The Macumba religion is practiced by a large number of Brazilians, and involves the apparent possession of worshippers by their gods; in a process that in some respects resembles that of Voodoo ceremonies.
There is an initiation ceremony before anyone can become a member of one of the numerous Macumba cults. The initiate having gone into a trance, the priest must decide which god has taken possession, in order to prescribe the appropriate ceremony. This involves animal sacrifice after which blood is smeared on the initiate; during deep trance, suggestions are made for changes in behavior and for obedience to the cult.
During worship, drumming and dancing encourage worshippers to go into trance-states in which their faces often violently change expression, and they sometimes become totally exhausted. On coming out of their trance, they usually know nothing of what has happened during the ceremony, but their behavior is often changed.
Shamanism has always been a major feature of the supernatural in Brazil. A Brazilian shaman is a man, or sometimes a woman, who while in a trance can talk to spirits and with their help see into the future, cure illness, and diagnose diseases before a conventional doctor can do so.
Shamanism in Brazil is often hereditary. However, sometimes the power is suddenly recognized in a person, and a local shaman will undertake to train such a man to recognize his own individual spirit usually a bird or animal and to open himself to it so that he can be possessed. The most prestigious spirit of Brazilian shaman is that of the jaguar. The shaman uses certain tools a ground rattle or a maraca to gain the spirit's attention, and takes drugs to help him into a trance-state. The trance-states are like theatrical performances, usually seen by firelight and at night. To cure an illness, the shaman will blow tobacco smoke on the part of the body affected, and then apparently suck out the illness.
Brazilian Indians are careful of their souls and with reason, for these are often stolen away. A shaman is sometimes hired to search for the missing souls of relatives, and to see that they are returned to their bodies. A soul can fly from its body at the sight of a ghost, or on an encounter with the Tupi Anyang, a terrifying spirit with long hair and a boneless body which engages in erotic activity. The Tupi shaman was often as important as the chief of a tribe: some powerful shaman persuaded whole tribes to follow them from one part of the country to another often in search of the land of Maira, a sort of Mexican Eldorado. At the end of the journey they would build a house and dance in it day or night without sleep or food, in the conviction that it would eventually rise into the sky and endow the dancers with magical properties.
After death, most shamans turn into jaguar spirits; so they are usually buried as far from the tribe as convenient, thorn bushes planted around the grave to keep their ghosts from haunting.
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