The Gnosis of the Devil

Note: The following article was originally published in the anthology “Noxaz”, and now published here with the author’s approval.


Le Chef ou Prince des mauvais Esprits auquelles Formosans sacrifient. From George Psalmanaazaar’s “Description de l’Isle Formosa en Asie” (1712).
It is showed here as an example of the imposition of European demonological ideas over the culture of the colonies.



The past and the future of the craft of Quimbanda, with some personal observations on encounters with Exu


The Inquisition in Portugal in the XVI century presented some utterly unique peculiarities. The inquisitors displayed the usual obsessions to be found at the other courts in Europe with the three key concepts of the Church definition of diabolical witchcraft, namely the Pact, the Mark and the Sabbath. However, what they got was a torrent of loquacious ethnographic data on the popular magic of the common folk, which much extrapolated what they were looking for.

[…] the intensive analyses of around hundred processes of the Inquisition we selected about magic showed an enormous loquacity of the prisoners, accusers and witnesses, although none of them was submitted to torture. The declarations found did not correspond, in the majority of the cases, to the mental universe of the judges. Whilst the inquisitors were concerned to know if the magical practices had profited from the diabolical pact, the inquired agents talked about syncretic practices, with alternated invocations of God and demons, of souls and of supernatural forces, the throwing of sorts, the realization of conjures, the prognostic of the past, of the present and of the future, the elaboration of love philters, boilers, bindings, amulets, nominas[1], touching letters[2], sorceries of love and hate.[3]

What is of interest here for us are the popular concepts of the diabolical magical practices of Portugal back then and, to a certain extent, also from Spain. It is difficult to distinguish Portuguese and Spanish folk magic as both nations shared a continuous mutual influence, including being under the same crown in the period of 1580 to 1640. As we will see, there is a very close resemblance between the devilish invocations used in both countries, and the history of conjures of the dead Spanish witch queen Maria de Padilla shows very clearly the line of influence coming from Spain.

The concepts behind these devilish practices are very simple. We do not see here the complicated hierarchical arrangements to be found in the grimoires or in the demonological treatises used by the Holy Office. The list of demons usually invoked is short and composed of the most common known names, like Satanaz, Lucifer and Belcebu. There is a much diminished respect for the hierarchy of Hell and they lack the specialization attributed to many different spirits in the grimoires: the kings of the demons are called for everything and charged with the most prosaic tasks.

The most important characteristic of the magical view behind these practices is the fundamental role attributed to the souls of dead. Prominent in the Greek-Roman magic before the rise of Christianity, the invocation of the souls of the dead suffered from Saint Augustine‘s reinterpretation of magical practices as being an exclusively demonic enterprise: every spirit attending an invocation was denounced as a devil in disguise, no matter if it was believed to be a god or a ghost. There were no gods, wrote the African bishop, only deceiving demons thirsting after the adoration and the offerings provided by humans. And the eschatology developed by the Church during centuries of confuse councils would deny any magical powers to the souls of Hell and in Purgatory.

There was however some doctrinal breaches through which necromantic practices could leak in, most of them deriving from the cult of the saints. The saints were the blessed souls in Heaven who were believed to have power of action in the world of the living, where they were as loved as feared[4]. So it is not a surprise to find some of them named in the spells. Saints like Erasmus or Mark appear repeatedly in the Portuguese conjures – very often mixed with diabolical callings:

Oh glorious Saint Mark, Saint Mark mark you, Jesus Christ assuage you, Saint Manso tame you, the Holy Spirit humble you, my Saint Mark glorious Saint, I ask you that my blood be not spilled and neither my forces taken neither my enemies found me by the power of God father, God son and of the Holy Spirit that my enemies have eyes but not see me, and the mouth they have do not talk of me by the power of Lucifer all the hours be with me whenever I am to be found with my enemies.[5]

But it is not only demons and saints we find in the sorcery of the common folk. There is a list of dead souls who seem to have being adopted into the infernal legions where they rose to positions of power and command. In Spanish spells we have figures like Marta the Lost, the mother of Saint Peter, the Queen of Sardinia, the Marquis of Villena and the most important of them, Maria de Padilla. All these souls have in common some past association with sin or magic which made the people believe them to be condemned to Hell, but at the same time they had some extraordinary characteristic which provided them with a better afterlife fate between the legions of the damned. Marta the Lost (who is in Hell for the love of a man), and the mother of Saint Peter (who brings the broth to the hanged) are more mythological in character; there is a long list of Queens of Sardinia to be researched to discover to whom the spells refer to, but when it comes to the Marquis de Villena and Maria de Padilla we are treading in more safe historical grounds. The Marquis in question could be Diego López Pacheco y Portocarrero (1443—1529), the second Marquis of Villena who protected the heretical sect of the Alumbrados[6], or more likely Enrique de Villena (1384-1434), who wrote one Tratado de la fascinación o de aojamiento (Treatise on the Evil Eye), and was considered after his death to be a necromancer[7]. Maria de Padilla (1334-1361) is the well known lover and posthumous wife of the king of Castile Peter the Just (1334-1369), whose influence over the king was accused of being magical. These special souls of the dead always appear in the known spells associated to the principal demons mentioned before.

From the diverse confessions and denunciations gathered by the inquisitors we can reconstitute the method used by the witches to summon the devils and the dead, according to the following features:

Place: The invocations were usually done in the fields or bushes, sometimes in the backyard of the house. The domestic space could be dangerous to other people (as the demons could attack them) and to the witch herself (who could be spied upon and denounced), but some witches believed the spirits could manifest better in the isolated places.[8]

“Margarida Pimenta, concretely, said to a client “that she could not do anything at the house of her sister named Calista because there was a boy there […] son of the said Calista and she was afraid that the demons could do him some harm and she would instead do it in the fields because there the demons came to her better.”[9]

Time: The chosen days were the Fridays, the Wednesdays and the Mondays, usually between the twenty and two and midnight hours.[10]

Protection: Some witches used simple variations of the magical circles we know from the grimoires, usually drawing a simple circle, a sign of Solomon or a cross in which they went inside.

“Isabel Lopes, for example, used to say that she would make in the house a wheel and would go into it and from inside it she would call the devils, who if they found her out of that wheel and the sign of Solomon would make her in pieces. In a confession of Iria Jorge, she said that the devil always challenged her to leave the circle she drawn on the floor, because that way she would be under his power.[11]

Nudity: Partial nudity and loose or disheveled hair is frequently mentioned, and was even considered by some to be a very necessary condition (see below the justification of the witch Margarida Pimenta).

“To walk naked and with the hair [loose or disheveled] certainly identified, in the popular imagination, the protagonist of this act with the witch. In the XVI century, in Evora, it is known that the person interested in the conjuration of the stones should do it ´with [loose] hair and in shirt, gazing at a star and holding in the hand nine stones taken from crossroads.´ In the XVII century, such gestures persisted: in 1637, Maria Ortega conjured the spirits disheveled and naked from the waist up, and in 1664 it was in an identical form that Maria da Silva invoked demons or uttered a beautiful orison of Saint Erasmus, using also one bowl and green candles.”[12]

Offerings: There is frequent mention of simple offerings, generally of food, made to the spirits.

“Margarida Pimenta, who put outside the circle three small portions of barley for when the demons under the figure of piglets came, justified the failure of her conjuration saying that she was not naked and lacked the entrails of a goat to feed them. Brites de Figueiredo, for her part, was famous for giving bread, meat and fish to a little devil named Martinho; [the devils preferred] according to Simão Pinto “black bread and fish cooked with mud”; Brites Dias give them garlic and onions to eat.”[13]

Conjure: The conjuration is made with simple verses, easily remembered and repeated.

Aims: The invocations of demons are usually made to solve quotidian problems and often on behalf of clients.

Relationship: The relationship with the devils may vary; some witches brag about her power over the spirits, others confess their submission and fear and often the dangers of the activity are also mentioned.

