How Brazilian
Employers employ

AFRO-BRAZILIAN GODS
for
TWELVE STEP MEETINGS

IN Brazil

 

by JOHN E. BURNS

"as the brain clears, and the fear of life subsides, they seek depth"

Alcoholics Anonymous and its prolific Twelve Step progeny are clearly monotheistic, Christian and egocentric.1  It is my contention that for the isolated and paranoid narcotic and alcohol dependent from a traditional monotheistic, Christian, egocentric culture, the Twelve Steps are a good place to start recovery. Maybe it is not ideal, but the simple language is universally available and easily establishes communication and possibly a therapeutic relationship, step by step. Some recovering addicts and comfortable within this traditional context, but others contest the extrinsic male "Higher Power" promoting progress towards perfection, even though the Twelve Steps attempt to take the harsh edge off this theology by inserting, "God, as we understood Him."

CONTENTS

-Afro-Brazilian History
-Salvador, Bahia
-Condomble
-Initiation Ceramony
-Common Gods
-Footnotes
-Orisha Art
by Francisco Santos
-Haiti: Psychology of Black

"As a white male from the Christian tradition, I can only observe and appreciate this non-linear, polytheistic, poetic set of gods which is so real among its adherents"

Because Twelve Step groups are entirely voluntary, retention rates are low,2 although it must be recognized that the self-help movement is the financially accessible mass therapy of the moment which has improved millions of lives. Recovery rates improve dramatically when the alcoholic is coerced into a consideration of the Twelve Steps. Corporations in Brazil are able to mandate the employee who compulsively uses mood changing chemicals to attend a weekly Twelve Step meeting on the work site on company time as a condition for continuing employment, and to do so for as long as two years.3 This is a highly effective method for curtailing the abusive use of mood altering substances.

Since the participants are not voluntarily present at these worksite meetings that do not suffer superficiality lightly. This is especially true of recovering narcotic junkies who tend to be younger and more intense in their use and recovery.  They bear out Jung's observation in a famous letter to the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson:
"...craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God."4

Today, that thought is inherent in the often repeated adage, especially in Narcotics Anonymous: The drug user is on a spiritual quest but knocking on the wrong door.

 

The strong childhood fantasy of the god "up there" is often the only idea that maintains some proportional presence in the inebriate's addled mind, but as the brain clears, and the fear of life subsides, they seek depth. The need to respond to this search for depth in the chemical dependency treatment centers in Brazil that I am affiliated with has driven us from the position of presenting the Twelve Steps as singular solution, to the Steps as an over-arching initial position which permits a wide variety of options. We hang out numerous hooks and display an array of possibilities hoping the compulsive substance abuser will see some alternate attractive motivation for living. Intuitively we've shunned egocentric approaches, so most of our counselors are social workers or layperson recovering from an addiction, with few psychologists or psychiatrists.5 People in treatment are considered residents of the community, never patients.

Within this community the mythopoetic labyrinth of archetypal, psychology, especially as espoused by James Hillman, engenders a rich, beguiling climate. We hold periodic workshops for staff and other professionals study the Greek myths and work with images. Since this view of the world requires a Copernican shift and does not settle into an orderly methodology, it elicits much questioning, amazement, awe and considerable incredulity but is fascinating and entertaining with adequate grins, chortles, laughs and outright guffaws.

"Staying with the image" is difficult but residents enjoy workingObatalá with them through drawing, painting, clay, stories, fables, myths, and poetry, and seldom look for an underlying meaning. They are content to just stay with an image. This evokes emotion, and as James Hillman says, there is value in emotion. The images open new perspectives. They fill the treatment climate with tantalizing, disturbing and seductive hooks that tickle the psychic numbness. We are initially not sure where this is going, but once the gods are summoned, they cannot be easily shaken. Eh-teos, enthusiasm is created.

