultivées, séduisantes, faisant appel à l’irrationnel le plus aberrant pour résoudre des problèmes affectifs? Il en déduisit que la société marocaine ne pouvait échapper à ses vieux démons et qu’elle affronte la modernité en gardant un pied bien enraciné dans le Moyen Âge.” Excerpt from L’Amour Sorcier by Tahar Ben Jelloun
However, given his desperation he goes to see a fqih to fix his situation. The fqih writes something on a paper which he folds in 4 and gives it to him to keep on his person. The fqih takes two other pieces of paper and writes something on them and folds them in two and tells him to put the second paper in a basin of water to dissolve the ink and bathe in it. He tells him to tie the third piece of paper to a tree, out of the reach of children, so that the wind will work on the words to make them effective. Hamza performs these rituals and is relieved. He is also able to break free from Najat without rue. On her part, Najat is unable to understand his sudden change of heart and confides in her mother, who suspects the use of sorcery. Najat too is surprised and replies how can a modern man, who loves jazz and classic cinema resort to such irrationality.
Along the same lines the short story Homme Sous Influence tells the story of an accomplished professor of Applied Mathematics and Physics named Anwar who sees his whole world fall apart in a matter of days. He is told that his recent misfortunes are the result of the Evil Eye cast upon him by his enemies (people jealous of his success and his ex-wife) and so he must see a fqih to get rid of the curses. Of course at first Anwar, a man of science and logic, is a huge skeptic and refuses to accept these old Moroccan superstitions but as a result of his desperate situation has recourse to the fqih’s help.
More broadly speaking these short stories adduce the following questions:
1) Must an ideal modern society be based solely on what is Rational? Scientific reasoning?
2) Are cultures/nations that value or abide by superstitions indicative of backwardness?
3) Does progress mean denying ancestral traditions to be more like the West (or our perception of Western societies)?