What is Candomblé?

Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion. The fundamental beliefs were carried by African slaves when they came to Brazil. It is spiritualist in nature, worshipping a number of gods or spirits derived from African deities. The gods, or orixás, that people worship come from a combination of African deities: the Orixás of the Yoruba tribe, the Voduns of the Jejé nation, and the Inkices of the Bantu nation. Because Candomblé is a combination of so many gods from so many peoples, the number of gods is innumerable. Usually, 14-16 of the main orixás are worshipped regularly.

Each orixá has individual traits, skills, a domain and a specific personality. Each is also associated with a lucky number, a day of the week, a particular color and has specific rituals to honor her or him. Each person has an orixá designated to him or her that can be called to in their "head" at a spiritual reading in which shells or buzios are thrown. But it is not until an authentic initiation that a person can truly become part of their deity in the eyes of the religion.

Candomblé in Brazil is often practiced in conjunction with parts of the Catholic religion. Crucifixes are sometimes displayed in candomblé temples, and the African "deities" are syncreticized with specific Catholic saints. Statues can be bought that symbolize both, each on one side of the statue. However, they are neither true believers in Catholicism nor true followers of Christ. Many current candomblé priests recognize Jesus as the savior but the orixás as the path to the savior. These people may attend mass at both a church and a terreiros or choose to publicly practice just one but hold the beliefs of the other.

The rituals involve the possession of the initiated by Orishas, offerings and sacrifices of the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdom, healing, dancing/trance, and percussion. Candomblé draws inspiration from a variety of people of the African Diaspora, but it mainly features aspects of Yoruba orisha veneration.

Candomblé Beliefs

Candomblé is a polytheistic religion and worships a number of gods, derived from African deities:

  • the Orishas of Yoruba and Ketashi mythology (Ketu nation), spelled Orixás in Portuguese;

  • the Voduns of the Ewe and Fon (Jeje nation); and

  • the Nkisis (Minkisi) of the Bantu (Angola nation and Congo).

  • Tabela Orixas-Voduns-Nkisis

These deities were created by a supreme god or demon: Olodumare, Olorun etc. of the Yoruba, Zambi or Zambiapongo of the Bantu, and Nana Buluku of the Fon.

On the other hand, "deities" from one nation may be acculturated as "guests" in houses and ceremonies of another nation, besides those of the latter. Some nations assign new names to guest spirits, while some retain the names used in the nation of origin.

Candomblé and Polytheism

Polytheism is belief in, or worship of, multiple gods or divinities. The word comes from the Greek words poly and theoi, literally "many gods." Most ancient religions were polytheistic, holding to pantheons of traditional deities, often accumulated over centuries of cultural interchange and experience. Present-day polytheistic religions include Hinduism, Mahayana, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism in the East, and also contemporary African tribal religions. In the ancient world Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians worshiped a plurality of deities, as did the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Norse. However, the best-known example of polytheism in ancient times, is arguably Greek/Roman mythology (Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Poseidon, etc.). It is interesting to note that even in polytheistic religions, one god usually reigns supreme over the other gods, e.g., Zeus in Greek/Roman mythology and Brahman in Hinduism.

For the polytheists, deities or gods are formed around a number of aspects of life. These include natural forces and objects such as fertility and atmospheric forces; vegetation such as trees, herbs, and vineyards; animal and human forms such as serpents, cattle, and animal - human hybrids; and assorted functions such as love, agriculture, healing, and war, etc. In short, polytheists adore and worship the created world as divine rather then the creator God himself.

However, there are some serious philosophical problems when thinking about the definition of God in relation to polytheistic beliefs. By the broadest definition in most dictionaries, God refers to the supreme being that is above everything else. By very definition, this requires that it be only One being. The reasoning is that if this being was just another one of many gods, He would not necessarily be the highest or supreme. A polytheist might reply that there is one highest God with multiple lesser gods (i.e. Henotheism). However, this is still in contrast to the definition because those lesser beings cannot be referred to as "God", simply because they are not the supreme being. The definition of a supreme God demands that He is One.

Everyone can know with certainty that there is a supreme spiritual being, Who is the One True God and the Creator of the world and all that it contains. There is no one who cannot understand and believe that God exists, if he considers how the earth bears fruit and how the heavens give rain, how the trees bloom, how each and every animal exists in its own kind, how the stars serve man, and how troubles and sorrows come and often happen against the will of man. From all these things, man can see that he is mortal and that it is God who arranges and directs all these things. For if God did not exist, everything would be disorganized. Thus, all things are of God, and everything is rationally arranged for the use and knowledge of mankind. And there is not the least little thing that is created or exists in the world without reasonable cause. (cf. St. Bridget's Revelations, Book 1, chapter 15)

Everyone knows that God is not something that they have carved out of wood or jade or stone. They know that God is not the tree that they worship or the river they worship or the rock or the snake or the sacred tree frog or nature spirits. They know that these things aren't the Creator of the universe. Every such person knows that he is worshipping a creature rather than the Creator.