“Now the [witch known as] Arde-lhe-o-rabo[14] used to affirm to wander disheveled and naked in the churchyards and bushes, in search of sorceries: “because I go at midnight to my backyard with the head in the air and the door opened toward the sea and I bury and unbury some jars and I am naked from the waist up and with the hair [disheveled] and I speak with the devils and call them and I am with them in great danger.” When she returned from these walks, she came “beaten” by the devils and the works she had. [15]

It was this folk style of conjure magic which migrated to Brazil, as a result of the exile of the witches. As an example of this, we have Antonia Maria, a professional witch prosecuted by the Inquisition of Lisbon and condemned to deportation to Angola, who ended up in Brazil around 1715 together with another Portuguese witch (whom she indicated as her teacher in the craft), Joana de Andrade. Antonia Maria surpassed Joana learning in Brazil from another sorcerer named Páscoa Maria and, after a time, became a rival to her old master, whom she apparently bewitched to death for trying to break some of her spells.[16]

Antonia Maria is a good example because her spells are perfect samples of the necromantic and diabolical conjure brought to Brazil from the Iberian countries. She would sit at the entrance of her house, with a cheese made from she-goat milk cut in three pieces to offer to the main demons, and recited conjurations like the following:

In this portal I come to sit, and I do not see so and so and I do not have anyone to go and bring him to me, go Barabbas, go Satanas, go Lucifer, go his wife, go Maria Padilha with all her quadrilha[17], and all want to gather and at so and so house enter, and do not let him eat, sleep or rest without entering through my door, and do everything I ask of him, and grant to me, and if you do it a table I will offer to give to you.[18]

This spell shows clearly the divergence between the popular and the erudite view about demonological magic. For the witch, it was a business matter with a specific form of payment, the offering of food (the she-goat cheese for the initial contact, a table of food if the spell worked out); for the inquisitors, the effectiveness of the practices could not be understood without resource to the Pact. The theology of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas even created the notions of implicit and explicit pact which enabled the Holy Office to impose its own interpretation regardless of what the accused confessed or believed – exactly what happened in the second trial of Antonia Maria.

But the offering of food was also a dangerous practice, because it could easily be reinterpreted by the witch-hunters as a form of idolatry, the reason why it disappeared from the grimoire literature since the time of the Hygromanteia[19], the main source for the later most popular of the grimoires, the Key of Solomon in its many variations. But the offering of food survived with the Iberian sorcerers and would soon be married to African practices when the exiled and the enslaved joined forces against their common oppressors.

The Colonial Roots of Quimbanda

Portugal’s new found possessions on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean soon became in the imaginations of many Europeans a forsaken land ruled by the Devil. The harshness and many dangers of the Tropics and the savagery of its inhabitants soon eclipsed the view that the land of Paradise was found. The change of the name of the colony, which was first called Terra de Vera Cruz (“Land of the True Cross”), to Brasil was seen by the Portuguese historian and chronicler Pêro de Magalhães Gândavo (1540-1580) as a work of the devil, taking away the blessed name in exchange for the name of the red wood intensely commercialized. The Franciscan friar Vicente do Salvador (1564-1635), considered to be “the father of Brazilian history”, also lamented the change to which he attributed the decadence of the land.

The exiled witches and the enslaved people from both sides of the ocean soon got together in unholy alliances. The exchange of magical knowledge between the Europeans, Indigenous Brazilians and Africans is attested very early:

Another specific feature of colonial witchcraft, which began to accentuate in the end of the XVI century, was its association to the African magical practices. According to the Visitations [of the Inquisition] in Bahia, a slave from Guinea named André Buçal made divinations with pans and boilers around 1587. Since then, the references grow: around 1610, the witch Maria Barbosa, protégé of the governor of Bahia Don Diogo de Menezes, acted in collusion with the Black Cucana, who made powders with scraps from certain roots. In 1616, white men already used the knowledge of the African sorcerers to get the cure to relatives and friends.[20]

In 1767, in the river Tajurá, many people – the majority Indigenous Brazilians – used to make sorcery operations invoking the demon, pretending to make spirits descend, prophesying future things and discovering the hidden ones, pretending, by those means, to cure and heal the sick. All the cases refer to a very similar practice. Ludovina Ferreira, white woman, assimilated the curative magic of the indigenous people; around 1735 she promoted cures in the company of the Indigenous Brazilian Antonio.[21]

It is important to notice that it is this triple cultural symbolism that will give rise later to the three types of spirits we find in the new Brazilian religion named Umbanda: the spirits of the Old Blacks (“PretoVelhos,” wise and old slaves of African origin); the Caboclos (Indigenous Brazilians or the result of the union of Europeans and Indigenous Brazilians) and the Exus (heavily indebted to the European iconography of the Devil and his human associates). Together they represent respectively the African traditions brought by the slaves, the Indigenous elements of the original owners of the land and the diabolical concepts of European folk magic. This last devilish retinue, however, would at some point begin to work its way toward independence under the denomination of Quimbanda.


The Feast

The invention of the diabolical Sabbath is the history of a tragic irony, the re-elaboration of an ancient slander which, in the end, received a life of its own:

The fantasy is first met with in the second century, when pagan Greeks and Romans attached it to the small Christian communities in the Empire. These unfortunate people found themselves accused of holding meetings at which babies or small children were ritually slaughtered, and feasts at which the remains of these victims were ritually devoured; also of holding erotic orgies at which every form of intercourse, including incest between parents and children, was freely practiced; also of worshipping a strange divinity in the form of an animal.[22]

The myth of the Sabbath was then created against the Christians, but ended up being used by the Church to slander every group considered as heretic from the XIV century onward, until it finally was transformed into the Sabbath of the witches.

No matter how diligently the inquisitors guided their victims into confessing their attendance to the diabolical feast, the fact remains that the soldiers of the Church and their Reformers colleagues never caught a group of witches actually meeting in the woods, churchyards, fields or cemeteries from the beginning to the end of the persecutions. Groups of heretics were with a certain frequency found out, ambushed and arrested, but the only notices of the gatherings of the supposed witches came from their confessions.

Until, of course, the Europeans discovered the religious festivities of the Native Brazilians and Africans.

Native Brazilians like the Tupinambás called immediately the horrified attention of the colonizers with their cannibalistic celebrations, which were seem as diabolical meetings, and the New World soon lost the image of a new found Paradise to be seen as the true Kingdom of the Devil:

The New World was given over to sin and seemed to not have salvation anymore, many Jesuits narrate in their letters actions that in their eyes were things of the devil: “incest” (…), polygamy, (…) nudity, laziness, greed, paganism, cannibalism,” some Jesuits been saying that “the Native Brazilians are the people of the devil.” The demonization attributed to the Native Americans was one of the aspects of the perception of the European, to whom the New World was before a domain of God but now became a refuge of the devil, who losing space in the Old World searched for shelter in the new lands, where a range of opportunities was open for his dominations. [23]

The ceremonies of the African slaves also called for similar considerations, and both subjugated cultures also shared the ritual use of trance possession. Trance possession was, of course, known for a very long time in Europe, a knowledge inherited from Antiquity when it was seen in both positive and negative ways. In fact, possession by the gods was then a very important feature of the religious experience:

Possession by the gods, or ‘divine inspiration’, was an important phenomenon in ancient, polytheistic Graeco-Roman religion. Divine possession formed one of the most significant elements of certain divination rituals. One of the most ubiquitous and widespread types of divination was the Oracle.3 Oracle centres were specific temples of deities which both individuals and state delegations frequently visited to ask for guidance. This oracle was obtained through a prophet or prophetess who was thought to be ‘inspired’ or ‘possessed’ by a god or goddess or by a daimon, a type of semi-divine spirit.[24]

But there was also another side to the phenomenon, the possession by evil spirits widely known to every Mediterranean culture. In fact, the ability to exorcise these intrusive entities was seem as a necessary proof of holiness and played a major role in the development of Christianity.

