Candomble is an African-Brazilian religion has around two million followers. It is a syncretic religion, meaning that it is a combination of various beliefs. At the core of the religion are the traditional African beliefs of Yoruba, Fon and Bantu. Candomble also has elements of Christianity, particularly of Catholicism. Candomble means “dance in honor of the gods.” Accordingly, dance and music play important roles in the religion. At the center of Candomble is God or Oludumare. Deities called orixas serve Oludumare. Candomble does not have any holy scriptures.
The roots of Candomble go back to the slave trade. Enslaved Africans were shipped to Brazil. These Africans tried to follow their religious beliefs and practice their customs, but were not allowed. Christian slave owners tried to convert them. Although many slaves converted to Christianity, others still practiced their religions in secret or disguised their practices as those of Catholicism. Up to the 1970s, Africans were persecuted if they were caught practicing Candomble. Ever since that time, the religion has become very popular in Brazil, especially in the northeastern city of Salvador da Bahia. Many Africans today visit the city to learn more about their ancestors and their religious beliefs. For many Africans, Candomble is not only a religion but also a cultural identity. Some followers want to rid the elements of Christianity from the religion and take it back to its pure form.
The concept of good and bad does not exist for followers of Candomble; however doing bad has its consequences. The goal of each person is to carry out his or her destiny, which is controlled by the orixa. Each person’s orixa also acts as a protector. Worshippers perform special dances to allow the orixa to possess them. Orixas are deified ancestors from recent or ancient history. Also known as viduns and inkices, they are spirit gods that link humans to the spiritual world. Each orixa is connected to a force in nature including a certain food, animal, and more. A person’s personality is a reflection of their orixa. Orixas are collectively called Baba Egum or Egungun. The moral code of Candomble is regulated by the Baba Egum, who ensures the continuity of morals from one generation to the next.
During major rituals, priests and priestesses disguise as Baba Egum. The worship takes place in the form of dances and songs. Dances call the orixa to enter the body. When a dancer becomes possessed, they enter a trancelike condition and publicly act out scenes from the community life through dance. When the orixa leaves the body, the trance ends. Women play a significant role in Candomble. Women, called “mothers of the holy one” lead services and train future priestesses. The sacred places for followers of Candomble are the terreiro, or temples. These structures have indoor and outdoor sections and designated places for the gods. Worshippers enter the terreiro in clean clothes. They also splash water on themselves before entering so they clean themselves from the impurity of the outside world.
“Macumba” (also known as Quimbanda) is the everyday term used by Brazilians in Rio de Janeiro to describe two types of African spirit worship: Candomble (followed in northern State of Bahia) and Umbanda (a newer form originating in Niteroi, in the southern State of Rio de Janeiro between 1900 and November 15, 1908).
Macumba originated with African slaves shipped to Brazil in the 1550’s, who continued to worship their African Gods. Their Gods are called ORIXAS. The slaves incorporated their religion into Brazilian culture and religion (Roman Catholic). They summoned their Gods with their drums. Brazilian slave owners, unlike owners in the United States, allowed slaves to continue to use their drums. Thus began the rhythm of the saints, the samba, and it explains why Brazilian “batucadas” reign unequaled today. Brazil got the samba, and the U.S. got “the blues.” Read more on Brazilian slavery and its impact on Brazil.
Brazil already had many religions in the sixteenth century. The Roman Catholic Church tried to convert the local Indian tribes, and to get them to abandon their native beliefs. Slave owners prohibited slaves from practicing their African form of worship, so the slaves incorporated their beliefs into the spirits and the magic of the native faiths. The two merged. The God, Exú, became St. Anthony; Iansã became St. Barbara; Iemanjá became Our Lady of the Glory; Naña became Our Lady of St. Anne; Oba became Joane of Arc; Obaluayê became St. Lazarus/St. Roque; Ogum became St. George; Oxalá became Jesus Christ; Oxossi became St. Sebastian; Oxum became Our Lady of the Conception; Oxumaré became St. Bartholomew; and Xangó became St. Geronimo. So while the slaves outwardly followed the Catholic faith, they secretly practiced their African religious beliefs until they were freed in 1888.
