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A practitioner dressed as the orixá Oba at a temple in Brazil; the possession of adherents by orixá is central to Candomblé

Candomblé (Portuguese pronunciation: [kɐ̃dõˈblɛ]) is an African diasporic religion that developed in Brazil during the 19th century. It arose through a process of syncretism between several of the traditional religions of West Africa, especially those of the Yoruba, Bantu, and Gbe, coupled with influences from Roman Catholicism. There is no central authority in control of Candomblé, which is organized around autonomous terreiros (houses).

Candomblé venerates spirits, known varyingly as orixás, inkice, or vodun, which are deemed subservient to a transcendent creator god, Oludumaré. Deriving their names and attributes from traditional West African deities, the orixás are linked with Roman Catholic saints. Each individual is believed to have a tutelary orixá who has been connected to them since before birth and who informs their personality. An initiatory tradition, Candomblé's members usually meet in terreiros run by a mãe de santo (priestess) or pai de santo (priest). A central ritual involves practitioners drumming, singing, and dancing to encourage an orixá to possess one of their members, with whom congregants can then interact. The orixás are given offerings such as fruit and sacrificed animals, while their will is deciphered through divination. Offerings may also be given to lesser spirits, including caboclos and the spirits of the dead, the egun. Healing rituals and the preparation of amulets and herbal remedies also play a prominent role.

Candomblé developed among Afro-Brazilian communities amid the Atlantic slave trade of the 16th to 19th centuries. It arose through the blending of the traditional religions brought to Brazil by enslaved West and Central Africans, the majority of them Yoruba, Fon, and Bantu, with the Roman Catholicism of the Portuguese colonialists who then controlled the area. It primarily coalesced in the Bahia region during the 19th century. Following Brazil's independence from Portugal, the constitution of 1891 enshrined freedom of religion in the country, although Candomblé remained marginalized by the Roman Catholic establishment, which typically associated it with criminality. In the 20th century, growing emigration from Bahia spread Candomblé both throughout Brazil and abroad, while also influencing the development of another religion, Umbanda, in the 1920s. Since the late 20th century, some practitioners have emphasized a re-Africanization process to remove Roman Catholic influences and create forms of Candomblé closer to traditional West African religion.

The religion is divided into denominations, known as nations, based on which traditional African belief system has been its primary influence. The most prominent nations are the Ketu, Jeje, and Angola. There are nearly 170,000 practitioners in Brazil, although smaller communities exist elsewhere, especially other parts of South America. Both in Brazil and abroad Candomblé has spread beyond its Afro-Brazilian origins and is practiced by individuals of various ethnicities.

Definition and terminology

A Candomblé ritual photographed in 2023

Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion.[1] More broadly, it is a "neo-African"[2] or African American religion.[3] It arose in 19th-century Brazil, where the imported traditional African religions of enslaved West Africans had to adapt to a slave colony in which Roman Catholicism was the official religion.[4] It is thus one of several religions that emerged in the Americas through the blending of West African and Roman Catholic traditions, and for this reason is considered a "sister religion" of Cuban Santería and Haitian Vodou.[5]

Candomblé's followers are called povo de santo (people of saint),[6] or candomblecistas.[7] The term Candomblé itself probably derives from a Bantu word for dances, kandombele, which also developed into the term for a dance style in Argentina and Uruguay, Candombe.[8] Another word sometimes applied to Candomblé is the term macumba.[9] While sometimes used for Afro-Brazilian religions as a whole, the term is especially associated with sorcery or black magic,[10] and thus some Candomblécistas distance themselves it.[11]

Candomblé is not institutionalised.[12] It has no central authority that can determine doctrine and orthodoxy,[13] and has no central sacred text.[14] It is heterogenous,[15] displaying regional variation in its beliefs and practices.[16] Each lineage or community of practitioners is autonomous,[17] approaching the religion in ways informed by their tradition and the choices of their leader.[18]

A Candomblé ritual in 2008

Most Candomblecistas also practice Roman Catholicism[19]—some priests and priestesses of Candomblé refuse to initiate anyone who is not a baptised Roman Catholic[20]—while other practitioners have also pursued Evangelical Protestantism,[21] New Age practices,[22] or Buddhism.[22] Sometimes these non-Candomblist elements have been directly integrated into Candomblé itself; there are reports of a Brazilian practitioner including a statue of the Mahayana Buddhist deity Hotei on their altar,[23] and of a Belgian Candomblé group that incorporated characters from Welsh and Slavic mythologies in their practice.[24] Candomblé has sometimes also been influenced by Spiritism, a French variant of Spiritualism, although many Spiritists distinguish their religion from Afro-Brazilian traditions.[25]

Afro-Brazilian religions often mix with each other rather than existing in pure forms,[26] with many scholars viewing them on a continuum rather than as wholly discrete entities.[27] Candomblé shares the names of its deities, the orixás, with Umbanda,[28] a religion formed in Rio de Janeiro in the 1920s.[29] Umbandist groups exist on a spectrum from those emphasising connections to Spiritism to those stressing links with Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé;[30] the anthropologist Diana Brown noted that the boundary separating Umbanda from Candomblé was largely "a matter of individual opinion".[31] Omolocô was founded in Rio de Janeiro as an intermediate religion between Candomblé and Umbanda,[32] with traditions merging these two systems sometimes labelled "Umbandomblé" by outsiders.[33] There are also other Afro-Brazilian religions rooted largely in specific regions, including Babassuê in Pará, Batuque in Rio Grande do Sul, and Tambor de Mina in Maranhão and Pará.[34]



Candomblé divides into traditions known as nações (nations).[35] The three most prominent are Ketu (Queto) or Nagô, Jeje (Gege) or Mina-Jeje, and Angola or Congo-Angola;[36] others include the Ijexá and Caboclo.[37] Each derives influence from a different African language group; Ketu uses Yoruba, Jeje adopts Ewe, and the Angola draws from the Bantu language group.[25] Informed by these ethno-linguistic origins, each Candomblé nation has its own lexicon, chants, deities, sacred objects, and traditional knowledge.[37] Although originating among ethnic differences, this has largely eroded over time, with members drawn to a nation for reasons other than ethnic heritage.[37]

An initiate can transfer from one nation to another, a process referred to as trocar as águas ("to change the waters").[38] Attitudes between nations can be critical; those groups which emphasise claims that these possess an "African purity" have often denigrated other nations they deem more syncretic.[39] The Angola nation is sometimes regarded as the most syncretic.[40] The Nagô nation is the largest,[41] reflecting how Yoruba traditional religion eventually became the dominant West African influence within Afro-Brazilian religions,[42] and even among nations other than the Nagô, Yoruba-derived terminology predominates widely.[43]



Knowledge about Candomblé's beliefs and practices is referred to as the fundamentos (foundations"),[44] and is guarded by practitioners.[45]

Olorun and the orixás


Candomblé teaches the existence of a supreme divinity called Olorun or Olodumare.[46] This entity is regarded as the creator of everything but as being distant and unapproachable.[37] Olorun is thus not specifically worshipped in Candomblé.[37]

The orixás

A statue depicting the orixá Xangô inside a Candomblé terreiro in São Paulo; he is distinguished by his possession of a double-headed axe, the oxê[47]