If a man cannot understand or comprehend God's virtues and powers as they are because of his weakness, he can still see them with faith and believe. But if people in the world do not want to use their reason to consider God's power, they can still use their hands to touch and sense the deeds that Jesus Christ and His saints have done. They are namely so obvious that no one can doubt them to be the deeds of God. Who raised the dead and gave sight to the blind if not God? Who cast out the evil devils from men if not God? What have God taught if not things beneficial for the prosperity of soul and body and easy to bear? (cf. St. Bridget's Revelations, Book 1, chapter 15)

"It is in accord with God's justice that entry into heaven must be gained through steadfast faith, rational hope, and fervent love. A person ponders more frequently and adores more lovingly that which the heart loves more and loves with greater fervor. So it is with the gods that are placed in temples - though they are not gods nor creators, since there is but one sole creator, I myself, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the owners of temples and people in general love the gods more than they love me, seeking to achieve worldly success rather than to live with me.

"If I were to destroy the things that people love more than me, and make the people adore me against their will, then I would certainly do them an injustice by taking away their free will and desire from them. Since they have no faith in me, and there is in their hearts something more delightful than me, I reasonably permit them to produce externally what they love and long for in their minds. Because they love creation more than me, the Creator, whom they can know by probable signs and deeds, if only they would make use of their reason, and because they are blind, accursed is their creation and accursed are their idols. They themselves shall stand in shame and be sentenced for their folly, because they refuse to understand how sweet I am, their God, who created and redeemed humankind out of fervent love." (St. Bridget's Revelations, Book 5 or The Book of Questions, Interrogation 8)

Candomblé and Demonic Possession

The demoniac view of Afro-Brazilian religions generally identified with umbanda and candomblé can be identified in the publication of the book Mãe-de-santo (1968), by the Canadian protestant "missionary" Walter Robert McAlister, founder of the heretical "New Life Pentecostal Church" in Rio de Janeiro in 1960. According to the book's preface:

"This is the incredible story of a Bahian woman whose knife scar on her right arm predestined her from birth to be a saint-mother [mãe-de-santo], serving the orixás and sacrificing to the exus since she was nine years old. In this re-edited fourth edition of the book, you will feel the repugnance experienced by Georgina Aragão dos Santos Franco on being imprisoned in a room fetid with the smell of dry blood, blood with which they had covered her entire body in 'making the saint.' You will later divine her overwhelming joy and euphoria when she finally discovered that her soul no longer belonged to the devil, since the blood of Jesus Christ became stronger and more powerful in her life than any offerings, trances or obligations. I am sure you will read this book many times, and that it will be passed on to friends, relatives or acquaintances who follow Afro-Brazilian sects. In fact, this is a book every Brazilian should read" (1983 [1968]:5)

Here the central themes of this antagonism are set out: 1. Identification of the divinities from the Afro-Brazilian pantheon with the devil; 2. Spiritual release through the (greater) power of the living blood of Jesus (in opposition to the 'dry' or 'fetid' blood of initiation or the offerings); 3. As a consequence of spiritual release, conversion. McAlister writes that on coming into contact in Brazil with 'macumba,' he initially thought it was no more than 'folklore.' Later, after "curing" a woman whose leg had been paralyzed ever since she had kicked a despacho (ritual offering), he realized the extent to which these 'superstitions' were real and harmful.

"From then on, I began to have direct contact with the victims of Candomblé and Umbanda, who told me the terrible drama involved in submitting oneself to the influences of the exus and orixás. In this way I passed from a certain incredulity to an awareness that these narratives were not merely the result of imagination, and that despite the superstitious roots, their effects were very real" (1983 [1968]:10).

This, then, was the fourth important characteristic of this 'spiritual battle:' rather than seeing the Afro-Brazilian religions as folklore, popular belief, ignorance or imagination, it was essential to recognize that their divinities 'exist,' although 'in truth' they are 'demonic spirits' that trick and threaten the Brazilian people.

"I believe that Brazil must free itself from this evil that already dominates – according to some authorities – more than a third of the population, who bow down before saint-father and mothers and obey the laws and orders of the orixás. I dedicate this book, therefore, to the victims of the diabolical power of Candomblé and Umbanda" (1983 [1968]:11).