Exorcism is the ancient magical technique of driving out daemons from patients who are thought to be possessed. It was practiced in antiquity by ‘‘medicine men’’ and miracle-workers long after Hippocrates had established the foundations of scientific medicine. Christ exorcised, and in the early Church the ability to drive out daemons was considered a spiritual gift, like speaking in tongues.[25]

Again as a consequence of the theological interpretations of Saint Augustine, possession became seen only in a negative way, and its presence in the ceremonies of the colonized people of Africa and America could only strengthen the diabolical prejudice. Ceremonial possession was achieved with the aid of music, something that was also knew in the Late Antiquity:

It may be instructive to examine how this paradoxical situation occurs, according to Iamblichus. The philosopher describes states of divine possession which occur in cults where musical instruments (such as pipes, cymbals, tambourines, etc.) are used to encourage or induce a state of receptivity in the human being.[26]

We have several descriptions from the colonial times about the religious meetings held by the slaves and other sympathizers, meetings usually named calundus. The following excerpt, taken from a denunciation made to the Holy Office in 1772, shows very clearly how these reunions happened and also how they were interpreted after the theological bias of the Church:

To my presence came a black man named Francisco and through him it was said that as a true Catholic and son of the Holy Mother Church he came to denounce himself because being certain time in the Arraial of São Sebastião, near this town, and hearing that many black men and women were making batuques in a place outside the arraial, and by curiosity he went to see the dances and he saw that the author of the dances was the black man Felix, from Green Cape, and he began to make calundus by diabolical art making a black woman, Maria Angola, the slave of a mestizo woman, to fall as dead and the said Felix spoke that the souls from the Coast of Guinea were the ones talking inside that creature. [27]

A cannibalistic feast in Brazil, painted by Theodor de Bry, 1592. The Native Brazilians are depicted as demons. (Picture taken by the author at the National Museum, in Rio de Janeiro)

Trance possession would become the most important contribution to the praxis of the Afro-Brazilian religions, a formidable way of contacting the spirit world which was prohibited and half-forgotten in Europe. Together with the practice of offerings, possession became after a time the most characteristic feature of the Quimbanda.


The Secret of the Macumba


Brazil was the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery, in 1888. However, this late act of humanity was not followed by policies of integration and the great mass of ex-slaves was severally marginalized.

In Rio de Janeiro the African descendants occupied a large area in the center of the city, where they mingled with European immigrants and other people ill-favored by Fortune. This hotbed of prostitutes and capoeiras[28] was the cradle of the syncretic magical-religious movement named Macumba.

It is very difficult to describe with accuracy the characteristics of the Macumba as it developed in the end of the XIX century, before its rituals were refurbished by the creators of the Umbanda in the first four decades of the XX century. We know that its main influence was from the Bantu religion, brought by the Congo-Angolan slaves who were majority in Rio de Janeiro. Bantu religion dealt deeply with the cult of the ancestors, seen as active forces with whom the living could interact. Many traces of Bantu religious practices are discernible in the Macumba:

In the late 1900s, Yoruba and Kôngo-Angolan people represented the majority of the enslaved brought to Brazil. Later, the Kikôngo-speaking groups incorporated the combined religions of Dahomey and Native America (Amerindian) with Catholicism and European spiritualism to construct the religious practice of Macumba. In practice, cruciforms chalked on the floors of shrines, and the presence of certain medicinal spirits attest to the Kôngo-Angolan influence. Many Macumba priests “mark points” (pontos riscados) in the manner of the Bâkôngo to “center” consecrated water. The Afro-Brazilian term pontos cantados and pontos riscados (simultaneous singing and marking points) provides further evidence of the Kôngo custom.[29]

The “marking points” are a very good example of the syncretic way in which African and European practices got combined in Brazil, as European magic also made use of symbols drawn on the floor and the symbols today used in Umbanda and Quimbanda largely derive from that source. It is very difficult to determine when African or European traditions were more important in the development of a certain feature of Quimbanda, but at the moment I tend to think that the Bantu people provided the basic ritual performance, with the centrality of trance possession, and European demonological magic provided the aesthetic features like the images of the exus and pombagiras. The inception of European magical thinking into the structure of African rituals happened since the beginning of the slave traffic to Brazil, and can be summarized in the following moments:

  1. Association of Portuguese exiled (or not) witches with the African slaves, since the beginning of the traffic in 1533.
  2. Association of freed slaves with European immigrants (especially Italians), after the end of slavery. Europeans were encouraged to mass migration in an attempt of “whitening” the country, and brought with them many magical folk practices.
  3. Influence of French magical and Spiritist literature, which were imported in the fin-de-siècle and the beginning of the XX century. Occultist societies and publishers existed in the middle and upper classes, and France was then the cultural model of the Brazilian elite. These books were soon available to a larger audience in the public libraries.

Some of the fundamental traces of the Macumba can be already discerned in the descriptions of the rituals practiced in the final years of the XIX century by the most famous sorcerer of the time, the African descendent Juca Rosa. Juca Rosa became famous for being the most known and looked for sorcerer in the Court and because of the legal prosecution he suffered in 1871 for fraud. He had an impressive list of followers and clients from the upper strata of the society, especially women. A good deal of facts came out during the investigations for the fraud prosecution, and Juca Rosa himself was not ashamed of giving a good amount of information himself.[30]

The first thing that calls the attention in the descriptions of these rituals and practices is that the essential framework is really of Bantu origin: the pillar of Juca Rosa work was possession by ancestral spirits, mainly by a spirit named “Pai Quibombo” (“Father Quibombo”). We can see here already the first stages of what would become in the Umbanda of the XX century the important class of spirits named Old Blacks, as they all carry the title of “father.”

The oldest of the attendants who went for a long time to these activities, knew what they were about to witness. There would be music, dance, a lot of food and drink. At a certain moment, Rosa would go into trance, when, as it was said, he would receive spirits in his body, or “talk to the spirits,” and then he was transformed or began to act as Father Quibombo, and not as José Sebastião da Rosa. In that state he attended the people, as he was now gifted with a “supernatural” power, as it was told by his followers.[31]

The music of the meetings was usually played by four musicians, two of them playing a percussion instrument called “macumba.” That important detail was the reason why Juca Rosa was also known in the city as the “Chief of the Macumbas.” That indicates that the name Macumba, which would become the popular denomination for this kind of magical work, was in the origin an appellation given by outsiders of the cult due to the use of the musical instrument. We are also aware that Juca Rosa was not the only sorcerer to work like that in Rio de Janeiro at the time, but he was considered to be the most powerful.

The description of some of the ordered works made by Juca Rosa to his clients is also very telling. He used black and red clothes, a handful of many different foods and sacrificed a rooster. I am very happy that Juca Rosa´s biographer came to the same conclusion I had when reading the descriptions of these rituals:

Between the many Orishas worshiped, in the Umbanda as in the Candomblé, the cult of the entity Exu seems to be the one more close to the ceremonies of Rosa. Many times identified as the Christian devil, Exu is, however, very different from him. In the Christian religion, the demon is associated to the absolute evil; it is referred to the representations of the Inquisition. In the Umbanda, and also in the Candomblé, however, Exu is not just linked to evil. Although his representation is the figure of the devil, with trident, horns and tail, Exu originally has an ambiguous condition, being not good or bad, but can realize good or bad deeds as it is manipulated. Stubborn, abusive, the different Exus are potentially dangerous, because they accept any requisition from their clients, independently from preoccupations of moral order, as long they are properly paid.[32]

The Orishas come from another African culture, the Yoruba whose slaves were in majority taken to the North provinces of Brazil, especially to Bahia. In the XIX century there was a great movement of slaves and ex-slaves through the provinces, and Juca Rosa many travels to “purify” himself in Bahia are a perfect example of the cultural exchanges going on back then. In this process of mutual syncretism, which would culminate in the Umbanda in the beginning of the next century, the Orisha Exu would give origin to a new category of spirits. Worth of note, Juca Rosa used to describe his chief spirit as being capable or doing “both good and evil,” a key description applied to this new category of entities. To better understand this spirit category, we must then understand some of the basic characteristics of this deity.


The Slandered God [33]

The process of demonization of the Orisha Exu, which would end in the diabolical image of the exus and pombagiras of the Quimbanda, began already in Africa. We know from the reports of Antoine Pruneau de Pommegorge (1720-1812), published in 1789, who traveled through Africa in the mid-eighteenth century, that the images of the Orisha called the attention of the Europeans for his phallic character. Pommegorge identified him with the god Priapus. The preacher Thomas Jefferson Bowen (1814-1875), a Baptist missionary who worked in Africa and Brazil, wrote in 1857 a description which linked Exu with the Devil[34]:

In the Yoruba language the devil is called Exu, him that was sent again, name which comes from su, throwing out, and Elegbara, the powerful, a name given due to his great power over the people.