The following history of Macumba is reprinted from the Brazilian Embassy’s web site in London and authored by Rubem César Fernandes (note the differences in the dates of origin):
“The first recorded mention of Umbanda comes in the 1920’s in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, the state where in 1941 the First Congress of Umbanda Spiritualism was organized. The first references, however, also mentioned “Macumba”, with the idea of differentiating between them, thus showing the pre-existence of similar practices. Many initiatives, independent of hierarchical control, made possible a rapport between elements of Catholicism, Kardecist Spiritualism and Afro-Brazilian traditions. A new religious genealogy emerged from this confusion, but showed that it was divided between the names “Umbanda” and “Quimbanda” or, more popularly, “Macumba”.
Although they share the same set of beliefs, the two names reflect a difference in emphasis. Umbanda supposedly works “for good,” while Quimbanda is distinguished by its intention to work “for evil.” This is a simplistic interpretation, however, because the ambivalence between good and evil seems, in reality, to be characteristic of the fundamental myths of this strand of religion, which conceives of the cosmos as divided between different factions, which relate to each other through mystical attacks and defenses. As in the struggles of love and other competitive situations, what is good for one party may be bad for the other, and vice versa.
The mythology of Umbanda has a clear sense of hierarchy. Religious beings are divided into seven “Lines,” commanded by an orixá or Catholic saint. The lines are subdivided into “Phalanxes” and “Legions,” which are made up of disembodied spirits in various stages of evolution. The main altar, which is known as “Conga,” is usually decorated with large numbers of images and objects, illustrating the complexity of the Umbanda pantheon. The altars may have images of Christ, the Guide, Our Lady, saints such as St. Lazarus, St. George, SS Cosmas and Damian, orixás, ‘pretos velhos’, ‘caboclos’, candles, necklaces, flowers and sometimes non-religious icons, such as the Brazilian flag. Umbanda started between the wars, at a time of strong nationalism, and sees itself as a patriotic religion.
The cult centers around the “Gira,” involving sacred music and dance. The drums mark out the rhythm, and the mediums chant the “ponto” under the leadership of the Mother or the Father of the Saint, dance in a circle and receive their spiritual guides, acting as their “horses” or “machines.” Besides expressing their vital energy in dance, as in Candomblé, the Umbanda guides are there to counsel those devotees who approach them. They guide them and purify them by “passes” with their hands, which protects them against mystical attack to which they are subject.
The Mother and some of the more senior daughters of the saint receive devotees for consultations, which they do whilst “embodied” by their guides. Umbanda Centers are thus centers for evaluating and resolving a multitude of conflicts which assail people in their daily lives. They specialize in identifying the causes of unhappiness, and are well versed in local social psychology. They help to explain the problem and invest it with a higher meaning. The competitive round of daily life, where inequalities breed envy and resentment, results in the development of evil spells, or simply negative vibrations which do harm. The people of Umbanda (one might say, in large measure, the people of Brazil) take the “evil eye” seriously.
Umbanda is a notable cultural development, bringing to the interpretation and resolution of conflicts a cast of “marginal” characters, as opposed to the dominant symbolic hierarchies: fearless ‘caboclos,’ who personify the untamed depths of the forest; ‘pretos velhos,’ old black slaves with a life time of labour behind them, who have the realist wisdom gained from a life of suffering; ‘exus’ and ‘pombas giras,’ identified with people of the street, who do not hide behind conventional social masks and who move easily through the tortuous ways of human conflict; and children, who have not yet reached the age of reason. These are the guides who give protection and advice. They are far from official authority, be it secular or religious, and possess powers outside the realms of traditional bureaucratic structures. Such powers are usually discarded by official ideologies, but find a home in Umbanda, where they can give a positive meaning to experience and destiny.
