I Was a Practicer of Voodoo
NIGHT has fallen. Mingling with the roaring sounds of city traffic there is a steady beat of drums. Do you recognize the sound?
It betrays the nearness of a voodoo meeting right in the heart of Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo. But it could be in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife, Pôrto Alegre. The unmistakable, eerie rhythm is heard in many towns across the land. I know because I have attended hundreds of these meetings.
For almost twenty years I participated in spiritistic sessions. For twelve of those years I was a practicer of voodoo, advancing to the position next to the father of the god, as the leading voodoo priest or sorcerer is called. Several nights a week I would participate in voodoo rites.
Features of these rites are sacrificial offerings and prayers. An offering may be made to keep away Eshu, commonly identified with the Devil. The offering might include alcoholic beverages and foods such as manioc flour toasted in butter or oil. Often animals are slaughtered and offered. The participants dance around the offering, and may then leave it outside the door so that Eshu will not disturb the session.
Then, with drums and tambourines playing, the participants dance in a circle and sing, invoking the spirits to descend. As the dancing becomes faster and the music louder, suddenly the “gods” begin to possess the voodoo practicers. While these are in a state of trance, they are consulted by persons who have come to the session to get answers to family problems, employment problems or other matters about which they desire guidance or instruction.
At these meetings I regularly received the spirits. As the singing and dancing reached a frenzied peak, I would suddenly feel great power surging through me and an ecstatic feeling of being lifted up high. Although I was conscious, I had no control over my limbs or mind. An unseen force possessed me, moving me to speak. This was no simple state of ecstasy. I was possessed by an invisible intelligent force, for what I uttered were not thoughts that originated with me.
How, you may wonder, did I become involved in voodoo? Why is it so widespread here in Brazil?
My grandparents were from West Africa. They were brought to Brazil as slaves during the last century. I still remember them. In fact, I can still understand some of the African languages.
Roman Catholicism was then the established religion of Brazil, even as it is today. So my parents became Roman Catholics. I was born in Nepomuceno, Minas Gerais State, seventy years ago, and was brought up as a Catholic. Later I got married in the Catholic church and had my children baptized there.
Although being Catholics, we were never encouraged to read the Bible. I had little or no conception of what it taught, as is the case with most Catholics here. The doctrines of the Church weren’t satisfying. So I became interested in spiritism, eventually joining a local umbanda, or voodoo cult. To do this is not unusual here in Brazil, for voodoo worship is very popular.
Actually this worship originates in Africa. The early slaves combined their African tribal rituals with the Catholicism of Brazil. What emerged was a form of voodoo much like that practiced in Africa. The slaves merely adopted the trappings of the Catholic Church, substituting their own gods for the Catholic saints. Thus, Ogum, the god of war, became St. George. Oshum, the goddess of fresh water, became Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Iemanja, the goddess of the sea, became Our Lady of the Glory. And for us the chief deity Oshala became identified with Jesus Christ, whereas for other groups he became the god of creation.
So today most Catholics here participate in voodooism. W. E. da Matte e Silva, a voodoo priest, claims that 70 percent of Brazilian Catholics attend voodoo sessions. Another published account says that “more than 67 percent of Brazil’s Catholics attend macumba or voodoo sessions.” Auxiliary Bishop De Castro Pinto of Rio de Janeiro confirmed these statistics and blamed the “superficiality of Catholic instruction in Brazil” for this situation.
What Voodoo Includes
Voodoo includes so-called “white magic,” which is designed to do good for persons. For example, healings are performed. This appealed to me. Yet, at the same time, a great number of those who consult voodoo mediums want to have some kind of evil spell cast on someone. They often are willing to pay large sums of money for this service, and mediums are not inclined to turn them away.
Thus I came to feel confused by what appeared to be a very contradictory situation. At the same voodoo center, “services” were performed for good purposes prior to midnight, but right after midnight the more secret sessions were held for casting evil spells. I would often wonder about the propriety of this.