The abbot Pierre Bertrand Bouche (1835-1903), who spent seven years on Africa and published an account of his adventures in 1885, clearly made the connection between Exu and the Devil:

The blacks recognize in Satan the power of possession, as they call him usually Elegbara, that means, he who seize us.[35]

Pierre Verger in his Notas sobre o culto aos orixás e voduns, from 1957, listed several more cases like that[36]. It is important to notice that the identification with the Christian Devil was imposed from outside and not immediately and never totally accepted. That is why in Porto Alegre Exu was instead syncretized by the true followers with Saint Peter or with Saint Anthony and in Recife with Saint Bartholomew[37], and it is today an important point of propaganda for the followers of Candomblé, Umbanda and Quimbanda to stress that Exu is not the Devil, and that the exus and pombagiras are not demons.

However, the true nature of Exu has being progressively rescued by historians and anthropologists and the Orisha is revealed to be the representative of a fundamental feature of reality. As the other Orishas rule over and are responsible for specifics parts of the universe (like the rivers, the seas, the rain, the thunder and the forests), Exu is the movement itself, the very dynamis of the universe, so being part of everything and being the necessary cause of every transformation.

The concept of being ever present in movement and change and so associated with the growth and multiplication of everything led to the idea of the multiplicity of individual Exus[38]. Every Orisha, for instance, has his Exu, understood primarily as his individual dynamis but it has also a specific name, a kind of individuality and must always be propitiated first with the offerings.

Olodumare[39] created Esù as an entirely special ebora in such a way he must exist in everything and reside in each person. By virtue of his competency and power of realization, of his intelligence and dynamic nature, the Esù of each one must direct all his ways in life.[40]

Exu (or Esù) accumulates other functions, being the Orisha of communication and the intermediary between the worlds, between men and the deities. He rules the ways, being able to create, to open and to close them. He is by consequence the one who carries the offerings, and so is responsible for inspecting and controlling the sacrifices – he will not for instance carry an offering not correctly prepared.

Esù is the restorer principle in the Nago. He is the rigid controller of all sacrifices. General inspector, […] “impartial police officer” […] the action of Esù is … to punish the transgressors, particularly the ones who neglect to do the prescribed sacrifice.[41]

Here lies the frightening aspects of Exu, the deity responsible for correcting the paths and who is capable of everything to achieve it. Exu in the African myths has an undeniable trickster quality, which he uses to achieve his aims. But we are here outside the Christian conceptions of good and evil when treating about not just Exu, but also all other Orishas who are basically beyond these concepts.

Esu or Elegba, short for Elegbara, is the divine messenger, trickster god of chance, principle of indeterminacy, and essence of fate among the Yorubas in West Africa and all those who possess him, by extension, all of humankind. He is arguably the most important and influential deity in the Yoruba pantheon because everybody, including the other gods, must acknowledge him.[42]

The manifold functions executed by Exu gave rise also to a plethora of titles, and that together with the multiplicity of his presence became in the Macumba of the Rio de Janeiro the countless exus we work with today. As examples, we have the function of the Orisha Exu of opening and closing the ways between the worlds being personified in the Exu Tranca-Rua (Exu Lock-Street), and the name or title “Tiriri” (registered by Pierre Verger in Africa and Brazil, according to Reginaldo Prandi[43]) also became an individual spirit. The name “pombagira,” given to the female spirits of Quimbanda, most likely derived from the name of the nkisi Pambu Njila, the deity with the equivalent functions of Exu in the Kimbundu culture.

The exus of Umbanda and Quimbanda kept the roles of guardians, maintainers of order, punishers; they also inherited the sacred places of the Orisha, especially the crossroads. The expression give to these entities as “people of the street” is also reminiscent of the association with the Orisha:

Esu’s altar is distinctive in the Yoruba pantheon by the very fact of the elemental, interchangeable relationship the god seems to have with it—a mound of red laterite, yangi, which is also one of the many names used to celebrate him. This physical presence and ritual structure is commonly found at crossroads, his favorite location, at the threshold of a Yoruba household or compound, or at the entrance to a market. These locations, significantly, identify him as lord of the crossroads, controller of the market, and gatekeeper or tollgate keeper (Onibode, Adurogbona). In this regard, he is associated, in some New World orixa cults, with Saint Peter, keeper of the keys at Heaven’s gate.[44]

Another characteristic of Exu which helped to identify him with the Devil was his preeminence as a magician. Magic have been attributed solely to the teaching of the Devil in Christianity at least since the influential writings of Saint Augustine, and anything connected to it would be immediately classified as devilish. We must have that in mind, when we see later the exus being reinterpreted as being not demons, but the spirits of dead magicians and alchemists.

What helped in Brazil that element of wickedness to be accentuated, besides the popular dualism of good and evil, is the fact that Exu occupy a great place in magic. Some Exu or Legba are then in Africa remarkable sorcerers and in Cuba, Exu is equally the Master of Magic.[45]

The Exus of Umbanda

Exus and pombagiras have been a controversial part of Umbanda since this new religion, generally labeled as a “genuine Brazilian religion,” made its appearance in the beginnings of the XX century. Umbanda is not much more than the Macumba[46] developed in Rio de Janeiro in the end of the XIX century, refashioned by the adoption of principles taken from the Spiritism of Allan Kardec. And the “founding myth” of Umbanda shows that very clearly.

Scholarly research in recent times came to doubt the accuracy and real importance of this story about the origins of the Umbanda[47], but it is very useful to understand the dynamics of the conflict between Macumba and the Spiritism of Kardec in the transition of the past century, a conflict in which the presence, definition and function of the exus occupy an important part.

The story tells that in 1908 Zélio de Moraes, then seventeen years of age, became the victim of some mysterious disease which could not be treated by the doctors nor exorcised by a priest. He was then taken to a meeting at the Spiritist Federation of Niterói, where the director invited him to sit at the table.

In the sequence, the young lad was possessed by a spirit who presented himself as the Caboclo Seven Crossroads. The caboclo then questioned why the spirits of caboclos and preto velhos (Old Blacks) were not allowed to work in the Spiritist tables, receiving the usual answer that these spirits were not evolved as Native Americans and Africans were people of a lower stage of evolution. The caboclo then proclaimed he would start a new religious movement where these spirits would have their chance to work helping the needy, and in the next day Zélio began to work in his house also with the spirit of an old black named Father Anthony, founding what would be considered to be the first Umbanda center or “tent,” the “Spiritist Tent of Our Lady of Piety.”

The first thing that calls our attention is the absence of any mention of the exus and pombagiras in the myth. According to the development of the story Zélio was further instructed by the Caboclo Seven Crossroads to found seven new tents, what was done between 1918 and 1939[48]. Only the fifth, the Spiritist Tent Saint George, founded in 1935, worked with the exus, being considered the first to do it (or so it was said). It is probably in this tent where “another revolution” inside the Umbanda happened[49], when in 1940 the Caboclo Tupinamba ordered the table to be removed from the center of the room, giving space for the exus and pombagiras to manifest after the caboclos and old blacks.

The ambiguity with which the exus are seen in the Umbanda can be detected in the thought of Zélio himself. During the 70´s he gave an interview to the journalist Lilia Ribeiro[50], when many questions about the presence of exus in the works of Umbanda were asked:

Question: Mr. Zélio, about the work with the Exus. There are tents giving consultations with the Exus on special days beside the normal consultations with Old Blacks and Caboclo. How do you see this?

Zélio: I know about this, that there tents working with the Exus, I do not like it because it is very easy to manifest an Exu, any person who is a medium [can do it], a bad medium [easily] manifest an Exu, it is enough to have a backward spirit; or also pretending to have a spirit, that is why I do not like it, in my tent we do not work with Exu for any reason.

Question: But don´t you consider the Exu a working spirit as all other Orishas?

Zélio: After being awaken, because the Exu is a spirit admitted in the darkness, after being awaken, is that he gives a step forward in the path of regeneration and it is easy for him to work to benefit others. In this way I believe in the work of Exu.