Candomblé revolves around spirits termed orixás (orishas)[48] or santos ("saints").[49] In the Bantu tradition they are sometimes termed inkice,[50] and in the Jeje tradition vodun.[51] The males are termed aborôs,[52] the females iabás.[53] These have been varyingly conceived as ancestral figures,[54] or embodiments of forces of nature.[55] Around 12 orixás are well-developed figures in the Candomblé pantheon and recognized by most practitioners.[37] Although usually given Yoruba names, in the Jeje nation they are instead given Fon names.[56]

The orixás are believed to mediate between humanity and Olorun.[57] They are understood as being morally ambiguous, each with their own virtues and flaws;[58] they are sometimes in conflict with other orixás.[59] In Candomblé, the relationship between the orixás and humanity is seen as being one of interdependence,[60] with practitioners seeking to build harmonious relationships with these deities,[61] thus securing their protection.[62] Each orixá is associated with specific colours, foods, animals, and minerals,[63] favoring certain offerings.[64] Each orixá is associated with a particular day of the week;[65] the priesthood also states that each year is governed by a specific orixá who will influence the events taking place within it.[66] Their personalities are informed by a key conceptual opposition in Candomblé, that of the cool versus the hot.[67]

Oxalá is the chief orixá,[68] depicted as a frail old man who walks with a pachorô sceptre as a walking stick.[69] Practitioners commonly believe that Olorun tasked him with creating humanity.[70] In some accounts, all of the junior orixás are the children of Oxalá and one of his two wives, Nanã and Iemanjá.[71] This trio are associated with water; Oxalá with fresh water, Nanã with the rain, and Iemanjá with the ocean.[72] Other accounts present this cosmogony differently, for instance by claiming that Oxalá fathered all other orixás alone, having created the world from a mingau pudding.[73] An alternative claim among practitioners is that Nanã is the grandmother of Oxalá and the mother of Iemanjá, the latter becoming both mother and wife to Oxalá.[73]

A statue of Iemanjá in Salvador

Xangô is the orixá associated with thunder and lightning;[74] one of his wives is Obá, a warrior who has only one ear.[75] Ogum is the orixá of battle and of iron, often depicted with a machete;[76] her companion is Oxóssi, the male orixá of the hunt and forest.[77] Obaluaiê or Omolu is the orixá associated with infectious disease and its cure,[78] while Osanyin is associated with leaves, herbs, and herbal knowledge.[75] Oya is the orixá of wind and storms.[79] Oxumaré is regarded as both male and female and is portrayed as a serpent or a rainbow.[80] Oxum is the orixá of love, beauty, wealth and luxury, and is associated with fresh water, fish, mermaids, and butterflies.[81] She is married to Ifa, regarded as the orixá of divination.[70] Tempo is the orixá of time;[82] originating in the Angola nation, he is associated with trees.[40] Due to the link with trees, he is sometimes equated with the Ketu-Nagô orixá Loko.[40] The orixá Exú is regarded as a capricious trickster;[83] as the guardian of entrances,[84] he facilitates contact between humanity and the other orixá,[85] thus usually being honoured and fed first in any ritual.[86] His ritual paraphernalia is often kept separate from that of other orixás,[87] while the entrances to most terreiros will have a clay head, decorated with cowries or nails, that represents Exu and is given offerings.[88]

Each orixá equates with a Roman Catholic saint.[89] This may have begun as a subterfuge to retain the worship of African deities under European rule,[90] although such syncretisms could have already been occurring in Africa prior to the Atlantic slave trade.[91] From the later 20th century, some practitioners have attempted to distance the orixás from the saints as a means of re-emphasising the religion's West African origins.[92] Robert A. Voeks observed that it was the priesthood and more formally educated practitioners who preferred to distinguish the orixás from the saints, whereas less formally educated adherents tended not to.[93] In Candomblé altars, the orixás are often represented with images and statues of Roman Catholic saints.[94] For instance, Oxalá has been conflated with Our Lord of Bonfim,[73] Oxum with Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception,[95] and Ogum with St Anthony of Padua.[96] Due to his association with time, Tempo is sometimes equated with the Christian idea of the Holy Spirit.[97]

The orixás are regarded as having different aspects, known as marcas ("types" or "qualities"),[98] each of which may have an individual name.[99] Child forms of the orixás are termed erês.[100] They are deemed the most uncontrollable spirits of all, associated with obscenities and pranks.[101] The child forms of orixás have specific names; the erê of Oxalá is for instance called Ebozingo ("Little Ebô") and Pombinho ("Little Dove").[69] The material image of an orixá is called an igbá.[102]

Relationships with the orixá

A statue of the orixá Iemanjá in Brazil, with offerings placed around it

Candomblé teaches that everyone is linked to a particular orixá.[103] This is their dono da cabeça:[8] the owner or master of the person's head.[104] Followers believe that this orixá influences that person's personality.[105] The gender of this tutelary orixá is not necessarily the same as their human's.[106] The identity of a person's orixá can be ascertained through divination.[107] failing to do so is sometimes interpreted as the cause of mental illness.[108]

Depending on the orixá in question, an initiate may choose to avoid or to engage in certain activities, such as avoiding specific foods or wearing specific colours.[63] Some practitioners also believe that there are other orixá who can be linked to an individual; a second is known as the juntó,[109] while a third is called the adjuntó, the tojuntó, or the dijuntó.[110] Some believe that an individual can also have a fourth orixá, inherited from a deceased relative.[111]

Exus and caboclos

A statue inside a Candomblé terreiro in São Paulo; it depicts a Native American spirit, a caboclo

Candomblé teaches the existence of spirits other than the orixás. One such spirit group is the exus,[87] sometimes termed exuas when female,[112] or exu-mirims when children.[113] They are deemed closer to humanity than the orixás and thus more accessible.[114] In ritual contexts, the exus are often regarded as the "slaves" of the orixás.[115] In common parlance they are often described as "devils",[116] although in Candomblé are not regarded as a force for absolute evil but rather thought capable of both good and bad acts.[114] Practitioners believe that the exus can "open" or "close" the "roads" of fate in one's life,[117] bringing about both help and harm.[118] Candomblé teaches that the exus can be induced to do a practitioner's bidding,[117] although need to be carefully controlled.[118] The exus are recorded as having been part of Candomblé since at least the 1930s and probably arose earlier.[119]

Also present in Candomblé are the caboclos,[120] the name of which probably derives from the Tupi language term kari'boka ("deriving from the white").[121] These spirits come in two main forms: boiadeiros ("cowboys" or "backwoodsmen") and indigenous peoples of the Americas.[122] In rarer cases, caboclos are portrayed as being from the sea or from foreign countries.[121] Almost exclusively male,[123] the caboclos are believed to dwell in a forest land called Aruanda.[124] The caboclos are characterised as smoking cigars and favoring beer.[125]

The caboclos are particularly important in a nation called Candomblé de Caboclo.[126] Not all followers of Candomblé have promoted involvement with caboclos. Members of the Nagô tradition in particular have long denigrated what they term candomblé de caboclo as degraded and inferior,[39] while practitioners who have tried to "re-Africanize" Candomblé since the late 20th century have tended to reject the caboclos as being of non-African derivation.[127] As a result, some Candomblists have venerated orixás in the terreiro but only engaged with lesser spirits in the home.[128] Where an individual has come to Candomblé via another Brazilian tradition like Umbanda, they are sometimes deemed to have brought caboclos or exus with them. In these instances, attempts are sometimes made to "Africanize" these spirits, ritually "seating" them in a material object, giving them an African-derived name, and then considering them a pledged slave of the orixás.[129]

