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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I’m new at blogging here, so please bear with me. I didn’t realize that the blogs should be longer, as my other blog at is short, but I do more frequent postings. So I am going to start over again with popular religions in Brazil.


By “popular,” I mean religions that are practiced by the people in general. Practitioners can come from any socioeconomic or ethnic group, but generally, all but Espiritismo contain a large African influence. Espiritism is more European because it was founded by a Frenchman, but even this religion is somewhat influenced by African precepts and practices.


I’m beginning these blogs by giving a brief description of the major sects. These, of course, vary in traditions from region to region, and even from group to group, but they do fall into some fairly well defined categories. If you already are familiar with each sect and their general beliefs, they you should check in at a later date for when I give more detailed information. For example, as time goes by, you will receive a lot of data on Pomba Gira, the female messenger of the gods, because I am currently writing a book about this entity.


So today, I will briefly talk about Spiritism:


Spiritism, or Espiritismo, as it is called in Brazil, should not be confused with 19th century American Spiritualism, although both religions hold some common beliefs. Espiritismo is founded on the doctrines of a French doctor, philosopher, and phrenologist named Denizard Hippolite-Leon Rivail (1804-1869). Early on, he changed his name to Allan Kardec, and so the religion is sometimes called Kardecismo.


Espiritism arrived in Brazil along with Spiritualists and homeopathic doctors during the latter half of the 19th century. The doctrines caught the attention of Emperor Pedro II and his Cabinet, and thereby, gained legitimacy.


This religion has all but died out in Europe, but it thrives in Brazil, with a major center plus publisher of Spiritist books located in the city of São Paulo. During the last military regime that ended in 1985, it was rumored that many practitioners came from military backgrounds. This is no rumor. I have witnessed this myself when I attended Spiritist sessions. Do you need to believe in homeopathy to practice this religion, although some followers do both. In fact, homeopathy is very popular in Brazil. Many Brazilians do not separate taking care of the body and the mind from taking care of the spirit, and they may do all of this in multiple ways.


Although many books on Espiritismo exist, the major theories are outlined by Kardec in three fundamental works, all of which have been translated to English. These books include:  The Book of Spirits, The Gospel According to Spiritism, and The Book of Mediums.


In a nutshell, and this, I know, is oversimplifying, Spiritists believe that spirits of humans who have died as well as masters on the inner planes of the worlds beyond endeavor to contact terrestrial beings to guide our lives onto the path of spiritual self-development as well as to give us messages of solace and hope. These souls may be reached through mediums, who prepare their minds and bodies to receive these messages so they can be transmitted in order to heal others


A typical Spiritist session begins by everybody coming to a simple center or chapel, or even to an individual’s living room. Often there is a plain altar draped with a plain white cloth, ornamented only by two lighted candles. Most practitioners and attendees wear white. After a sermon, A circle is formed, an offering of a white or red rose is put in the middle of the floor or on the table or on the altar, along with a glass of purified water. Attendees may hold hands; prayers and chanting ensue to balance positive and negative energies, sometimes by the leader, sometimes by all joining in. The mediums in the group soon fall into trances and render their messages and perform healings. Then, thanks is given, the mediums recover from their trances, and often food is served for grounding purposes. The way the mediums enter the trance is very different from other religions that I will describe later. Sometimes you don’t even know, or hardly know that the medium has assumed another persona until they begin speaking. This procedure is different from other religions that I will describe later.


During the ceremony, mediums will often read attendees’ auras in order to diagnose disease and assess their mental, physical, and spiritual state, as well as to understand the individual’s progress on the path of spiritual development. They interpret colors in the following way:  light green for tranquility, dark green for jealousy or treachery, red for passion, dark red or pink for love and friendship, orange for ambition or pride, gray for self-absorption or depression, light gray for doubts and fears, dark gray for cheating, lying, or hypocrisy, black for bitterness or revenge, and blue of highly developed spirit.


Spiritism is a religion of hope because for the Spiritist, death does not exist. They believe that the individual passes on to a higher spiritual realm of existence.



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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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  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Monday, 17 September 2012

    Terrific post! :) I am really looking forward to the Pomba Gira post. Will you be writing about Maria Lionza, at all, even though she is honored mostly in Venzuela?

  • Caroline Dow
    Caroline Dow Saturday, 20 October 2012

    Hi Rebecca, Sorry my reply is so late. I'm just getting the hang of this blogging thing on this site. I know of Maria Lionza, but I am not really familiar with her, as she is worshipped mainly in Venezuela, and I have concentrated on Brazil. (Ah, the drawbacks of specialization!). But I would be delighted to learn more from you on the subject.

  • Theresa Wymer
    Theresa Wymer Friday, 21 September 2012

    How wonderful to see good, solid writing about Brazilian spiritual and folk traditions in English! Muitíssima obrigada!

  • Caroline Dow
    Caroline Dow Saturday, 20 October 2012

    Thank you so much, Theresa. I am honored that you enjoy my writing. I'm sorry for this late reply. I did not know until recently how to reply to comments. I hope you receive this. I hope to go through descriptions, then practices, and later focus on Pomba Gira because I'm currently writing a book about her. Salve! Caroline

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Wednesday, 31 October 2012

    @Caroline: actually, I don't know much about Maria Lionza either. :( There just isn't much about her in English, aside from a short wikipedia entry.

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