I have no intention of examining McAlister's book in depth here or McAlister's own personal beliefs (see What is Protestantism?). However, a few things of importance will be mentioned.

Matthew 7:22-25: "Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles[1] in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity. Everyone therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock..." (The Rock is St. Peter.)

Firstly, it is only by the power of the name of Jesus that heretics and mortal sinner sometimes can exorcise devils and perform miracles! But they will still all go to Hell as we see in these verses! Secondly, also every person who've been delivered from demonic oppression or a false religion but failed to embrace the true Catholic Faith or have converted to a heretical form of "Christianity" will all go to Hell, unless they embrace the true traditional Catholic Church and Faith before the end of their lives[2].

Georgina belonged to candomblé in the double function of heiress of her grandmother's orixás and a priestess. She moves to Rio de Janeiro, where she frequents candomblé and umbanda terreiros, attends a sermon given by McAlister and for a year shuttles between the church and the terreiro, revealing just how difficult it was for her to abandon her earlier religious practice. Finally, she accepts the 'Lord's supper' and dedicates herself to preaching the new truth to her former brothers and sisters from the 'spirit faith.' In describing Georgina's point of view, the book appears to reach a climax when the heroin, at the request of another recently converted saint-mother, impiously destroys the peji (altar) of her terreiro.

In the two central chapters of the book, the narration passes to Georgina herself, who reveals the rituals of her former religion to which she was submitted or which she conducted, such as initiation (rituals involving shaving her head for Oxum, including herbal baths mixed with blood), the 'trabalhos' (spells) undertaken in cemeteries, despachos using bull brains, dolls for love spells and so on. At the end of her account, she reveals that "[...] the people of candomblé believe that the power of the 'trabalhos' resides in the secrets that the saint-mother learns through her vows to the orixás. Today I know perfectly well what these 'secrets' are and where they come from [...]: behind the bloody sacrifices, the offerings, foods and herbal baths; in sum, behind all the 'obligations' there is a malignant and diabolical power at work. The people believe that the orixás are gods, but do not understand that in reality they are forces of evil striving to enter their lives in order to control and later destroy them" (1983 [1968]:93).

[1] When heretics perform so-called "miracles", if they are not total hoaxes, then they are the lying signs and wonders that Jesus Christ warned believers to beware of in the last days.

2 Thessalonians 2:3;7-11, "Let no man deceive you by any means... For the mystery of iniquity already worketh; only that he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way. And then that wicked one shall be revealed whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of his mouth; and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming, him, Whose coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, And in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying: That all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity."

Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary explains this verse:

"Ver. 10. God shall send them the operation of error. That is, says St. Chrysostom and St. Cyril, he will permit them to be led away with illusions, by signs, and lying prodigies, which the devil shall work by antichrist, &c. (Witham) --- God shall suffer them to be deceived by lying wonders, and false miracles, in punishment of their not entertaining the love of truth. (Challoner) --- The end God proposes is the judgment and condemnation of such as reject the proffered light. This is the march of sin, according to St. Thomas Aquinas on this place. In the first place a man, in consequence of his first sin, is deprived of grace, he then falls into further sins, and ends with being eternally punished. Hence it happens that his new sins are a punishment of his former transgressions; because God will permit the devil to do these things. Deus mittet, quia Deus Diabolum facere ista permittet (St. Augustine, lib. xx. de Civ. Dei. chap. 19.)."

In short, since they have no love for God or the traditional Catholic Faith, God allows them to be led astray by lying signs and wonders to believe in all kind of wicked heresies. Mortal sins such as contraception, NFP or Natural Family Planning (which is no different from artificial contraception in intent), and other sins committed by them, especially sexual sins, undoubtedly are a major cause for people being abandoned by God.

[2] If you are unsure about what you believe, we invite you to say the following prayer to God; "God, help me to know what is true. Help me to discern what is error. Help me to know what is the correct path to salvation." God will always honor such a prayer.

If you want to receive the faith and Jesus as your Savior, simply speak to God, verbally or silently, receive baptism (how to convert to the true Biblical Faith), obey His Church and His Law, and tell Him that you want to receive the free gift of salvation through Jesus, Our Lord and Savior. If you want a prayer to say, here is an example: "God, thank you for loving me. Thank you for sacrificing yourself for me. Thank you for providing for my forgiveness and salvation. I want to accept the gift of salvation through Jesus. I want to receive Jesus as my Savior. Amen!"

Further reading:

Spiritual Information You Must Know to be Saved

Biblical Information You Must Know to be Saved

Christian Dogma You Must Believe to be Saved

Baptism; the Steps to Convert to the Traditional Faith; the Steps for Those Leaving False Sects; and Conditional Baptism

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