Birth and the dead


Candomblé adopts its cosmology largely from Yoruba traditional religion.[130] The material world of humanity is called aiê (or aiye);[131] the realm of the spirits is termed orun,[132] and is divided into nine levels.[133] Death is personified in the figure of Iku.[134] A person's inner head, in which their tutelary orixá is believed to reside, is called the ori.[75]

Spirits of the dead are called eguns.[135] The recently deceased are termed aparacá;[52] after they have been "educated" by receiving sacrifices they become babá.[136] After death, the egun can enter orun, although the level they reach depends on the spiritual growth they attained in life.[133] Sometimes, eguns will seek to help the living but inadvertently harm them;[137] given this potential, Candomblé stresses precautions in dealing with these entities.[138] Contact with the egun is accompanied by rituals to neutralise their harmful power or pollution.[139] The contra-egun is an armband made of plaited raffia which is sometimes worn to ward off dead spirits.[140] Although thought possible, possession by eguns is considered rare,[141] and is generally discouraged by Candomblé groups, who deem it spiritually polluting, a viewpoint that distinguishes Candomblé from Umbanda.[142]



Candomblé teaches the existence of a force called ashe or axé,[143] a central concept in Yoruba-derived traditions.[144] Walker described axé as "the spiritual force of the universe",[145] and Bahia called it "sacred force."[146] Wafer termed it "vital force",[147] while Voeks favored "vital energy".[67] Johnson characterised it as "a creative spiritual force with real material effects."[148]

Practitioners believe axé can move around,[147] but can also concentrate in specific objects, such as leaves and roots, or in specific body parts.[144] Blood in particular is deemed to contain axé in its most concentrated form.[149] Humans can accumulate axé, but also either lose it or transfer it.[150] Specific rituals and obligations are believed to maintain and enhance a person's axé,[106] while other ritual acts are designed to attract or share this force.[151] Dendê is a sacred palm oil that is used in Candomblé to cook ritual meals, that is considered to be a materialized form of axé.[152]

Morality, ethics, and gender roles

A Candomblé ritual in 2008

Candomblé generally has no fixed ethical precepts that it expects practitioners to follow,[153] although its teachings influence the lives of its adherents.[154] Rather than stressing a dichotomy between good and evil, emphasis is placed on achieving equilibrium between competing forces.[153] Problems that arise in a person's life are often interpreted as resulting from a disharmony in an individual's relationship with their orixá;[108] harmony is ensured by following the orixá's euó (taboos) regarding issues like food, drink, and colors.[155] Relationships are rooted in reciprocal obligations.[153]

Male/female polarity is a recurring theme throughout Candomblé.[156] Many roles within Candomblé are linked to members of a specific gender. For instance, both animal sacrifice and the shaving of an initiate's head are usually reserved for male practitioners, while female practitioners are typically responsible for domestic duties in maintaining the ritual space.[157] Such divisions mirror broader gender norms in Brazilian society.[157] Taboos are also placed on women while menstruating.[158] However, women can still wield significant power as the heads of the terreiros,[159] with most terreiros in Bahia being led by women;[160] some have called it a female-dominated religion.[14] The prominent place of priestesses within Candomblé has led observers like the anthropologist Ruth Landes to describe it as a matriarchal religion, although such a characterisation has been disputed.[161]

There is evidence that Candomblé is more accepting of sexual and gender non-conformity than mainstream Brazilian society.[162] Although many male priests in the religion have been heterosexual, there is a pervasive stereotype that Candomblé's male practitioners are homosexual.[163] Many gay men are adherents,[164] and in Rio de Janeiro many terreiros are integrated into a gay social network.[165] Gay men have described the religion as a more welcoming environment than forms of Christianity practiced in Brazil.[166] They for instance have cited stories of relationships between male orixás, such as Oxôssi and Ossain, as affirming male same-sex attraction.[164] Some practitioners have involved themselves in political causes including environmentalism, indigenous rights, and the Black Power movement.[167]



Johnson noted that Candomblé was a "ritual-centric" religion,[168] whose practitioners often regard it as a religion "of right practice instead of right doctrine",[169] in that performing its rituals correctly is deemed more important that believing in the orixás.[170] Johnson noted that Candomblé devoted "little attention" to "abstract theologizing".[84] Rituals are often focused on pragmatic needs regarding issues such as prosperity, health, love, and fecundity;[171] they often begin long after the advertised starting time.[172] Those engaging in Candomblé include various initiates of varying degrees and non-initiates who may attend events and approach initiates seeking help with various problems.[173] Johnson characterised Candomblé as a secret society,[174] as it makes use of secrecy.[175] It is organized around a rigid hierarchy.[176]

Houses of Worship

The interior of the Axé Ilê Obá terreiro in São Paulo, Brazil

Candomblé is practiced in buildings called terreiros ("houses"),[177] ilês,[178] or ilê orixás.[134] Ranging in size from small houses to large compounds,[173] some are well-known and wealthy, but most are smaller examples of what Roger Bastide called "proletarian candomblés."[179] These may be concealed, so as not to attract the attention of opponents.[45] Each terreiro is independent and operates autonomously,[180] often disbanding when their chief priest or priestess dies.[181] A terreiro's importance is generally regarded as being proportional to the number of initiates and clients that it has.[182]

Terreiros consists of a series of rooms, some off-limits to non-initiates.[84] They contain an altar to the deities, a space to perform ceremonies, and accommodation for the priests or priestesses.[173] The floor is deemed sacred, consecrated to the tutelary orixá of the house.[183] The bakisse is the "room of the saints", a storeroom containing both ritual paraphernalia and the assentamentos of the orixás,[184] while the roncó ("retreat room") or camarinha is used during initiations.[185]

One room, the barracão ("big shed"), is where public rituals, including acts of divination, take place;[186] terreiros lacking a barracão may use a yard for public rituals.[187] The peji, or shrines to deities, will often be located around the perimeter of the barracão.[188] The terreiro will often have a cumeeira, a central pole in the structure believed to link humanity's world with that of the orixá.[189] This stands above the entoto ("foundation") of the terreiro,[190] a space which is periodically "fed" with offerings.[191] The terreiro's enclosure may have a tree dedicated to Tempo, onto which strips of white cloth have been affixed,[192] as well as a place set aside for the souls of the dead, termed the balé, which is usually at the back of the terreiro grounds.[193] Most venerate between twelve and twenty orixás.[194]

Priesthood and congregation


A priestess running a terreiro is a mâe de santo (mother of saints),[195] a priest who does so is a pai de santo (father of saints).[196] In Nagô Candomblé, a male priest is called a babalorixá,[197] a female priestess an iyalorixá.[198] They are responsible for all important functions, including educating novices, adjudicating disputes, and providing healing and divination services;[199] it is these latter services that many rely on as their primary income.[200] Not constrained by external religious authorities,[201] these "parents of saints" often exert considerable control over their initiates,[202] who are expected to submit to their authority;[203] conflicts between these "parents" and their initiates are nevertheless common.[204] The head priest and priestess is assisted by others, including the iyakekerê ("little mother")[205] or mãe pequena,[206] and the "little father".[207] Other roles in the terreiro include the iyabase, who prepares food for the orixás,[134] and the alabê (musical director).[201] The initiates, called the filhos (sons) and filhas de santo (daughters of the saints), assist as cooks, cleaners, and gardeners.[199] The ogã are male members, often not initiated, whose role is largely honorific, consisting largely of contributing financially.[199]

Practitioners inside the Terreiro Matamba Tombenci Neto in Ilhéus, Bahia.