Persons interested in having a spell cast have to be present at the ceremony. Many come to have spells cast that will cause the sickness of another or even his death. Some may wish such evil to be cast on their marriage mate, or perhaps on the mistress of their marriage mate. On the other hand, some come to have the spirits maneuver things so that they can have extramarital affairs. To effect such spells, sacrificial offerings are prepared, and often these have to be placed at crossroads or other places directed by the spirits.
One day a mayor came to have the spirits invoked to help him to defeat his political opponent. Imagine a well-dressed, cultured man sitting on the dirty floor in a very hot hall, smoking huge cigars and drinking cheap cachaca, a sugarcane rum. Yes, people from all walks of life search out voodoo centers in quest of help from spirit forces. And so often their purpose is a selfish one or even an evil one.
However, what particularly began to bother me was the conduct of voodoo mediums themselves. Strife, jealousies, lying and sexual immorality were rife. It was not unusual for one medium to try to bind another with a spell. These voodoo practicers were my associates, and I must say that my own conduct was far from good. Actually, my life had become a shambles.
Years before, my wife had left me, and for some time I had been living consensually with a young woman. We were constantly bickering. Also, my health began to suffer. And it is little wonder, since, under the influence of the spirits, I would frequently down one or more bottles of rum at one sitting. I would do this without feeling any immediate effects of drunkenness.
The mother of the woman with whom I was living is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She kept telling me that the spirits were wicked angels, and that they only pretended to be the departed spirits of dead ancestors. I tried to ignore her. But my doubts became more persistent. I wondered: Why are these spirits so frightening? Why are they selfish, and so oblivious to their worshipers’ welfare?
When possessed by the spirits, the voodoo medium would prescribe offerings that the spirits demanded worshipers to make. Food offerings such as cooked corn, oil, chickens and alcoholic beverages were required. But also special robes were demanded, as well as beads, necklaces, images—all costly items for people of small means. When the demands could not be met, worshipers often suffered anguish; everything would go wrong in their family. At times they would actually experience whippings or were knocked to the ground by the spirits. The spirits inspired fear, not love, in worshipers.
However, despite doubts, I continued practicing voodoo. On the beaches of Santos, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) from São Paulo, I participated in the worship of Iemanja, especially on her feast day in December. Great throngs of people gather along the beaches of Brazil to attend the night-long ceremonies. A January 1, 1974, news report from Rio de Janeiro explains:
“Tens of thousands of white-robed voodoo believers jammed onto the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches last night for the traditional New Year’s eve homage to Iemanja, the mystical goddess of the sea.
“Brazilian followers of a voodoo cult called Umbanda—most of whom are also Roman Catholics—consider Iemanja equal in religious significance to the Virgin Mary.
“Swarms of curious Rio residents and small bands of photo-snapping foreign tourists trudged through the sand for a closer look as the white-robed spirit worshipers threw flowers, small hand-made boats and bottles of cachaca—a potent Brazilian rum—into the Atlantic Ocean as offerings to the allegedly influential voodoo goddess.”
Wherever rites of the various voodoo gods and goddesses were held, I was there to share. By the waterfalls in the interior of São Paulo province I took part in the worship of Oshum, the goddess of fresh water. I carried fetishes to the cemeteries at night. I put the objects and offerings used in casting spells on crossways.
My father of the god urged me to take the last step—to have my “head done” in order to become a leading priest or father of the god. However, the doubts that lurked at the back of my mind caused me to hold back. Besides, these secret initiation rites are very costly, amounting to as much as $350 to $700 even two years ago. I knew, of course, what was involved in such rites.
Priests’ Initiation Rites
A candidate has to stay at the voodoo center in complete seclusion for twenty-one days. The room is semidark, with a simple mat for a bed. A herbal bath is given the candidate to impart spiritual powers. Finally, on the twenty-first day, around midnight, the father of the god and seven assistants begin the ceremony. The candidate sits on a chair, eyes closed, waiting to fall into a trance. A prayer in an African dialect is sung, and bells are sounded.
Suddenly the priest pinches the candidate forcefully. This is to make sure that he is unconscious. If he cries out or merely twitches, the service is canceled. However, if he feels nothing, the priest first shaves the candidate’s hair, then inflicts a number of small cuts on various parts of the body, including his bare chest.
