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The Religious Roots of Santo Daime in the State of Maranhão, Northeastern Brazil
Beatriz Caiuby Labate and Gustavo Pacheco
Translated from Portuguese by Glenn H. Shepard, Jr.
v 2.0 - Nov 17, 2015
Original text: Labate, Beatriz C. & Pacheco, Gustavo (2004, 2nd ed.). Matrizes Maranhenses do Santo Daime. In: Labate, Beatriz C. & Araújo, W. S (Eds). O uso ritual da ayahuasca. Campinas, Brazil: Editora Mercado de Letras, pp. 303-344.
Citation:   Labate BC, Pacheco G. "The Religious Roots of Santo Daime in the state of Maranhão, Northeastern Brazil." Erowid.org. Nov 17, 2015. Online edition: Erowid.org/chemicals/ayahuasca/ayahuasca_article4.shtml
Introduction
The Brazilian ayahuasca religion known as "Santo Daime" emerged from a melting pot of diverse cultural and religious elements present in rubber-tapping encampments of the Amazon interior during the early 20th century. Santo Daime is closely identified with its Amazonian origins: the term 'daime' refers to the psychoactive beverage of indigenous origin brewed from the rainforest plants Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis. Yet many of the underlying elements constituting this religious movement belong to broader domains of Brazilian culture. To name only a few, folk Catholic beliefs and practices apparent in Daime are found everywhere in Brazil, while the waltz and mazurka, two of the main sacred dance rhythms of Daime, came originally from Europe and were later adopted and "Brazilified" by various regional folk music traditions. It is a difficult task, to say the least, to ascribe clear origins to the beliefs and practices of this hybrid religion that is itself a product of the profound hybridity of Brazilian culture.

Various contemporary religious groups define themselves, or are known popularly as "Santo Daime". All claim to follow the teachings of Raimundo Irineu Serra. Though "Mestre Irineu", as he is known to his followers, founded Santo Daime in 1930 in the town of Rio Branco in the Amazonian state of Acre, he was actually born in 1890 in the northeastern state of Maranhão in the small town of São Vicente Ferrer (sometimes transcribed as 'São Vicente de Ferrer' or 'Férrer') named after a 14th century Dominican saint. Mestre Irineu left Maranhão for Acre at a young age to work in the rubber tapping industry at Xapuri; there is some disagreement over his exact age at the time of migration, whether 11 (Jaccoud 1992), 16 (Bayer Neto 1999) or 20 years old (Fróes 1983). He did not return to Maranhão until 1957, when he visited his homeland for two months and, taking with him three relatives, then returned to Acre, where he remained until his death in 1971.

...very little attention has been paid to Santo Daime's specific roots, indeed to Mestre Irineu's very biographical origin, within the cultural and religious universe of Maranhão at the turn of the 20th century.
Nowadays there are two main branches of Santo Daime. By far the largest and most influential of these, and the one most widely associated with the denomination of "Santo Daime", is officially known as "Centro Eclético da Fluente Luz Universal Raimundo Irineu Serra" ('Ecletic Center of the Flowing Universal Light Raimundo Irineu Serra') or CEFLURIS (which later changed its name to ICEFLU). This group was founded by Sebastião Mota de Melo or "Padrinho Sebastião" ('Godfather Sebastian'), a disciple of Mestre Irineu's who founded his own practice in 1974 after the Master's death. The CEFLURIS branch of Santo Daime, based at Ceu de Mapiá in the rural interior of Amazonas state, now has numerous worship centers and thousands of practitioners located in many Brazilian cities and throughout the world. A few small groups based only in Acre, one of which is led by Mestre Irineu's widow, Madrinha Peregrina Gomes da Serra, go by the name "Alto Santo". They do not recognize Padrinho Sebastião as the legitimate heir to Mestre Irineu's religion. In this discussion of the origins of Santo Daime, we are referring to the religious movement as a whole, and do not make judgments or take sides in the various schisms that have taken place since Mestre Irineu's death.

Alongside the diverse and sometimes competing stories of origin told by 'daimistas' themselves, a growing body of scholarly work has documented the various cultural and religious traditions that contributed to the formation of Santo Daime: indigenous ayahuasca shamanism, rubber-tapper culture, folk Catholicism, European esoteric traditions, Kardecist spiritism and Afro-Brazilian religions. Almost all of this work has focused on the cultural universe of Acre and its multiple influences. Yet very little attention has been paid to Santo Daime's specific roots, indeed to Mestre Irineu's very biographical origin, within the cultural and religious universe of Maranhão at the turn of the 20th century. Even among daimistas, Maranhão remains a rather distant image. Mestre Irineu is referred to as "a black man from Maranhão" by Antonio and André Costa, two men who, with Irineu, formed the "Circle of Regeneration and Faith" ('Círculo de Regeneração e Fé' - CRF), an esoteric ayahuasca-drinking group that pre-dated Santo Daime. In a few stories about Irineu's first ayahuasca experiences, he is said to have had a vision of an old woman named Clara, who had "followed him from Maranhão" (see Revista do Centenário 1992; Cal Ovejero n.d.; Mortimer 2001; MacRae 1992).

We seek to investigate here the influence of specific cultural sub-traditions from Maranhão in the formation of Santo Daime, illuminating certain aspects of Daime rituals and cosmology and thus enriching our understanding of this religion. In order to fill in the notable lacunae on this topic, the authors reviewed historical and bibliographical sources, compared their own research on Daime religion and Maranhão's popular culture, and made a short fieldwork visit to São Vicente Ferrer. Based on these studies we suggest several elements specific to the cultural universe of Maranhão that were probably central to the formation of Santo Daime: Tambor de Mina and pajelança, two Afro-Brazilian religious expressions; the Divino Espirito Santo ('Divine Holy Spirit') religious celebration; and the São Gonçalo dance tradition, among other possible influences. Where possible we provide evidence for our conclusions in Mestre Irineu's own hymnal. We investigate certain aspects of his life story and reconstruct the genealogy of the man who came to be known as Mestre Irineu, or "Juramidam" (a spiritual entity present in the Astral plane), by his followers.