Encouraged by these developments, I carried our experience off to international conferences only to be met with blank stares. Mentioning polytheism bordered on the obscene and insurance companies have gutted the soul of most Twelve Step treatment programs in the USA and Canada. Foreign colleagues who visit our treatment residences in Brazil question how we can maintain such a varied and rich therapeutic climate, although admittedly tumultuous and ambiguous at time.

Part of the answer is in the influence of the omnipresent Afro-Brazilian polytheistic religious practices. The remains of a ceremony: terra cotta bowls with rice, beans, manioc flour and a sacrificed chicken surrounded by colored candles, coins, a black cigar, ribbons and a bottle of sugar can alcohol can be found on a crossroads corner in an urbane, urban area on any given morning. They are never touched or remarked upon. Rather, they are feared and treated with feigned indifference. The aching wino never succumbs to the divine booze. If a visitor forces a comment, you might hear the Spanish aphorism, "Yo no creo en las brujas, pero que las hay, las hay."6

A closer look at the Afro-Brazilian religions might help Osainestablish that polytheism is not only alive and useful in this world, but it  can thrive in a predominantly Christian culture and breed a healthy tolerance for ambiguity and paradox.

Afro-Brazilian History
The Portuguese accidentally "discovered" Brazil in 1500 and immediately occupied it (not colonized it, as the Spanish did) for the mercantile extraction of Brazil wood for red dye and the cultivation of sugar cane, still a major crop. The indigenous Indian population was protected by the Jesuit missionaries (where Negro indentured servants were used), so an estimated 3.5 million Africans were forcibly imported from all parts of their continent from the 16th to the 19th century as a work force,7 and to "save their souls."8

By the time Napoleon forced the migration of the Portuguese crown to Brazil in 1807, thus establishing the only monarchy in South America,9 half those included in a census of the new kingdom were in bondage.10

Despite the heterogeneity of the slave population, there was some stability which permitted the retention of communal religious practices because :
1) Sugar plantations, unlike mines or cotton and tobacco plantations, employed concentrations of up to one thousand slaves,
2) During the almost 400-year history of slavery in Brazil many slaves became free persons and established their own colonies,
3) widespread and tolerated miscegenation,
4) From 1700 to 1850, the captives exported to Brazil were drawn almost exclusively from the Bay of Benin (modern Togo, Benin and Nigeria), with
a common religion and language, Yoruban (your-U-Bahn).11

Salvador, Bahia
The Yorubans settled in the State of Bahia, where their religious practices are still flourishing. These same cults are disappearing in their homeland,12 a region in Africa where the Catholic Church is prospering. Curiously, the Catholic Church is warning in Brazil. It is suggested that the syncretism forced on the black population by the Catholic Church has galvanized integration and growth within the Brazilian culture.

The religious practices that migrated to Brazil have been studied extensively13 but there seems to be no way of determining just how many sects, nuclei or adherents exist. The city of Salvador, the capital of Bahia with 2.5 million inhabitants, eighty percent of which is black, is estimated to have two thousand Afro-religious centers, each with about thirty consecrated officials.14 Half of Brazil's population of 150 million is considered Negro, second only to Nigeria. Unlike Haiti, the Afro-Brazilian religions thrive in the metropolis. Any major Brazilian city has many hundreds of congregations, but they are difficult to locate. Reacting to years of oppression, they are discrete, tolerant and do not proselytize. Their presence is hinted at by the little stores that sell the paraphernalia for the rituals: candles, incense, imported pigments, chalk, statues, drums, holy waters, perfumes, oils, silks, plumes, beads, stones, gems, cowry shells, herbs, spices, plants, roosters, doves and guinea hens for sacrifice. Most neighborhoods have one.15 Cities in Brazil are modernly and efficiently electrified but the sale of candles continues to increase.

Condomble
The diverse Afro-religious associations are constantly adapting, at times melding into spiritism, the esoteric, Amerindian myths and tourism, but gradually the Yoruban Condomble (condome-BLAY) of Bahia is dominating and bringing some order to protect against the charlatan and psychopath, and to develop a political presence.