He is then led to another room for an herbal bath of purification. After this, he is ready to receive special robes and blood baptism. Next, he kneels in front of an enamel bowl in which there is a smaller bowl containing plates standing vertically. These bowls and plates represent his “god” or “guardian angel” and are called a “saint.” Every father or mother of the god has to have such a “saint” or “god” in order to perform sorcery and sustain leadership of a voodoo center.
The so-called “saint” or “god” must now be prepared for use. The assistants bring a goat and cut its throat, allowing the blood to gush out over the candidate’s shaved head and into the enamel bowls and over the plates. This is repeated with a chicken and two pigeons. The birds’ feet, heads and feathers, along with the tail and sex organ of the goat, are all put into the smaller bowl with the plates. The “god” is now ready for use by this new father of the god (or, mother of the god), who will direct a voodoo center and have followers, or sons and daughters of the god.
A candle is lit that lasts seven days, and by its side are placed two vessels with water for the “gods” to drink. By now it is morning and the new father of the god is allowed to lie down and sleep. Theoretically he is father of the god, although, according to rule, seven years should pass before he is considered a full-fledged priest.
Emphasis on Sex
As I mentioned before, sexual immorality was rife among practicers of voodoo. I know that the spirits on occasion would demand that worshipers take off their clothes, or bare their breasts, and engage in sexual relations. I began to wonder whether the reason for this was in some way connected with the spirits’ wish to gratify perverted desires. This is what the mother of the woman with whom I was living claimed.
I am certain now that she was right. Why? Because there is so much evidence that points to this conclusion. To take just one example: A friend of mine here in São Paulo was a mother of the god; her home served as a voodoo center. She was declared “blessed by the gods” because of her remarkable powers. Even doctors of São Paulo Hospital of Psychiatry called her in to exorcise spirits, and patients left the hospital apparently cured. She made a pact with a “spirit of light,” signing the contract with her own blood.
However, in time she discovered that she had become a helpless puppet of evil unseen forces. Under spirit command she was forced to arrange for immoral women to entice her husband away from home, and he would commit adultery with them. Then the spirits demanded that sex relations form part of the healing rituals that she performed in her home. The explanation was that by this means the sick person would be “unloaded” or cured, his sickness being transferred by means of the sexual intercourse to the medium. The spirits also ordered that women patients be treated by performing acts of lesbianism with them. In the case of young people, the spirits encouraged “sex control,” in reality, masturbation.
The life of this woman, like mine, became a shambles. Her home was ruined by strife and jealousy. The spirits even beat her physically when she refused their orders. But recently she told me: “At times I would think about my neighbor, a humble, patient and serenely happy woman, so different from me. She was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I wondered what she had that I longed for. In time I went to her meetings. There, instead of fear of neighbor, I found bountiful love and true compassion.”
After nineteen years under the power of the spirits, this woman, as a result of Bible study and prayer to Jehovah God, was able to shake herself free. She was baptized by Jehovah’s Witnesses in August 1972. She told me recently: “How my life has changed! My children accompany me to the Christian meetings at the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and my husband has returned home. Now we are working hard to build a new life.”
Why I Changed My Life
Meanwhile, the mother of the woman with whom I was living continued to talk to me about the Bible. She pointed out that voodoo practice failed to bring peace of mind or to instill love, the mark of true Christianity. She quoted to me from the Bible at 1 John 4:8 and John 13:35 where it says that “God is love,” and that Jesus’ disciples would be known by the love that they have among themselves.
Then, one evening in 1971, two middle-class women appeared at our house and requested that I prepare a fetish to cause the death of the husband of one of them. The woman was in love with another man; so she offered me 1,000 cruzeiros (about $115) for this “service.” But this time I rejected the enticing offer. Why?