São Vicente Ferrer, Maranhão: The place where Daime began
São Vicente Ferrer is a small municipality with currently about 18,000 inhabitants, of whom 4,000 live in the town itself, with the rest dispersed in small settlements throughout the rural interior. Raimundo Irineu Serra was born in one of these settlements in 1890. In July of 2003, we visited the region searching for clues about Mestre Irineu and the environment where he was raised. Located about 280 km from the capital city of São Luis, São Vicente Ferrer lies within the region known as the Baixada Maranhese or "Maranhão Lowlands", characterized by a hot, humid climate and low elevation grasslands that flood in the rainy season (January-July) forming huge lakes. Cattle ranching is the mainstay of the economy, supplemented by agricultural production of manioc, rice and corn. The main vegetation in the municipality is stands of palms such as babaçu (Orbignya phalerata), açai (Euterpe oleracea), buriti (Mauritia flexuosa), bacaba (Oenocarpus bacaba) and tucum (Bactris setosa). Even today the urban center of São Vicente is quite poor: the town has no sewage treatment facilities; recent census data reveals that one third of the population is illiterate; and most inhabitants earn the federal minimal wage (less than US $100 per month at the time of our visit) or less.

After a five-hour bus ride from São Luis through the Baixada Marinhense, we arrived in Mestre Irineu's hometown with nothing more than his name as the starting point for our studies. In our first contacts with the "Vincentinos" — as natives of the city are known — we learned that the Serra family is numerous and widespread throughout the municipality. The word serra in Portuguese means 'saw', and thus several people joked with us, "There are enough Serras ('saws') here to open a sawmill!" But the town is small, and we were not the first who had come there searching for the famous Santo Daime founder, and so we were quickly able to locate people to help us. Yet despite this, we were surprised to learn that Mestre Irineu remains fairly little known in his birthplace. Most people there had never heard of him, and there is not a single statue, plaque, road or other public marker dedicated to the town's most illustrious son.

In the town's notary office, we met the city councilwoman and mayoral candidate Maria Raimunda. She advised us not to waste time searching for documents there, since other researchers had already tried and come up empty-handed. Instead, she directed us toward some of Irineu's living relatives who would be willing to talk to us. First we visited Eugenio Serra, the grandson of Irineu's sister Maria "Cocota" Serra. Eugenio is 68 years old and lives in the settlement of Santa Teresa, about 20 minutes by motorcycle from São Vicente town center. Eugenio welcomed us warmly and told us his version of the unpleasant event that was said to have provoked Irineu to leave:
Paulo [Irineu's maternal uncle] sent him to cut hay fo' the horses to eat. Because Paulo had raised him, you see? Irineu's father didn't have the means, it was his uncle who took care of him. That black boy [Irineu] went off to do the errand, but talking back, right? And so Paulo grabbed him by the ear and cussed him out. Back then you didn't talk back to your uncle, not like today, what with all this craziness of nobody respecting nothing. But Irineu didn't like that and so he left.
This story corresponds with one of the two main explanations found in published biographical accounts as to why Irineu left for Acre. The first version, found for example in Bayer (1992), Cal Ovejero (n.d.) and Cemin (1998) is that, as Eugenio mentioned, Irineu got into an argument with his uncle. A second, quite different version noted by Mortimer (2001) and LaRocque Couto (1989) is that Irineu had fallen in love with an older cousin, and his mother, not approving of his desire to marry the girl, had reprimanded him. In this version, by contrast, uncle Paulo gives Irineu a bit of friendly avuncular advice:
Listen [Irineu] Raimundo, you're too young to marry... There's an old saying, "A man's got to either hit the books or hit the road." You've never been to school, so you should go out and see the world. Go on a trip, learn something. Then you can think about marrying. (Mortimer 2001: 40-50; authors' translation).
LaRocque Couto (1989: 45-46) likewise has uncle Paulo advising Irineu against marrying quite so young: "Go out and see the world for a while, then get married." Then Irineu, who according to this version greatly admired his uncle, answered, "'So I'll go to the Amazon'. Then he came here [Acre] and ended up in Peru tapping rubber with his fellow countrymen Antonio Costa and André Costa."

Eugenio told us that he had known Joana, Irineu's mother, and described her as "a short, fat old lady with dark black skin and also a rezadeira [folk prayer healer]". In his youth, Eugenio used to sing in the Bumba-meu-boi folk festival, a playful street theater, music and dance celebration held throughout northeastern Brazil every June. He mentioned that when Irineu came back from Acre in the 1950s, he participated in the festival and offered to take one of Eugenio's brothers with him back to Acre to start a boi group there, but the man declined.

Eugenio's younger sister, Maria de Lourdes Serra — who also goes by the nickname 'Pindobeira' — lives nearby. Her house was built by a practicing Daimista named Celso, originally from São Paulo state, who now lives in São Luis. He calls himself a "disciple of Irineu". We visited her, but she had little to add to the information already provided by her brother. About half an hour from her house, we were able to visit Irineu's birthplace. There was once a thatched hut there, but today all that remains are the cashew nut trees planted by his mother. Later, we interviewed Celso in São Paulo and he told us of his intention of building a Daime church and a tourism lodge on that piece of land. Towards that purpose, he is helping to finance Maria Raimunda's campaign for mayor, noted above.

On the following day we spoke with Irineu's sixty-year-old nephew José dos Santos Serra, son of Irineu's brother, José "Zé Cuia" Serra. He had never met Irineu, since he was not in São Vicente during his uncle's only visit. The only thing he had to say about his uncle's religious life was that "Irineu did some kind of macumba ['black magic'] down there in Acre."

Later that afternoon we meet another branch of the family represented by José Barnabé Serra, 68, and Rita Dionísia Serra, 71. Living in the small settlement of São Jerônimo, they are children of Irineu's uncle Paulo, whose angry words are said to have motivated him to leave Maranhão. As we talked, a large group of curious people gathered to listen. Most of these bystanders didn't seem to know that Irineu had founded the Santo Daime religion and was now famous worldwide. We heard a slightly different version of the altercation that led Irineu to leave. According to them, Irineu had gone to a local folk music festival known as bambaê, during which he drank heavily and got into a fight. After arguing with his uncle Paulo, the young Irineu felt ashamed and decided to leave.