Question: Are there not cases in which the other Orishas vibrating in other lines can not solve immediately some problems of their sons, and would it not be the Exu the most suitable to solve it, because he is materially closer, for being more accepted at the material works?

Zélio: Our chief, the “Caboclo of the Seven Crossroads” taught us like that, 60 years ago, that the Exu is a worker. As in the police there is the soldier, the chief of police does not arrest, the deputy does not arrest, the soldiers are the ones who arrest, follow the orders of the commanders, so Exu is a spirit who leans toward a phalanx, taking the chance to make good, because every step toward good they do increases their light, in a way that he is awaken and will work, that means, he will catch, he will seduce the spirit who is obsessing someone, then this Exu will evolve. That is how the Caboclo of the Seven Crossroads taught us.

Question: In which way the Exu is an assistant and not an employee of the Orisha or vice-versa?

Zélio: I would not say an employee, but he is a spirit who tend to get better, so for him to get better he will make charity together with the phalanxes, running to help who is obsessed, awakening and helping the spirit to turn him away from the evil his was doing, then he become an assistant to the Orishas.

What we see here (besides some initial confusion, with the reporter thinking about the Orisha Exu and Zélio answering about the spirits exus) is the syncretism of the original Bantu ideas about the souls of the ancestors with the universal fear of the restless ghosts, all combined with later Spiritist ideas. Kardec promulgated ideas about the spirits which goes against almost every spiritual tradition, including Christianity itself, as it affirms the existence of only one kind of spirit. For Kardec there is only the human spirit and angels and demons are just the evolved and the debased manifestations of this unique kind.

This is the key to understand the original view of the Umbanda about the exus and pombagiras. They were the souls of criminals, prostitutes, suicides who in the afterlife continued their evil deeds, until redeemed by association with the lines of Umbanda. Exu Tiriri, for instance, is described as the soul of a Portuguese gambler who committed suicide in the XIX century. It notable also that generally the exus and pombagiras are represented as souls of European origin, so completing the triad of historical influences which formed the Macumba.

The duplicity of the views about the exus and pombagiras gave rise to the actual concept of Quimbanda, which we now will observe.




There is not much divergence of opinion about the origin of the term “Umbanda,” which must likely came from the name given in the Macumba and in its predecessor, the Cabula practiced in the neighbor state of Espírito Santo, to the chief of the cult, the “embanda”:

But from where came the Umbanda? It is believed that the word “umbanda” designated, between the Africans, the priest who works with cure. In the macumba, the word “embanda” or “umbanda” also designated the chief of the terreiro or, simply, the priest. Never a religious modality.[51]

The chief of the table was called the embanda, which is the name of the priest in the Bantu religions. The chief of the terreiros[52] of Macumba, around 1934, when Arthur Ramos described the terreiro of the old Honorato, were also called embandas, umbandas or fathers-of-terreiro. It is worth to note that the term umbanda would be later the designation of one of the branches of the Macumba, after its unfolding, under the influence of the Kardecist Spiritism. In the Cabula, as later in the Macumba, the embanda was the chief and the instructor of the community.[53]

With the name “Quimbanda” things get a bit more complicated. As a word from the Portuguese Language it came from the Quimbundo, a Bantu language, where it designated a professional of the sacred specialized in cures[54]. However, in Brazil the term acquired a sinister reputation, by reason of the Portuguese orthodox view that all these kinds of practices were witchcraft. When middle class white men created the Umbanda by mixing the practices of the Macumba with the tenets of the Spiritism of Kardec, they began a process which took decades where the original practices were selected, censored and even banned. Quimbanda then became the term by which the Umbandista intellectuals referred to the practices they thought to be not acceptable, and that included for many the works with exus and pombagiras. Quimbanda became then a category of accusation, it was the black magic (with double understanding, black indicating both evil intent as the primitive magic of African origin) done by others. When the exus began to be officially accepted in the sessions, Quimbanda began to be used to indicate the part of the work, or “gira,” where the exus and pombagiras are called. Now, slowly, Quimbanda is separating itself from the mainstream Umbandista practices and becoming an independent system.


The Demons of Quimbanda


As part of the continuous process of syncretism that is typical of the Quimbanda, understood as the sorcerous art of commerce with a very specific class of spirits, in 1951 the influential writer of Umbanda Aluizio Fontenele published his work Exu, where he presented a correlation between the exus and the demons of a European grimoire named Grimorium Verum[55]. This work represented a return to the European demonological ideas which influenced the aesthetic of the spirits of Quimbanda, and it still is highly criticized by segments following ideas more close to the Spiritist view of the spirits:

Aluízio Fontenele has a hard posture and criticism in his way to express the Umbanda. He presents the diverse influences with emphasis to the Hinduism, Theosophy, Kabbalah and European Magic. He highlights the existence of an esoteric, closed and occult aspect in all religions, propounding the search for the “real fundaments” of the Umbanda in its esoteric aspect. He presents the Seven Lines of Umbanda and its Legions through a model created by Lourenço Braga (Umbanda e Quimbanda, 1942). However, it is in relation to Exu that this author will innovate and become one of the most copied and ill-understood writers in the religion.

The search for the “Esoteric and Initiatic Umbanda” took him, as with others Umbandistas, to look for the “pinnacle” of the religion in other cultures. Aluízio Fontenele is the first author to compare the exus of Umbanda with the demons of the Goetia, European ”Black Magic.” If for one side he had the intention of elevating the intellectual level of the religion, for another he started a “demonization” of the exu from inside, as if the one from the outside was not already enough. That means he attributed to the well known names of the exus and their popular phalanxes, names perhaps even more known in the “Black Magic.”

In this way Aluízio Fontenele was the first Umbandista writer to relate the names of the exus of Umbanda with names from the European “Negative Magic” (Black Magic). He was copied or simply served as an inspiration for authors like Decelso, Antônio de Alva, José Maria Bittencourt, N. A. Molina and many other later authors to adopt this syncretism between Umbanda, Quimbanda and Goetia (“Black Magic” – Negative Magic).

Of course there are positive and negative contributions made by all authors, however, since we begin to identify exus as “demons” or “pretended demons,” in its popular sense, we are giving ourselves wood to heat the bonfire of the discrimination and prejudice. His tables were largely used by the Brazilian “Quimbanda.” [56]

Ponto riscado of the Maioral, as published by Aluisio Fontenele

No matter how widely Fontenele´s syncretism is accepted or rejected today, it became an important influence in all segments related to the Quimbanda. Many attempts to draw a comprehensive hierarchy of the exus rely on the Three Chiefs Pattern displayed in the Grimorium Verum, as we can see in the following table[57]:

Brief Encounters


My appreciation of traditions of African origin and Quimbanda in particular is a process of reeducation. When very recently the usefulness and power of such systems of spirit communion were questioned on an Internet discussion list, in the face of the poor social conditions of many of its practitioners, I was able to comment on the subject not just because of the understanding I have today about what magical proficiency is, but also because I once shared the same kind of doubt or criticism. A part of my answer[58] to the list can help understand this point; it was written in the context of a discussion about the importance the traditions of African origin are having today in the Western Magic:

The reason the ATR’s came to evidence is because they preserved and even enhanced complete systems to attain ecstasy and establish proper communication with the spirit world. The persecution in Europe resulted in a very fragmented tradition founded on books, books incomplete, censored, improperly copied, etc

What many people lack is a proper understanding of what magical success is. Magical success can happen in two steps:

  1. Successful ceremony, in which changed states of conscience are achieved and proper spirit communication happens.
  2. Meaningful happenings after the ceremony which manifest the intent of the practitioner or the appeal made to the spirits.

Now, the second step is totally dependent on the conditions around the people involved in the ceremony. These conditions put limits to what the spirits can do to help. Spirits invoked to help someone get a job in New York, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro will have much more to work with than spirits invoked in the Amazon forest states or in the states in process of desertification in Brasil. In the same way, someone coming from a low social strata, without a proper schooling, cannot expect great miracles from the spirit’s intervention when it comes to getting jobs or receiving money.

