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While some fear its dark reputation, others take delight in dancing to the cult’s “rhythm of the saints,” the samba.
In its outward appearances and in some of its practices, Macumba (also known as Spiritism, Candomblé, and Umbanda) resembles Voodoo. Trance states among the practitioners are induced by dancing and drumming, and the ceremony climaxes with an animal sacrifice.
The ancient role of the shaman remains central to Macumba. He (it is most often a male) or she enters into a trance state and talks to the spirits in order to gain advice or aid for the supplicants. Before anyone can participate in a Macumba ceremony, he or she must undergo an initiation. The aspirants must enter a trance during the dancing and the drumming and allow a god to possess them. Once the possession has taken place, the shaman must determine which gods are in which initiate so that the correct rituals can be performed. The process is enhanced by the sacrifice of an animal and the smearing of its blood over the initiates. Once the initiates have been bloodied, they take an oath of loyalty to the cult. Later, when the trance state and the possessing spirit have left them, the aspirants, now members of the Macumba cult, usually have no memory of the ritual proceedings.
Macumba was born in the 1550s from a blending between the spirit worship of the African slaves brought to Brazil and the Roman Catholicism of the slaveholders. Although the captive slaves were forced to give token obeisance to an array of Christian saints and the God of their masters, the native priests soon realized how complementary the two faiths could be—especially since, unlike the slave owners in the United States, the Brazilians allowed the slaves to keep their drums. The Africans summoned their gods, the orishas, with the sound of their drums and the rhythm of their dancing. The African god Exu became Saint Anthony, Lemanja became Our Lady of the Glory, Oba became Saint Joan of Arc, Oxala became Jesus Christ, Oxum became Our Lady of the Conception, and so on. From the melding of the two religious faiths, the Africans created the samba, the rhythm of the saints, which has survived as an international dance favorite.