José mentioned that Irineu was an excellent percussionist in the musical style known as tambor de crioula ("creole drum") and sang one of the toadas (traditional tambor de crioula songs) that Irineu used to sing. Tambor de crioula is a circle dance typical of Afro-Brazilian culture in Maranhão (S. Ferretti 2002), performed to the sound of drums made of tree trunks. This observation contradicts the common notion among Daimistas that Mestre Irineu had no musical inclination whatsoever until he began to "receive" the hymns.

Irineu returned to his hometown in Maranhão in 1957 after 40 years of "being lost in the world", staying in São Vicente for about two months. The memories of his visit are very alive today not only among his cousins, but many other people who knew him. Celeste, an adoptive sister to Irineu's cousins José and Rita, met Irineu when she was 16 and told us that he had taught her some songs. We asked her if she still remembered any of them, and to our surprise, she sang sections from the well-known Daime hymn, "Sol, Lua, Estrela" ('Sun, Moon, Star'). However Irineu told his relatives in Maranhão nothing about the daime, only that he had built "an empire out there in Acre". When he left, Irineu took three nephews with him back to Acre: Daniel, Zequinha and João. Of the three, only Zequinha is still alive. Daniel, who was 65 in 2003 and passed away in 2011, entered Santo Daime and became an important member of the Alto Santo branch.

The information we gathered in São Vicente provides us with a deeper understanding of the cultural universe in which Mestre Irineu was born and raised, and fills in gaps in the available data about his life and work. With these tools, we will now attempt to establish connections between certain specific cultural manifestations in Maranhão and certain aspects of Santo Daime religious practice.

Tambor de Mina and Pajelança
Tambor de Mina ("Mina drum") is the name in Maranhão for Afro-Brazilian possession cults, related to similar practices elsewhere in Brazil such as Candomblé in Bahia, Xangô in Pernambuco and Batuque in southern Brazil (Eduardo 1966; S. Ferretti 1996; M. Ferretti 2000; Pereira 1979; Nicolau Parés 1997). As in these other religious forms, Tambor de Mina encompasses several different "nations" or ritual systems whose origins are associated with different African ethnic groups. Jeje, Nagô, Cambinda, Cachêu and Fulupa are some of the nations present in the memory and oral tradition of Afro-Brazilian religious practitioners in Maranhão. However only two of these became fully formed and perpetuated as clearly demarcated religious traditions in Maranhão: Mina Jeje and Mina Nagô, descended from the two oldest terreiros (as Afro-Brazilian places of worship are known) in Maranhão dating to the mid-19th century, Casa das Minas Jeje, and Casa das Minas Nagô. The former, though widely considered prestigious and much studied by researchers, never generated additional branches. Mina Nagô, on the other hand, spread from the original Casa de Nagô to many different terreiros in Maranhão and Amazônia. Both, and especially the latter, provided the basic structure around which the religious tradition known today as Tambor de Mina was built. Tambor de Mina encompasses the specific set of related religious traditions outlined above as well as other forms of Afro-Brazilian religiosity in Maranhão that were influenced or incorporated by it. Most of the terreiros of Tambor de Mina are not specifically tied to Jeje or Nagô orthodoxy but rather mix Nagô elements with aspects of Umbanda, Kardecist spiritism, Candomblé, Terecô (a religious tradition specific to the Codó region in the Maranhão interior) and pajelança (shamanistic healing traditions) of Maranhão. Together these traditions constitute the religious universe Nicolau Parés (1997) refers to as "Mina de Caboclo".

Nunes Pereira (1979) mentions the use of the ayahuasca brew in the Chica Macaxeira terreiro, a Tambor de Mina center in Porto Velho, Rondônia. He describes the center as being descended from the Mina-Jeje, originally from the Casa das Minas in Maranhão. According to Brissac (1999: 58-59), José Gabriel da Costa ("Mestre Gabriel"), founder of the ayahuasca religion União do Vegetal (UDV), was a high-ranking dignitary (ogã) of this center. So it seems likely that he was responsible for introducing ayahuasca there. However there is little other information about this terreiro, so closely tied to the Afro-Brazilian traditions of Maranhão, and how ayahuasca was incorporated into its religious activities.

In the literature on Irineu's life and the origins of Santo Daime, only sparse references are made to Tambor de Mina and the influence of Afro-Brazilian religion. According to Vera Fróes (1986: 36, our translation), "Informants from Alto Santo stated that Mestre Irineu had connections with the famous Casa das Minas in Maranhão, a traditional center of preservation of African culture and religion in Brazil." Clodomir Monteiro da Silva (2004, p. 427, our translation), in a chapter analyzing the presence of Afro-Brazilian religions in the formation of Santo Daime, points out the "provenance from Maranhão of the families who founded the religion, from Casa da Mina of the Jeje-Fon nation." Edward MacRae (1997) also notes that Irineu had a connection with Tambor de Mina, though he does not provide any details. In general, many important works on Santo Daime mention Irineu's relationship with Maranhão in a very vague and distant manner (for example Groisman 1991; MacRae 1992; Goulart 1996; Cemin 1998), mostly citing Monteiro da Silva (1983) or Fróes (1983). Cemin (1998) bases part of his biography of Irineu on the account by Bayer Neto (1992) about São Vicente Ferrer, as we discuss later.