The terreiro's members are regarded as a "family"[208] and its initiates consider each one another to be 'brothers' and 'sisters' in the orixá (irmãos de santo).[209] Sexual or romantic relations between terreiro members is usually forbidden,[71] although happen nevertheless.[210] Being initiated connects an individual to the historical lineage of the terreiro;[211] this lineage is linked to the axé of the terreiro, an axé that can be transferred from a mother-terreiro to a new one being established.[159] The founders of a terreiro are called essas and their names are evoked in the padê.[212]

An individual who has taken steps toward initiation but not yet undergone this process is termed an abiã or abian.[213] An initiate of less than seven years is known as an iaô or iyawó;[214] after seven years they may undergo the deká ceremony and thus be regarded s an ebomi, allowing them to open their own terreiro.[215] Priestesses may be called a makota or nêngua.[216] The choice of term used can indicate which nation a person belongs to.[217]

The community of a terreiro is called an egbé.[8] There can be enmity between terreiros,[69] for they compete with one another for members,[218] and defection of individuals from one to another is common.[219] Public ceremonies take place at the terreiros where both initiates and non-initiates can attend to celebrate the orixás.[220] At these, food is offered to specific orichas while the rest is shared among participants, with the latter thereby gaining some of the axé of the orichas.[220] These public rites are both preceded and succeeded by a range of private ritual acts.[220] Most of the rituals that take place at the terreiros are private and open only to initiates.[220] Walker believed that it was these that represented "the real core of the religious life of the Candomblé community."[220]

African-derived terms are used in ritual contexts, although do not exceed one thousand words.[221] In general, words of Yoruba origin predominate in the Nagô-Ketu nations, those from Ewe-Fon languages are most common in Jeje nations, and words from the Bantu languages dominate the Angola nation.[222] Yoruba is used as a ritual language,[223] although few practitioners understand the meanings of these Yoruba words.[224] There are no specific sacred texts.[154] Ritual objects are regarded as loci and accumulators of axé, although this supply needs replenishing at various intervals.[145] Each terreiro is also regarded as having its own axé, which is strengthened by the number of initiates it has and the number of rituals it carries out.[145]

Priests and priestesses are regarded as intermediaries between the orixás and humanity.[173] Becoming initiated implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between the new initiate and the orixás.[173] Some evidence suggests that the proportion of female priestesses grew over the course of the 20th century.[225]

The orixá are "seated" within objects in the terreiro.[111] These are then stored, either all together in one room or, if space permits, in separate rooms.[111] Women initiates who do not enter trance but assist those who do are called ekedi; their male counterparts are termed ogan.[226] A prostration before the priest or priestess, or before someone possessed by an orixá, is termed a dobalé;[8] prostrating before one's mother or father of the saint is called iká.[134]

Shrines and otás

The otás, sacred stones that are central to Candomblé altars

An altar to the orixás is called a peji.[79] It contains an assemblage of objects termed the assentamento ("seat") or assento of the orixá,[227] regarded as their house.[228] This usually consists of various items placed within an enamel, earthenware, or wooden vessel,[229] itself often wrapped in a cloth.[228] The key part of the assentamento is a sacred stone known as an otá.[230] This otá possesses axé,[231] and thus requires feeding.[232] Different orixa are associated with different kinds of stone; those from the ocean or rivers are for instance linked to Oxum and Iemanjá, while those believed to have fallen from the sky are linked to Xangô.[204] Practitioners are expected to find them, rather than buy them.[204] They will then be ritually consecrated, being washed, given offerings, and "seated" in a vessel.[228]

Alongside the otás, vessels often contain ferramentos, or metal objects associated with specific orixá,[233] cowrie shells,[234] bracelets called idés,[235] animal body parts,[235] statues of the associated Roman Catholic saints,[236] and a mix of water, honey, and herbal preparations.[237] They may also include hair from the initiate to whom they belong.[191] The assentamento can be stored in the home,[191] or inside the terreiro's bakisse room,[238] which is only opened by the priestess or priest in charge.[228] There, the assentamentos of the initiates may be arranged on a multi-level altar, which is decorated with ribbons, colored lights, and flowers.[236]

Ritual objects are sanctified with a herbal infusion called amaci.[52] Practitioners believe that in giving blood to their ritual paraphernalia it renews the axé of these objects.[147] In Brazil, various stores specialise in paraphernalia required in Camdomblé.[239]

Offerings and animal sacrifice

A Candomblé altar at the Ilê Axé Ibalecy in Salvador, Bahia

Offerings are known as ebós,[240] and are believed to generate axé which then gives the orixá the power to aid their worshippers.[149] Material offered to the orixás or lesser spirits in these ebós include food, drink, fowl, and money;[241] when animal sacrifice is not involved, a food offering is termed a comida seca.[8] When a ceremony starts, practitioners typically provide a padé, or propitiatory offering, to the orixá Exu.[242]

Food is offered to the orixá, often being placed at an appropriate location in the landscape; offerings to Oxum are for instance often placed by a freshwater stream.[54] Specific foodstuffs are associated with each orixá;[243] a mix of okra with rice or manioc meal, known as amalá, is considered a favourite of Xangô, Obá, and Iansã.[244] When placed in the terreiro, food is typically left in place for between one and three days, sufficient time for the orixá to consume the essence of the food.[54] The ritual payment of money, often accompanying the sacrifices, is termed dinheiro do chão ("money for the floor"). As part of this, money is placed onto the floor and often splattered with blood, before being divided among the participants of the rite.[68]

Candomblé entails the sacrifice of animals to orixás, exus, caboclos, and eguns,[245] which is called matanças.[199] The individual who conducts the sacrifice is known as an axogun[246] (or axogum[236]) or sometimes as a faca (knife).[199] Species typically used are chickens, guinea fowl, white doves, and goats.[247] The animal will often have its neck cut with a knife,[248] or in the case of birds, its head severed.[249] After the animal is killed, its blood is spilled onto the altar; its organs are then often removed and placed around the "seat" of the orixá.[245] Following the sacrifice, is it common for divination to be performed to determine if the sacrifice has been accepted by the spirits.[248] Other body parts will then be consumed by the participants of the rite; the exception is if the sacrifice was for eguns, which is instead left to rot or placed in a river.[245] Some of the food may then be taken away, to be left in the forest, thrown into a body of water, or placed at a crossroads;[250] this is referred to as "suspending a sacrifice".[251]

Bird sacrifices are sometimes performed not as an offering, but as part of a ritual cleansing;[245] the bird will sometimes be wiped over the human requiring cleansing; it will then have its legs, wings, and finally its neck broken.[252] In these cases, the bird is not then eaten.[245] Outside Brazil, practitioners have faced challenges in performing animal sacrifice; in Germany, for instance, it is banned by law.[253]



