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A hub of mysticism in Catholic Brazil

Brasilia hosts thousands of faiths, both traditional and highly esoteric

<p>A man prays in a temple at the Vale do Amanhacer, or Sunrise Valley, just outside Brasilia (AFP/Evaristo Sa)</p>

A man prays in a temple at the Vale do Amanhacer, or Sunrise Valley, just outside Brasilia (AFP/Evaristo Sa)

  • Yana Marull, Brasilia for AFP
  • Brazil
  • June 6, 2013
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Brazil's capital is well known for the modern architecture of its designer, the late Oscar Niemeyer. But mystic types come for a different kind of thrill, like communicating with the spirits.

The greater Brasilia area has about 1,000 worship sites for every possible faith in the country with, at least nominally, the world's largest Catholic population, and esoteric rites and mediums are part of the mix.

In Vale do Amanhecer (Valley of Dawn), a town 40 kilometers outside Brasilia, people dress up in the garb of civilizations past, like the Maya, or as wizards and nymphs as they trudge through the streets in rapturous contact with the spirits. Tourists positively lap it up.

What on earth is going on? Actually, it is going on underground.

Mystics say Brasilia, inaugurated in 1960, was built atop an area with great cosmic energy – a plateau 1,100 meters above sea level, resting on a subsoil of crystals.

Koraly Aredes, an 86-year-old former Catholic missionary who spent more than half her life in Africa, says she found her faith here.

"I saw so much misery in my life that I stopped believing in God, and I found my answer in Spiritism," she said, alluding to the belief that inside human bodies are spirits that leave the body after death and can resurface in another body.

The cult surrounding the mystic buzz in Vale do Amanhecer is said to have 100,000 mediums. It was founded in the 1960s by a clairvoyant widow named Neiva Chaves Zelaya, who died in 1985 and is known as Tia (Aunt) Neiva.

The main mystical site looks like a spaceship, and inside it bright colors and mirrors divide up spaces dedicated to things or people like the moon, the sun, Jesus Christ and the Queen of Sheba – all part of Tia Neiva's vision.

Long lines form as people wait for spiritual cures for what ails them, a cleansing of their souls or hook-ups with somebody out there in the great beyond. As chants hum, incense fills the air.

Paulo Roberto, a 50-year-old medium and lawyer wears brown and black garb that looks like it comes right out of a space-based sci-fi flick.

"Catholics wear cassocks, Jews have skullcaps, and we also wear special clothes, in order to represent a reincarnation or our mission in Vale," he said.

But the mystic tourism industry has much, much more to offer.

The hottest draw, at 100,000 visits a month, is Brasilia's Temple of Good Will, a pyramid that is open 24 hours a day and belongs to no particular religion, where people walk through a spiral-like space to recharge and tidy up their energies.

The mystic and religious experiences on offer are so popular that the local government is working with UNESCO to fashion a full-blown religious tour out of it, said Meire France, a tourism official.

A bit further from the capital is the town of Abadiania, where thousands of people from around the world arrive every week to be treated by Brazil's most famous medium, a man named Joao de Deus, and undergo what he calls “spiritual surgery," complete with scalpel, needles, no anesthesia and no pain.

And in the town of Gama, an illiterate medium named Valentim Ribeiro Souza has been treating patients for the past 55 years, three times a week.

His faithful are people suffering from cancer or who have not found answers in traditional medicine.

Valentim, 73, works a pair of small scissors adroitly, tapping people on the head with them or snapping them open and shut as if he actually were cutting open skin, and wriggling with a spasm or abruptly screaming.

"Today, I am completely cured," says a happy Leonice Silva Rocha, 70, who says he cured her only remaining kidney of cancer.

Ribeiro Souza churns out health at a furious pace: In four hours, he has treated 900 sick people. Helping him, he says, are 60 spirits. He says he himself spent 14 years in a wheelchair until a spontaneous cure turned him into a "spiritual doctor."

"We see everything there is inside people," Ribeiro Souza said, referring to himself and the spirits. AFP

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