You may have seen this video on social media lately. Warning: there’s a bit of blood, and it’s pretty freaky:
That’s a man in a hospital in Rio de Janeiro, apparently with a minor gunshot wound to the cheek. If most of us took a bullet through the cheek, we’d probably be screaming in pain or in shock. But this dude? He’s walking around in a trance yelling about working with “Lucifer.”
It gets even crazier when some Brazilian guy tries to perform an impromptu exorcism on him!
Here’s the video:
The would-be exorcist is trying to fend him off with what looks like a folding chair, shouting: “You are not powerful, Jesus is powerful! Jesus is here! God is here! God is mightier than you!”
So what’s the deal here? Is this just a gang-banger high on drugs? Is he really possessed?
To “Break” this down, let me tell you about Brazil. It’s the land of beaches and caipirinha, but also of serious, serious religious faith. It used to be Brazil was something like 98% Catholic, but for the last several decades Evangelical Protestantism has been steadily gaining ground in the lower-middle classes. As of their last census, 86.8% of Brazilians identified themselves as devoutly Christian (66% or so Catholics, the rest Protestant). So, no surprise there would be someone ready at hand in the hospital to try to cast out an evil spirit.
But here’s the other thing: a ton of Brazilians ALSO practice Umbanda and Candomble, which are the Brazilian versions of Voodoo! Only about 5% of Brazilians identify these as their main religion, but far more are involved in both traditional Catholicism and these Santeria-style practices at the same time.
These practices originated with Brazilian Slaves, who preserved some of their traditional African religious practices when brought to South America. As it was forbidden, they would disguise their worship of the spirits (the “orixa”) in the form of veneration of different Catholic saints. So, for example, the spirit Ogum became Saint George:
One big feature of all these religions is possession, or as they put it, “incorporation.” This is where a believer’s body is temporarily occupied by one of the spirits. You see this in almost all the ceremonies in Umbanda, Quimbanda, Candomble, and other forms of santeria.
Here’s a video of an Umbandist incarnating a spirit called “Ze Pilintra,” patron spirit of bars, gambling dens and gutters, who protects the poor:
As you can see, drumming, singing and dancing is a big part of the trance that leads to this kind of possession, as the devotees put themselves into a trance state. While possessed, they talk and act like the spirit. re
I’ve seen these in person, and whether or not you believe in the spirits, you can’t question the altered state that happens when it’s real. (I’ve also seen fakers, and the difference is clear if you know what to look for.) I’ve personally seen little old ladies who could barely walk start to dance and leap through the air while possessed, and people who only spoke Spanish start to speak in Portuguese while possessed by a spirit. Maybe in Yoruba too, I can’t be sure since I don’t actually know any Yoruba myself.
While possessed, devotees will give blessings and advice to other people attending the ceremony. People in this trance-state of possession will walk and talk very strangely, as if the spirit cannot fully control the body (or as if the trance-mind isn’t really able to fully control the body, if you want to take the more skeptic view).
And yes, it sometimes looks a hell of a lot like the guy in the video.
But wait; this dude said he was possessed by Lucifer! So what’s up with that?
Well, here’s the thing: while the majority of practitioners of Umbanda and related belief systems are good law-abiding people who focus on devotion, healing, and protection, there are also other darker aspects to these religions. There’s white magic, red magic and black magic. And just as some of the spirits have been associated with depictions of Jesus, Mary or the Saints, some of the darker spirits have been associated with various devils of Christianity.
In particular, devils have been associated with the order of spirits known as the Exus. So Lucifer is often associated with Exu of the Seven Crossroads:
See the resemblance?
Here’s another video of a ceremony, where one of the Exus is being incorporated:
These spirits in Umbanda and its offshoots are seen as Lords of the Earth, who control paths between the mortal world, the world of the dead, and the world of heaven. They can punish and reward, give you wealth or destroy your enemies.
Today there are Umbandistas of all social levels, from taxi drivers to government ministers, openly or secretly practicing. Most, as I said, are decent law-abiding people. But these faiths are especially popular with marginalized people: it started out as a slave-religion, and for many years was mostly the religion of the very poor. Its relaxed attitudes compared to the strict moral judgment of Catholicism or Protestantism make it very popular with sex-workers and LGBT people; but also with gang members. And the latter are especially drawn, for obvious reasons, to the darker practices.
In my opinion, the most likely explanation of the video is that this “possessed” guy with the gunshot wound comes from that background. Like many gang members, he’s used darker spirits of Umbanda for protection, revenge, success, etc.
It seems pretty likely with the trauma and shock of being shot, he could enter into a trance state like the ones he’s seen or maybe participated in already, whether or not he’s also high (and in some traditions, using liquor or drugs in ceremonies is normal too). Whether you believe in spirits as a supernatural phenomena, trance as a physical state is a real thing. And I’m pretty sure this guy was deep in one.