Practicing Candomblé requires initiation,[254] and the religion is structured around a hierarchical system of initiations.[255] To be initiated is referred to as feito,[8] while the process of initiation is termed fazer cabeça ("to make the head")[8] or fazer o santo ("making the saint").[256] Initiates in Candomblé are known as filhos de santo ("children of the saints").[257] At their initiation, they are given a new name, the nome de santo (saint's name), which usually indicates the identity of their tutelary orixá.[258] Many individuals arrive at Candomblé through problems in their lives, such as sickness. A priest or priestess will use divination to determine the cause of the problem and its remedy, sometimes revealing that initiation into the religion will fix the issue.[259] Many feel that an orixa has demanded their initiation, with it being their obrigação ("duty").[256] If a group of individuals are being initiated together, they are termed a barco ("boat").[260] Initiation is very expensive.[261]

An initiation conducted in Bahia in 2008; the white clothes and white spots are worn at this ceremony[262]

The length of the initiatory process varies between Candomblé houses but usually lasts from a few weeks to a few months.[263] The initiate is first brought to the terreiro, where they are left for a period of relaxation, the descanso, so that they might become 'cool', as opposed to 'hot'.[264] They will be dressed in white clothing;[265] a small bell may be attached to them to alert others if they leave the terreiro.[266] One of the first acts during the initiatory process is to give the initiate a string of beads associated with their orixá.[63] The necklace is colored according to the tutelary orixá of the initiate; white for Oxalá, dark blue for Ogum, or red and white for Xangô, for instance.[267] These beads will be washed and sprinkled with the blood of a sacrificed animal.[268] These beads are sometimes perceived as protecting the wearer from harm.[269]

The initiate is then secluded in a room in the terreiro called the roncô,[270] during which time they are termed an îao.[271] In the roncô, they sleep on a straw mat,[272] eating only bland food;[273] often they will not be permitted to speak.[273] During this period they are taught the various details of their associated orixá, such as its likes and dislikes and the appropriate drum rhythms and dances that invoke that deity.[263] The time spent in isolation varies, although three weeks is typical.[274] They will be bathed in water mixed with herbs,[275] especially their head,[276] which will then be shaved.[263]

The initiate is then taken into a neighbouring room, where altars have been set up. A drummer plays while pre-existing initiates sing praise songs.[274] Animals are sacrificed, including from a four-legged animal, and some of the blood may be touched on parts of the initiate's body.[277] The initiate's head is then shaved and two cuts made into the apex of it with a razor; a mix of animal blood and herbs may be added to the incisions. This is done to allow the orixá entry into the head.[278] A cone of wax, the adoxu, is then placed on the wound to stem the bleeding;[279] the head will then be wrapped in cloth.[280] Depending on the terreiro, cuts may also be made on the tip of the initiate's tongue, on their back, upper arms, thighs, buttocks, and the soles of their feet.[281] With the incisions made, the orixá is "seated" within the individual's head during the assentar o santo ritual.[282]

Following the initiation, the new initiate may be presented to the rest of the community through a public "coming-out" ceremony, the saida.[283] Along with their white clothes, their body will be covered in white spots.[284] During this, they may be expected to give the name of the marca of their tutelary orixá, which they are supposed to have discovered via a dream.[72] In the panán, the initiate is symbolically re-taught mundane tasks,[249] a ritual sometimes followed by an auction in which the initiate is symbolically sold to their spouse or a member of their family, a reference to the era of slavery.[249] On the following Friday, they are expected to attend mass in a Roman Catholic church, known as the romaria.[285] Finally, a senior member of the terreiro will lead the initiate, still wearing white, back to their home.[249] Over the course of the following year, the initiate may conduct further "obligations" to build their relationship with the orixá.[286]

Candomblé includes a number of additional, graded initiations, which are expected to take place one year, three years, and then seven years after the original initiatory ceremony.[287] Over the course of this they are expected to learn to receive all of their tutelary orixa.[288] Those who have performed seven years of initiatory rituals are called ebomi[289] or ebame.[112] At the end of the seven years, they "receive the decá" from their initiator, being given a tray of ritual objects; this enables them to go and form their own temple.[290] In practice, many adherents cannot afford to pay for these ceremonies at the specified time and they instead take place many years after.[287]


A Candomblé ceremony on Itaparica Island in Bahia

Music and dance is a fundamental element of Candomblé.[291] The drumming will often take place all night.[292] Participants are expected to wear white; women wear skirts.[292] In the Nagô tradition, three main types of drum are employed, the largest being the rum, the middle-sized being the rumpi, and the smallest being the .[293] These drums are understood as living and need to be fed.[294] The head drummer is the alabê.[295] Many terreiros maintain that women should not be involved in this ritual drumming, although others reject this tradition.[271] In some rituals, practitioners will drink a concoction containing jurema, a mildly hallucinogenic plant, sometimes mixed with the blood of sacrificed animals.[296]

Although it is usually a dancer who becomes possessed, sometimes spectators will too.[297] A possessed person is called a cavalo (horse).[298] The state of vertigo signalling the onset of trance is known as barravento.[136] As the trance begins, practitioners often experience a body spasm termed the arrepio ("shiver").[52] Practitioners believe that when an individual is possessed by a spirit, they have no control over the latter's actions.[299] Within Candomblé, it is regarded as a privilege to be possessed by an orixá.[263] A common way of referring to the possession is receber ("to receive").[300] As it entails being "mounted", being possessed is regarded as being a symbolically female role.[301] For this reason, many heterosexual men refuse initiation into Candomblé; some believe that involvement in these rites can turn a man homosexual.[302] Among practitioners, it is sometimes claimed that in the past men did not take part in the dances that lead to possession.[301] Often, those believed possessed by an orixá will not eat, drink, or smoke, emphasising their aristocratic disposition,[303] and that they will also rarely if ever speak.[304] When they dance, it will often be stylized and controlled.[101] Many terreiros prohibit photography of those undergoing a possession trance.[305]

After an individual becomes possessed, they may be led into an anteroom to be dressed in clothes associated with the possessing orixá; this usually includes brightly colored dresses, regardless of the gender of those involved.[306] Those possessed by Ogun will for instance often be given a metal helmet and axe, while those possessed by Oxum wear a crowd and carry a sword and the abebé fan.[306] Practitioners may fully prostrate themselves before the possessed.[307] Those possessed by an orixá may deliver predictions and prophecies.[308] The style of speech adopted by the possessed will be influenced by the type of spirit believed to be possessing them.[309] Those deemed to be possessed by caboclos will often smoke cigars,[310] and sometimes place gunpowder into the palm of their hand, which they then light with their cigar to cause an explosion.[311] Those possessed by the erês child spirits may roll around the floor and squabble.[312] A false trance is known as an equê.[313] Those who do not go into a trance are known as ogâs if male, and equedes if female.[111]

Public festivals

On her festival day in February, offerings to Yemanja are placed on boats and taken out to be cast into the water.[314]

Although details of the liturgical calendar vary among terreiros, Candomblé features a yearly cycle of festivals or feasts to the orixás.[314] These are sometimes private and sometimes open to the public.[315] These are typically held on the Roman Catholic saint's day associated with the saint linked to a particular orixá.[127] The main festival season begins in September, with the feast of Oxala, and continues through to February, when the feast of Yemanja takes place.[314]

In some cases, Candomblé festivals have become widely popular with the public, especially those of Oxala and Yemanja.[316] Hundreds of thousands of people congregate at the beach on Yemanja's Day (2 February),[247] where they often load offerings to her onto boats, which then take them out into the water and cast them overboard.[317] Festivals for the caboclos usually take place on 2 July, the day which marks Bahia's independence from Portugal.[318]