Amidst the various religions and their derivatives, there are three characteristics common to all the Afro-beliefs. They all have a specific locale for celebrations, anointed leaders and lots and lots of gods.16

Plots of blessed bare earth about the size of a volleyball court are fenced off with an altar crowded with statues at one end and a platform for the drummers to one side. They are not called temples or churches but bare earth, terreiros (tear-HAIR-oohs),

And are always tread on with bare feet. The area is covered with a tile roof structure which is open on the sides and has benches for the public. The decorations are bright paper streamers, flowers, insignias, signs and symbols, and are lit with many candles. There are also scattered outbuildings and sacred plants and trees. Older assemblies have generations of members living in the surrounding district and take care of their own needy.

Each assemblage is independent financially and liturgically, with a calendar of feasts for the gods of the terreiro, which generally coincide with the Catholic celebrations of Lent, Advent, Easter and the days of Saints John, Peter, Paul, Laxarus, Cosmos and Damian, Anthony, Sebastian, George, and All Souls' Day, and Immaculate Conception, but curiously, not Christmas. The governing figure is a mother or father of the gods, responsible for the organization and administration of the terreiro and control of the gods when they appear during the trances of the daughters and sons of the gods, the next level in the hierarchy. Lesser in rank is a plethora of minor orders including the drummers, singers, sacristans, cooks, slayers of the sacrificial animals, tailors, seamstresses, a bursar and a master of protocol. Candidates for a vacancy are chosen by throwing the cowry shells for guidance and then initiated into their sacred role. A retired and venerated elder often lurks in the wings exerting his influence and controlling the internal intrigues. At the base are the devotees, much like the members of any church who attend the services and financially support the institution. They span the social and color spectrum, including Orientals of whom there are many in Brazil. Personally requested interventions, initiations and divinations also generate funds. The mothers and fathers of the gods support themselves from the proceeds of the activities, but the others are generally volunteers with outside jobs.

Constant in all the Afro-Brazilian sects is the belief that every person is born with a fixed constellation of gods, of whom one is dominant. It is the special task of the supper members of the hierarchy to determine the principle and lesser divinities of each individual by matching their personality traits with similar personality traits from the pantheon of the gods.

Initiation Ceremony
The initiation formalities to enter and advance in the hierarchy of officials is not secret, but still, it is not public. The initiate is isolated between seven and ninety days and has the head shaved. The initiate is then washed in the blood of a goat, pig, rooster or pair of doves depending on his/her predominate god, east a specific diet, avoids being photographed, wears special clothing and amulets, visits Catholic shrines, and often abstains from sex and undergoes endless purifications. There are recurrent obligations performed in order to maintain the office.

The gods are initially called to the terreiro for a festive ceremony by a tattoo from the three long sacred drums, and although their intricate rhythms will vary they continue throughout the night. A mother or father of the gods appears and chalks sacred signs on the ground. Animals are sacrificed and carried off to be dressed and cooked, and, finally, about fifteen daughters and sons of the gods appear in skirts and loose shirts and pants. All the clothing is a brilliant white.

These healthy, graceful dancers twirl in a counterclockwise circle to an increasingly sensual rhythm, singing hymns in a mixture of Portuguese and Yoruban, until one of the dancers falls into a trance. A mother of the gods immediately takes charge, protecting the person from personal injury, verifying the veracity of the altered state by applying a sharp or hot object and examining the pupils of the eyes. She then converses with the god that is appearing to determine whether it is the principle spirit of the person being possessed.17 If not, the trance is broken off. With her approval the individual is taken to a dressing room, decorated and outfitted with the appropriate, colorful apparel and instruments of the god appearing. These instruments are often a crown, sword, shield, cigar, bow and arrows or a scepter.

In a costume that contrasts dramatically with everyone else in white, the individual is escorted back to the terreiro. There are elaborate chants, obeisances, food offerings and conversations between the mother of the god and the god which has become visible. It is during this time that counsels and messages are transmitted to the community. Spectators line up for personal consultation especially if the god present is their dominant god. After everyone who wishes consultation is satisfied, the person is brought out of the hypnotic state.