The traditions of African origin are an inheritance from slave populations forced into the lower strata of the colonial societies, and until today their descendants have difficulty in accessing proper schooling and the means to social climbing. So, even if they are very accomplished in having the step 1 very well done, there is not much scope for them to achieve step 2.

To think that someone is not a good and accomplished magician because he lives in a poor environment, is to show very little understanding about what magic is, and also little knowledge about the world we live in.

All that reminds me of the rebuke Don Juan would have given to Castaneda, in face of the latter’s misguided pity about the poor conditions of some boys in a small Mexican village. Don Juan clarified to him that the only valuable achievement in this world is to become a “man of knowledge” and that was easily accessible to the boys, whilst all the facilities to be found in rich countries just led to a spoiled and wasted life.

As I came from the same social background of the “founders” of Umbanda in the beginning of the XX century – white middle class man with access to higher education – in my young years I looked at such traditions as Umbanda with suspicion and even despised them; based exactly on the kind of rationalization indicated above. Also, a misunderstanding about the nature of spiritual beings made me develop a preconception about methods I found out to be primitive and crude, like the food offerings at the crossroads. I had to walk a similar path some of the writers of Umbanda did, when they had to justify the use of things like cigar and alcohol in the ceremonies. They resorted to explanations taken from French spiritism and occultism – all that old ideas about fluids invoked to answers the Kardecist critics that the use of smoke and drink was due to the attachment lower spirits still had to their past vices.

It was not, however, just the twenty and five years of studying everything I could lay my hands upon, from Shamanism to the precious insights of Chaos Magick,[59]what helped me to change my view. My approach to the retinue of the spirits of Quimbanda happened by unasked manifestations of power from them, brief and bewildering encounters that maybe (or maybe not) foreshadow a future commitment.

First time I experienced the power of an exu was after a visit to the Museu de Folclore (Centro Nacional de Folclore e Cultura Popular) in Rio de Janeiro, sometime between 1995 and 1996. The Museu had back then a large room entirely filled with iron pieces dedicated to the exus hanging from the ceiling, a very impressive view. As it happens often with objects linked to the exus, the place was heavily charged with their energy, and the energy followed me home. For some time I could feel the unmistakable pattern of their presence, the vibrant red and black energy that usually takes over me like a wave of loud laughter. After that I never failed to identify the characteristic energetic signature of an exu, the reason why I consider syncretism’s like Fontenele´s to be very mistaken: having worked with the Grimorium Verum myself for some years, I could see by myself the difference between these two lines of spirits. The Verum spirits are much more sober and present patterns of energy more subtle, and so far only one of them presented itself with this “black and red” energetic pattern so characteristic of the exus, the spirit Satanachia.

Next brief experience was during an invocation of Thoth performed with some friends, aided by the inhalation of ether. I was briefly possessed uttering the loud and characteristic laughter, and hit the floor with the hand with a force that in normal circumstances would have hurt it. This second experience showed me again how the contact with the exus differs from the usual invocations I was used to, as the main focus of the manifestation was myself.

The third time was in 2008, when I bought, a little out of fun, an exu wand in an Umbanda shop that existed in the corner of my daughter´s house. It was one of this with the red head of a man, with the typical moustache and beard we usually associate with the European representations of the Devil. The wand was crossed, that means, charged with the energy. I was at the moment involved in a very bad relationship and was feeling very disempowered. The energy of the exu came in a good moment, and made me feel much better. More than that, the exu proved to be very helpful later in aiding the relationship to end. I had at the occasion experimented with ecstasy (MDMA), which opened my magical perception a lot for a couple of days, and in one of the visions I had at the occasion I was allowed a glimpse at the home of the exus, and was taught how objects like the wand I bought were sent as “baits” to allow contact between them and us.

A turning point in the “drop by drop” process of manifestation of exus in my life happened in October 2010. I knew that my beloved wife had a past in Santeria before turning to Vajrayana Buddhism, but I was not aware of how deep her connections were. She had left her Santeria “house” and later became initiated in the Sangha of Chagdud Gompa, so her past experiences were just something mentioned now and then. On the occasion I had bought five different statues of exus to send to Jake Stratton-Kent – images that represented some of the spirits syncretized by Fontenele. As sometimes happen, as it happened before with the wand, the images came charged, and that led to my wife being half possessed by the spirit she knew before as her chief in the Quimbanda practiced in the Santeria house, Maria Padilha of the Souls. The event came as a spiritual crisis for her, which in the end led her to a higher and more comprehensive understanding about the nature of spiritual work.

As my wife began to mix her former and actual practices and work again with spirits of the Quimbanda, so my contact with them increased. In Uruguay Maria Padilha of the Souls feast is commemorated on the 18 of October; and my wife usually send flowers to the house of her former “mother-of-saint,” and makes her own private adorations and offerings. On the feast of 2011, although I was very far away, working in Angola, the spirit of Maria Padillha came to me in a dream and introduced me to two exus-mirins – exu spirits which manifest as children. They gave me their names and the kind of offerings they liked. I and my wife have made some offerings to them since then, but there were not any further manifestations.

On my 44th birthday[60] a new experience happened. It was the second time I felt “possession” in a dream – it happened some time before, but I do not have the diary notes here to ascertain exactly when. In the first time the entity said that “exu vem quando quer” (“exu comes when he wants to”), which with no doubt explains a lot about all these brief encounters. It may seem like something trivial, but it is in fact a very important point when we compare the Quimbanda method to the methods of invocation we are used to after the European grimoires. In fact, it is widely stressed in writings about the exus and pombagiras that they can not be bound or constrained or forced to work – although in Umbanda houses their work seems to be supervised, controlled or directed by the Caboclos, the Old Blacks or the Orishas. This is one of the many contradictory points regarding the Quimbanda spirits, to which the Umbandista writers tried to develop answers or explanations, creating new concepts like “pagan exu” and “baptized exu” to indicate the difference between the exus who obey the entities “of the right” and the ones who supposedly don´t[61].

On the night of my birthday, however, the experience did not limit itself to being possessed in the dream state: I awakened from it to see a very beautiful manifestation where the spirit gave me his name, Exu Seven Stars, and explained to me his expertise was Alchemy but that he could teach me some necromantic secrets if I wished to work with a skull.[62] This proved to be a very difficult exu to research about, being now and then mentioned but never described. The best information I found come from the excellent work of Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, and even there it is just a passing mention, in the entry about the Exu of the Seven Laughters:

Some say this Exu [of the Seven Laughters] fell from the stars and is the same as Exu Sete Estrelas (Exu of the Seven Stars). These stars are the Ursa Minor and as such this Exu brings the possibility for the reign of Quimbanda to unfold upon Earth by virtue of its connection with Polaris.[63]

One would expect that after that introduction a period of more close contact and work with this entity would follow. It didn´t. Some time around February 2012 I had some rapport with the pombagira Rosa Caveira (Rose Skull) when reading Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold book Pomba Gira and the Quimbanda of Mbùmba Nzila. Together with some contacts I had already with Maria Padilha of the Souls, it helped me to identify a typology for this kind of spirits, as I perceived them to be different from the other exus who manifest as “dark & fiery” spirits. Maria Padilha of the Souls and Rosa Caveira appear to me as dead souls strongly charged with Lunar energy.

But in April 2013 things started to happen again. My wife was invoking Maria Padilha of the Souls regularly on Mondays, and I was with her in Brazil during my work leave when we decided to visit the Umbanda shops in the center of the city of Niterói. I do not have the proper date noted here because I left my former magical diary in Brazil and I am finishing this paper from my mother-in-law’s home in Uruguay; but it was a Monday for sure, because on that same night the event happened. In one of the shops I saw an image of an exu I never saw before, although of course I had come upon his name a couple of times, the Exu Morcego (Exu Bat). It was a large statue of a quality higher than usual, and it called my attention because it was left alone on the balcony of the shop.