Tambor de Mina was found only in the capital city of São Luis until the turn of the 20th century, when it began to spread to other regions and to the interior of Maranhão as well. The oldest references to the creation of Casas de Mina in cities of the Maranhão lowlands date to the 1930s: the first in Cururupu, a city intermediate between the lowlands and the coast, was founded in 1935 (Laveleye 2001); the first in São Vicente dates to about 50 years ago, according to information we gathered there. All of this is long after Irineu's departure for Acre. Taking into consideration that communication between São Vicente and São Luis was precarious at the turn of the 20th century, it seems highly unlikely that Irineu would have had contact with Tambor de Mina in his hometown. It is possible that he visited terreiros in São Luis during his sojourn in the capital on the way to Acre, though his precise itinerary from São Vicente to Acre is not known, and varies according to different sources: in some accounts he went straight from São Vicente via São Luis to Acre, in others, he went via Manaus, Belém, or even São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro; according to some, he spent a period of time in São Luis and another in Belém before traveling to the Amazon. However we have found no documentary evidence that Irineu frequented terreiros in São Luis or elsewhere, nor did we find references to family or acquaintances who practiced Tambor de Mina. Likewise Bayer Neto (1992), who also did a stint of fieldwork in São Vicente, notes emphatically that no one in Irineu's family formally practiced or belonged to an Afro-Brazilian religious cult. It is possible that Irineu's noted involvement in the folk music tradition tambor de crioula has been erroneously interpreted as participation in Tambor de Mina religion. Tambor de crioula is used in relationship with religious devotion to St. Benedict, especially regarding the "paying of promises", but it is mostly a non-religious, recreational musical tradition, very different from Tambor de Mina. However the two are sometimes confused, for example in the reports from the Missão de Pesquisas Folclóricas (Mission for Folklore Research) of the Department of Culture of the Mayorship of São Paulo during their expedition in July of 1938, tambor de crioula was assumed to belong to an Afro-Brazilian religious cult (Alvarenga 1949). If Irineu had any contact with Tambor de Mina, we could not find any evidence that this took place in one of the formally constituted terreiros (religious centers) in Maranhão. It is worth remembering that terreiros where Tambor de Mina is practiced are commonly referred to as "Casas de Mina", which should not be confused with the Casas das Minas sensu strictu. Thus, the possible influence of Tambor de Mina on Irineu may have been exaggerated, obscuring the presence of other, less known popular religious manifestations in Maranhão, especially pajelança ('shamanism').

Pajelança, also known as cura ('curing') or linha de pena e maracá ('feather and rattle line'), is a religious practice found among caboclos, people of mixed descent (African, European, indigenous) in Maranhão, including elements of folk Catholicism, indigenous shamanism, Tambor de Mina and folk medicine. There are only a handful of studies of this religious traditions: Eduardo (1966), M. Ferretti (2000, 2001, 2003), Laveleye (2001), Nicolau Parès (1997) and Pacheco (2003, 2004). Except where otherwise noted, all song texts transcribed below come from Gustavo Pacheco's (2003, 2004) dissertation research carried out between 1998 and 2003 in São Luis and Cururupu. As the name pajelança ('shamanism') implies, this practice places a strong emphasis on treating illness and affliction, and is notable for a characteristic form of trance possession that includes a 'passage' or sequence of several different spiritual entities during a single session. Tobacco and other substances are used for smudging patients. These elements are found in other non-indigenous healing traditions of northern and northeastern Brazil such as catimbó, jurema, toré and the shamanistic practices of riverine caboclo populations such as described by Galvão (1975) and Maués (1990). Unlike Tambor de Mina, allusions to pajelança in the interior of Maranhão are quite old. In the mid 19th century, for example, we already find explicit references to pajés ('shamans/healers') in the municipal legislation of cities in the Maranhão lowlands such as Viana and Guimarães (M. Ferretti 2001: 35; APEM 1992; Pacheco 2004).

In São Luis, pajelança or cura is easily identified as festive public rituals that take place several times per year at some Tambor de Mina centers. It is a kind of obligation done to "give passage" to the spiritual entities of the linha de cura ("curing line" or "curing branch"). Although the practices of pajelança and Tambor de Minas overlap, there is a tendency towards conceptual separation with regards to choreography, ornamentation, instruments, musical repertory and even the physical space set aside for each. Further towards the interior, however, the separation is less clear, constituting what Roger Bastide (1971: 256, our translation) calls a "transitional zone where catimbó and Tambor de Mina abandon themselves to the most bizarre unions." Central elements in this universe combining pajelança and Tambor de Mina are the encantados ("enchanted ones"), spiritual beings that manifest during rituals in terreiros. These include voduns [variant: vodum] and orixás (African deities), gentis ("the gentle ones", spirits of European nobility), and caboclos (Afro-indigenous entities). People who disappear mysteriously are said to "become enchanted" and join this pantheon of invisible beings, going to live in natural places like beaches, lakes or riverbeds (M. Ferretti 2000b).

Taking this cultural universe as a point of reference, it is possible to recognize certain connections with the ritual system of Santo Daime. In the first place, the term doutrina ("doctrine") is used often in Santo Daime, as for example when its adepts refer to the religion as "the Doctrine". Irineu is said to have "re-planted" the Holy Doctrines (Santas Doutrinas) which represent the Santo Daime cosmology as a whole. This expression appears in many hymns of his Daime hymnal, for example Hymns 38, "Flor de Jagube" ('Jagube flower') and 89, "Eu Canto, Eu Digo" ('I sing, I say'). By the same token doutrina is the most common term in Maranhão (and other regions influenced by its religiosity) for the ritual songs associated with Tambor de Mina, pajelança and terecô. The term is often used to make reference either to specific spiritual entities — for example doutrina de Badé ('the doctrine of Badé') and doutrina de João de Una ('the doctrine of João de Una') — or to specific moments in the rituals such as doutrina para abrir trabalho ('doctrine to open the ritual') and doutrina de cura ('doctrine of curing'). Thus Daime hymns are considered doctrines not only in the sense of transmitting teachings and precepts, but also in the specific sense of presenting these teachings and precepts in the form of musical song.

Second, within the religious universe of Maranhão we find a rich symbolic world associated with the terms banzeiro ('strong waves' or 'strong wind'), maresia ('strong waves') and balanço ('rhythmic swaying, balancing'). In a concrete sense these terms are used to speak about the movements of ocean water. But in a religious context they are used metaphorically in reference to the arrival and presence of enchanted beings, especially through the phenomena of possession trance.