Some terreiros hold public festivals for both the orixás and the caboclos, although some only hold them for one of these two categories of spirit.[319] Public festivals for exus are rarer.[309] The tone of the event differs depending on which spirit category is being honoured; those for the orixás have more of a fixed structure and a greater formality, while those for the caboclos are more spontaneous and have greater interaction between the spirits and the human participants.[319] In the Nagô-Jeje nation, the Waters of Oxala ritual is performed at the start of the liturgical year; it involves bringing fresh water, sometimes from a well, to the terreiro to purify and replenish the assamentos.[314]



Priests and priestesses engage in divination, which often proves a key source of income for them.[320] The most common form of divination in Brazil is the dilogun or jogo dos buzios ("shell game"), which is performed by both men and women.[321] It entails throwing cowrie shells onto the floor and then interpreting answers from the sides onto which they have landed.[322] It is common for 16 shells to be thrown, and then a further four to confirm the answer provided by the first throwing.[323] Each configuration of shells is associated with certain odu, or mythological stories.[324] The specific odu is then interpreted as having pertinence for the client's situation.[325]

Another common divinatory practice involves slicing an onion in two and dropping the pieces to the ground drawing conclusions from the face onto which they fall;[326] alternatively a kola nut may be cut into quarters and read in the same way.[327] Ifá is another divinatory system practised by the Yoruba people, specifically by male initiates called babalawos; however, by the start of the 21st century this was characterised as being either extinct,[328] or very rare in Brazil.[329]



Healing rituals form an important part of Candomblé.[330] When acting in a healing capacity, practitioners are often called curandeiros.[331] Priests and priestesses may offer healing for a wide range of conditions, ranging from obesity and hair loss to pneumonia and cancer.[332]

Altar at the Terreiro de Candomblé in Jiribatuba [pt], Vera Cruz

Candomblé teaches that many personal problems are caused by a disequilibrium with the spirit world.[333] Thus, staying healthy can be ensured through ensuring a state of equilibrium with the orixás, avoiding excess, and following lessons imparted in the religion's mythological tales.[333] A sick person is regarded as having an "open" body that is vulnerable to harmful influences and lacks axé.[334] The religion teaches that ailments may be a punishment from the orixás,[335] or that a spirit of the dead may attach itself to an individual or even possess them, thus causing harm.[336] It is also believed that humans can cause harm to others via supernatural means,[334] either inadvertently, through the mau-olhado (evil eye),[337] or through witchcraft and cursing, which practitioners seek to counter.[333] A witch is often called an ajé.[338]

Individuals will often approach a priest or priestess seeking a remedy to a problem in their life, such as sickness. The priest or priestess will use divination to ascertain the cause and remedy.[259] The first step in the healing process is the limpeza, or spiritual cleansing.[325] This will often entail providing an offering to a particular orixá or lesser spirit; a sacudimento (leaf whipping), whereby certain leaves are wiped over the patient's body; or an abô (leaf bath), during which they are washed in water infused with various herbs and other ingredients.[339] Healing the patient may also necessitate their initiation into the religion.[259] Another type of ceremony is known as the bori. This entails placing food on the individual's head to feed the orixá that is believed to partially reside within the cranium.[286] This may be conducted to bolster the individual's health and well-being or to give them additional strength before an important undertaking.[286] Another is the "cleansing of the body" rite, designed to remove an egum that is troubling an individual.[340] In the troca da cobeça rite, the sickness is transferred to another, especially an animal that is then killed.[341] The healer may also recommend that the sick person seek help from a medical professional like a doctor.[342]

Candomblé healers are often well versed in herbalism.[331] Herbs are deemed to contain axé which needs to be appropriately awakened,[343] but if improperly harvested can lose potency.[344] The leaves used should be fresh, not dried,[343] and often picked late at night or early in the morning to ensure their maximum potency.[343] They are often purchased from one of the casas de folhas ("houses of leaves") in markets,[345] but if taken from the forest, permission should be sought from the overseeing orixá and offerings left, such as coins, honey, or tobacco.[343] These may then be rubbed directly only the sick person, or brewed into a chá tea or other medicinal concoction;[346] practitioners may also produce (powder), which may have a variety of uses, from healing to harming or attracting someone's romantic attention.[347] Historically, terreiros could retain African medical traditions, where they would have hybridized with Native American and European traditions.[42] An individual knowledgeable about leaves is called a mâo de ofá.[199]

Like many other Brazilians, Candomblé will often wear amulets,[348] sometimes concealed beneath clothing to avoid unwanted attention.[349] Common examples are horns or the figa, a fist with the thumb in inserted between the index and middle finger.[348] A patuá consists of a small cloth pouch containing various objects, plant parts, and texts.[348] Sprigs of the arruda or laranja-da-terra plants may also be carried on the body to protect against the evil eye.[350] Specific plants, associated with a particular orixá, are often kept by doorways to prevent the entry of negative forces.[350]

Funerals and the dead


Following a senior practitioner's death, their fellow terreiro members will conduct axexé, a series of rituals which transform the deceased into an ancestral spirit of the terreiro's own pantheon.[351] This ensures that they do not become a potentially dangerous wandering spirit.[259] A wide range of offerings, including sacrificed animals, are given both to the dead individual and to accompanying orixás and other spirits during the axexé.[352] A Roman Catholic mass will also be performed.[353]





Slavery was widespread in West Africa; most slaves were prisoners of war captured in conflicts with neighbouring groups, others were criminals or those in debt.[354] Enslaved Africans first arrived in Brazil in the 1530s.[355] These 16th-century arrivals came largely from the Guinea coast, but by the 17th century Angola and Congo populations had become dominant.[356] Then, between 1775 and 1850, the majority of slaves were Yoruba and Dahomean, coming from the Gulf of Benin, largely in what is now Benin and Nigeria.[357] After declaring itself independent from Portugal in 1822,[358] Brazil abolished the slave trade in 1850,[358] and then emancipated all slaves in 1888.[359] In total, around four million Africans were transported to Brazil,[360] more than to any other part of the Americas.[361] In Brazil, they were concentrated predominantly in Bahia.[41]

On arriving in Brazil, slaves were divided into "nations" based largely on their port of embarkation.[362] This meant that Africans of different cultural backgrounds, regions, and religions were included together under a unifying term;[363] those from the Bight of Benin were for instance called "Nagô".[362] As the Yoruba and Dahomean people made up the last wave of slaves, they became numerically dominant among Afro-Brazilians and their traditional cosmology became ascendant over that of longer established communities.[364] The process of enslavement broke up the traditional links between African deities and specific regions, while also mixing deities from different peoples into a singular pantheon.[365] Of the thousands of orishas venerated in West Africa, far fewer continued to be worshipped in Brazil;[37] orisha associated with agriculture were abandoned, for instance, as slaves had little reason to protect the harvests of slave-owners.[366] By the 18th century, accounts of African-derived rituals performed in Brazil were common,[367] at which point they were referred to generically as calundu, a term of Bantu origin.[368]

