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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Yemanja Day Is Here

First of all, I want to wish you a very Happy and Prosperous New Year. We all could probably use a bit of joy and prosperity in our lives this year. Today I was going to blog about the differences between various sects of Brazilian folk religions. However, I see that the calendar has made it to December 31, which in Rio de Janeiro is Yemanjá Day. She is one of the two “saints of my head” (I’ll explain that in forthcoming blogs), so to honor this incredibly beautiful and powerful orixá, in this blog I will describe her day.


If you need to get to the beach by taxi in Rio on the night of December 31, you’ll have a hard time finding a conveyance because the entire city throngs there. Among other entertainment, fireworks are set off at midnight atop the tallest hotels, and the sparkling color and popping sound dazzle the senses. At the same time, entire terreiros (temples of worship of the orixás) pick up stakes and more to the beach to perform rituals (with drumming) in honor of Yemanjá. They even plant palms in the sand and set up little tents. The public lines up to have their fortunes told (for a price). These rituals are more of the commercial type with lots of glitz and show, but they do give the tourist, who otherwise would never be able to find a terreiro, let alone participate in a rite, a very general idea of what goes on.


On other areas of the beach, families and friends gather and carve holes in the sand, which they fill with lighted candles and flowers. They also construct miniature wooden boats and decorate them with flowers, combs, bars of soap, mirrors, tiny perfume bottles, and even jewelry, especially necklaces made from shells. At midnight during the explosion of fireworks, followers of Yemanjá, the Orixá of the Vibratory Force of the Sea and Mother of Pearls, murmur prayers and launch their candlelit crafts into the sea. The observer can see myriads of little lights as the “boatlets” take off on their journeys, bobbing on the waves. Then the practitioner may immerse him or herself into the foaming surf for a purification bath.


I know I am reaching my word limit, so I will make this anecdote brief about how ingrained the worship of this Lady is in people’s psyche. One year a few days before the 31st, I was lounging on the beach with a group of friends. One guy—I’ll call him Marcos—took two pails and filled one with sea water and the other with sand. When I asked what he was doing this for, he answered, “For Yemanjá Day.” But Marcos, I said, “I thought you were a Marxist.” “I am,” he replied. “But you see, for the first time in my life I am going to be away from Rio in another city on New Year’s Eve. I always take a purification bath on that eve. So I thought what I might do instead is to pour the sand and water over my head at midnight.” So much for Marxism.


You may have noticed that in this blog I did not describe Yemanjá. I shall do so next time around because there’s too much to say for one post. Tchau!


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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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  • Ms. Lilypads
    Ms. Lilypads Monday, 31 December 2012

    I definitely want to hear more about Yemaya, my favorite orisha. I first learned of her from the book "Jambalaya." As far as I'm concerned, not enough info has been written about her -- or at least, I haven't run across much info.

  • Caroline Dow
    Caroline Dow Sunday, 13 January 2013

    Hello Ms. Lilypads - I'm going to try to do 1-2 more posts on Yemanja during this month to give you a better idea. I just posted one yesterday.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Wednesday, 02 January 2013

    Wonderful post. :) And that sounds like a wonderful New Year's Eve. It reminds me a lot of Apuleius' description of the Isidis Navigium in "The Golden Ass. "

  • Caroline Dow
    Caroline Dow Sunday, 13 January 2013

    Hi Rebecca - It does sound rather like that now that you mention it. The occasion gets the New Year off to a roaring start.:)

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