Brazil is the world’s largest population of Catholics with an estimated 130 million followers. So, it was obvious this trip was going to be focused around the big JC; however I have had two completely unique encounters in Sao Paulo that I wasn’t expecting.
I was hosted in Sao Paulo by my dear friend Giovanna, whom I shared a room with in Ubud when we were teaching English in Bali. She offered to take me to see her chosen religion in action. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity, so with her family leading the way we went. Umbanda – an Afro Brazilian tradition dating back to when the African slaves were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. We were treated as guests of honour as we had told the leader what my trip was about and that I was interested in all things faith. There, on a small stage elevated above the congregation by maybe half a metre, we sat behind the draped white curtains, in the heart of the action. And action it was. Starting in darkness the participants (mediums) were dressed in flowing white skirts and tops with different colour sashes, symbolising their rankings in the hierarchy of that centre. The women were on the left; the men on the right.
An outstanding band of drummers was off to the side, and boom, it started! LOUD is not the word the beating of the drums pounded into my heart and soul, in a good way, and then the chanting started by the leader and two male singers whose voices echoed equally through my every being. Dancing and chanting before an altar of candles and 17 figurines/entities, ranging from Jesus Christ, Indians, Catholic saints and even a sea goddess. It started with greetings and hand signals between the mediums which I likened in my mind to secret handshakes. There were circles of dancing and erratic movements as the spirits entered. A series of circle-based dances were performed, cleansing the room, clearing the evil, and all negativity that we carry with us. All our doubt, anger and jealousy were cleared. The room must be pure for the spirits. The lights went on and the dancing continued and then we were summoned to the middle circle. Hands were laid on me and turned around three times (ofcourse the magic number) [M1] and sat back onto my seat. Only myself, Giovanna and her mum Angelina were ‘blessed’ in this way then the ritual continued, again we were summoned and this time after our three turns we were led to the leader Gina, who touched different parts of my body in a sweeping motion or hand patter – shoulder, tummy, hips. I was turned around and the same was done on my back. Then I got a hug and a kiss – nice.
This time the congregation came to the stage (shoes off) through to the circle then in lines to the mediums of which there was about 15, for what looked like when you go to the front of the church for prayer. However this was more conciliatory and I found out later it is for advice, prayer or guidance. It was a lovely gesture. All the while the drums continued to play and then there was another blessing where I was led to Americo, the gentleman who originally invited us to participate on stage. This was again the hand movements upon my front and back, chanting with words of encouragement and the customary cuddle. Finally, it was candlelight only again for the closing of the ritual where the mediums allow the manifested spirits to leave them and return to themselves, ready to face the world after having blessed others through the entities that were the leaders of this group.
A delightful evening and whether my faith allows me to believe that spirits were in that room, the feeling of closeness to God and humanity was following through me as I left and the beating of drums will beat in my heart for years to come.
Yours in Faith,
The Unlikely Pilgrim
[M1]Another connection to the number 3 perhaps? All your other blogs have highlighted the importance of doing things 3 times as rituals. Maybe this is another one of those?