About Brazil - Religion

Brazil is officially a Catholic country, boasting the largest Catholic population in the world. Religious freedom is written into the constitution and, whilst being nominally Catholic, the country has a wide diversity of religious followers, some happily combining one or more 'brands'.

Indian animism was the original spiritual practice in Brazil. This was joined by the strict catholic practices of the first Portuguese settlers and their missionaries, who were intent on converting the 'uncivilised heathens' of the New World. The slaves brought over from the African continent also introduced their own religions, which although fiercely rejected and violently condemned, survived to become one of the strongest influences in Brazil today. Other mainline, global religions, such as Judaism and Islam, also have representative groups in Brazil and the major cities all have appropriate places of worship.


When the slaves first came to Brazil, their religions were banned and those caught practising the forbidden ceremonies were severely punished. To avoid this persecution, the slaves concealed the identities of their gods behind the names of Catholic saints. This was generally done by finding the saint which most closely fitted the image of each African deity. The Afro-Brazilian cults that subsequently evolved, bear no relation to mainstream European or Asian ideas of religion; the concept of good and evil has no doctrinal definition. The cult of Exú was the most shocking for those coming into contact with the Afro deities for the first time.

The entity is represented by a mixture of animal and human characeristics, including a horn and erect penis. The European Catholics identified him as the devil. Exú, in fact represents the contact between the spiritual and material worlds. Everything related to money, love and protection from thieves comes under the eye of Exú.


The name "Candomblé" means a dance in honour of the gods and is the general name for the cult in Bahia. Other regions have other names. In Rio, it is "Macumba ; in Pernambuco, "Xangô". Ceremonies take place at a "terreiro" under the leadership of a "pai" or "mãe-de-santo". Only some ceremonies are open to the public. In "Candomblé", each person is a son or daughter of an "Orixá" and this deity protects the individual from birth to death. The "Orixá" is identified by the cult leader interpreting the position of shells which she has thrown down. Followers of "Candomblé" make offerings of food to their respective protectors and to Exú, so that he will carry the message to the spiritual world.

The largest and most public ritual takes place ot New Year when millions of people dress in white and go to the beach to make their offerings to Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea, to bring good luck for the following year. Even if they have no contact with "Candomblé" at other times of the year, many Brazilians observe the New Year ceremony.


This religion is neither as widespread nor as well-organised as "Candomblé", and the practices vary from one group to the next. Basically the cult combines spiritualism and "Candomblé" and practises white magic.


Brazil is very open to new religious influences. At present Asian religions are increasing in popularity and being 'Brazilianized'. The fastest growing church is the 'Igreja Universal do Reino do Deus' (The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God), which is expanding at a phenomenal rate.