Most practitioners of Santería prefer the name Regla de Ocha or the Lucumí religion. Although it’s practiced today by people all over the world, Regla de Ocha is generally defined as an Afro-Cuban religion that originated in what is today Nigeria and Benin in West Africa. The word Santería comes from Spanish and loosely translates as devotion to the saints, or santos. Many practitioners of the Regla Lucumi refer to the Orichas, or the deities of the religion, as saints or “santos.” This tendency to combine terminology and concepts from Catholicism and West African religions is sometimes called religious syncretism.
Where Does Santería Come From?
Santería has its roots in the Yoruba people of West Africa. The slave trade brought many Africans to Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, the southern USA, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and other Caribbean basin nations. In Cuba, the slaves of Yoruba origin were called “Lucumí,” perhaps due to the mistaken belief that they all belonged to the Ulkumí tribe, or because the slaves addressed each other as Oluku Mi, meaning “my friend.”
Although most Africans were forced to convert to Catholicism upon arrival in the New World, many continued to practice their native religions at the same time. A common misconception is that Afro-Cubans blended the two religions into a single one, but a more accurate way to think about religious syncretism in Cuba is to say that the two systems continued parallel to each other in the minds of the Afro-Cuban people, who didn’t see any contradiction between them. Practitioners of Regla de Ocha or Santería might describe themselves as Catholic, attend Catholic masses, and baptize their children as Catholic, while also practicing their African-based religion in their ilé, or Lucumí temple-house, in their own homes or in the home of a religious elder.
While they know that the Catholic saints and the Lucumí Orichas are not identical, they find similarities between them, and they see no problem keeping a statue of Saint Barbara or the Virgen of Charity on a Lucumí altar, as another way of representing Changó or Oshún, two of the most popular Orichas in Cuba. For centuries, Santería was practiced as a somewhat “secret” religion as a way to avoid religious persecution or the negative social stigma attached to Afro-Cuban culture in general. It survived as an oral tradition, passed down from one generation to another, through initiation ceremonies that created a tightly bound community and distinct lineages based on ancestors. As Cubans left the island, many took their religion with them, and Santería spread to the United States, Canada, Europe, and other South American countries.
Umbanda is a religion of Brazil that combines influences of indigenous Brazilian religion, African religions, Catholicism, and Spiritism. Umbanda is related to the Brazilian religion Candomble, but it is not identical.
Umbanda is mainly found in southern Brazil and in small numbers in the neighboring countries of Uruguay and Argentina.
There isn’t uniformity of belief among all followers of the Umbanda religion, yet there certain beliefs that are widely held. These beliefs include faith in a supreme deity called Olorum (or Zambi), who has various representations. Many followers of Umbanda also believe that various Catholic saints emit divine energies and forces called Orixas. It is also common for adherents to seek interaction with the spirits of the deceased. The ideas of karma and reincarnation are also centrals tenets of the religion.
Historians and sociologists believe that the Umbanda religion got its beliefs about a supreme deity and the reverence of saints from Catholicism; from Spiritism, the Umbanda religion got beliefs in communicating with the dead in its various forms, including psychics and mediums; from indigenous Brazilian religions, Umbanda adopted the deification of Orixas.
Subdivisions of the Orixas
There are eight primary Orixas intermediaries:
1. Oxala is the chief intermediary. His celestial body is the sin. His ritual day is Sunday. His sacred color is white.
2. Yemanja represents femininity in the Umbanda religion. Her celestial body is the ocean. Her ritual day is Saturday. Her sacred color is bright blue.
3. Xango is the intermediary of justice. His ritual day is Wednesday. His sacred color is red.
4. Oxum is the goddess of love, money, and waterways. Her ritual day is Saturday. Her sacred color is yellow.
5. Ogun is a defender of soldiers. His ritual day is Tuesday. His sacred color is green.
6. Oxossi is a hunter and protector. His ritual day is Thursday. His sacred color is green.
7. Ibeji are associated with the spirits of children. Their ritual day is Sunday. Their sacred colors are blue and pink.
8. Omolu is intermediary of death, disease, health, and healing. His ritual day is Monday. His colors are black and white or red and black.