Here are some examples of Afro-Brazilian religious songs from Maranhão gathered by Pacheco (2003, 2004), as translated to English by Glenn Shepard.
Maresia é meu cavalo
Eu não posso andar a pé
Eu venho eu vou
No balanço da maré


'The strong waves are my steed
I cannot walk on foot
I come and I go
With the swaying of the tide'

— Benedita Cadete, healer from Cururupu


Eu formei o meu balanço
Nas ondas do mar
Fui buscar minhas corrente
Minhas linha d'eu curar


'I formed my rhythm
On the ocean waves
I went to find my chains
My lines for me to cure'

— Elzita Coelho, Tambor de Mina practitioner and healer from São Luís


No banzeiro eu venho
No banzeiro eu vou
Ô no balanço do mar
Eu vim brincar


'On the ocean swells I come
On the ocean swells I go
Oh with the swaying of the ocean
I came to play'

— João Venâncio, healer from São Luís
Alongside these notions of wave action, ocean tides and rhythmic swaying in the metaphoric world of Maranhão's religious songs, the concept of 'firmness' or 'stability' (firmeza) plays counterpoint. Firmeza is a key attribute of good healers, signifying sureness and safety (segurança) as well as precision in carrying out their ritual tasks. One of the most common services requested of healers from Maranhão is to restore the stability of people who have been harassed by the Enchanted Ones, restoring a more harmonious co-existence between the two. One typical adornment worn by shamans are the glanchamas, cloth strips tied diagonally across the torso, which are said to "firm up" (firmar) and stabilize the healer so he or she does not lose control of the Enchanted Ones. Terms derived from these concepts are also common in religious songs from Maranhão:
Rola rola maresia
Afirma a conta do meu maracá
Eu vou ver se meu corpo me afirma
Vou topar com baleia serpente no mar


Roll, roll strong waves
Firm up the beads in my rattle
I'll see if my body holds firm
When I run into the whale, the snake of the sea

— Benedita Cadete, healer from Cururupu


Eu peço firmeza pra meu corpo
Meu corpo tem firmeza pra me dar
Eu vou desafirmar meu corpo
Pra corpo de outro eu afirmar


I ask stability for my body
My body has stability to give me
I'll destabilize my body
For me to stabilize another's body

—Justino, healer from Cururupu
The trinity of swells, tides and swaying rhythm counterbalanced by the notion of stability from Maranhão religious music reappears in Santo Daime in the duality between balanço (swaying rhythm) and firmeza (firmness, stability, confidence). Santo Daime religious concepts and poetry constantly emphasize the need for courage, confidence and trust. The adept must by firme ('firm, stable, confident'), must "hold his ground" (se compor em seu lugar) in order to "withstand Daime's power" (agüentar a força do Daime) and put up with the dizzying, destabilizing sensation — balanço — that accompanies the psychoactive experience. Balanço refers to the inherent power of the beverage, its effects on the body as well as the apocalyptic end times; examples are found in Hymns 46, Eu Balanço ('I rock, sway'), 70, Firmeza ('Firmness, stability'), 73, Eu vi a Virgem Mãe ('I saw the Virgin Mother') and 80, Chamo a Força ('I call the power' or 'the force'). Hymn 37, Marizia, appears to be a spelling mistake1, apparently coming from the word maresia, which according to the Aurelio dictionary is a usage somewhat specific to the state of Maranhão, referring to strong waves.

These notions are tied to a religious cosmology permeated with images of astral battle and cosmic struggle between good and evil as represented by entities of light and darkness. Daimistas see themselves as belonging to the "army of Juramidam", soldiers who fight with discipline and firmeza against spiritual dangers and the doubts and uncertainties that "rock" (balançar) one's faith. In a similar way, Maranhão shamans or healers in their curing rituals often express the treatment of illness in an idiom of warfare and combat (Laveleye 2001: 227). However, such concepts are also found in indigenous ayahuasca shamanism (Groisman 1991), so it is hard to attribute their origins clearly to one source or the other.

Another suggestive image is related to tucum (Bactris setosa), an economically important palm used widely in Brazil. In Maranhão, tucum palm is closely associated with two groups of spiritual entities, the Légua Boji and the Surrupiras. Both are violent enchanted beings with trickster attributes who punish those who displease them in any way. One of their forms of punishment is to induce people to get tangled in bunches of spiny tucum palms (Eduardo 1966: 59, 83; Sá 1974: 20); indeed, Surrupiras are said to live in tucum bunches (M. Ferretti 2000a: 148). Among the shamans of Cururupu, tucum works as a kind of spiritual "lightning rod", which is why they deposit witchcraft objects and other malignant substances removed from the bodies of the ill at the foot of tucum trees. These references appear to echo in Hymn 108, Linha do Tucum ("tucum line"):
Essa é a Linha do Tucum
Que traz toda lealdade
Castigando os mentirosos
Aqui dentro desta verdade


This is the tucum line
That brings all loyalty
Punishing the liars
Here inside this truth
Another connection between Maranhão religiosity and Santo Daime is found in a few references in Mestre Irineu's hymnal to certain entities typical of Maranhão religious and shamanistic universe including Mãe d'água ('Mother of waters') in the hymn Formosa ('Handsome') and the trickster Curupira in the hymn Centro Livre ('Free Center'; the song mentions "Currupipipiraguá", probably a corruption of Curupira). These entities are not exclusive to Maranhão, but they are especially important in the Maranhão Lowlands.

Other hymns likewise appear to make references to Maranhão shamanism, for example Hymn 6, Papai Paxá ('Father Paxá'), with the phrase, "Eu vim berando a terra / Eu vim berando o mar" ('I've come walking along the edge of the earth / I've come walking along the edge of the sea'). This couplet is found frequently in the songs associated with Tambor de Mina and Maranhão shamanism when spiritual entities narrate their arrival in the first person. For example:
Eu andei beirando rio
Eu andei beirando o mar
Vinha procurar um doente
Que mandou me chamar
Pode dizer o que quer
Pode dizer o que que há


I walked along the edge of the river
I walked along the edge of the sea
I came to look for a sick person
Who sent for me
He can tell me what he wants
He can tell me what's wrong

— Justino, healer from Cururupu

Cheguei, cheguei, cheguei
Vim beirando o mar
Légua-Boji-Buá, Légua-Boji-Buá
Eu beirei garapé vodum
Ah, eu beirei garapé