This sequence of events can repeat three or four times, each with a different god, until the god whose feast is being celebrated appears. At this point the observance is often much more detailed and elaborate. This ends the ceremony. The foods of the sacrifices and offerings are distributed with some cold beer in an informal climate of alleviation and camaraderie of having shared a deep common experience.

The atmosphere during the rites is intense but not dense. It is colorful, sensual, flowing with the changing rhythms of the drums and the chants, always maintaining a careful relationship between the ritual and the space. There is never any over sexuality or nudity18 and the only psychoactive drugs present are a little tobacco and alcohol as part of a specific liturgy. The major feasts of the older communities often have a bit more of a dramatic theatrical effect.

There are few activities at the terreiro beyond the initiations and feasts. One can order a special intervention for a specific purpose, but never to bring harm to another person or do black magic. Thus these practices remain on the street corners. Another common sight in all of Brazil is the older, heavy-set black women dressed in immaculate, multi-layered, white skirts offering divination with cowry shells and selling spicy foods with lots of shrimp deep-fried in palm oil.

There are literally hundreds of African gods caught up in elaborate intertwining myths similar to other myth systems, especially the classical Greek, although I was unable to elucidate a reasonable comparison between the two.

Here are a few of the more common gods:

Exu (hAY-shoe) is the Trickster.
Irascible, ambivalent, obscene and earthy.
He causes dissension and calamities, but communicates with everyone and is a good judge of character. The few who have Exu as their dominant god are very difficult personalities.19 He drinks a lot and is sexually compulsive. Portrayed with horns and a large erect penis, he is often identified with the Devil.
Jealous of two farmers he walked between their properties with a hat red on one side, white on the other, which led to an argument about the color of the hat until the farmers eventually killed each other. He is patron of the market place where there is much activity and deceit. His symbol is the trident, his colors are red and black and his day is Monday. Before any commemoration begins he must be appeased with a great quantities of food, liquor and strong black cigars, so he will act as a messenger to call in the other gods and not play tricks.
Iemanjá (ee-eh-mon-JAH)
The best known of the Afro-gods is the Queen of the Waters, especially the sea. Identified with Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, she dresses in sky-blue satin and wears a string of pearls, a tiara, a richly decorated fan and a long white veil with gold stars. Her statue, which is the most common artifact of Condomble, has alaster skin, large breasts and is sometimes in the form of a mermaid. Her foods are corn and fresh young lamb. The dancers that honor her mimic the waves. Her day is Saturday.
A strong personality, she is maternal, serious and seeks luxury. On December 31, many millions of Brazilians and tourists with no other connection to the Afro-Brazilian religions dress in white and go to the nearest beach to honor her. Miniature boasts painted silver and filled with a bar of soap, a mirror, a bottle of perfume, a comb and white flowers are ritually prepared with much dance and song. At midnight they are launched, accompanied by a massive fireworks display. Copacabana beach on New Year's Eve in Rio de Janeiro is a remarkable scene and worth the visit. If the winds or tide return the boats, a bad year is anticipated.
Ogum (oh-GOOM) started out in Africa as the protector of the farmer, but since the slaves had no interest in agricultural production, he became the fearless warrior who unmasks injustices. Associated with Saint George the dragon-slayer, his colors vary but always include the reds of blood. His symbol is the sword and other wrought iron tools. Associated with Saint George the dragon-slayer, his colors vary but always include the reds of blood. His symbol is the sword and other wrought iron tools. Associated with Wednesday, his food is red meat and palm wine, and his dance imitates the march of a warrior. He is the most prevalent dominant god.

Olódumaré(oh-LOW-do-mar-EY) is the supreme being above all who created the other gods to govern in the world. Beyond human comprehension, inaccessible, he is indifferent to the destiny of mankind and does not hear their supplications. There are no myths expounding his etiology nor are there cults in honor Olódumaré. He only intervenes to settle the disputes between the other gods as a court of last resort. Similar to the pietist "absent landlord" notion of the Supreme God at home in heaven.

