Lesson learned


In my last post, I mentioned that practitioners of the traditional Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé are sick and tired of being studied. We’re also tired of being misunderstood – yes, I’m speaking as a practitioner. I was initiated as a novice more than 20 years ago, and over the last couple of decades, I have taken several people to visit Candomblé temples and even for divination sessions by having cowries or Ifá opeles (divining chains) cast for them by respected religious leaders. Some experiences were positive, and some left me full of regret.

My most recent experience was the worst. I naively neglected to give a visitor “the lecture” to give her some background on the subject, or at the very least some reading materials, like the entry on Afro-Brazilian religions I wrote for the Brazil Today encyclopaedia. Somehow, I assumed that she would approach the subject with an open mind. I also assumed that she respected my knowledge and judgement and would let me be her guide. Unfortunately, people who firmly believe that Candomblé, orisha worship and their cousins, like Santeria (Lukumi) and Vodun, are purely negative and devoted to doing harm had already influenced her mindset.The result was a bizarre post on a major blog – with a much larger readership than this one – calling Candomblé “black magic” and “witchcraft.” When I explained that these terms have been used to persecute my religion for centuries, she simply removed my name from the post. Later, after receiving comments from two of my friends and presumably many others, she changed the wording, but left in “black magic mini-break” because it was a “joke.”

I’m deeply saddened and disappointed by this experience. As a result, anyone who turns up asking about Candomblé and cowrie divination in the future will have to sit through “the lecture” and read up on the subject first – I recommend Robert Farris Thompson’s Flash of the Spirit, for starters. Otherwise they will find any doors I could open firmly shut. There are plenty of charlatans about who will be more than happy to take their money.