I have come, I have come, I have come,
Come walking at the edge of the sea
Légua-Boji-Buá, Légua-Boji-Buá
I came walking at the edge of the creek, vodum
Ah, I came walking at the edge of the creek

— Tambor de Mina song from Casa Fanti-Ashanti, São Luís (M. Ferretti 2000a: 117)
Finally, we note the centrality of Our Lady of the Conception (Nossa Senhora da Conceição) in Santo Daime, often identified as the 'Queen of the Forest' (Rainha da Floresta) or 'Virgin Mother' (Virgem Mãe), who gave the mission of Santo Daime to Raimundo Irineu Serra. Our Lady of the Conception is worshiped throughout Brazil, but she has an especially strong presence in Maranhão both in popular religion and also in shamanism, often invoked in the opening of curing rituals. Here is an example from Casa Fanti-Ashanti:
Nossa Senhora da Conceição
Ora queira me valer, oh mãe senhora
Nesta ocasião


Our Lady of the Conception
Now bring me strength, oh Lady Mother
On this occasion

— From the LP recording Tambor de Mina, Cura e Baião na Casa Fanti-Ashanti (M. Ferretti 1991).1

The Festival of the Divine Holy Spirit
The Festa do Divino Espírito Santo (Festival of the Divine Holy Spirit) is one of the oldest and most widespread festivals of popular Brazilian Catholicism, found in virtually all parts of the country but showing various regional variations. In Maranhão, the festival probably arrived in the 17th century through the Azorian colonization of the state. By the early 19th century the festival was firmly rooted in the popular traditions of the city of Alcântara, where it spread to the rest of the state, being especially popular among the poorest classes. Since then this festival has become one of the most important expressions of Afro-Brazilian culture in Maranhão, being especially associated with the women who practice Tambor de Mina. This aspect of the Festival of the Divine Holy Spirit in Maranhão distinguishes it from its practice in other regions (Barbosa 2002; Gouveia 2001; Lima 1972). A number of videos have been made about the festival and its music, including Ferretti (1995) and Santos (1997) as well as two CDs, Caixeiras da Casa Fanti-Ashanti tocam e cantam para o Divino and Caixeiras do Divino de São Luís do Maranhão. The excerpts cited below are from these sources.

According to our interviews, the "Divine", as it is called for short, was practiced in São Vicente Ferrer at the turn of the 19th century. We interviewed Felipe Figueiredo ("Mestre Felipe"), one of the oldest and most renowned masters of tambor de crioula in Maranhão who was born in São Vicente Ferrer in 1924. He informed us in an interview in 2003 that long before he was born, his mother already practiced this festival, known as "festa de caixa" ('Festival of snare drums'). We found no mention of Irineu having participated directly in the festivals surrounding the Festival of the Divine Holy Spirit, but we did encounter references to bambaê da caixa, a non-sacred music/dance tradition that is nonetheless closely associated with the Festival, sometimes carried out for entertainment after the religious part is over. Moreover, it was remarked that Irineu's mother was strongly Catholic, so it seems reasonable to assume that Irineu would have been familiar with this very popular folk Catholic festival in Maranhão.

Goulart (1996) has already demonstrated the strong presence of many elements of folk Brazilian Catholicism in Santo Daime practice and belief. Yet as we argue here, these elements appear to emerge from some traditions more specifically tied to the state of Maranhão, where the Festival of the Divine Holy Spirit is especially important. Every Festival of the Divine features a group of children called the "Empire" or the "Kingdom". These children are dressed in full royal-style regalia and treated like nobility throughout the days of the festival. It is possible that the symbolic universe surrounding the term "Empire" in Santo Daime is associated with this aspect of the festival; the terms "crown", "princes and princesses", "imperial throne", "kindgdom", "enchanted kingdom", "celestial court" and so on are found in many hymns, for example Hymn 67 Olhei para o Firmamento ('I looked up at the sky'), 106, Fortaleza ('Fortress') and 113 Sigo Nesta Verdade ('I follow this truth'; see also Labate 2004). Irineu is called "Empire-Chief of Juramidam" (Chefe Império Juramidam); the plant Psychotria viridis, found in the ayahuasca brew, is known as "Queen" (rainha) and a plantation of it is called a "kingdom" (reinado).

Among the most important elements in the Feast of the Divine are the caixeiras ('drummers'), a group of older women who follow the ceremony through all its stages singing and playing the percussion instrument known as caixa. The caixa is a snare drum made of wood or metal, covered in animal hides on both ends and played with wooden sticks; it probably originates from the tambores de folia ('carnival drums') used for centuries in the Festival of the Divine on the Azore Islands. There is a specific reference to this drum in Hymn 100, Eu Sou Filho da Terra ('I am a child of the earth'):
Aqui eu toco meu tambor
E nas matas eu rufo caixa
Todo mundo vai atrás
Procurando mas não acha


Here I play my drum
And in the forest the snare drum rolls
The whole world is chasing after it
Searching, but no one can find it
The drumming ladies of the Festival of the Divine carry a rich musical and poetic tradition expressed in the songs that highlight each stage of the ritual: 'opening the tribunal' (abertura da tribuna), 'finding and raising the mast' (buscamento e levantamento do mastro), 'Mass and ceremony of the empires' (missa e cerimônia dos impérios), 'taking down the mast' (derrubada do mastro), 'passing on the royal property' (repasse das posses reais) and carimbó or bambaê. Certain hymns appear to make reference to these various stages of the festival, for example:
Meu Divino Pai do Céu
Soberano criador
Eu sou um filho seu
Neste mundo pecador


My Holy Father from the sky
Sovereign creator
I am one of your children
In this sinning world

— Hymn 17, Meu Divino Pai do Céu

O Divino Pai Eterno
Soberano Onipotente
Quero que Vós me dê forças
Para ensinar esta gente


O Holy Eternal Father
Omnipotent Sovereign
I want Thee to give me strength
To teach these people

— Hymn 73, Eu vi a Virgem Mãe

Vamos todos nós louvar
O Divino Espírito Santo
A Virgem Nossa Senhora
Nos cobrir com o Vosso manto


We will all praise together
The Divine Holy Spirit
Our Lady the Virgin
Cover us with Thy holy shroud