Oxalá (oh-shah-LAH) is identified with Jesus Christ. In the elaborate Yoruban creation myth which was a real brawl among the lesser gods, one that Olódumaré permitted, Oxalá always pulled things together avoiding disasters and guaranteeing the crops. He is the Savior, calm, respected, obstinate, independent and with an iron will. The dancer representing him appears in brilliant white with collars and bracelets of gold and a shawl which is sprinkled with the blood of a white goat or white dove and then washed in special herbs. Few practitioners of Condomble are presumptuous enough to claim him as their dominant god because it would be a great obligation. His day is Friday. He is also syncretized with Our Lady of a Good Death, and her shrines are thoroughly washed once a year by the fellowships in a great public feast in honor of Oxalá.

As a white male from the Christian tradition, I can only observe and appreciate this non-linear, polytheistic, poetic set of gods which is so real among its adherents. The Afro-Brazilian mindset, so misinterpreted as shiftless and aimless, contributes richly to Brazil's culture.20

Footnotes

1.) See Spring 52, Spring 58, and Spring 59 for a spirited discussion of archetypal Psychology and Twelve Step groups. See also Ernest Kurtz, Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous, Center City, Minn.: Hazelden Foundation, 1991, for a scholarly presentation of A.A.’s religious roots.

2.) A.A. conducts a careful survey of its membership every three years. See John Bragg, Comments on A.A.’s Triennial Survey, New Yôrk: A.A General Services Office, 1990, in which the author demonstrates in Appendix C that only 5% of those who enter A.A remain after one year.

3.) Not generally feasible in the United States, Canada, or Europe because of laws prohibiting discrimination and the impersonal nature of the work place.

4.) Robert Thomsen, Bill W. New Yôrk: Harper & Row, 1975, 362. Bill Wilson attempted to provide as broad a theoretical underpinning for A.A. He wrote Jung concerning an early member of A.A., Roland Hazard who had not been successfully treated by Jung in zurich but subsequently recovered in the Oxford Group Movement (James Buchman), the precursor of A.A. Jung recommended that Roland seek a spiritual/religious solution to his problem.

5.) Of course there is an economic determinant working here; social workers cost less. Also, Jungians are scarce in Brazil, where Freud is still the measure and Lacan is all the rage.

6.) I do not believe in witches, but that they exist.

7.) Roger Bastida. As Religiões Africans no Brasil. São Paulo: Biblioteca Pioneira de Ciencias Socias, 1989, 50-74. A curious historic note: Slavery was only abolished in Brazil in 1884, so after the American Civil War, colonists of vanquished Southerners migrated to Brazil bringing the watermelon, pecan nut and sideboard plow as well as a few slaves. The white colonists faded away leaving only a cemetery, while the slaves prospered.

8.) See Pierre Fatumbi Verger. Orixás. Salvador, Bahia: Editora Corrupio, 1981,23.

9.) Dom Pedro II, King of Brazil, an enlightened monarch, was the honored guest at the First Centennial of the United Sates in Philadelphia. When he encountered Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, which was being displayed as a handy device to summon the servants, he became noted for his prescient observation: "That is going to change the world."

10.) Helo Vianna. Historiado do Brasil. São Paulo: Edicões Melhoramentos, 1977, 7.

11.) See Pierre Fatumbi Verger. Fluxo e Refluxo do Trafico de Escravos entreo Golfo de Benim E a Baíade Todos os Santos. Salvador, Bahia: Editora Corrupio, 1981, 7

12.) Pierre Fatumbi Verger. Orixás. Salvador, Bahia: Editora Corrupio, 1981, 7.