Well, what my mate’s mother had been telling me from the Bible began to make an impression. I simply could not agree any longer to such evil practices. I wanted to learn more, and so I accepted a Bible study with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
As we studied the Bible, it was as if a veil were lifted from my eyes. There were, according to umbanda doctrine, chiefs in charge over phalanxes of spirits. The spirits were said to be the departed souls of persons who had died. But that could not be! The Bible makes clear that death ends a person’s consciousness; the soul does not survive to live somewhere else. The Bible teaches that a person himself is a living soul, and that when the person dies, his soul dies. Even in a prophecy regarding Jesus Christ, the Bible says: “He poured out his soul to the very death.”—Isa. 53:12.
Who, then, are the spirits that possess voodoo practicers and enable them to do supernatural deeds? I had been told by my mate’s mother that they were angels that had turned wicked. Now I learned for myself. I read scriptures from the Bible that talk about “the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” The Bible also says: “Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light. It is therefore nothing great if his ministers also keep transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness.”—Eph. 6:12; 2 Cor. 11:14, 15.
I learned that Satan is identified in the Bible as the “original serpent,” hence the angel who, posing as a friend, possessed the serpent in the Garden of Eden and deceived Eve. (Rev. 12:9; Gen. 3:1-5) Later in heaven, “when the sons of the true God entered to take their station before Jehovah,” the Bible says, “Satan proceeded to enter right among them.” (Job 1:6) Yes, Satan had once been an angel in God’s heavenly organization, but had turned away from God and made a demon of himself. Also, other ‘sons of God’ joined him in forsaking the true God Jehovah and became wicked angels, or demons. That is why Satan was called Beelzebub, “the ruler of the demons.”—Luke 11:14-19.
But what caused the angels to forsake their places in God’s heavenly organization? The answer to this is what really amazed me. It fitted so well with things that I had actually observed. The Bible says that before the flood in Noah’s day, “the sons of the true God began to notice the daughters of men, that they were good-looking; and they went taking wives for themselves, namely, all whom they chose.”—Gen. 6:1-4.
Now, these ‘sons of God,’ I learned, could not have been humans. This is because the Bible shows that by his rebellion the first man Adam had lost for himself, as well as his future offspring, the blessed relationship as ‘sons of God.’ So these “sons of the true God” were angels who materialized human bodies. One of Christ’s disciples spoke of them as “the angels that did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place” in heaven to satisfy their sexual passions. Although these wicked angels, who returned to the spirit realm when the Flood waters fell, have been restrained from materializing again as humans, their sexual depravity is still very much evident, as I am well aware.—Jude 6, 7.
I made my final break with voodoo worship about the time I started studying the Bible. Why? Well, when I was away the leading priest of our voodoo center went to my home and made amorous advances to my mate. Fortunately I arrived in time and confronted him, took hold of his arm and forced him out. All threats against our lives for leaving the voodoo cult proved to be ineffective. Jehovah God has protected us.
As my mate and I studied God’s Word, we started to produce the fruits of his spirit in our lives, especially love, peace and joy. (Gal. 5:22, 23) This has meant the end of our bickering and quarreling. We cleared up our marital situation, and in January 1973 we both symbolized our dedication to Jehovah God by the Scripturally prescribed way of water baptism. Since September 1974 I have enjoyed the privilege of being one of the ministerial servants in the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
What has made us so happy is to be serving the God of love, Jehovah, and experiencing the genuine love that exists among the true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ. We look forward confidently to realizing full reconciliation with God, enjoying the promised blessing: “God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3, 4)—Contributed.
[Blurb on page 16]
“I was possessed by an invisible intelligent force.”
[Blurb on page 18]
“People from all walks of life search out voodoo centers in quest of help.”
[Blurb on page 19]
“Secret initiation rites are very costly, amounting to as much as $350 to $700.”
[Blurb on page 20]
‘Even doctors of São Paulo Hospital of Psychiatry called a friend of mine in to exorcise spirits.’
[Blurb on page 20]
“The spirits demanded that sex relations form part of the healing rituals.”
[Blurb on page 21]
‘The sexual depravity of these wicked angels is still very evident.’
[Picture on page 17]
A “daughter of the god” in a trance, with blood on her from the animal sacrifice