The History of Umbanda
It is conventionally understood that the Umbanda religion originated in Brazil in the early 1900’s in and around Rio de Janeiro, founded by Zelio Fernandino de Moraes, a psychic. It combined traditional Brazilian religion, which had many African influences, with newer religious practices, especially those advanced by Spiritist teacher Allan Kardec.
The traditional date for the beginning of the Umbanda religion is November 15, 1908. On that day, some followers of Allan Kardec’s teachings participated in a seance outside the city of Rio de Janeiro, a gathering which included 17-year-old Zelio Fernandino de Moraes.
As the story goes, the young man manifested two spirits. One called itself Caboclo das Sete Encruzilhadas; the other, Pai Anthony. Kardec’s followers considered these spirits inferior to the ones they usually interacted with and this would eventually lead to his religion being considered inferior to Kardec’s.
This beginning established a path toward a religion autonomous from Kardec’s and ultimately produced a new religion. The Umbanda religion would not see significant growth until the 1930’s when political conflict led many Brazilians to unite under Umbanda, which what was deemed by many to Brazil’s only genuine religion.
The Religious Practices of Umbanda
Umbanda temples are led by psychics who interact with various spirits on behalf of the living. Leaders of Umbanda temples are often referred to as priests or priestesses.
The temples are called Terreiro (meaning “backyard” because they once used to be located in people’s homes) or Tenda (meaning “tent” because they once used to be located in tents.
Today Terreiros can be built likes homes or Catholic churches.
Gatherings in temples occur often and depending on the particular Terreiro or branch of Umbanda, ceremonies may include chanting, offering food and other items to spirits, dancing, as well as eating and drinking.
If visitors manifest a spirit during the gathering they may be asked to become members of the group.
Opposition to Umbanda
Despite the fact that most Umbandists identify with the label “Catholic,” most Christian branches and denominations see Umbanda as a false and ungodly religion. The Catholic Church in particular opposes the worship of spirits and the misappropriate (i.e. sinful) use of saints.
Evangelical denominations, especially Pentecostal churches, have influenced Umbanda in Brazil through evangelism. Pentecostals, as well as other Christians, consider the manifested spirits in Umbanda to be demons and contend that manifestations are likely occasions of demon possession.
In the last few decades there has been a decline in the Umbanda religion, at least in identification. Attendance at Terreiros is steady. Most Umbandists are still in and around Brazil.
Vodou: (Also spelled Vodoun, Voodoo, and several other variants) is a syncretic religion combining Roman Catholicism and native African religion, particularly the religion of the Dahomey region of Africa (the modern day nation of Benin). It is primarily found in Haiti, New Orleans, and other locations within the Caribbean.
Followers of Vodou, known as Vodouisants, believe in a single, supreme godhead that can be equated with the Catholic God. This deity is known as Bondye.
Vodouisants also accept the existence of lesser beings, which they call loa or lwa, which are more intimately involved in day-to-day life, (as opposed to Bondye, who is a remote figure). The lwa are frequently invited to possess a believer during ritual so that the community can directly interact with them.
The relationship between humans and lwa is a reciprocal one. Believers provide food and other items that appeal to the lwa in exchange for their assistance.
Vilokan is the home of the lwa and the deceased. It is commonly described as a submerged and forested island. It is guarded by the lwa Legba, who must be appeased before practitioners can speak to any other Vilokan resident.
A variety of animals might be killed during a Vodou ritual, depending upon the lwa being addressed. It provides spiritual sustenance for the lwa, while the flesh of the animal is then cooked and eaten by participants.
Rituals commonly involve the drawing of certain symbols known as veves with cornmeal or other powder. Each lwa has its own symbol, and some have multiple symbols associated with them.
The common perception of Vodouisants poking pins into dolls does not reflect traditional Vodou.
There is no standardized dogma within Vodou. Two temples within the same city might therefore teach different mythologies and appeal to the lwa in different ways. As such, the information provided here cannot always reflect the beliefs of all Vodou believers. For example, sometimes lwa are associated with different families, Catholic saints, or veves. Some common variations are included here.