— Hymn 93, No Cruzeiro

Meu Divino Senhor Deus
É Pai de Todo Amor
Perdoai os Vossos filhos
Neste mundo pecador


My Divine Lord God
Is Father of all love
Forgive thy children
In this sinning world

— Hymn 127, Eu Pedi
These verses are very similar in style, content and meter to those sung by the drumming ladies in the Festival of the Divine:
Meu Divino Espírito Santo
Quem é vós e quem sou eu
Sou uma pobre pecadora
E vós é um senhor meu


My Divine Holy Spirit
Who art Thou and who am I?
I am a poor sinner
And Thou art my Lord

Meu Divino Espírito Santo
É meu pai é meu senhor
Vós queira me ajudar
Em toda parte que eu for


My Divine Holy Spirit
Is my father, is my lord
Please wouldst though help me?
Everywhere I may go

Meu Divino Espírito Santo
É pai da consolação
Onde eu for eu levo ele
Dentro do meu coração


My Divine Holy Spirit
Is father of consolation
Wherever I go I take him
Inside my heart

Meu Divino Espírito Santo
Dai-me voz dai-me paixão
Que eu quero cantar pra vós
De gosto e satisfação


My Divine Holy Spirit
Givest me voice, givest me passion
For I want to sing for Thee
With pleasure and satisfaction
Hymn 27, Seis Horas da Manhã ('Six o'clock in the morning') is especially interesting because it appears to make reference to the "stroke of dawn" (toque de alvorada), a drum rhythm played regularly during the Feast of the Divine at six in the morning, noon, and six in the afternoon:
Seis horas da manhã
Eu devo cantar
Para receber
A Meu Pai Divinal


Six o'clock in the morning
I should sing
To receive
My Divine Father

O pino do meio-dia
A luz do resplendor
Eu devo cantar
A Meu Pai Criador


The height of noon
The light of splendor
I should sing
My Holy Creator

Seis horas da tarde
O sol vai se pôr
Eu devo cantar
A Meu Pai Salvador


Six o'clock in the afternoon
The sun will set
I should sing
My Father the Saviour
These verses can be compared to similar verses from the "stroke of dawn" tunes as sung by the drumming ladies from the Festival of the Divine:
É seis horas é seis horas
Hora de Cristo rezar
Os anjos tão de joelho
Fazendo pelo-sinal


It's six o'clock, it's six o'clock
Time for Christ to pray
The angels are all on their knees
Making the sign of the cross

De manhã o sol é rei
Meio dia é rei croado
Às quatro horas ele é morto
Às seis horas é sepultado


In the morning the sun is king
At noon, he receives his crown
At four o'clock he is dead
At six he's in the ground

Foi agora que eu cheguei
No pino das doze horas
Vim salvar Espírito Santo
O Divino rei da glória


I just now arrived
At the height of twelve o'clock
I came to save the Holy Spirit
The Divine king of Glory

Lá se vai o sol sumindo
Vai sumindo devagar
Amanhã muito cedinho
Ele vai tornar a voltar


Over there the sun is setting
Fading slowly to black
Tomorrow morning real early
He'll turn around and come back
During the Festival of the Divine Holy Spirit we also find repeated references to Our Lady of the Conception:
Numa ponta tem São Pedro
Na outra tem São João
Bem no meio tem o letreiro
Da Virgem da Conceição


At one end is Saint Peter
The other end is Saint John
Right in the middle is the sign
Of the Virgin of Immaculate Conception

A Virgem da Conceição
Ela é minha vizinha
Eu vou convidar a ela
Para ser minha madrinha


The Virgin of Immaculate Conception
She is my next-door neighbor
I'm going to invite her
To be my Godmother

Nossa Senhora da Guia
Madrinha de São João
Eu também sou afilhado
Da Virgem da Conceição


Our Lady the Guide
Godmother of Saint John
I too am a godchild
Of the Virgin of Immaculate Conception

The Dance of Saint Gonçalo
The devotion to Saint Gonçalo, like that of the Divine Holy Spirit, originated in Portugal and can be found in various parts of Brazil with distinctive regional variations. In Maranhão, it is found throughout the state and associated with a specific set of dances known as baile or dança de São Gonçalo that vary from locality to locality. The baile de São Gonçalo ('dance of St. Gonçalo') is characteristic of the Maranhão lowlands and goes back at least to the mid-19th century (Serejo 2002). Ferretti (2001: 2) mentions a reference to this dance in the valley of Rio Mearim in 1851 in Dom Felipe Conduru Pacheco's book, História eclesiástica do Maranhão ('Ecclesiastic History of Maranhão'). The dance takes place betwen the months of July and January, usually as a way for a devotee to "pay a promise". The performance usually lasts about two hours during which several dancing couples (bailantes) are led by a guide, reciting verses to celebrate the saint and making dance steps called trocados. The similarities between the dance of Saint Gonçalo and the ritual dances of Santo Daime are quite striking.3 Indeed, the dance rituals in Santo Daime are referred to as bailado, coming from the verb bailar which is somewhat archaic in current Portuguese Brazilian usage. The Santo Daime dances last for several hours.

The Saint Gonçalo dances are carried out in a rustic open-sided structure (barracão), also known as a ramada ('branch-house'), covered in babaçu palm thatch locally known as pindoba. The structure usually doesn't have walls, but instead just a low partition. At the front by the entrance is an altar with images of saints. Similar structures are used throughout Maranhão not only for Saint Gonçalo's dance but also for Tambor de Mina, pajelança and the bumba-meu-boi festival. The spatial arrangement of the structure is very similar to that found in Santo Daime churches.

The dancers in Saint Gonçalo wear white clothes called 'uniforms' (farda), just as in Santo Daime. Also as in Santo Daime, men wear coat and tie, and also special embroidered hats called capacetes ('helmets'), similar to the uniform hats worn in Barquinha, another Amazonian ayahuasca religion with northeastern Brazilian origins. Women in the Saint Gonçalo festival wear crowns very similar to the 'uniform crowns' worn by Sainto Daime women. Men and women wear colorful ribbons, similar to the alegrias ('joys') found on the female Daime uniform. The ritual clothing for Saint Gonçalo is completed with a diagonal red sash with the inscription "Long Live Saint Gonçalo" (Viva São Gonçalo) as well as paper or plastic flowers.