The Roman Catholic nature of Brazilian colonial society, which allowed for a cult of saints, may have permitted greater leeway for the survival of traditional African religions than were available in Protestant-dominant areas of the Americas.[369] Many of the slaves learned to classify their orixás in relation to the Roman Catholic saints and the calendar of saints' days.[370] There is no evidence that the slaves simply used the cult of saints to conceal orixá worship, but rather that devotees understood the two pantheons as comprising similar figures with similar abilities to fix certain problems.[371] Some in the Roman Catholic Church saw the syncretisation as a positive step in the process of converting the Africans to Christianity.[372] The Christian teaching provided to enslaved Africans was often rudimentary.[373] Slave owners often believed that allowing the slaves to keep their traditional customs would expend energies that might otherwise be directed toward rebellion.[374]

Formation and early history

The interior of the Ilê Axé Iyá Nassô Oká, as photographed in 2008; according to tradition, it is the oldest Candomblé terreiro, founded in 1830

Although African religions had been present in Brazil since the 16th century, the "organized, structured liturgy and community of practice called Candomblé" only arose later.[371] The earliest terreiros appeared in Bahia in the early 19th century.[375] According to what the scholar Stefania Capone called "the founding myth of Candomblé",[376] the first terreiro was the Ilê Axé Iyá Nassô Oká (also known as the Casa Branca or Engenho Velho), founded in Salvador in 1830, and from which the Nagô tradition descends.[377]

Various emancipated Yoruba began trading between Brazil and West Africa,[378] and a significant role in the creation of Candomblé were several African freemen who were affluent and sent their children to be educated in Lagos.[379]

Brazil's republican constitution of 1891 enshrined freedom of religion.[380] However, Afro-Brazilian religious traditions continued to face legal issues; the Penal Code of 1890 included prohibitions on Spiritism, talismans, and much herbal medicine, impacting Candomblé.[381] The authorities continued to shut down terreiros, claiming they were a threat to public health.[382] The late 19th century saw the first terreiros open in Rio de Janeiro, a city then seeing a rapid expansion in its population.[380] The period also saw various upper-class white Brazilians seeking out Candomblé.[383]

20th and 21st centuries

A group of practitioners photographed in 1902

Candomblé became increasingly public in the 1930s, partly because Brazilians were increasingly encouraged to perceive themselves as part of a multi-racial, mixed society in the midst of President Getúlio Vargas' Estado Novo project.[384] Vargas' Law Decree 1202 recognized the legitimacy of terreiros, while the Penal Code of 1940 offered them additional protections.[385] The 1930s saw a proliferation of academic studies on Candomblé by scholars like Raimundo Nina Rodrigues, Edison Carneiro, and Ruth Landes,[386] most focusing on the Nagô tradition.[387] The growing literature, both scholarly and popular, helped document Candomblé while contributing to its greater standardisation.[388]

The religion spread to new areas during the 20th century. Growing Afro-Brazilian migration to São Paulo brought the rapid rise of Candomblé there; from virtually no terreiros until the 1960s, it had over 4000 by the century's end.[389] Some practitioners became increasingly well known; the priestess Mãe Menininha do Gantois became nationally recognised.[390] During the 20th century, various organizations emerged to represent the terreiros, notably the Bahian Federation of the Afro-Brazilian Cults, the National Institute and Supreme Sacerdotal Organ of Afro-Brazilian Culture and Tradition, and the Conference of the Tradition and Culture of the Orixás.[181]

Growing links were also established with other African diasporic and West African religions. Brazilians took part in the first International Congress of Orisha Tradition and Culture in Ifẹ, Nigeria in 1981; the second was held in Salvador in 1983.[391] The late 20th century saw some practitioners—most famously Mãe Stella Azevedo[392]—try to "re-Africanise" Candomblé by removing Roman Catholic elements.[393] This was an effort to attract prestige,[394] and proved popular among white middle-class practitioners who had little standing with the predominantly Afro-Brazilian Bahian Candomblé establishment.[305] Other practitioners rejected this approach, deeming Roman Catholic influences an important part of Candomblé.[395]

Candomblé was increasingly respectable by the late 20th century,[396] a situation fuelled by well-educated Afro-Brazilians embracing their cultural heritage,[397] by increased Brazilian trade with West Africa,[398] and by the growing number of intellectual and white initiates.[399] By the early 21st century, tourist literature increasingly portrayed Candomblé as an intrinsic part of Brazilian culture;[400] Varig Airlines used the tagline "Fly with Axé."[401] Conversely, the 2000s saw growing Evangelical Protestant opposition, including physical attacks on practitioners and terreiros,[402] to which Candomblists responded with protest marches.[403]



In 2010, there were a recorded 167,363 practitioners in Brazil.[404] One census report indicated that around 1.3 percent of Brazil's population identified as Candomblé followers.[405] This likely reflects only the number of initiates, with a larger body of non-initiates sometimes attending ceremonies or consulting initiates for healing and other services.[405] In Brazil, Candomblé is a largely urban phenomenon,[3] generally found among the poor,[406] with most followers being black women.[3] Its membership is more diverse in southern Brazil, where there are large numbers of white and middle-class followers.[407] There have been white and mulatto adherents since at least the 1950s,[408] while it also has Brazilian followers of Japanese descent.[409] Various anthropologists have observed a far higher number of females than males in the terreiros they studied;[410] women dominate in the Ketu nation, although men instead dominate the Angola and Jeje nations.[133] Candomblé has also spread to other parts of South America like Argentina and Uruguay, as well as to European countries like Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy.[411]

A gathering of practitioners at the Terreiro de São Gonçalo do Retiro in Salvador in 2010

It has been claimed that Candomblé offers a sense of empowerment to the societally marginalised.[412] Many practitioners of Candomblé already have a family link to the tradition, with their parents or other elder relatives being initiates.[165] Others convert to the movement without having had any family connections; some of those who convert to Candomblé have already explored Pentecostalism, Spiritism, or Umbanda;[413] some Umbandists feel that they can go "deeper" by moving towards Candomblé.[389] Many describe having been ill or plagued with misfortune prior to being initiated into Candomblé, having determined through divination that their ailments would cease if they did so.[414] Johnson noted that Candomblé appears to appeal to those who identify strongly with an African heritage;[165] some black people in Germany have been attracted to it because they feel it is a more authentically African religion than the forms of Christianity and Islam now dominant across Africa.[58] Some like that it makes them feel part of a community.[415]

The religion's "core area of practice" lies in the city of Salvador and surrounding area.[407] A 1997 census by the Bahian Federation of Afro-Brazilian Religions recorded 1,144 terreiros active in the city.[416] Within Brazil, Candomblé's influence is most pervasive in Bahia,[16] and practitioners in Rio de Janeiro and Sâo Paulo often regard Bahian terreiros as being more authentic, with deeper fundamentos.[314] It is "most widely practiced" in the Bahian city of Salvador,[140] a settlement that practitioners sometimes regard as a holy city.[16] Several thousand terreiros exist in Salvador,[417] resulting in it being called "Black Rome."[418] In Bahia, it is the Nagô nation that has the largest number of houses and practitioners.[41]

Although lineages are independent, practitioners have formed umbrella organisations, called "federations", in most Brazilian states.[419] These represent practitioners in their dealings with the government and society more broadly.[420] They have also established a national organisation, the Conference of the Tradition and Culture of the Orixás (CONTOC), through which to represent their interests.[421]

Reception and influence

Objects pertaining to Candomblé on display in a Brazilian museum

In the early 21st century, the anthropologist Lindsay Hale described Candomblé as "a treasured symbol of Brazilian cultural identity and an icon of African Diaspora culture and politics".[422]