At night my wife went to do her magical works and I was lying on the bed, not feeling very well. I suddenly felt a presence, saying to me that if I wanted to work I would have to sit, so I did. It guided me to sit facing the candle, and when I did it the flame began to crack and make noises. I could then feel the powerful presence of the Exu Morcego all around me, in a mild state of possession, and I understood he was trying to show me his power over or connection with fire. He appeared to me with the same iconic image I saw at the shop except for having a black top hat. Black top hats are a common item of European origin that composes the image of some exus, but not the known images of Exu Morcego. Of course, real experience always goes beyond the basic information provided by symbols and images, but so far I had not deciphered the meaning of the black top hat. In the end of the manifestation, the spirit said: “Faltou charuto” (“It lacked cigar”). I bought the cigars he showed me in the vision but up to now he never asked for them.

I returned to the Umbanda shop to look after the statue. There was none to be seen anymore, but after talking to one of the sellers he took me to the back of shop; there was one sole exemplar left, at the top of a series of shelves, so I took it.

Back at home I made a simple consecration and tried to contact the spirit with mild results, very similar to the conversations I was used to have at my Verum altar, and left for bed. I was half asleep, stretched over the mattress, when suddenly an acute pain woke me up: our cat, in a totally unusual behavior, bit me in the little toe of my left foot, fiercely enough to make me walk to the bathroom bleeding on the floor all the way there; what of course meant bleeding in front of the statue of Exu Morcego. It was so old fashioned for setting some kind of pact, including the small scar left. I guess it was some response from the spirit to my request of learning from him.

On the next week on the night of Saint George (April 23) we lighted a large candle for Ogum, and when we came to check it later we saw with some fright that the plastic around the wax had caught fire and the candle had became a torch. First thing that came to my mind was the power of Exu Morcego over fire. I then tried to put a small plate under the candle to protect the furniture, and suffered a serious accident: there was a lot of melted wax unseen on the top of the candle, and it burnt my left hand so badly as to destroy several layers of skin, leaving an open wound which took almost two months to be completely healed. It did hurt like hell, but all the time I had the firm perception that it was a positive happening. In fact, the accident made many good things to happen and allowed me some important insights on the nature of power. Two months later, consulting Frisvold´s book, I made the amazing discovery that the legend of Exu Morcego says he was burnt like Saint Cyprian. Saint Cyprian in fact is said to have been executed by decapitation, but before that an attempt to burn him in a cauldron was made. The implication is that Exu Morcego would have been executed (probably by the Inquisition) being burned alive with some liquefied substance – like melted wax.

When I returned to my work in Angola, Maria Padilha of the Souls gave me inspiration to write a small work about her, together with my wife. It asked for a long research and in the middle of it a series of insights took me outside the field of History to delve in the symbolism of the visions of Aleister Crowley in the Second Aethyr, after my attention was called to the song he learned on it, as it seemed to be very proper to an invocation of pombagira:

Omari tessala marax

I am the harlot that shaketh Death

tessala dodi phornepax

This shaking giveth the Peace of Satiate Lust

amri radara poliax

Immortality jetteth from my skull

Armana piliu

And music from my vulva

amri raara piliu son

Immortality jetteth from my vulva also

mari narya barbiton

For my Whoredom is a sweet scent like a seven-stringed instrument

madara anaphax sarpedon

Played unto God the Invisible, the all-ruler

andala hriliu

That goeth along giving the shrill scream of orgasm

The Second Aethyr in the visions of Crowley, besides all the imagery and symbolism leading to connections with pombagiras, also gives three names[64] which can be associated to the Chiefs of a line of Quimbanda which, according to what I perceived, wants to be worked under Thelemic guidelines. That is something easy to understand, as the work of Quimbanda so far suffered tremendously from the imposition of Christian and Kardecist erroneous ideas and misguided moralities. During my research to this present paper, I came upon some testimonies taken by academics where the revolt of this spirits against the rules imposed by the Umbanda guides is very clear. Renato Ortiz[65] quotes the horrified description made by an Umbandista of a gira of exus he attended, where the unrestrained spirits manifested their antinomian nature by ripping off (with the teeth of the mediums) the head of small images of Saint Anthony – a Saint usually called in Umbanda to control the exus. In his most recent work[66], Diamantino Fernandes Trindade quotes from an interview given by a pombagira through her medium, where she complains in a very beautiful and instructive speech about all the difficulties she has to work with, because of the prejudices of the medium and the interference of other entities.

The friction mounting to antagonism between the lines of the “right” and “left” in the Umbanda-Quimbanda system was the subject of a very interesting study made by Marco Aurélio Luz e Georges Lapassade, published in 1972[67]. Both authors being full academics with graduations in France, they worked an interpretation of the Macumba and the Quimbanda based in Marx, Reich and Nietzsche, where the exus and pombagiras are seen to represent the revolt and resistance of the repressed, both in the social as in the sexual fields. Of course, forces guided by antinomian impulses against the religious and social status quo defended by Christian and Kardecist tenets can not and never will be properly understood and worked within those systems of ideas.

The main difficulty arises from the ways Christianity and Kardec described the spirits. The theology of Saint Augustine conceded only two classes of spirits, angels (the good and the fallen) and souls, and Kardec was fooled into believing there is only one kind. The childish Christian ideas about the fallen angels, their eternal damnation and never ending war against humans, as was seen before, served to prohibit any contact with spirits, as this contact would logically provide knowledge which would doubt a doctrine so full of mistakes and contradictions. Kardec ideas did not do a better job, giving a wrong description about the variety of kinds of spirits and forcing his followers into blind acceptance even when confronted with new facts. The myth about the origins of Umbanda is a clear exposition of exactly this.

After my personal experiences, the Quimbanda spirits come from two main groups: non-human daemons of a dark and fiery nature, the kind more easily identified with the imagery of European devils; and souls of the dead charged with a strong Lunar energy. This perception allowed me to highlight the old Iberian invocations where we find just that, daemons and departed souls working together, often at the head of bands of spirits (quadrillas, legions or phalanxes). The Lucifer of this new Quimbanda line moving toward a Thelemic system appeared to me as being somehow also of a Solar nature, and my guess is that he would be under the authority of Heru-ra-ha, the Solar-Martial deity of the Thelemic pantheon. Lucifer, Belial and Satan as Chiefs would manifest in the sub-lunar realm the potencies of Sun, Saturn and Jupiter – the Astrological principles more connected with kingship. The other planets would be represented by four Kings and Queens, and guessing again I would say that Maria Padilha of the Souls would be the Moon Queen on Earth; up to now I have no idea about who would be the Venus Queen of Water or the Mercurial and Martial kings of Air and Fire. So far, I received only the sigil for the Lucifer of this system:

Artistic depiction of the Seal of Lucifer received by the author, made by Asterion

I returned to Brazil on the end of July for what was supposed to be a short leave, but mysterious ways kept me away from work until now, and I am finishing this paper almost at Halloween. During that period my wife and I made some strong contacts with Exu Morcego, and the spirit began to prepare me to be able to achieve a deeper state of possession. He and Rosa Caveira gave me some frightful visions about their magical places, and as I am not of the kind who gets frightened easily, I can tell you it was really frightening. I can say that it is true when wiser humans warn us about the harsh and hard and unexpected ways the exus and pombagiras can act toward whoever approaches them.

However, we recently sold the flat we had and began to travel, which interrupted the progress of the work we were doing with the Exu Morcego. Among other places, we visited Ilhéus, an old city in the state of Bahia where legend has that Maria Padilha lived her last life on earth – something I find very debatable. But the entity had asked my wife to go there and make some specific offerings in the cemetery and in the Church of Saint George, a very old construction erected in the XVI century, so we went and we did it.

There is no proper way to finish this paper, as from what I exposed it is clear that my experiences with the retinue of Quimbanda were until now very superficial. It is my guess that the conditions of my life will change radically in the coming years and a deeper work will take place. But, when dealing with the exus and pombagiras, a guess very often is all we have.

Exu MorcegoPhotograph made by the author of his personal image of Exu Morcego

[1]Nominas: orisons kept in a wrapping, to protect from evil.

[2]Touching letters: letters used to touch other people, with the aim of enchanting them.

[3]O Imaginário da Magia -Feiticeiras, adivinhos e curandeiros em Portugal no Século XVI, Francisco Bethencourt.

[4] For the fear the people felt of the saints, see Religion and the Decline of Magic, Keith Thomas.

