Lindsay Hale. Hearing the Mermaids Song: The Umbanda Religion in Rio De Janeiro

Lindsay Hale.  Hearing the Mermaids Song: The Umbanda Religion in Rio De Janeiro.  Albuquerque:  University of New Mexico Press, 2009.  6 x 9 pp208.  $26.95 paperback.

Taylor Schlichter
Indiana University

Umbanda is a complex and unique religion popular in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It involves mediums who summon spirits of old slaves, Indians, saints, and even young children through trance. It is a mixture of traditional African religious practices brought over by slaves, Catholicism, and sometimes the writings of Allen Kardec; full of African rituals and magic, it still manages to tie in Catholic ideas.  Many Afro-Brazilians particularly identify with this religion because of its undeniable African roots.  Recently, however, Brazilian people of European descent have begun to practice Umbanda. The spirits talk to members of Umbanda centers through the mediums and help them work through issues and problems they are experiencing.  Mediums take on the full mannerisms of the spirit they are channeling during the trances. They talk, sing, move, and even eat like the spirit. There are multiple kinds of spirits that serve different purposes. Old slaves, or pretos velhos, are kind, gentle spirits who are wise and patient.  Indian spirits, or Caboclos, are arrogant and brave.   All spirits, however, serve the Orixas, or gods, and console people about how to live the right way. Continue reading “Lindsay Hale. Hearing the Mermaids Song: The Umbanda Religion in Rio De Janeiro”

Thomas Hart. The Ancient Spirituality of the Modern Maya

Thomas Hart.  The Ancient Spirituality of the Modern Maya.  Albuquerque:  University of New Mexico Press, 2008. Pp 290.  $45.00 hardcover.

 Kristina Downs
Indiana University

The Ancient Spirituality of the Modern Maya by Thomas Hart profiles the persistence of traditional Mayan religion in contemporary society.  Hart, who has lived and worked in Guatemala since 1993, conducted most of his fieldwork in Guatemala among the K’iche’ Maya, but argues that many of the concepts he discusses are relevant to the Maya more generally.  Although the title stresses the endurance of Mayan Spirituality, the central theme of the work seems to be change, which is often framed as a detrimental decline of the old ways.  His collaborators repeatedly mention that because of social changes, things are not seen the way they should be, the way they once were. Continue reading “Thomas Hart. The Ancient Spirituality of the Modern Maya”