In terms of its music, the Saint Gonçalo dance is accompanied by melodies played on the guitar and fiddle (rabeca), or alternatively the cavaquinho (four-string guitar, similar to the ukulele) and the 10-string guitar (viola). The most important rhythms are waltzes and marches, two of the three rhythms found in Santo Daime rituals.

The Saint Gonçalo dance is common throughout the Maranhão Lowlands, including São Vicente Ferrer, where it is performed with some regularity through the present. It seems very likely that Irineu took inspiration from the Saint Gonçalo dance or some related folk tradition when putting together the Daime ritual corpus. This interpretation is reinforced by the fact that, after returning from Maranhão in 1957, Irineu changed the style of the original farda uniforms (see Carioca n.d.; Cemin 1998), adding elements (later abolished) including colorful ribbons and a rose for men, making it even more similar to traditional dress for the Saint Gonçalo dance. According to Percília Matos da Silva (Revista do Centenário 1992: 8):
When we met in 1934, Mestre [Irineu] only had three hymns: Lua Branca, Tuperci and Ripi. That's where it all began. At that time there was no uniform. Then the uniform was established, but it was different from the one we use today. On the blue uniform for women, the initials C.R.F. (Centro da Rainha da Floresta) were already there. In 1957 the Master made a trip to Maranhão where he spent two days and two nights at sea, having many visions (mirações). On this trip, he "received" the new kind of uniform still used today. The men used colorful ribbons which the women still use, and a large rose. That rose was really distinctive. But then he changed it to a six-pointed star.

Other Influences from Maranhão
Besides the religious roots we have already mentioned, several other elements are worth mentioning. For example, there is the matter of the term Equiôr used in several of Irineu's hymns:
Equiôr, Equiô, Equiôr
Equiôr que me chamaram
Eu vim beirando a terra
Eu vim beirando o mar


Equiôr, Equiô, Equiôr
Equiôr they called me
I have come walking along the edge of the earth
I have come walking along the edge of the sea

- Hymn 6, Papai paxá

Equiôr Papai me chama
Equiôr perante a si
Equiôr Papai me diz
Equiôr eu sou feliz

Equiôr Mamãe me chama
Equiôr Mamãe me dá
Equiôr Mamãe me ensina
Amar a quem eu devo amar


Equiôr Daddy calls me
Equiôr before himself
Equiôr Daddy tells me
Equiôr I'm happy as can be

Equiôr Mommy calls me
Equiôr Mommy gives me
Equiôr Mommy teaches me
To love who beloved should be

— Verses from Hymns 18, Equiôr Papai me chama, and Hymn 5 of the Holy Mass, Equiôr
"Equiô!" is an interjection commonly used by cowboys from the Maranhão Lowlands to call and herd cattle. It is also used in the playful bumba-meu-boi parade, either shouted by the participants or sung in typical folk songs such as this composition by Coxinho, a well-known singer from the Boi de Pindaré:
Eu vi meu vaqueiro aboiar
Equiô, equiô
Eu me alegrei quando o pandeiro tocou
Mandei botar no jorná
Ê boi de Pindaré levantou


I saw my cowboy herding cattle
Equiô, equiô
I got happy when the tambourine shook
I told them to print in the paper
Hey! The Pindaré Bull is afoot
Based on this information we suggest that Equiôr does not refer, or at least not exclusively, to some specific entity, but is rather an interjection used to call something, or someone. This interpretation is coherent with the text of the hymns, and with the use of the term in other contexts, both sacred and mundane. For example, we note this shamanistic song collected in Cururupu:
Equiô, equiô
Meu maracá convidou curador


Equiô, equiô
My rattle has invited the healer

— Recorded at Terreiro de Roberval
This verse brings up another important element: the rattle, an extremely important instrument in the symbolism and practice of Santo Daime. Rattles are important to mark and hold the rhythm in the Santo Daime bailado dance, but also constitute a powerful spiritual symbol representing a weapon in the hand of the Daime warrior in his battle to bring "[in]doctrination" (doutrinação) to the "spirits without light" (espíritos sem luz). The rattle in Santo Daime is very relevant to our argument since it is similar, both in terms of its form and its symbolic value, to the Amerindian shaman's rattle, leading other researchers to attribute it an indigenous Amazonian origin. Our findings do not necessarily contradict this conclusion, and yet it is worth remembering that the rattle is of fundamental importance in two of the cultural traditions of Maranhão practiced in Irineu's birthplace: pajelança (known, as noted above, as "line of feather and rattle") and bumba-meu-boi. The rattles used in the bumba-meu-boi of Maranhão are made of sheet metal, very similar to those used in the traditionalist Alto Santo branch of Santo Daime.

Both by way of conclusion and as a provocation for future research, we mention that the kind of research we carried out on the roots of Santo Daime in Maranhão folk traditions still needs to be done for Barquinha, another Amazonian ayahuasca religion founded by a friend and fellow Maranhão countryman of Irineu, Daniel Pereira de Mattos. Many of the aspects discussed here, for example the "Enchanted Ones", the stylistic similarities with the São Gonçalo dance, notions such as 'swaying/balance' (balanço), among others, are equally relevant to understanding the foundational roots of Barquinha. But that is the subject for another study.

Notes #
  1. According to Eduardo Bayer Neto (personal communication, 2003) the original hymnals were written in notebooks in chronological order to capture the compositions of each 'receptor', and then copied and corrected by Percília Mattos da Silva.
  2. On the devotion to Our Lady of the Conception within Tambor de Mina, see M. Ferretti (1997).
  3. We thank Mundicarmo Ferretti for bringing our attention to this similarity in the two dance traditions.
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Revision History #
  • v 1.0 - 2004 - Labate & Pacheco - Portuguese version published in O uso ritual da ayahuasca, Editora Mercado de Letras.
  • v 2.0 - Nov 2015 - Labate & Pacheco, translated by Shepard G - English-language version published on Erowid.