African slaves brought their native traditions with them when they were forcefully transported to the new world. However, they were generally forbidden from practicing their religion, so they started to equate their gods with Catholic saints and perform their rituals using the items and imagery of the Catholic Church.
Relationship with Christianity:
If a Vodou practitioner considers himself Christian, he generally professes to be a Catholic Christian, and many Vodou practitioners do also consider themselves Catholics. Some see the saints and spirits to be one and the same, while others even today still hold that the Catholic accouterments are primarily for appearance.
Popular culture has strongly associated Vodou with devil worship, torture, cannibalism and malevolent magical workings. This is largely the product of Hollywood coupled with historical misrepresentations and misunderstandings of the faith. Slave uprisings in Vodou-influenced areas such as Haiti were violent and brutal, and white settlers came to associate the religion with the violence, as well as embrace many unfounded rumors about them.
Many people come to this website because they’ve heard a little about Paganism, maybe from a friend or family member, and want to know more – but a lot of readers come here because they’re starting with the very first question: What is Paganism?
Keep in mind that for the purposes of this website, the answer to that question is based upon modern Pagan practice – we’re not going to go into details on the thousands of pre-Christian societies that existed years ago. If we focus on what Paganism means today, we can look at several different aspects of the word’s meaning.
In general, when we say “Pagan,” we’re referring to someone who follows a spiritual path that is rooted in nature, the cycles of the season, and astronomical markers. Some people call this “earth-based religion.” Also, many people identify as Pagan because they are polytheists – they honor more than just one god – and not necessarily because their belief system is based upon nature. Many individuals in the Pagan community manage to combine these two aspects. So, in general, it’s safe to say that Paganism, in its modern context, can be defined as an earth-based and often polytheistic religious structure.
Many people also come here looking for the answer to the question, “What is Wicca?” Well, Wicca is one of the many thousands of spiritual paths that fall under the heading of Paganism. Not all Pagans are Wiccans, but by definition, with Wicca being an earth-based religion that typically honors both a god and goddess, all Wiccans are Pagans. Be sure to read more about the Differences Between Paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft.
Other types of Pagans, in addition to Wiccans, include Druids, Asatruar, Kemetic reconstructionists, Celtic Pagans, and more. Each system has its own unique set of beliefs and practice. Keep in mind that one Celtic Pagan may practice in a way that is completely different than another Celtic Pagan, because there is no universal set of guidelines or rules.
Some people in the Pagan community practice as part of an established tradition or belief system. Those people are often part of a group, a coven, a kindred, a grove, or whatever else they may choose to call their organization. The majority of modern Pagans, however, practice as solitaries – this means their beliefs and practices are highly individualized, and they typically practice alone. Reasons for this are varied – often, people just find they learn better by themselves, some may decide they don’t like the organized structure of a coven or group, and still others practice as solitaries because it’s the only option available.
In addition to covens and solitaries, there are also significant amounts of people who, while they usually practice as a solitary, may attend public events with local Pagan groups. It’s not uncommon to see solitary Pagans crawling out of the woodwork at events like Pagan Pride Day, Pagan Unity Festivals, and so on.
Many Pagans – and certainly, there will be some exceptions – accept the use of magic as part of spiritual growth. Whether that magic is enabled via prayer, spellwork, or ritual, in general there’s an acceptance that magic is a useful skill set to have. Guidelines as far as what is acceptable in magical practice will vary from one tradition to another.
Most Pagans – of all different paths – share a belief in the spirit world, of polarity between the male and female, of the existence of the Divine in some form or other, and in the concept of personal responsibilities.
Finally, you’ll find that most people in the Pagan community are accepting of other religious beliefs, and not just of other Pagan belief systems. Many people who are now Pagan were formerly something else, and nearly all of us have family members who are not Pagan. Pagans don’t hate Christians or Christianity, and we try to show other religions the same level of respect that we want for ourselves and our beliefs.