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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Carnival 3


Well, I’m finally getting more or less accustomed to the new system on the new computer. Still a lot to get used to, and I’m afraid it is slowing me down.


Before I launch into more info about Brazilian Carnaval and how it relates to the folk religions, I’d like to mention to all of you who reside in Northern Colorado that I have a venue coming up. On Saturday, April 12, along with other regional authors, I will be signing books at The Longmont Public Library as part of their regional Colorado authors festival. I will be there from 2 PM to 3:30 PM. Among other titles, I will be signing MAGIC FROM BRAZILand SARAVÁ BRAZILIAN MAGIC. I’ll also talk about the current book I’m writing now, tentatively titled POMBA GIRA SPELL BOOK. Now back to the topic at hand:




(By the way, I spell it with an “a” not “i”, as this is how it is spelled in Portuguese.)


The Carnaval season in Brazil begins right before Christmas. Between Christmas and Lent, many public and private offices in the towns and cities remain closed or only open for business sporadically as the people prepare to celebrate the holiday season. Although the most renowned festivities take place in Rio de Janeiro, the holiday is celebrated throughout the nation. Even in small towns in the interior one of the perennial topics of conversation is how great their own Carnaval was last year and how it will be improved this year.


As an aside, if and when you travel to Brazil, I suggest that the first Carnaval you attend should be the one in Rio because of all the energy and pizzaz. However, the second Carnaval should be in a small town, as it is so much fun and not at all commercialized. If you insist on going to another big city, I recommend Carnaval in Recife, which is way up north.


The Carnaval season parallels some of the most important folk religion holidays as well. For example, Yemanjá Day is celebrated on December 31 in Rio and on February 2 in Bahia. In Rio, too, the city’s saint day (I think it falls on January 27, although I may be wrong as to the exact date—maybe it’s the 26th) is about the same time as the beginning of the Carnaval season. The city’s saint is Sebastián, and the entire name of the city is São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro; that is, St. Sebastian of the River of January. Of course St. Sebastian is really Oxóssi in the folk religions.


Also the idea of frenetic dancing and dressing up in costumes parallels how in the folk religions mediums dance wildly until they become possessed by their entity. Then they are taken back into the wardrobe room and dressed in the style of their entity. They come back to the dance floor as the entity incarnate.


Back to Carnaval:  In Rio, many different activities are offered for entertainment during Carnava Week, which usually occurs around the second week of February. For example, there are dances at the big clubs and hotels—often televised—such as the Baile dos Enxutos (Dance of the Elegant People), which honors Momus, god of Carnaval. The official dance used to be held in the elegant and historical downtown Municipal Theater, but the crowds eventually all but destroyed the interior, which subsequently underwent extensive remodeling.


There is also the Festa de Bonecas (Festival of Dolls) for female impersonators, held on the Friday night before Carnaval in Praça Tiradentes (Toothpuller’s Plaza—a reference to an 18th century rebellion). A mystique has evolved around the bonecas, and this competition is taken seriously by many Brazilians who spend a good deal of time and money preparing for the event. Some contestants have been known to depilate themselves and take silicone injections.


Moreover, a luxury costume contest takes place at the Municipal Theater, where the participants exhibit through their mode of dress such opulent themes as Ra, the Sun-King of Egypt and Her Majes;y of the Independence and Glory of Portugal. One of the most famous contestants of all time, Clóvis Bornay, dressed as the Devil with Green Eyes. He descended to the theater from a smoke-filled second-story window across the street at the National Library.


How do these last features parallel the folk religions?  Often the themes fr the Baile will draw upon some of the entities (not the gods—orixás, but entities) of the Brazilian pantheon. These include magi from ancient cultures such as the Egyptian and Chinese. (These are called Orientais—Orientals in the Brazilian folk religions, and these entities are supposed to be very powerful and wise). The cross-dressing idea of the bonecas can be linked to various aspects of the religion—one is to cause laughter, which is something that the orixás the Ibeji (twins) do. For it is believed that laughter is the most powerful weapon against negativity. The bonecas can be very funny and part of their persona is to make people laugh good-naturedly. Also many male mediums will become possessed by female orixás, as female mediums may be possessed by male orixás. And there is absolutely no stigma attached to this practice. Moreover, the idea of being able to transform yourself into a completely different entity, spirit, or whatever you want to call it, is rooted in the religion and carried on to Carnaval.


I’ve gone on for a while now. Next time I’ll brush on some of the dances and how they mimic the religious dances as well as the development of the samba schools. I hope to eventually get to the musical instruments, which are equally visible in the religion as in the Carnaval tradition.

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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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