Pagan Paths

Delve into a fascinating cultural force and deeply spiritual tradition that comprises the axe--power--of Brazilian magickal religions. Followers of all paths will find something unique to incorporate into their lives.

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Final General Thoughts on the Orixas

Hello again. Hope everyone is having a fine Memorial Day weekend. I’m spending mine between weeding, running and working at the computer.


In my April entry, I was working my way around to talking about the orixás of the Afro-Brazilian pantheons, prior to focusing on individual ones. One question that seems to arise frequently is how an individual orixá can descend into the place of worship (terreiro); that is, put in an appearance by taking possession of a medium’s body, actually many, many mediums’ bodies at the same time? Isn’t the orixá a single entity? Well, yes and no.


Since the chief orixás consist of pure spirit, and therefore can never incarnate, the minor orixás are the ones who enter the bodies of the mediums. They can possess many mediums in several geographical locations simultaneously simply because they form aspects of the principal orixás, and thus, are gifted with ubiquity.


Another term you might want to be familiar with when it comes to these entities is the concept of “syncretization.” Because points of communality exist between the natures and powers of the orixás and the saints of the Roman Catholic Church, and since this common ground makes the African deities easier for people to understand, the orixás often are associated with the Catholic saints by way of a process called “syncretization.” Ogum is linked to St. George, Oxóssi with St. Sebastian, Xangô with St. Jerome, and so forth. Depictions of the orixás even include many of the same symbols. However, the orixás really have nothing to do with saints.


Saints can be understood as perfected human spirits who once walked the Earth. According to Afro-Brazilian doctrine, the major orixás are not former human beings; they are not perfected spirits, and they never lived on Earth. They simply embody different types of pure energy.

Lines of Umbanda

The orixás of most of the Afro-Brazilian traditions are organized into a series of Lines. The number of Lines, and the orixás that govern them, and the minor deities within each line sometimes differ. But many of them are divided as they are in Umbanda. So this is the path I will use as an example. Next I will name the seven Lines of Umbanda, the names and syncretic names of the orixás that lead them, and their general characteristics.


Line of Oxalá, or Line of the Saint (Jesus Christ). His dominion is the creation of the world and the creative forces of Nature. He is the father of the orixás.


Line of Yemanjá (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of the Glory, Our Lady Star of the Sea or the Virgin Mary). She is the universal sea goddess.


Line of Ogum (St. George). He is the deity of metals and warfare, and patron of soldiers.


Line of Oxóssi (St. Sebastian). He is the Lord of the Hunt.


Line of Xangô (St. Jerome). He is the thunder and tempest deity.


Oriental Line. This line encompasses the Oriental, Hebraic and Egyptian spirits, some of whom, contrary to what I said above, may have incarnated at one time. Their aspect is different from that of an actual orixá.


Line of Exu, or African Line, or Line of the Souls. The chief of this Line is Omulu (St. Lazarus, St. Benedict, St. Rock). He is the god of pestilence, disease, and medicine. He is not a perfected spirit or a saint. However, some entities within this line may be, such as the perfected spirits of old Black slaves (Pretos Velhos). The Pretos Velhos are a uniquely Brazilian phenomenon, about which I will spend some time later.


I know this leaves out Nanã, Oxum, Iansã, Ossãe, the Ibeji and others. I will discuss them at another time. As you can see, these religions are complicated—more complicated than anything in the Judeo-Christian mythology, and we need to go step-by-step to obtain a good understanding. Thank you for your patience.


And if there’s anything particular you would like me to discuss in a blog, please let me know. Otherwise, I will work my way through the various orixás and the practices surrounding them.


Until June, then! Caroline.

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Caroline Dow holds a Ph.D. in Luso-Brazilian Studies, is a former Fulbright Fellow to Brazil, professor at Brown and Pittsburgh universities, and current intercultural trainer and assessor. She has authored 15 books on Wicca, Magick, Brazilian traditions, and mystery novels. As a Wiccan High Priestess and Ceremonial Magician, she brings an unique perspective to the study of Brazilian folk traditions.
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  • Jamie
    Jamie Saturday, 25 May 2013

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

    While my own religious beliefs lean toward Hellenistic Platonist Paganism, I make it my business to try to understand the basics of other non-Abrahammic faiths. Fascinating stuff.

  • Caroline Dow
    Caroline Dow Saturday, 25 May 2013

    Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog, Jamie. Alas, I only have time to blog once a month, but I try to pack in a lot of info each time. You might possibly be interested in my author blog at, which although shorter, I manage to do twice weekly.
    Blessed Be! Caroline

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