13.) The Combonian Afro-Brazilian Library (http://www.ongba.org.br/comboni) was most helpful in preparing this paper and willingly responds to requests for information. The academic raiding, publishing, and thesis writing, especially by the French, of this oral tradition, putting it into a "scientific format," raises the scholar to an unmerited position of authority, dries out the soul, and sanitizes this earthy communing with the gods by rationalizing, classifying, codifying, dogmatizing, formalizing, creating expensive bibles, and worst of all, Westernizing it. There is presently a movement among the academics to de-syncretize it, purify it, and remove the Christian accretions. Do I see available African Studies grants?

BCABiblioteca Comboniana Afro-brasileira 14.) Based on an October 1988 interview with Padre Heitor Frisotti, a recognized authority, who willingly replies to inquiries at the e-mail address: [email protected](

15.) I live in the megalopolis of São Paulo, and if I had not been writing this article, I would not have noticed a banner along a main thoroughfare next to a McDonald’s near my home inviting all the local Afro-Brazilian priests to a collective baptizing for new members of their hierarchy.

16.) This account was derived from a lengthy interview with a prominent Father of the gods, Jaime Montenegro Sobrinho, in Salvador, Bahia during October, 1996, as well as the following texts: 1) Pierre Fatumbi Verger. Orixás. Salvador, Bahia: Editora Corrupio, 1981; 2) Edison Carneiro. Candomblés da Babia Rio de Janeiro: Editora Tecnoprint, undated; 3) Vagner Goncalves da Silva. Orixás da Metrópole. Petrópolis: Editora Vozes, 1995.

17.) Participants undergoing the trance report that it is not a pleasant experience. There is a sense of vertigo and losing control. Alcohol consumed in that state does not seem to have any effect and claims are made that nothing is remembered after returning to normal.

18.) Brazilians instinctively and carefully distinguish between sensuality and sÊxuality, somthing I do not observe in the United States.

19.) Although a god is designated as male or female, he/she can appear in either a daughter or son of the gods as their dominant god.

20.) The best exposition of this and the key to understanding Brazil is in the work of Roberto Da Matta, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame. I especially recommend his book, Carnaval, Rogues and Heroes: An interpretation of the Brazilian Dilemma. Trans. John Drury. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991.

Orisha Art by Francisco Santos
based in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil and represented in the USA by   OrishaNet
& Botanica Lucumí
8016 15th Avenue NE Seattle, WA 98115

Orisha Art is available mounted for display in your home or office from $70.00 each. Pictures are approximately 8" x 15" to 10" x 15" Ochún

Permission for use by Carnaval.com given by the godmother Yolanda, manager of the 21st Street & Valencia Yoruba Botanica in San Francisco, California

Ochossi

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[email protected]
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The above article by JOHN E. BURNS is republished with kind permission of Spring Publications and first appeared in 1997 in
Haiti, or the Psychology of Black
Spring Journal,
Volume 61
154 pp. ISBN 1-882670-10-8 $17.50

Haiti, or the psychology of black, ventures into the heart of darkness itself, to the most polytheistic (yet Catholic) place on earth today. Haiti, for a look at psychological territory that no Jungians ever dared to set foot in before (with the exception of Joseph Campbell's academic introduction to Maya Deren`s Divine Horsemen). But our Haiti is not just the literal island of Vaudun Gods and spirits of the night. Our Haiti is a vibrant state of mind that includes the only nation in the Western hemisphere where the dead still speak (and sometimes work), the wonderful source of the Blues in America, the strange African-Portuguese spirit rituals of Brazil, and indeed the entire range of pathological terror that stalks the white world whenever it sees "black".

"Remember how 19th-century colonials feared going black," James Hillman writes in The Seduction of Black, "how Joseph Conrad perceived a madness and a horror in the heart of darkness, how the black plague, the black knight, the black shirt and the black inquisitor haunt European history as the black-clothed puritan haunts America, and that many of the scariest images of childhood, from chimney sweep, witch, magician and Batman, the rottweiler and the doberman, to skeletons in the danse macabre and the Grim Reaper himself, stalk the hall of fantasy-all in black!"

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