Since the 1960s, Candomblé has featured in films such as The Given Word (1962) and The Amulet of Ogum (1974), as well as documentaries like Geraldo Sarno's Iaô (1974).[423] The Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado makes repeated references to Candomblé throughout his work,[424] while American writer Toni Morrison drew on Candomblé for her 1991 novel Paradise.[425] References to the religion also appeared in Brazilian popular music. For instance, Maria Bethânia and Gal Costa's song "Prayer to Mãe Menininha" made it into the country's chart.[426]

Candomblé has been described as a much maligned religion.[118] Practitioners have often encountered intolerance and religious discrimination;[45] terreiros have sometimes been attacked.[427] More extreme hostile views of Candomblé have regarded it as devil worship, while milder critical views see it as superstition that attracts the simple-minded and desperate.[428] Brazil's Roman Catholics have mixed opinions of Candomblé, with some expressing tolerance and others expressing hostility to the presence of Candomblé practitioners at mass.[429] Evangelical and Pentecostal groups present themselves as avowed enemies of Candomblé, regarding it as diabolical and targeting it as part of their "spiritual war" against Satan.[430] Those denigrating Candomblé often refer to it with the term macumba, typically used for harmful sorcery.[431] Leaders of terreiros are often stereotyped as greedy and conniving.[432] Candomblé practitioners sometimes abandon the religion for forms of Christianity; in certain cases, they later return to Candomblé.[433]

Johnson noted that many academics who have studied Candomblé have sought to portray it in the best light possible, so as to counter racist and primitivist stereotypes about Afro-Brazilians.[287] Academic studies have in turn influenced the way that the religion is practiced, helping to establish "correct practice" among divergent groups.[434] Many terreiros own copies of academic studies of Candomblé by scholars such as Pierre Verger, Roger Bastide, and Juana Elbein dos Santos.[435] Various practitioners own books on Candomblé and other Afro-American religions, including those written in languages they cannot understand, as a mean of presenting an image of authority.[434]

Although objects associated with Candomblé were initially found only in police museums, thus underscoring the stereotypical association between the religion and criminality, as it gained greater public acceptance such objects eventually came to be featured in museums devoted to folklore and Afro-Brazilian culture.[436] From the 1990s onward, practitioners began establishing their own museum displays within their terreiros.[437] For instance, the bedroom of the famous Candomblé priestess Mãe Menininha do Gantois, located within her Bahia terreiro, was converted into a memorial in 1992 and then formally recognised as a heritage site in 2002.[438] Candomblé practitioners have also lobbied other museums to change the way that the latter display items associated with the religion. For instance, practitioners successfully called upon the Museum of the City of Salvador to remove some otá stones from public display, arguing that according to the regulations of the religion such items should never be visible to the public.[439]




  1. ^ Wafer 1991, p. 4; Voeks 1997, p. xiv; Johnson 2002, pp. 151, 202; Sansi-Roca 2005, p. 140; Bahia 2014, p. 340.
  2. ^ Voeks 1997, p. 2.
  3. ^ a b c Álvarez López & Edfeldt 2007, p. 150.
  4. ^ Johnson 2002, p. 41.
  5. ^ Johnson 2002, p. 9; Álvarez López & Edfeldt 2007, p. 149.
  6. ^ Selka 2010, p. 292; Selka 2013, p. 405.
  7. ^ Selka 2010, p. 291; Engler 2012, p. 15.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Johnson 2002, p. 202.
  9. ^ Voeks 1997, p. 69; Capone 2010, p. 155.
  10. ^ Hayes 2007, p. 284.
  11. ^ Hayes 2007, pp. 285–286.
  12. ^ Álvarez López & Edfeldt 2007, pp. 150–151.
  13. ^ Wafer 1991, p. 57; Johnson 2002, p. 50.
  14. ^ a b Álvarez López & Edfeldt 2007, p. 151.
  15. ^ Bahia 2016, p. 16.
  16. ^ a b c Walker 1990, p. 103.
  17. ^ Wafer 1991, p. 4; Álvarez López & Edfeldt 2007, p. 150.
  18. ^ Capone 2010, p. 8.
  19. ^ Wafer 1991, p. 15; Voeks 1997, p. 61; Johnson 2002, pp. 122–123.
  20. ^ Walker 1990, p. 112; Voeks 1997, p. 61.
  21. ^ Selka 2010, p. 291.
  22. ^ a b Bahia 2016, p. 22.
  23. ^ Wafer 1991, p. 10.
  24. ^ Bahia 2014, p. 363.
  25. ^ a b Wafer 1991, p. 5.
  26. ^ Capone 2010, p. 95.
  27. ^ Capone 2010, pp. 8–9.
  28. ^ Johnson 2002, p. 52.
  29. ^ Capone 2010, p. 103.
  30. ^ Brown 1986, p. 1.
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Further reading

  • Alonso, Miguel (2014). The Development of Yoruba Candomblé Communities in Salvador, Bahia, 1835 – 1986. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1137485380.
  • Bramley, Serge (1979) [1975]. Macumba: The Teachings of Maria-José, Mother of the Gods. Brazil: Avon. ISBN 978-0-380-42317-0.
  • Góis Dantas, Beatriz (2009). Nagô Grandma and White Papa: Candomblé and the Creation of Afro-Brazilian Identity. Translated by Stephen Berg. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1458761279.
  • Harding, Rachel (2000). A Refuge in Thunder: Candomblé and Alternative Spaces of Blackness. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0253337054.
  • Jensen, Tina Gudrun (1999). "Discourses on Afro-Brazilian Religion: From de-Africanization to re-Africanization". In Christian Smith and Joshua Prokopy (ed.). Latin American Religion in Motion: A Documentary History. New York: Routledge. pp. 265–283. ISBN 978-1570756795.
  • Landes, Ruth (1947). The City of Women. Macmillan Co. ISBN 978-0-8263-1556-4.
  • Matory, James Lorand (2005). Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-05943-3.
  • Omari-Tunkara, Mikelle S. (2005). Manipulating the Sacred: Yoruba Art, Ritual, and Resistance in Brazilian Candomble. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0814328521.
  • Parés, Luis Nicolau (2013). The Formation of Candomblé: Vodun History and Ritual in Brazil. Translated by Richard Vernon. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1469610924.
  • Reis, João José (2001). "Candomblé in Nineteenth-Century Bahia: Priests, Followers, Clients". In Mann, Kristina; Bay, Edna G. (eds.). Rethinking the African Diaspora: The Making of a Black Atlantic World in the Bight of Benin and Brazil. Routledge. ISBN 978-0714681580.
  • Souty, Jérôme (2007). Pierre Fatumbi Verger: Du Regard Détaché à la Connaissance Initiatique. Maisonneuve et Larose [fr]. ISBN 978-2-7068-1983-4.
  • van de Port, Mattijs (2014). Ecstatic Encounters: Bahian Candomblé and the Quest for the Really Real. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. ISBN 978-9089642981.
  • Verger, Pierre Fatumbi (1995) [1954]. Dieux d'Afrique. Culte des Orishas et Vodouns à l'ancienne Côte des Esclaves en Afrique et à Bahia, la Baie de Tous les Saints au Brésil. Paris: Revue Noire. ISBN 978-2-909571-13-3.