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1 December 2011 “It All Begins With the Head”: Initiation Rituals and the Symbolic Conceptions of Animals in Candomblé
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Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion with well-defined initiation stages. Those who accept this religion must pass through a series of “obligations” in which they acquire rights of access to deeper levels of spiritual knowledge. This work analyzes the symbolic complex of animals utilized in the bori initiation ritual. Eleven Candomblé priests and priestesses were interviewed in the cities of Caruaru in Pernambuco State, and Campina Grande in Paraíba State, Brazil. Sixteen different animal species were used in these rituals: 12 fish and 4 birds. According to the myths of this religion, specific animals such as pigeons (Columba livia), Angolan chickens (Numida meleagris), and certain fish were involved in the creation of the world and appear within the bori conceptual system in association with their symbolic and mythical importance, and they transfer their characteristics to humans. In addition to describing these rituals (which are generally open only to followers), this work provides details concerning their dynamics and execution, thus contributing to ethnobiological studies dedicated to symbolic rites involving animals. This information allows us to visualize the integration of humans within a culturally constructed environment, for the success of the ritual depends on returning to a “mythical time” when animals helped the gods in creating the world. This relationship between humans and other animals reflects the importance of biodiversity to cultural maintenance.

Nivaldo Aureliano Léo Neto, José da Silva Mourão, and Rômulo Romeu Nóbrega Alves "“It All Begins With the Head”: Initiation Rituals and the Symbolic Conceptions of Animals in Candomblé," Journal of Ethnobiology 31(2), 244-261, (1 December 2011).
Published: 1 December 2011

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