It was approximately 4:30 pm, when we headed out to attend an Umbanda ceremony in Goias, Brazil. Although the trip was long, the pleasant evening breeze and panorama made the car ride quite enjoyable.
When we arrived at our destination, the driver parked in front of a modest looking house. The front of the house was isolated. It appeared, we were the first to arrive.
The driver opened the front gate; and we proceeded to walk toward the back of the house. Upon arriving at the other side of the house, a man appeared. His name was Lazaro, a high priest. When Lazaro saw the driver, he gave him a warm friendly hug. Lazaro and the driver were old friends who had not seen each other for several years. After embracing and sharing pleasantries, we were introduced. Lazaro welcomed us warmly, and immediately made us feel at home.
Due to health reasons, Lazaro stated, he was no longer overseeing the activities of the umbanda ceremony. The responsibilities were passed down to his daughter, Irene. A few minutes later, his daughter appeared. Just like Lazaro, she welcomed us with open arms. After a minute or two, she excused herself stating that she needed to prepare for the ceremony. Lazaro too disappeared.
As we sat waiting for the evening activities to commence, I started looking around. Pasted on a door was a sign that stated, “A person should not practice spiritual mediumship without being fully prepared.” My companion, who was also reading the sign, looked at me and smiled in agreement.
Shortly afterwards, people began arriving. As they marched in, they stopped and saluted a large wooden cross located next to where we were sitting. One by one, they touched the cross and bowed their heads in homage.
After paying their respects, they quickly entered a room, which appeared to be a dressing room. One by one, they marched out in full Umbanda attire. The men wore white tops and trousers, while, the women dressed in white blouses and long skirts. In addition, the women covered their heads with a white piece of fabric. Both, men and women, had numerous long colorful beaded necklaces hanging from their necks.
Before the commencement of the umbanda ceremony, we were escorted to a room that was detached from the main house. We were instructed to remove our shoes and sit in one of the many small benches located around the room. It was the room where the umbanda ceremony would take place. The décor was similar to an African hut with dirt floors and straw dangling from the roof.
As I was making myself comfortable, my eyes zoomed into a sizable altar located on the far left of me. It was an extremely impressive sight. Illuminated by numerous candles, the altar contained several pictures of saints, statutes, and items unfamiliar to me. On the opposite side, hanging on the wall, was a large picture of Yemaya. The other walls were decorated with various spiritual pictures.
By now, the people dressed in white had gathered around the room. They were getting ready.
Suddenly, Irene started ringing a bell. She was letting people know that the umbanda ceremony was about to commence.
The group formed a circle. A woman began reading a passage from a piece of paper. The first part of the passage was about the medium’s role. The medium’s sole purpose, she stated, was to serve God and His spiritual messengers with much humility and love. The rest of the passage was about love, compassion, humility and goodwill to God, self and humanity.
When the first woman concluded, another woman began reading from another page. It was a highly inspirational message. “It’s our duty to help each other for we are one,” she said. By the end of the reading, the woman was visibly moved by what she had read.
Once again, the bell was ringing. It was a signal to start the beating of the drum. The drummer began beating the drum at a slow pace, but quickly gained momentum with every beat. By now, the group was dancing and singing. Their songs were prayers to God for his blessings, and for His divine messengers to arrive and embrace their bodies with their divine energy. It was a calling to the spirits.
By now, the energy in the room was in full force. The drumming and singing continued to charge the energy around us. Sitting back and witnessing the situation from afar was not an option. The music and singing possessed a captivating element that one could not resist. Without giving much thought, my companion and I got up and began moving to the sound of the drum. We allowed our hearts to beat in unison with the rhythm of the drum.
By now, a large crowd gathered outside the room. They were not allowed to enter the room without permission. We were extremely fortunate to be allowed to remain in the room and participate in all the activities.
Lazaro, who was sitting next to us, was playing a guiro- a Latin American percussion instrument. Occasionally, he would look at us and ask if everything was fine. He was like the good shepherd looking after his sheep.
The dancing and singing continued in full force. Soon, many of the dancers began to shiver and wobble. Spirits were beginning to take over their bodies. Most of the dancers went into a trance. They were no longer in control of their bodies. I was so engrossed in watching the transformation that I forgot to inquire as to the nature of the energy.
All the possessed individuals were given wooden swords. Swinging their swords up in the air, they continued dancing. Every movement was done in conjunction with the drumbeat. They began placing their swords on our shoulders and heads. It was a form of greeting.
After greeting everyone, they formed two rows. Visitors were instructed to walk in-between and receive a blessing from the entities. Children were the first to get blessed. After everyone had finished walking through the two rows, we were permitted to consult the spirits.
By the end of the consultation phase, the spirits departed. The mediums moved to the middle of the room. They began dancing and singing. Once again, they were calling upon the spirits to come. Soon, they began trembling and jerking. The spirits were entering their bodies. This time, it was spirits of children. Those possessed by these spirits transformed into playful and childlike beings. Not only was there a shift in their mannerism, their tone of voice changed. They dropped to the floor, giggling and playing with each other. The assistants, individuals who attend to the needs of the spirits, began distributing candies to the spirits. Upon receiving the candies, the possessed mediums got up quickly and began sharing their candies with the people in attendance. At one point, I closed my eyes, and actually felt the presence of small children in the room.
Irene, who was sitting and observing, suddenly began hitting a stick on the floor. It was a signal for the spirits to leave the bodies of the mediums. One by one, the spirits began departing except for one who was hiding behind a drum. Irene started speaking to the spirit in a stern, yet loving tone. It was not long before the spirit released itself from the body.
Once again, the same procedure was repeated- dancing, singing and calling out to the spirits. The drumbeat grew louder and more intense. Finally, the spirits arrived. It was the spirits of the Old Black Slaves.
Out of all the entities that arrived that night, I found the Old Black Slaves to be the most intriguing. It was fascinating to see a young strong person transform into a decrepit being.
A fairly young strong man, who was playing the drum, dancing and singing with much vigor, was transformed into an old man. His body took the shape of a deformed-like structure. He walked very slowly; and his body was tilted forward. In addition, his tone of voice changed. I remembered saying to myself, “Where did the man go?” I was convinced that spirit had taken over the man’s body completely.
These spirits were given a walking stick and a pipe. They were then taken to a place where the body could sit. We were allowed to go and consult these spirits. The energy of these spirits was immensely strong.
When the energy of the old Black Slaves departed, the mediums spread out and began swaying back and forth. Although the drumbeat continued to increase in tone, the dancers were no longer dancing around the room.
Unexpectedly, a woman began dancing around in circular motion. She removed her headdress, and let her long hair loose. There was something majestic about her demeanor. It was the energy of Yemaya. She was given water, which she sprinkled around us. She continued dancing and blessing us with the water. When the energy departed, the umbanda ceremony ended. Yemaya's energy continued to linger in the air.
As we were preparing to leave, Lazaro and Irene gave us a warm hug, and invited us to attend again.
The ride back to the posada, I continued to feel the energy around me. I began replaying all the events of the night. I realized that the main component of all religions was God. It did not matter if you were an Umbanda practitioner, a Catholic, a Spiritist, a Muslim, etc. If your practice consisted of love for God and fellowmen, you became one in God’s eyes.
During the Umbanda ceremony, I noticed the immense love between the practitioners and visitors. Everyone was treated equally, and with much love and care.
The methods used by the Umbanda practitioners to worship God, and His messengers were not important. It was their immense love for God and humanity that defined their true devotion to God.
This web page is dedicated to Lazaro, Irene and all those who devote their time and energy to God and His messengers. May you all continue to walk in the path of light; and May God bless you always.
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