[5] O Diabo e a Terra de Santa Cruz, Laura de Mello e Souza.

[6] The Alumbrados “held that the human soul can reach such a degree of perfection that it contemplates even in the present life the essence of God and comprehends the mystery of the Trinity.” They declared that all external worship “is superfluous, the reception of the sacraments useless, and sin impossible in this state of complete union with Him Who is Perfection Itself.” To them, once achieved this state “all carnal desires may be indulged and other sinful actions committed freely without staining the soul. The highest perfection attainable by the Christian consists in the elimination of all activity, the loss of individuality, and complete absorption in God.” Source: The Catholic Encyclopedia.

[7] The only problem with the identification of Enrique as the Marquis of Villena mentioned in the spells is that, although he was the son and grandson of the two previous marquises, he never assumed the title, as it was reclaimed by the Crown due to debts owned by his family. But Enrique kept signing documents using the title, which could have created the confusion. Upon his death his library was investigated by the Crown and the Church due to his supposed studies on Alchemy, Astrology, Philosophy and Mathematics, and several books were burned. Later legends connect him with the Cave of Saint Cyprian in Salamanca, where he would have been a disciple to the magical arts taught by the Devil himself, acquiring there the knowledge that would have made him later very successful in the court.

[8]O Imaginário da Magia – Feiticeiras, adivinhos e curandeiros em Portugal no Século XVI, Francisco Bethencourt ;Inferno Atlântico – Demonologia e Colonização nos Séculos XVI-XVIII, Laura de Mello e Souza.

[9] Inquisition of Evora, process 6492, Page 18r-v. Quoted by Francisco Bethencourt.

[10]O Imaginário da Magia – Feiticeiras, adivinhos e curandeiros em Portugal no Século XVI, Francisco Bethencourt.

[11]O Imaginário da Magia – Feiticeiras, adivinhos e curandeiros em Portugal no Século XVI, Francisco Bethencourt.

[12]Inferno Atlântico – Demonologia e Colonização nos Séculos XVI-XVIII, Laura de Mello e Souza.

[13]O Imaginário da Magia – Feiticeiras, adivinhos e curandeiros em Portugal no Século XVI, Francisco Bethencourt

[14]Arde-lhe-o-rabo is a vulgar expression which translate more or less as “Her-ass-burn.”

[15]Inferno Atlântico – Demonologia e Colonização nos Séculos XVI-XVIII, Laura de Mello e Souza.

[16]O Diabo e a Terra de Santa Cruz, Laura de Mello e Souza.

[17]“The term is related to the idea of a small troop or band, and in the case of the spell seems to indicate that María de Padilla was the head of a small army of spirits.” From my monograph written together with my wife; Maria Padilha, Queen of Hell.

[18] O Diabo e a Terra de Santa Cruz, Laura de Mello e Souza.

[19]The Magical Treatise of Solomon or Hygromanteia, Translated and edited by IoannisMarathakis.

[20]Inferno Atlântico, Demonologia e Colonização nos Séculos XVI-XVIII, Laura de Mello e Souza.

[21]O Diabo e a Terra de Santa Cruz, Laura de Mello e Souza.

[22]Europe´s Inner Demons, Norman Cohn.

[23] A demonização do Paraíso: fé e religiosidade no Brasil colonial, Márcio Douglas de Carvalho e Silva.

[24]Divine Possession and Divination in the Graeco-Roman World: The Evidence from Iamblichus’sOn the Mysteries,Crystal Addey.

[25] Arcana Mundi

[26]Divine Possession and Divination in the Graeco-Roman World: The Evidence from Iamblichus’s On the Mysteries, Crystal Addey.

[27] Feiticeiros de Angola na América Portuguesa Vítimas da Inquisição, Luiz Mott.

[28]Capoeira is a martial art created by the slaves in Brazil, mixing dance and acrobatics. The capoeiras of the XIX century were bands of adepts of this martial art who hired their skills or committed small crimes.

[29]Palo, Patricia E. Canson .In Encyclopedia of African Religion (edit.Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama).

[30]A História do Feiticeiro Juca Rosa, Gabriela dos Reis Sampaio.

[31]A História do Feiticeiro Juca Rosa, Gabriela dos Reis Sampaio.

[32]A História do Feiticeiro Juca Rosa, Gabriela dos Reis Sampaio.

[33] Exu was dubbed “the slandered god” by Roger Bastide, the prominent French anthropologist, who spent many years studying the African heritage in Brazil.

[34]Exu, de mesageiro a diabo – Sincretismo católico e demonização do orixá Exu, Reginaldo Prandi.

[35]Exu, de mesageiro a diabo – Sincretismo católico e demonização do orixá Exu, Reginaldo Prandi.

[36]Exu, de mesageiro a diabo – Sincretismo católico e demonização do orixá Exu, Reginaldo Prandi.

[37]Immigration et Métamorphose dún dieu, Roger Bastide.

[38] The following paragraphs are borrowed from my forthcoming work on the Quimbanda Queen Maria Padilha.

[39] The higher deity, creator of everything, but a dues absconditus who delegated the government of the world to the Orishas.

[40]Os Nago e a Morte, Juana Elbein dos Santos.

[41]Os Nago e a Morte, Juana Elbein dos Santos.

[42]Esu, Elegba, article by Femi Euba.InEncyclopedia of African religion, edited by MolefiKete Asante and AmaMazama.

[43]Exu, de mesageiro a diabo – Sincretismo católico e demonização do orixá Exu, Reginaldo Prandi.

[44]Esu, Elegba, article by Femi Euba. In Encyclopedia of African religion, edited by Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama.

[45]Immigration etMétamorphose dún dieu, Roger Bastide.

[46]A Invenção do Brasil no Mito Fundador da Umbanda,Mario Teixeira de Sá Junior; Caboclo angélico “baixa” no Kardecismo para anunciar a Umbanda, José Henrique Motta de Oliveira;

[47]Zélio de Moraes e as origens da umbanda no Rio de Janeiro, Emerson Giumbelli.


[49]As ressignificações de Exu dentro da Umbanda, Lenny Francis Campos de Alvarenga.

[50]Exu e a Umbanda Branca e Demanda, Pedro Kritski. Published in

Exu e a Umbanda Branca e Demanda

[51]Caboclo angélico “baixa” no Kardecismo para anunciar a Umbanda, José Henrique Motta de Oliveira.

[52] Terreiro is the named often given to the place where the religious meetings occur.

[53]Cabula e Macumba, Valdeli Carvalho da Costa

[54]Do Kimbanda à Quimbanda: encontros e desencontros,Mario Teixeira de Sá Junior.

[55] Jake Stratton-Kent´s edition of the Grimorium Verum, beside other excellent features, discusses deeply about this connection.

[56] A Demonização de Exu Dentro da Umbanda, Alexandre Cumino


[58]Published in Aaron Leitch´s Solomonic list in 27 of May 2013.

[59]Specially important on this process was the contact with the researches of Aaron Leitch and Jake Stratton-Kent.

[60] 26 of July 2012.

[61] The recent movement toward a greater acceptance of the exus and pombagiras also led to a new emphasis on the use of the word “kiumba” to designate marginal, criminal spirits who disturb the “giras,” very often trying to pretend to be the real exus. The kiumbas are assuming more and more in the Umbandistaa thought the place before assigned to the exus.

[62]I was interested in the subject then, after a paper I tried to write to the Memento Mori anthology edited by Kim Huggens. I end up writing another piece, however.

[63]Exu, Nicholaj Mattos Frisvold.

[64]Lucifer, Belial and Satan.

[65]A Morte Branca do Feiticeiro Negro, Ricardo Ortiz.

[66]Você sabe o que é Macumba? Você sabe o que é exu, Diamantino Fernandes Trindade.

[67]O Segredo da Macumba, Marco Aurélio Luz e Georges Lapassade.

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Position: Collaborator City: -Itacaré, Brazil Age: 48 Beliefs/System: Scientific minded magical practices Domains of interest: Solomonic traditions, Shamanism, Neoplatonism, Hermetism, Alchemy, Traditional Wicca, Neopaganism, Thelema, Angelology, Qabalah, Enochian, Hoodoo Website: Read more>